After qualifying for the delayed 2020 Olympics, it was an almost sheepish admission from Joe Klecker that his trip to Tokyo would mark his first journey outside the United States.
Of course, Klecker wanted to make sure his focus was on making it a successful business trip, not a sightseeing tour, and on Friday morning local time the former University of Colorado distance specialist did just that. In his Olympics debut, Klecker finished 16th in the 10,000-meter run, finishing in 28 minutes, 14.18 seconds.
“I’ve actually never left the country, so I’m just excited to go see Japan,” Klecker told BuffZone prior to departing for the Games. “We’re pretty much locked into the athlete village, but I’m excited to see what the experience is like. I’m only in Japan for a week, but I want to enjoy every aspect of it. We worked hard all year to qualify, so to be in Tokyo together will be a moment to share with my teammates.”
In the first international race of his career, Klecker, a nine-time track and cross country All-American at CU, and the rest of the field were greeted by 86-degree temperatures with 90 percent humidity. That probably helped prevent Klecker from performing in peak form — he had posted 10 personal records in 11 races under the tutelage of another former Colorado track star, Dathan Ritzenhein, going into the Olympics — yet he was able to remain within striking distance of the lead pack for about the first 20 minutes of the race.
Klecker finished third among the American runners, with Grant Fisher leading the way for Team USA with a fifth-place finish (27:46.39). William Kincaid finished one spot ahead of Klecker with a mark of 28:11.01. Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega claimed the gold medal (27:43.22), followed by the Ugandan duo of Joshua Cheptegei (27:43.63) and Jacob Kiplimo (27:43.88).
Former CU track stars will be in the spotlight once again on Saturday, as 2016 bronze medalist Emma Coburn and Valerie Constien compete in the preliminary rounds of the 3,000-meter steeplechase. That event begins at 6:40 p.m. MT.