EUGENE, Or. – Two Missouri runners are heading to the Tokyo Olympics to represent Team USA on the track after a grueling 10 days of qualifying races.
Karissa Schweizer and Courtney Frerichs both qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after competing at qualifiers in Eugene, Oregon. To make the feat even more impressive, this was during a record-breaking heat wave where fans had to be evacuated at one point due to the extreme temperatures, eventually reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Frerichs, a Nixa, Missouri native, earned her second shot at an Olympic medal after finishing second in the women’s 3000-meter Steeplechase final on Thursday with a time of 9:11.79. She qualified and competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the same event, finishing 11th overall.
“While the 2016 Olympics was a dream come true, I was so inexperienced,” Frerichs said. “I needed to learn and be better.”
In the time that has passed since her Olympic debut six years ago, Frerichs went off to set a North American record in 2018 with a time of 9:00.85 in the same event that’s taking her to Tokyo.
“I thought things were going in the right direction, and then March of 2020 came,” she recalled.
When COVID-19 caused most of the world to shut down – especially the athletic world – Frerichs didn’t see it as a setback. She saw it as an opportunity for more training and preparation before the Olympic trials began.
“It was a chance for me to grow as an athlete,” she said. “To be better prepared for 2021 and I think it’s paid off. I’ve improved some of my flat times. I think I improved my mental game. And for myself, being another year older is not a bad thing.”
Frerichs was right on point with her sentiment as she is now gearing up for a long flight over the Pacific Ocean to put her hard work to use and represent the United States.
On the other hand, this will be Schweizer’s first Olympic appearance – but you would never have guessed it after she went 2 for 2 at the Olympic trials. She qualified for both the 5,000-meter run and 10,000-meter run with times of 15:27.81 and 31:16.52, respectively.
She is only the fifth American woman to qualify for both races, and is the first female track and field runner from Mizzou to qualify at all since 1996.
When asked if she’ll compete in both races, she referred the decision to her coach at Bowerman Track Club, Jerry Schumacher.
“I’ll have to ask Jerry,” she said. “I hope so.”
Schweizer was already a University of Missouri track legend and has been labeled the most decorated female athlete in Mizzou’s history. After winning a total of six national titles and still currently holding an American collegiate record for the women’s indoor 3000-meter run, Schweizer set her sights on the Olympics.
“I didn’t think I was going to make [the Olympic team] once let alone twice,” Schweizer said after the 10,000-meter race. “It’s an incredible honor. Sixteen-year-old me would be in shock right now.”
After a just handful of Mizzou athletes competed in the qualifiers, Mizzou Track & Field Head Coach Brett Halter said he is “very proud” of how everyone performed and that the team’s entire support is behind Schweizer.
“Everyone that competed at the trials will be better during the next Olympic cycle,” Halter predicted. “We will get back to the process of refining our craft but, until then… as we preach all the time, 100-1! We are a program of a 100 strong plus the thousands of track field alum coupled with the entire Tiger Nation as we get behind Karissa 100-1 as she prepares for Tokyo!”
With their tickets officially punched, Frerichs and Schweizer are now preparing to face the top track & field athletes across the globe on the world’s biggest stage. The Summer Olympics will begin on Friday, July 23 and go until Sunday, August 8.