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EUGENE, Ore.—In five months, Hobbs Kessler has gone from a largely unknown high school runner to national record holder to surprise competitor in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. 

As Kessler prepared for Thursday’s 1,500-meter preliminaries in Eugene, Ore., he was honest about what fueled his rise: a large dose of testosterone. 

“I would say the biggest thing that helped me was going through puberty,” he said.

Kessler had other benefits besides the natural hormones that made him bigger and stronger. The Ann Arbor, Mich., 18-year-old has parents who coach and are accomplished athletes. Kessler honed his body and focus by rock climbing. And he runs with an elite training group guided by a 77-year-old Marine Corps Vietnam veteran.

Kessler’s talent is “probably the best I’ve ever coached,” said Ron Warhurst, who worked at the University of Michigan for more than three decades in track and cross-country running. “And I’ve coached nine Olympians, numerous NCAA champions.”