Walla Walla sits in the southeast region of the state of Washington, near the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The name means “running waters” or, more specifically, the place where a small stream runs into a larger one.

The town of approximately 34,000 and the surrounding Walla Walla Valley, one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the country, produce everything from sweet onions to strawberries, asparagus, and world-class wines.

You can add Kenneth Rooks to that list.

Kenneth Rooks, Men’s steeple final, June 23, 2024, photo by Chuck Aragon for RunBlogRun

The Walla Walla native, who attended class 1A (small schools) at College Place High School and is a Brigham Young University graduate, repeated his feat as US national champion on day 3 of the United States Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene by staying out of trouble early.

After a first-kilometer run at 3 minutes, which removed no one from contention, a group that included Matthew Wilkinson and Benard Keter slowly ratcheted up the pace, hitting two kilometers at 5:47.79.

Meanwhile, Rooks worked his way into third after staying out of traffic. He then put the hammer down on the backstretch with less than three laps to go, running laps of 62.53, 59.79, and 61.15 to secure the victory in a time of 8:21.92.

Kenneth Rooks takes the 2024 US OT Steeplechase! photo by Chuck Aragon for RunBlogRun

While his personal best time of 8:15.08, set at the Sound Running Track Fest in Los Angeles on May 12th, was an agonizing .08 over the Olympic standard of 8:15.00, Rooks, who is currently ranked number 24 in the world in the event according to the World Athletics ranking system, is a near lock to earn selection for Paris, once the world rankings are released following the close of the Road to Paris qualifying period on June 30th.

Entering the Trials, Rooks was ranked third among U.S. steeplechasers behind Hillary Bor and Anthony Rotich, the only two with the Olympic standard.

Rotich finished eighth, while Bor, who fell in the water jump just before the halfway mark, finished 13th.

Kenneth Rooks wins, Mathew Wilkinson rejoices, photo by Chuck Aragon, for RunBlogRun.

Matthew Wilkinson, who was second in 8:23.00 and is ranked 36th, will probably be selected for the US Olympic team. BYU’s James Corrigan trained with Rooks in Provo and was a surprise third in 8:26.78; he may be the odd man out, as he’s not ranked.

In the mixed zone, Rooks told reporters, “We were looking to see what moves people were going to make. I feel like I have a really good close.”

“Matthew started to push the pace, and I threw down the hammer with two laps to go. That was based on feel.”

“I was a little rushed on Friday, but today, I got to Hayward Field earlier and slowed things down. I just tried to focus as much as I could on the process. I just tried to slow it down a bit beforehand, then tried to be curious in the race, look for what was going to happen, and respond.”

The joy and surprise of third place in the Olympic Trials, James Corrigan, photo by Chuck Aragon, for RunblogRun

In contrast to last year, Rooks has a little more international experience going into Paris. At the world championships in Budapest, he won his heat in 8:23.66, just a hair ahead of eventual world champ Sofiane El Bakkali of Morocco. Rooks then finished tenth in the finals in 8:20.02.

He said he would sit down with BYU coach Ed Eyestone and agent Ray Flynn to determine what meets he would run before the Olympics.

Eyestone, who has already qualified two athletes for the US Olympic team in the marathon, said afterward, “I’m still floating,”

“I’m levitating. I’m at an all-time high. I mean, as high as I was when we went one-two in the marathon with Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, it was really beyond my wildest dreams coming into this that we could get both Kenneth and James in the top 3.”

“I’m so very happy for both of them. We couldn’t have drawn it up any better. The top three at the Olympic Trials—you just can’t ask for more than that.”

While France may produce some of the world’s best wines, the Walla Walla region of Washington state is also up to the task. Look for Walla Walla’s Kenneth Rooks at the Stade de France.

PREP PATTER

When you watch Monday night’s competition at the US Olympic Trials, look for two of the nine high school athletes competing in the finals.

Sixteen-year-old sensation Quincy Wilson of Bowie, Maryland, whom I wrote about after day one of the Trials, advanced to the finals, breaking his own national high school record of 44.66 and the world under-18 record set two days earlier, running 44.59.

Quincy Wilson made history last night, breaking the WR of Justin Robinson from 1979 in the High school 400m! photo by Chuck Aragon

Wilson was third in a heat won by Bryce Deadmon in 44.44, with Vernon Norwood second in 44.50.

Wilson goes into the finals with the fourth fastest time out of Sunday’s semifinals.

The other high school standout to watch is JaiCieonna Gero-Holt of Puyallup, Washington, in the women’s high jump.

In Saturday’s qualifying round, Gero-Holt, who graduated after her junior year at Emerald Ridge HS and won the USATF under-20 heptathlon last week, only needed two jumps to advance.

Gero-Holt cleared 5-10 (1.78m) on her first attempt, then promptly cleared 6-0 (1.83m) on her first attempt, as ten finalists cleared that height.

The incoming University of Illinois freshman goes against four women with better personal bests than her 6-2.25 (1.89m), including Vashti Cunningham, the 2016 world indoor champion and 2019 world championships bronze medalist.

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