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Surprising King advances to final in the steeple

Max King's laid-back approach to the steeplechase continues to belie the performances he conjures.

Two months ago, the Central Point native hadn't competed in the 3,000-meter event since 2008.

Now, he's qualified for the final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials, doing so Monday at Hayward Field in Eugene.

King finished seventh in his heat and 13th overall in 8 minutes, 33.43 seconds to earn a berth in the final Thursday night. The top five placers in each of two heats advanced, as did those with the four next-best times.

King competed in the trials four years ago, his last foray with the steeplechase until a couple meets recently, and didn't make the final.

Since then, he's concentrated on longer distances and extreme racing rather than venture to the track.

"It went good, good enough today, I would say," said King, 32 and a member of the Central Oregon Running Klub in Bend, where he lives. "It was decent for me. It's actually ironic that I made it to the final this year when I haven't been focusing on it and I didn't make it in 2008 when I was."

King has numerous trail and mountain running championships to his credit, and he also competed earlier this year in the Olympic marathon trials.

Others marvel at the range of races at which he succeeds, and it gets broader when you throw in the steeplechase, where runners clear 28 hurdles and seven water jumps.

In the semifinals, Daniel Huling posted the best time of 8:29.00, followed by Benjamin Bruce (8:29.11) and Kyle Alcorn (8:29.27).

The top three in Thursday's final make the Olympic team that will compete in the Summer Games in London from July 27 to Aug. 12.

King, the reigning champion and seven-time winner of the Pear Blossom Run in Medford, was only seconds off his personal best of 8:31.26, set in 2007.

"It helps having the atmosphere here to help get you going," he said. "I was in the second heat and we went out pretty quick. We pushed it quite a bit. Although the times were pretty similar, the first heat went out really slow. The guys in the second heat wanted to make sure we went out and got a good time."

King ran seventh or eighth most of the race.

The fast early pace left him hanging on at the end. He passed another runner late in the race and made a final surge to try, albeit unsuccessfully, to get to the tail end of the main pack.

"But I still ran fast enough," he said.

"I'm happy to be in the final. It'll be a pretty big goal just not to be last."

Further incentive is the possibility of eclipsing his PR.

"I'm only two seconds off right now," said King. "If I can take two seconds off my time from today, that usually is a pretty successful season."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Max King, shown here in the Pear Blossom Run in Medford, will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase Thursday at the U.S. Track and Field Team Trials in Eugene. - MT file photo