RIO DE JANEIRO – He might have lost the race, but Ben Blankenship didn’t lose his sense of humor. After the former Gophers runner finished eighth in the men’s 1,500 meters at the Rio Games, he was asked if there was any part of Saturday’s race he wished had unfolded differently.
“Maybe from about 1,500 meters to the finish,” he deadpanned. “That did not go as planned.”
Blankenship, the Stillwater native who was competing in his first major championship event, said he made some tactical mistakes in a slow-paced final at Olympic Stadium. U.S. teammate Matt Centrowitz Jr. ran to the lead and kept it for most of the race, holding off Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi to win in three minutes, 50 seconds. Makhloufi was second in 3:50.11, and Nick Willis of New Zealand finished third in 3:50.24.
The gold was the first for the U.S. in the men’s Olympic 1,500 since 1908.
“Doing my victory lap, I literally kept screaming to everyone I know, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” said Centrowitz, who was fourth in the 1,500 at the 2012 Olympics. “There’s nothing like it. It doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve won in my life.”
Blankenship finished in 3:51.09 and wished he had been as bold as his teammate. As Centrowitz led the pack, Blankenship ran on the outside of the 12-man field in third place early, then moved inside and settled back in fifth.
At the 700-meter mark, he glided up to third, then briefly took the lead from Centrowitz at 800 meters. Centrowitz and Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti passed him, shuffling Blankenship back to third, and he fell farther back in the final 400 meters.
“I felt like I was in a good spot at 300 meters,” he said. “From there, it deteriorated. I was just not as reactive as I thought I should have been.
“I was a little hesitant. I kept thinking, ‘I’ve just got to be calm. I’ve just got to be patient.’ I was a little too patient this time, and it cost me.”
Blankenship wasn’t surprised at the slow pace, and he said he felt no anxiety or stress during a major step forward in his career. Shortly after the race ended, he already was thinking ahead.
“Being eighth, I can’t complain too much,” he said. “I know I made a lot of mistakes, and I know I can fix a lot of stuff going forward. It’s just about getting stronger and getting a little bit more confident.”