Raevyn Rogers - Next Stop Oregon (© WCH Oregon22)
This is an exciting time for Raevyn Rogers, and it’s easy to see why.
The former University of Oregon star is coming off a 2021 season that saw her once again set a personal best in the 800 meters, and she did so in the biggest race of her career with a bronze-medal finish at the Tokyo Olympics.
The women’s 800m is enjoying unprecedented depth in the U.S. and globally with more runners breaking the hallowed 2-minute barrier than ever before.
And like many United States track and field athletes, it’s an exciting time for Rogers knowing that the 18th edition of the World Athletics Championships will be contested in the U.S. for the first time from July 15-24 in Oregon. Few people have enjoyed as much success or love at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, the site of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, as Rogers.
Rogers is already off to a fast start this season. She’s coming off a win in the 800m on April 16 at the Mt. SAC Relays in 1 minute, 58.77 seconds. That broke the meet record of 1:59.10 Rogers set in 2017 in setting the collegiate record at the time. By comparison's sake, Rogers didn’t break 1:59 last year until the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track and Field at Hayward Field.
“There’s so much more that I know is going to happen,” Rogers said, “and I just believe is going to happen. I don’t even feel like I’m even close to my prime. I actually feel like I’m just getting started.
“That’s the exciting part about my career, I’m only going into the fourth (full) year of being pro. That’s a great feeling. My biggest thing is proving the impossible, so I’m just excited to take that mentality and have the faith I have and keep inspiring people that whatever you may believe is impossible or something that may never be able to happen, can still happen. It just takes a lot of faith and belief in yourself that it can happen.”
Rogers is only 25, but has already had a long and successful track and field career beginning when she won the 400m and the 800m at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships as a 12-year-old in 2009.
Her track career has steadily risen from there, and rocketed to greatness at the University of Oregon where she dominated the 800m as a three-time NCAA outdoor champion and two-time NCAA indoor champion. She never lost an individual race in an NCAA final and helped deliver NCAA outdoor team titles in 2015 and 2017 and indoor team titles in 2016 and 2017.
Rogers won the Bowerman Award in 2017 as the top women’s collegiate track and field athlete in the country. Rogers, who graduated from Oregon with degrees in Spanish and art, left an indelible masterpiece behind in her final performance as a Duck, one that remains her favorite Hayward Field memory.
In 2017, Oregon was looking to become the first women’s team to win the NCAA Triple Crown by sweeping the team titles in cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field in the same academic year. The Ducks entered the 4x400m relay at the NCAA outdoor meet needing to win the event to secure the team title and the Triple Crown. On the relay’s anchor leg, Rogers passed University of Southern California star Kendall Ellis with 200 meters to go, and then held off Ellis down the homestretch to give the Ducks the Triple Crown. Both Oregon and USC broke the collegiate record in the 4x400m relay, and Rogers ran a 49.77-second split as the Ducks won in 3 minutes, 23.13 seconds.
“That whole (2017) meet was wild,” Rogers recalled. “To do that in front of the home crowd, it was just a celebration between the Eugene community and us. It was something beyond just historically what we were able to achieve. It was a moment that everyone was able to be a part of.”
When the reimagined Hayward Field was completed in 2020, Rogers was one of five former University of Oregon track and field greats enshrined on a 10-story tower there for her legendary collegiate exploits.
“I understood what was happening, but it didn’t really process how such an honor that is and how monumental that is,” Rogers said of seeing herself on the tower. “Just having Oregon set the tone of really honoring and telling the stories of their athletes and really giving flowers were it’s due, I feel like they separate themselves from a lot of other universities. Even if they didn’t put me on the tower in itself, they’ve continued the culture where they’re keeping those stories alive of so many great athletes that have come through Oregon.”
Also on the tower are former Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, Olympic gold medalists Otis Davis and Ashton Eaton, and legendary distance runner Steve Prefontaine, who was killed in a car crash at age 24 before reaching his prime. Rogers takes considerable pride in being the only Black woman on the tower. When she was getting into track and field, Rogers said her mother put her in the 800m because there weren’t many young Black girls running that race. Madeline (Manning) Mims, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist, was an early inspiration for Rogers, as were the Clark sisters — Joetta (Clark) Diggs, Hazel Clark and Jearl Miles-Clark, who made history in 2000 when the three of them comprised the U.S. women’s 800m team for the Sydney Olympics.
Watch: Raevyn Rogers and her family react to seeing her on the Hayward Field tower for the first time
“To really be making history and breaking barriers as a Black woman, it just goes to show you can have someone to look up to that’s in your field as well because kids need that. They need to see somebody that looks like them doing these amazing things. It just provides equal representation in track and field.”
Following the 2017 collegiate season, Rogers missed making her first World Athletics Championships team when she was fourth at the USATF Outdoor Championships. She then turned pro and bypassed what would have been her final collegiate season.
Rogers, who grew up in Houston, relocated to Philadelphia when she turned pro and trained with the Derek Thompson-coached group that included Ajee’ Wilson, who was the top U.S. 800m runner at the time and the American outdoor record-holder. The move paid big dividends for Rogers. She finished fifth in the 800m at the 2018 indoor World Athletics Championships in her first senior global championships.
The following year was even better as Rogers made the 2019 U.S. team for the outdoor World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. In Doha, Rogers used her trademark kick to storm from the back of the pack and finish second in 1:58.18. Rogers overtook Wilson, who finished third, and just missed reeling in the surprising winner, Uganda’s Halimah Nakkayi.
