June 23, 2021

Trippas Making Most of Year Away from Princeton Track, Aiming to Make Australian Olympic Team in Steeplechase

CHASING A DREAM: Princeton University men’s track star Ed Trippas competes in a steeplechase race for the Tigers. Rising senior Trippas, a native of Sydney, Australia, is looking to earn a spot in the steeplechase on the Australian team for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

Ed Trippas is bidding to become the second Princeton University steeplechaser in the last nine years to make an Olympic team.

Former Princeton standout Donn Cabral ’12 made the United States Olympic team at the close of his senior year and again in 2016, placing eighth in both ensuing Summer Olympics, and he continues to pursue a third berth. Trippas, for his part, is taking aim at a spot on his native Australian team before he returns to Princeton for his senior year.

“I can either go after a qualifying time or try to get a world ranking position, which is your best three performances,” explained Trippas. “Those are the two methods of qualifying.”

Trippas has taken some big steps over the last month to put himself in position to qualify. He ran 8:30.89 to win the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Music City Track Carnival in Nashville, Tenn., on June 4. The win at the bronze-level meet granted him 50 bonus points. Trippas had an even better time, a new personal record of 8:26.25, to place seventh at the Portland Track Festival on May 28.

“I was very pleased with it,” said Trippas. “It’s a lot of hard work that has started to pay off over the last few months. For it to start to come together and get a really good result, I was very pleased with that.”

The time was a move toward the minimum qualifying time standards for the Olympics of 8:22. That standard is far lower than the 8:29 mark that was required for the 2016 Olympic Games. Trippas has until the end of June to hit the time mark. Beyond that, the Tokyo Olympics will use the top 45 ranked steeplechasers to fill out the field.

“You do all the training, and there’s a difference between being in shape and having it seen in a race result,” said Trippas.

“I knew I could run around an 8:26 or in the ballpark of that. For me to have the right race and the right day and for it to come together like that was exciting for me. At the same time, I need four more seconds to get that time for the Olympic games. It’s a motivating factor. Although it’s a personal best, 8:26, it’s still a lot of work to be done to get to 8:22.”

Trippas won bronze at the Australian National Championships on April 18 in 8:31.09, which was a new personal best. His 8:26 clocking marked the fastest by an Australian at the time since 2012. Another Australian has since run 8:24.

“I was eighth fastest Australian all-time, which is exciting considering Australia has had some good steeplechasers historically,” said Trippas.

“To be the fastest since 2012 is exciting. Unfortunately, the new qualifying system is much faster, and if I was trying to qualify five years ago for the Games, 8:26 would have got me there but the new standards are harder. I think that just raises your level of where you need to be at. It pushes me further which is pretty cool.”

Trippas is nearing a goal that started to formulate more clearly when he came to Princeton to train under distance coach Jason Vigilante. Trippas toured the university as a junior in high school, prompted by a desire to further his training in the United States college system.

“There were guys a few years older than me who were moving to the NCAA and going to college for a few years and having some success there,” said Trippas.

“I saw that as a pathway and possible option. That seemed like a really good option for me after high school because there were less resources and support in Australia. There was a whole team aspect that was really appealing to me in the U.S. I started looking at colleges. I reached out to Coach Vig and emailed him and came to tour the campus and met him, and from there I knew it was the No. 1 place I wanted to go to.”

Entering Princeton, Trippas figured to have some success on the Ivy League level at least considering that he had already clocked a time that would have enabled him to score at Heptagonals.

“Because of the club system in Australia, I was able to start steeplechasing when I was around 15,” said Trippas.

“You start in the 2K steeplechase and then you work up to the 3K steeplechase. I ran the steeplechase a number of years in high school before I was recruited. I was desirable to Ivy League schools. There was like a hole in the steeplechase where it wasn’t a very strong event. Having run 9:04, that would have scored at Heps most years. Recently, the last Heps I ran, there were four or five guys around 8:50-8:45 which is kind of unprecedented depth so it’s gotten a lot stronger.”

