Kayley DeLay in the steeplechase at the 2022 USATF Outdoor Championships
Kayley DeLay in the steeplechase at the 2022 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE (25-Jun) — If you were watching yesterday’s first round of the women’s steeplechase at the USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships here at Hayward Field, you could be forgiven if you were surprised to see a woman wearing the kit of Yale University, certainly one of America’s top academic institutions but not one with a reputation of turning out top distance runners. 

That woman, Kayley DeLay, 23, has made impressive progress since clocking a very modest 11:00.44 for the steeplechase in her first race as a freshman back in 2018.  Yesterday, she finished fifth in her heat in 9:40.17 and advanced to Sunday’s final, her first at a national championships.

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DeLay, who grew up in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and just earned a degree in environmental engineering, has made remarkable progress during her time at Yale, especially given the interruptions of the pandemic.  During the recently-concluded NCAA season, she recorded the #6 time in the NCAA prior to the national championships where she ran a sparkling personal best of 9:25.08 to take second place behind only Brigham Young’s Courtney Wayment who ran a collegiate record 9:16.00. 

She also won the Ivy League titles at 5000m and the steeplechase, and set a new conference championships record of 9:53.70 (the previous record was held by Olympian Alexi Pappas who competed for Dartmouth).

“For some people it seems like I came out of nowhere,” DeLay told Race Results Weekly after her heat yesterday.  “But it was a steady progression, trusting in the training, and having patience. It’s been a journey.”

DeLay said she found plenty of motivation on Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus, where she is far and away the school’s best distance runner.  Specifically, she said that the achievements of two former Yale athletes, Olympians Kate O’Neill and Kate Grace, gave her constant inspiration. O’Neill finished third at the 2004 USA Olympic Trials in the 10,000m, and finished 21st in the Athens Olympics.  Grace won the 2016 USA Olympic Trials 800m and made the final of the  Rio Olympics.

“I have amazing teammates and coaches to push me and a legacy of some awesome athletes, Kate O’Neill and Kate Grace,” DeLay explained. “Through the years there’s been some big talents, so it’s been fun to look up at the record board and see their names up there and try to chase them down.”

At the Raleigh Relays last March, DeLay ran 15:39.11 and broke O’Neill’s 19 year-old school record of 15:51.30 (she had actually run faster indoors last December in Boston when she clocked 15:36.66).  She carefully built up during her spring season so she could peak for NCAA’s, and is now targeting a high finish here at the USATF Championships.

Behind the two top athletes in this discipline, 2021 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs and 2017 world champion Emma Coburn, there is room for one other woman to make the national team for next month’s world athletics championships.  It’s a long-shot for DeLay, but she has broken the qualifying mark of 9:30.00 and hopes to be in the mix for a high finish.

“It’s so exciting,” said DeLay of advancing to the final.  “I came to the Trials last year (where she did not get out of the heats) and that was like so intimidating. She continued: “It was really like zero to 100 real quick.

“I was just happy to be there (and) didn’t count myself in at all. I don’t know (I) didn’t run great.  I really wanted to come in here, and know I belong and try to do my best.”

DeLay hopes to make a professional career out of athletics, but she’s not counting on it.

“I would love it to be a future for me,” she said.  “You know, you’ve got to count your blessings.  Maybe my degree from Yale will definitely come in handy someday, so hopefully later than sooner.”

PHOTO: Kayley DeLay competing in the opening round of the steeplechase at the 2022 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

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