Under Thompson, Rogers lowered her PR from the 1:59.10 collegiate record she set at Oregon to 1:57.69 in 2019. But in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rogers switched gears, and relocated back to Oregon to train under Pete Julian with the Union Athletics Club.
Because of the pandemic, last season was the first true competitive season Rogers worked with Julian. Among her teammates at Union Athletics Club are 2019 800m men’s world champion and American record-holder Donavan Brazier, Germany’s Koko Klosterhalfen, the 2019 World Athletics Championships bronze medalist in the women’s 5,000m, and a pair of Australian Olympians who were NCAA champions for Oregon in Jessica Hull and Charlie Hunter.
“To have somebody that is equally as passionate about the potential that I know I have in myself, it just makes training that much more a unity thing,” Rogers said. “We both know what I can do. Even when I don’t believe in myself sometimes in practice, or in a tough situation or a tough race, (Julian is) still there to say, don’t get too down in a rut. I feel like on the emotional side and the reassuring side that has just led to me continuing to progress each race.”
“We’re still growing, we’re still learning. It’s only the second competitive year, but our first one together really set the standard and really gave a good foundation for us being able to not only understand how to communicate with each other, but reflecting on races and everything. All-around a very emotionally supportive relationship, very reassuring and positive.”
The results training under Julian were the best of Rogers’ career in 2021. She broke 2 minutes seven times last year, including a PR of 1:57.66 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field to finish behind Athing Mu and ahead of Wilson to make her first Olympic team.
In the Olympic final, Rogers entered the homestretch near the back of the pack but stormed home over the final 100 meters to get third place and a bronze medal with another PR of 1:56.81. Mu, then 19, won the gold medal and set the first of her two American records in 1:55.21, breaking Wilson’s national record. Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson, also 19, was second in 1:55.88, a British national record and a European record.
The 2021 season was one of the best ever for women’s 800m runners. Every woman in the 800 final ran 1:58.26 or faster. Nine women broke 1:57 in 2021, and six more ran under 1:58. The event has become so deep and wide open that only South Africa’s Caster Semenya has repeated as the 800m Olympic champion (2012 and 2016), and only Semenya (2009 and 2011) has recently repeated as the outdoor World Athletics Championships winner in the 800m.
“You could think about the four-minute mile and that was something that wasn’t considered doable,” Rogers said, “and now, with time, you have more of the four-minute mile being broken and same with the 800. It’s just that time where a lot more women are running sub-2. Having multiple athletes running sub-1:57 is something that I feel speaks for itself.”
Rogers is also part of what is likely the strongest group of U.S. women’s 800m runners ever. Before Mu’s win in Tokyo, the only other American to win the Olympic 800m was Madeline (Manning) Mims. Mu and Rogers marked the first time the U.S. had multiple 800m medalists in an Olympics. The only other U.S. Olympic medalist in the 800m was Kim Gallagher, who won silver in Los Angeles in 1984 and bronze in Seoul in 1988.
“I remember looking at past medalists in the Olympics, and for so many years, it was like Soviets, it wasn’t America,” Rogers said, “due to so many other things that just didn’t make competing in the 800 fair back in Madeline’s time. So, if anything, this is a prime time where middle-distance is really thriving and shouldn’t be taken for granted as far as the talent that’s in the 800.
“I just think every race has its time when it’s thriving. It’s been a long time coming. It’s not like it’s been on a standstill. There’s been tough competitors, it’s just now’s the time where America is really doing well and commanding a presence on a world stage.”
Mu, Rogers, and Wilson, who is coming off a win in March at the indoor World Athletics Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, will be favored at the USATF Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field from June 23-26 when the American team for the World Athletics Championships is determined. But it won’t be easy.
Kate Grace, who was seventh at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year, reeled off several PRs in post-Olympic meets in Europe and finished ahead of Rogers at last August’s Prefontaine Classic. Oregon Track Club Elite’s Hanna Green made the 2019 World Athletics Championships team, and Michaela Meyer, who won the NCAA outdoor title for Virginia last year, was fourth at the Olympic Trials with a PR of 1:58.55. Olivia Baker joined Wilson at the indoor World Athletics Championships in March.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s pressure to make the team because I’ve been successful with just doing me,” Rogers said. “Of course, my goal is to make this team, get as high on the podium (at the World Athletics Championships) as I can. And to win, that would be a dream to win, but of course everybody wants to win, so I just try and focus on myself and just progress as much as I can meet by meet.”
When Rogers, Mu, and Hodgkinson stood on the Olympic medal podium last year in Tokyo, they did so in front of an empty stadium because of the pandemic. Rogers relishes the fact that her family attended the Olympic Trials last year and is looking forward to having them in the stands often at Hayward Field this summer after they couldn’t share the Olympic experience with her in person.
“They’re all going to find a way to be there and have their Raevyn’s Nest shirts and full effect just like they were at Trials,” Rogers said, “and I just can’t wait for them to be able to experience, God-willing, me make the team, and just doing these amazing things. It’s always fun to see, even at Olympic Trials, for their experience. That’s what made me the happiest that they were able to see for themselves and be a part of my journey."
That journey once again finds Rogers set for a summer of meets at Hayward Field, the perfect venue for her.
“I’m excited, too, because I feel like this will be something that the volunteers and everyone that’s a part of this World Championships,” Rogers said, “even behind the scenes helping with it, it helps that they’re as equally passionate about track and field, so that’s what makes it special.”
By Ashley Conklin