Going through a year of transition as a freshman, Trippas has made the most of his move to Princeton. After coming to the school with his 9:04 clocking out of high school, he lowered his time to 9:00.64 in the NCAA East Preliminaries to close his first year. At the NCAA East Region as a sophomore, he dropped an 8:33.90 time to win and advance to the NCAA Championships.

“Freshman year was a big change,” said Trippas. “You can look at my results and I wasn’t anything special. Coming into sophomore year and having the experience from freshman year, that set me up really well. That’s when things started to click and everything came around to the point to put me in the position to be very competitive in the NCAA.”

Trippas saw his confidence growing with each year at Princeton. He started to believe that he could compete beyond the NCAA level and possibly represent Australia if his improvements continued. His huge time drop in his sophomore year was critical to a surge in confidence.

“At the time that was only four seconds away from 8:29, which at the time was the standard to make the world championships,” said Trippas.

“Even at that point, Coach Vig was like you can do this and be an Olympian. He always instilled the belief in me that I could be an Olympian. It might be a shock to some. I think some people who aren’t following as closely think, ‘wow, you improved so quickly.’ It hasn’t been in my eyes and I think from the people that know me, it hasn’t been rapid, it’s been gradual progress. I think I’ve been working up to this level for a while and I always believed I could be there. But a huge part of it is Coach Vig having so much experience in knowing that you can do this and saying that to me, even when I was injured. Having that voice is such a huge help. He’s definitely a big part of this reason I’m in the position I am now, just his belief about where I can be.”

Heading into his junior year, Trippas was poised to make more strides before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the Tigers’ spring season before it got started. Trippas took a hiatus from school to train on his own and pursue his Olympic aspirations.

“I really enjoyed taking a year off,” said Trippas. “Although I felt it was a good experience to be away from Princeton and to be able to reflect on the experience and appreciate it so much more, I was injured and kind of on and off from May of 2020 until I went home to Australia in December. Training wasn’t going the way I was hoping, but finally I was able to go home. I did two weeks quarantine in Australia in a hotel room and after that I was able to reset and restart again. I’ve had since the start of the year, a really consistent good healthy training block which has allowed me to race really well now. Just taking the year off school and not having to focus on finals has been such a big help in being able to travel and race and give it my best shot to make the Olympics.”

While he has been away, Trippas kept an eye on the college season, paying close attention to the NCAA Championships which concluded on June 11. Trippas was one notable runner who was absent while taking a year away.

“I think this year if I had been at college and run the times I did, I’d have the No. 1 and maybe No. 2 times, which is kind of exciting,” said Trippas.

“It means once I go back I can compete with the best and that’ll be exciting to see what guys are coming through and what guys are graduating in the steeplechase and see what guys are good. Next year when I come back, I want to bring that NCAA steeplechase title home. The DMR [distance medley relay] was the last thing we won (in the 2013 Indoor Nationals). Donn Cabral was the last steeplechase winner we’ve had at Princeton. That’d be a cool legacy to have.”

Cabral was in the same Portland race as Trippas. Trippas finished two spots ahead of Cabral, who ran 8:27.25, exactly one second slower than Trippas.

“After the race, we met for the first time,” said Trippas. “He was really nice. He said, great race, which was pretty cool since I had just beat him. Obviously he’s a legend around Princeton and the track team having made the Olympics his senior year and being a two-time Olympic finalist. He’s done everything I’d want to do in steeplechase. He was really nice, he said, ‘I hope you get my record,’ the school record of 8:19, which is still insanely fast. For anyone to have run that in college is super impressive, and for him to be super friendly and nice about it was super cool.”

The next step for Trippas is not the Princeton school record as that will have to wait until next spring. First, the rising senior would like to follow Cabral’s fast footsteps into the Olympic Games, and his recent races have him closing in on that goal.