Minnesota native Matt Wilkinson talks making Olympics in steeplechase: 'Pure elation'

Matt Wilkinson never made a state meet in high school. He wasn’t recruited heavily to college, and didn’t discover the 3,000-meter steeplechase until his freshman year at Carleton College.

The Greenwood native and Minnetonka alum now excels at distance running while leaping over obstacles. The two-time Big Ten champion fulfilled a dream last Sunday, taking second in the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., to qualify for his first Olympics.

He technically has to wait on final world rankings, as he didn’t meet the qualifying time standard. But after taking sixth at the Olympic Trials last year, he moved to Arizona to train for the steeplechase full-time. He now fully expects to be in Paris.

"It’s pretty much like 99.9 percent sure that I’ll get in. I kind of knew that going in, this weekend is the last weekend that people can bump me out, it’s just not really possible that that many people will be able to do it. But it absolutely is a thought, man what if something did happen and I couldn’t get in?" Wilkinson said Thursday via Zoom. "Trying to silence those and just fully embrace it."

As he crossed the finish line, he saw his Carleton coach, several former Minnetonka teammates who made the trip, his family and his long-time girlfriend. He went viral for a live interview right after the race, saying, "Am I dreaming? Someone wake me up."

"Just live I was like did I say anything dumb? It was just pure emotion speaking. I didn’t have anything planned, that was just the first thing that came to mind," Wilkinson said. "A lot of my friends and family are back in Minnesota to celebrate, they’re all like ‘Oh I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity now.’ I was like I’m still the same guy. Nothing has changed from that aspect of it."

Minnesota high school track and field doesn’t include the steeplechase. His coach at Carleton recommended he try it. After winning two NCAA titles with the Knights, he transferred to the Gophers. In his first meet at Minnesota, he tripped and fell into the water.

"That was humbling," Wilkinson said.

He’s confident enough he’ll make it via world ranking that he plans to travel to Europe on Sunday. He’ll train with his camp in Belgium, and hopes to compete in a pre-Olympic meet in Paris July 7. He’ll then train in Switzerland leading up to the Olympic Games.

What does he hope to accomplish in Paris?

"Goal is to make the finals, be able to do two races at the Olympics and have as much fun as possible," Wilkinson said.