David Ribich, left, competes during the first semifinal race in the men’s 1,500-meter run Friday, June 25, 2021, at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. Ribich reached the finals which were run Sunday, June 27, where he placed 12th.

EUGENE — The final race at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials did not go quite how David Ribich hoped.

The former Enterprise High School and Western Oregon University standout finished 12th in the field of 12 athletes in the finals of the men’s 1,500-meter run, which were run Sunday night, June 27, at Hayward Field in Eugene.

Ribich ran with the pack most of the race before the leaders took off. He finished with a time of 3:44.43.

“The leaders pulled away and the wheels kind of fell off in the last 200,” he said. “Not the position I thought I would be in given the way the last two days went.”

University of Oregon runner Cole Hocker edged 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Matthew Centrowitz for the title with a time of 3:35.28. Centrowitz clocked in at 3:35.34. Taking third was Notre Dame runner Yared Nuguse in 3:36.19.

“I stepped off the track a bit defeated, but definitely not demoralized on the weekend. You leave it on the track, and at the end of the day that is what you can be proud of,” he said.

Ribich settled into 11th out of the start, but quickly made his way toward the front of the field, and was third after 400 meters, running in the middle of a tightly bunched group.

By the time the bell rang for the final lap, he had slid toward the back of the pack, but still was in position to take a crack at the top three. With 300 meters to go in the race, he was in 11th, but was only 1.06 seconds behind Centrowitz, who took over the lead on the final lap.

That’s when the race leaders took off. The lead group pulled away with about 200 meters remaining, and the final 100 was a sprint to the finish between Centrowitz and Hocker, with Hocker securing the win.

“For me, it wasn’t necessarily the speed of what the guys were doing, it was more I used a little too much energy (earlier in the race) to get in that position,” Ribich said.

Leaning into the finals

He secured his spot in the finals by placing fifth in his heat of the semifinals Friday, posting a time of 3:38.75.

Ribich worked his way through the field Friday and earned fifth by outleaning Waleed Suliman, who finished in sixth with a time of 3:38.78. Ribich ended up being an automatic qualifier — which went to the top five finishers in each heat.

How close was the race? Ribich was 0.01 behind fourth-place finisher Vincent Ciattei, and just a shade behind heat winner Craig Engels, who broke the tape in 3:38.56.

Ribich settled into the back of the pack through the early stages of the race, and was 11th through the first 300 meters and ninth with two laps to go. He inched his way forward in the third lap, but was still eighth — and, at that time out of the running for the finals — going into the final lap. As the runners made their move — several racers led during the final lap — Ribich kept pace. He still was eighth with about 200 meters to go, then moved up to the cusp of the top five. He was bunched up next to Engels on the inside lane with about 100 to go. Engels broke free and moved to the front by the end. Ribich held his own, kicking to the finish where three runners, including Ribich, leaned at the line.

“You fight for every millisecond. This sport is separated literally by thousandths,” Ribich said. “I was going to have one move the entire race. When I made that move it was going to be all out from there. That move happened to be 40 meters from the finish.”

The heat was the fastest of the two on Friday. Centrowitz’s winning time in the second heat was 3:42.96.

Solid opening round

Ribich did what was needed to reach the semifinals in his first race at the Olympic trials on Thursday, taking third in his heat to automatically qualify for the next round.

“I was confident in our training and our philosophy of building to the trials,” he said.

The top six in each heat reached the semis, with the next six best times qualifying after that.

Ribich eased his way through the first two laps of the race in his heat, which was the first of the day. He settled in from the start in ninth out of the nine runners in his heat, and finished the first lap in ninth.

Ribich began to work his way up the ranks late in the second lap, taking to the outside and moving to fifth with two laps to go. He settled in at fourth during the early stages of lap three, then made his move with about 500 meters to go to first place. He held the lead throughout the final lap until the closing meters. Hobbs Kessler made a late surge and took the top spot in 3:45.63. The first heat Thursday was the slowest of the three, but also the most tightly contested. Only 1.02 seconds separated first place from ninth.

Gratitude, and looking to the future

Ribich said his parents and high school coach, Dan Moody, were in the crowd Sunday.

“I got to hug him before the race,” he said of Moody.

He also expressed his gratitude to the well wishes he has received in recent days, saying he receives great encouragement from the messages.

He called the experience of competing in the trials “surreal.”

“I was in the bleachers (at the trials) in 2012 and 2016 biting at the bit to be on the line. I want so much more (now) than I wanted (it) then,” he said.

He’ll be looking for other races — nationally, and, if possible, internationally — to run in as he builds to the future. Not far down the road is the 2022 World Championships, which will be held back in Eugene.

The next Olympics aren’t far off, either.

“Before we know it,” Ribich said, “it’s going to be Paris 2024.”

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