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Kate Grace '11 Earns Spot on Team USA at Rio Olympics

Kate Grace. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Kate Grace. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Yale Alum Joins Team USA with Victory in 800m Final

EUGENE, Ore.Kate Grace '11 will join Team USA next month in Rio following a decisive victory in the 800-meter run final at the USATF Olympic Trials. The legendary alum came from the back of the pack in what was a wild last 200 meters to move from sixth to first. It was such a shocking display of athleticism that it left the announcers speechless, unable to comprehend how Grace pulled off an unprecedented win at the trials. 

The final was the last of three rounds of this 800-meter run, featuring the eight fastest women from all across the country. Pro athlete Ajee' Wilson was considered the favorite coming into the final by reporters and the announcers calling the race. She had the American leading mark in this event this year, clocking in at 1:59.72. In fact, coming into this race, Grace was seeded sixth behind women who had better personal bests than her. 

The gun went off and the women ripped through the first 200 meters, with the leader Alysia Montaño clocking in at a ferocious 27.73s. 400 meters in, Montaño had a strong hold onto the lead but the rest of the competitors were close behind. Early on, it didn't seem that Grace was in contention to crack the top three because she found herself boxed in badly. Through the first lap while the leader, Montaño, clocked in at 57.46s, Grace was a full second behind in seventh place. 

However, what has carried the former Bulldog through these past couple of races is an incredible ability to finish faster than anybody else. In both the first and second rounds, Grace moved up four places to secure her spot in the next round. In a time when everyone else is pushing deep within themselves to finish strong, Grace just somehow finds a way to outpace them all. 

She did it again Monday evening, racing from the inside to get within half a second from the frontrunner. Things got a bit hairy in the last turn when Montaño tripped and fell hard onto the track, slowing down Brenda Martinez, who was sitting in second place. Grace was unfazed by the event, but she was still in fourth with about 150 meters to go. In an memorable demonstration of athleticism and perseverance, Grace roared past the frontrunner Wilson to win. She crossed the line with a new personal best of 1:59.10, the leading American time in 2016. 

Grace was shocked at not only making it onto Team USA, but winning an event when the odds seemed to be against her. She becomes just the second woman to represent Yale at the Olympics in Track & Field. The other female Olympian track and field athlete was Kate O'Neill '03, who qualified for the 10,000-meter run at the 2004 Athens Olympics. But as Grace modestly pointed out in her post-race interview, "I've never podiumed in a national event, in high school or college or the pros." 

That's what makes this story even more incredible. The Oiselle-sponsored athlete just recently came off a long stint where she was unable to compete due to a torn ligament in her toe. And yet this past February, just 18 months later, Grace didn't seem to miss a beat. Her first race back, she ran a new personal best time in the mile. Back in May, she achieved the 2:00.05 time that qualified her for these Olympic Trials. 

"We are all so proud of what Kate just accomplished.  Every track and field athlete dreams of the day they will become an Olympian and today was the realization of that dream," commented David Shoehalter, Yale's Mark T. Young '68 Director of Cross Country and Track and Field. "I know that her coach at Yale, Mark Young '68, has to be incredibly proud of what she's done tonight.  The entire Yale University family can take pride in the fact that Kate was and will always be, a Bulldog."  

Grace will compete in the Olympics on Wednesday, August 17 for the first round of the 800-meter run. More details will be posted as the Olympics draw closer. 

A video of the race can be found here: https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/750130824977100801

Report by Ariel A. Sánchez '19, Yale Sports Publicity