By finishing in the top three at this week’s Olympic Trials for track and field in Eugene, Oregon, athletes instantly know they are ticketed for Tokyo.
Winners at last week’s Paralympic Trials in a suburb of Minneapolis didn’t learn who’d be on Team USA until Thursday morning. And not all first-placers are Tokyo Paralympics-bound.
One is Joel Gomez of Encinitas, a 17-year-old who took a T13 title for visually impaired.
Some 135 hours after finishing his 1,500-meter run in a “mediocre” (for him) time of 4:00.31, Joel tuned into a Zoom call at 10 a.m. for the announcement of Team USA.
- December 2018: Canyon Crest Supersoph Joel Gomez Sees Himself Running Sub-4 Mile in High School
- November 2019: At 16, Joel Gomez Takes 11th in World Para Championships 1500 in Dubai
- February 2020: Encinitas Hails Joel Gomez, 16, as USATF Junior Para Athlete of the Year
- June 2021: Tale of 2 Track Stars: San Diegans Brittney Reese and Joel Gomez Eye Tokyo Glory
“They congratulated everybody for their effort and went straight into the (listing of Tokyo team members) — 26 women first and then (35) men,” Joel said Friday. “I was counting on my fingers each name, hoping my name was somewhere in there.”
It turned up 15th or 16th, prompting what he called one of his most genuine surprised reactions.
Competing at Breck High School in Golden Valley, the son of Carlos and Ryan Gomez was hoping for anything 3:55 or under (equivalent to a 4:14 mile).
But he was chosen for the team having run a time 95.4% of the Tokyo-trip automatic standard of 3:50. (The race, contested around 7 p.m., was run in 90-degree heat, a handicap for lap runners.)
It could have been worse, said Joel, a recent graduate of Classical Academy High School of Escondido. Early forecasts called for 17 mph winds with gusts of 40 mph. The wind died down for his race.
Speaking from Miami, where his family had planned a vacation no matter what his result, Joel said he’ll take a week’s break after training hard for nine months. He’ll leave for Japan on August 11, prepping at a U.S. air base in Tokyo before a week’s stay in the Olympic Athletes Village.
Joining him on the U.S. Paralympic team will be at least three athletes who train at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (the former Olympic Training Center).
They are Justin Phongsavanh of Ankeny, Iowa, a javelin thrower who set an F54 category world record last week with a seated toss of 109 feet, 2 inches; blade runner Beatriz Hatz of Lakewood, Colorado, who won the F64/T64 long jump and 200-meter dash (27.10 seconds); and Trenten Merrill of San Juan Capistrano, who won the T64 long jump with a mark of 22-10.
In Tokyo, Joel runs a preliminary race on Monday, Aug. 30. The 1500 finals — which he’s confident of making — are the next day.
He expects T12 world record holder Jaryd Clifford of Australia, with a best time of 3:41.34, to claim gold in the metric mile.
“If it turns into an all-out race, I know the gold is probably not in my sights,” Joel said, “but I will definitely shoot for silver or bronze. (But) it’s anybody’s game if it turns into a (tactical race).”
Clifford, who turns 22 soon, may have other major meets left. But so does Joel Gomez, who has blue cone monochromacy, a rare genetic disorder.
(Joel likens it to the blindness one briefly experiences walking out of a dark theater into bright sunshine. Except his affliction is constant, even in moderate light. He also has a rare form of color-blindness. His sight isn’t blurry, he says, but at a distance things just blend in with each other.)
His future vision is clear, however.
He sees himself competing at major Paralympic meets in 2022 and 2023.
And 2024? Joel aims to make Team USA for the Paris Games.