EUGENE — Running with the nation's best steeplechasers led Max King to a personal best.
The Crater High School graduate finished sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials Thursday night at Hayward Field in 8 minutes, 30.54 seconds. That put him about 13 seconds behind the winner, Evan Jager, and eight seconds out of a top-three berth that would have sent him to the Olympics in London.
"I had no expectations today," said King, who runs for the Central Oregon Running Klub. "I wanted to get in there and mix it up with the guys and see how my legs felt. I tried to position myself outside the lead pack and did it perfectly. When they started surging, I couldn't go with them so I tried to hang on and get a PR and I got it by two seconds. It is never a bad season when you hit a PR, so I am happy with that for only doing four races this year."
King was running his fourth steeplechase of the year, but estimated he has run 50 races this season, including a 19th-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon in January.
Jager, who runs for Oregon Track Club Elite/Nike in Portland, won in 8:17.40 while recent Princeton grad Donald Cabral was second in 8:19.81. Kyle Alcorn, who ran for Oregon in 2005 before transferring to Arizona State, was third in 8:22.17 to round out the Olympic team.
King said the talented field helped him get his PR, but he was hoping for an even better time.
"I knew if I could hang on to those guys, I would get it," King said. "I was hoping to get under 8:30 because I have been trying to get that for years. It is kind of frustrating I did not hit that, but a two-second PR is not too bad. Those guys just drove me around the track which is what I wanted them to do."
King said the crowd in his home state helped him as well.
"I love running at Hayward Field, it is amazing," he said. "The fans are terrific and know what is going on. It is the best place ever to run for a track event and they did not let me down. They were cheering all around the track and that says a lot. It really helps you out."
Jager, a former 1,500 and 5,000 runner, did not start running the steeplechase until this year and qualified for the Olympics in only his fourth race in that event. He moved into the lead with just over a lap to go and pulled away on the homestretch as he smiled and stuck out his tongue to the crowd.
"I found myself in the lead with 500 to go and tried to push it from there and I was able to hold up," Jager said. "I was strong enough over the last lap to secure first place and then looked back after the last barrier and knew I had it. It was just pure elation that came over me. I knew I was going to London and smiled across the finish line."
Cabral followed up his NCAA championship at Princeton earlier this month by making the Olympic team.
"I have never been happier with a second-place finish in my life," he said.
Alcorn was in a similar position as Cabral in 2008 after winning the NCAA title for the Sun Devils, but placed 11th at the Trials. He said he spent the last four years focusing on Thursday's final.
"It was a big learning process for me in '08 and the last four years I knew what the Trials would be like," he said. "A lot of hype, everyone will bring their 'A' game. It is different from a normal U.S. Championship. The last four years my main focus has been gearing up and getting ready for all the struggles and excitement that come with it."