Ex-Jayhawk Bryce Hoppel leans on family for stress relief in run up to Olympics

Chris Amaya
Odessa American, Texas (TNS)
Former Kansas Jayhawks track star Bryce Hoppel is leaning on his family for support as he prepares to compete in the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

Before Bryce Hoppel ran in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June, he felt a sense of stress like never before.

The grouping of stress sat in the pit of his stomach the night before the men's 800-meter final was set to take place at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Having one shot to make the Olympics every four years didn't ease Hoppel's nerves, as he also forgot his credential before the final qualifying race began.

The support system his family provided helped him power through the early anxiety.

"I didn't feel alone," Hoppel said. "If I were to try doing it alone, I think I wouldn't have made it through. To have them going through it with me, that's kind of how I saw it.

"I didn't get there on my own and I wasn't going through it on my own, they all got me to that point so doing it with them made it all bearable."

Hoppel secured his spot on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field roster with a third-place finish, clocking in at one minute, 44.14 seconds.

Midland RockHounds general manager Monty Hoppel, Bryce's father, tried to calm his son down before the qualifying race by telling him the process was no different from some of the races he had competed in before.

The distance runner had already collected various honors, including a first-place finish in the 800 at the 2020 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Albuquerque and a fourth-place finish at the 2019 World Track and Field Championships in Qatar.

Former Jayhawk Bryce Hoppel wins the 1,000m in an American record 2:16.27 during the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Feb. 13 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island, N.Y

"He has always performed well in big races," Monty Hoppel said. "His big thing is, he gets really excited for big races.

"I felt like he was gonna do well and you just kind of hope it all turns out that you're in the top three."

Before Bryce Hoppel booked his spot to the Tokyo Games, he established himself as a top track athlete at Midland High in Texas and at the University of Kansas.

He started off playing soccer when he was in high school, shifting his focus to track and cross country late into his sophomore season.

Despite getting into the sport later in his high school career, Hoppel fell in love with track and set his expectations high between his junior and senior years as a Bulldog.

He told his parents he wanted to be an Olympian.

He went on to win a Class 6A 800-meter state championship as a senior in 2016, then he became a record-holder and NCAA national champion through three seasons at Kansas.

After forgoing his senior season with the Jayhawks, Hoppel signed a professional contract to represent Adidas in 2019.

It was a fast rise as a track athlete for the former soccer player.

Through all of his early accomplishments, Hoppel never forgot the lessons learned while training in Midland.

Work ethic was something former high school coaches Hilberto Ochoa, Jeff Streun and Tony De La Rosa pushed every day in practice.

"I just remember learning all about the sport at that time and now I'm here doing it, it's crazy how things change," Hoppel said. "Not only did they make us great athletes, but they were great role models."

Streun got to see his former runner qualify for the Olympics, as he was in attendance for the qualifying races in Oregon.

He recalled seeing Hoppel run a mile relay in the eighth grade, where the athlete ran down to a competitor from about 100 yards out.

The future Olympian didn't run for Streun until almost two years later, but the coach saw the runner's potential.

Streun said seeing Hoppel qualify for the Olympics was one of the highlights of his life.

"It was fun watching that guy that you know personally and that you coached at that level be successful," Streun said. "It was indeed a special occasion for sure after he qualified."

Since locking his roster spot, the Midland native has spent time preparing before getting on a flight to Japan.

Over the last two weeks, Hoppel has competed in Diamond League races in Monaco and England.

He placed 11th with a 1:47.74 time in Monaco and fifth in England after clocking in at 1:45.45.

Although his family and other spectators won't be allowed into the Olympic Village, Hoppel knows he has the unwavering support of his community.

He'll go into his first Olympic race with the same mentality he had for the qualifying trials.

"Going into it, it's just compete, compete," Hoppel said. "All you gotta do is come in the top three each time.

"I feel like a natural-born competitor and I'll get out there and do what I love."