Former Mizzou runner Karissa Schweizer has high hopes in Olympic 5,000-meter final

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Monday morning will be the longest 5,000 meters of Karissa Schweizer’s life.

A six-time national champion and one of the most decorated figures in University of Missouri sports history, the 25-year-old Iowan has a proven history of thriving in the big race. But there’s nothing bigger than the Olympics, where she finds herself running for the United States in the women’s 5,000-meter final at 7:40 a.m. Central time at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo.

She’ll be part of a 15-runner field after having placed seventh in the preliminary heats in 14 minutes, 51.34 seconds. Her best mark in the event (14:26.34, set in July 2020) would’ve earned her the silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but a dominant Ethiopian trio of Gudaf Tsegay, Ejgayehu Taye and Senbere Teferi hold the three fastest times in the world this year and are all medal threats.

But plenty can happen over the course of just more than three miles: slips and falls, injuries or incorrect strategies resulting in slower times. How that could help Schweizer is if she takes advantage.

Take it from her sister, Kelsey, a current runner at MU.

“She did really well and executed really smoothly,” Kelsey said of her sister’s heat race. “Her heat definitely seemed more stacked than the other heat, I would say. She was telling me after the race that her coach was saying that top five was going to be hard, just because there were 10 people who should make finals. So I think she executed really well, and it’s going to prepare her for the final.”

Karissa Schweizer is one of two Americans — along with Elise Cranny, her Bowerman Track Club teammate who beat her in the 5,000 at the U.S. Olympic Trials — running in the event Monday. The women’s 5,000 has been dominated by the Kenyans and Ethiopians for over two decades; the last runner not from one of those two nations to finish on the Olympic podium was Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan, who earned silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

It’s one of two events for the former Tiger in Tokyo. Following Monday’s final, she’ll have several days to prepare for the 10,000-meter final Saturday, the final day of the Olympic Games.

Morning in the U.S. is late night in Japan, meaning that the starting gun will fire for the 5,000 at 9:40 p.m. local time. Temperatures are projected to be in the low to mid-80s with scattered thunderstorms and 83% humidity, which could slow the lead pack’s pace.

Kelsey Schweizer plans to travel back to Iowa in time to watch the race over breakfast with her family. She was restless when her sister was competing in the heats at 5 a.m. last Friday, but watching her run for a medal is a different beast.

“I was very nervous,” she said. “I could not sleep that night. I feel like anytime you have to wake up early anyway, it’s hard to sleep, but then knowing that your sister has this huge thing that she has to do at 5 a.m. your time, you’re like, ‘OK, I just want to make sure I set my alarm and don’t miss.’”

An Olympic medal would be a monumental achievement not just for Karissa Schweizer, but also for MU and American running. Schweizer would be the eighth Tiger to medal if she makes the podium, and the first MU runner since Natasha Kaiser-Brown won silver as part of the American 4x400-meter relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

But if Schweizer is in the top three after 5,000 meters in Tokyo, expect celebrations that are a long time coming from her family back on American shores.

“I think everyone would be in awe, but also I don’t think anyone would be shocked,” Kelsey said on if her sister won a medal. “She has shown everyone that she’s in contention to get a medal. We’re going to be happy if she gets 10th, but if she gets a medal, I don’t know what our family would do. We would definitely have our jaws dropped for a couple of days.”

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