Hurdlers Rai Benjamin and Grant Holloway proved Saturday – if not established already – they're two of the best in history, giving a pair of world records a scare at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials' penultimate day of competition in Eugene, Oregon, ripe with spectacular performances.
Benjamin and Holloway both came within tenths of a second of the 400m and 110m hurdles all-time bests, each winning their respective finals and moving into the No. 2 spots behind the events' current record-holders.
The 23-year-olds will head to Tokyo to make their Olympic debuts with global-level experience intact — at the most recent world championships, Holloway won 110m hurdles gold and Benjamin took 400m hurdles silver.
In the 400m hurdles final, Benjamin clocked a meet-record 46.83, just five-hundredths of a second off American Kevin Young's 46.78 world record set nearly 29 years ago in the final of the 1992 Barcelona Games.
The personal-best time broke a tie for third on the all-time list with Qatar's Abderrahman Samba and vaulted Benjamin past archrival Karsten Warholm of Norway to the No. 2 spot behind Young.
Kenny Selmon and David Kendziera round out the Tokyo Olympic men's 400m hurdles team.
"I got the job done. I just went out there with the mindset like, hey, let's make this team. Let's try not to do anything crazy or do something special and just go out there and run, " Benjamin said post-final.
While reflecting on the result, he said in a way he was glad he didn't break the record, hoping to reserve a potentially better peak for Tokyo against the world's best.
"You know, this close, man … I looked at [the time] and was like dang, like point-zero-five, point-zero-five, that's not even like anything in the grand scheme of things," he said. "It hurts a little bit to know that it was right there and I couldn't grab it, but it's just more fuel for the fire. It'll come when it comes … we're getting there, I'm pretty excited."
Asked how much faster he can go, Benjamin said there's a lot more left in the tank.
"I felt really strong coming home. I know I can run 46-low right now if I really actually tried, and that's no disrespect to anyone," he said. "Like I said, my main goal wasn't to go break a world record, I just wanted to make the team, and 46.8 was just a result of that. But I know I can run a lot faster based on how I felt that first 200 and last 200."
Benjamin said seeing Holloway's semifinal hyped him up.
In the 110m hurdles final, Holloway didn't wait for his final to make noise running a blistering 12.81 in the semifinals, a new meet record and a hundredth of a second off American Aries Merritt's 2012 world record of 12.80.
The reigning world champion trimmed a whopping 0.17 seconds from his previous personal best of 12.98, set two years ago in June 2019, jumping from joint 19th- to second-best among the fastest 110m hurdlers ever.
Holloway went on to win the final in a meager 12.96, also under his previous best, to cap off a historic and exciting night at Hayward Field.
Kenny Selmon and David Kendziera round out the Tokyo Olympic men's 110m hurdles team.
Asked if he can take down the world record in Tokyo next month, Holloway said we'll find out.
"It's definitely possible. A lot of people said I could never run 12.9 again, a lot of people said I'd never be able to run 12.8," he said 'It's just executing at a really high level and figuring out ways to get better."
His expectation later this summer: the Olympic title.
"If I don't say I wanna win a gold medal, I don't think I should be going to Tokyo."
In a night packed with other incredible performances, another stood out especially as well.
Gabby Thomas in the 200m final not only beat 2012 Olympic champion Allyson Felix, who was fifth in her last Trials race, but won in a staggering 21.61 — the third-fastest women's 200m in history behind only two times run by world record-holder Florence Griffith-Joyner, or Flo-Jo, who recorded 21.56 and 21.34 at the 1988 Seoul Olympics en route to capturing a second of three golds and four total medals at those Games.
Prior to Trials, the Harvard grad wasn't even among the top 50 in history to run 200m. She then moved from 55th to 26th (21.98 first-round prelim), 26th to 24th (21.94 semifinal) and finally 24th to second on Saturday.
Unlike both Benjamin and Holloway, Thomas was not considered to be a shoo-in Olympic podium contender two weeks ago, entering Trials as the sixth-fastest this season at 200m with three juggernauts atop the list: reigning Olympic and world 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, reigning world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain, and then soon-to-be U.S. 100m national champion Sha'Carri Richardson.
But the tables have turned, and Thomas is now the favorite to win Olympic gold in Tokyo, besting all three of the aforementioned athletes' personal bests by at least a tenth of a second.
Jenna Prandini and Anavia Battle round out the Tokyo Olympic women's 200m team.
"I still don't really know where that came from," Thomas said after Saturday's final. "I am feeling very confident with myself. My coach and I worked a lot on running the curve. I think running the 100 first really really helped [in the 200]."
Thomas said she hadn't yet processed the time she ran and gave praise to Felix.
"I remember the first time watching a track meet, I watched Allyson Felix. I can’t believe it. I feel empowered. If I can do it, anyone can go out there and do it," she said. "Allyson Felix was my biggest inspiration … The person who has been in the back of my head. To be on the team with her makes me want to cry."
View social media post: https://twitter.com/ItsGabrielleT/status/1408989415821611012
Another notable feat: 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton ran 19.88 in the 200m semifinals to break Usain Bolt's under-20 world record. He broke Bolt's junior record (U18) late last month.
Saturday's semifinal victory marked the second time at these U.S. Trials that Knighton has beat reigning world champion Noah Lyles.