Montana State’s Duncan Hamilton picked an opportune time to run the best steeplechase race of his college career.

The Bobcat sophomore placed fourth in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase semifinals at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Wednesday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

His finish automatically earned him all-America accolades and advanced him to the finals on Friday.

Hamilton finished fourth overall, as well as with the fourth best time in the first race of the event, by crossing the line in 8 minutes, 31.99 seconds. That mark broke the program record that has been held since 2003 when then-senior and current distance event coach Lyle Weese set the previous record of 8:33.35.

The Bozeman native jumped out to the lead at the starting gun in the opening heat of the event and stayed in front of the lead pack through five laps as rain poured down on the newly renovated track.

“One hundred meters in I just kind of found myself in the lead so just thought I may as well stay there,” Hamilton said. “I thought it was a good place to be. I had a clear view of the barriers. I just wanted to try to stay as calm as I could. Everything felt comfortable there, and I kind of figured the pace would pick up.”

Sure enough a pack of runners surrounded Hamilton and the Bobcat distance runner sat in the middle of a pack of eight competitors with 400 meters remaining.

“There was definitely a moment of, ‘oh man, I’m in sixth,’” Hamilton said. “A little bit of panic, but I could feel it in my legs that I had something left. I was waiting for the opportunity to sneak by some people.”

Hamilton eventually finished within three-tenths of a second of the race’s first-place finisher as he and three others all recorded times under 8:32.

The top-five finish in his heat assured him a spot in Friday’s championship race. His time also qualified him to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials that take place at Hayward Field from June 18-27.

“It was kind of crazy with a few different things happening,” said Weese, Montana State’s head track and field coach. “The first and most important was just getting through to the final. That was what I was focusing on, I lost a little track of the time, I knew it was a pretty quick pace, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.

“The other part of that is he’s been really excited about hitting a qualifier time and being able to compete here again in Eugene in the US Olympic Trials. He’s been eyeing that school record for awhile, so it was really exciting to in one race accomplish all of those things. It also sets him up really well with more experience with another steeplechase with people all around him for that final. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do on Friday.”

Hamilton has become Montana State’s 15th male athlete to become an all-American in outdoor track and field. He’s also the sixth Bobcat to earn All-America honors in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. At 6:24 p.m. MDT on Friday, Hamilton will have an opportunity to go after a national championship as well as a First Team all-America showing.

“It’s definitely a little bit of pressure release since I met most of my goals,” Hamilton said. “Now I’ve just got to see where I’m at among the top of the country.

“Pretty much every race I’ve been able to stick with the top group. I think a podium finish is definitely in my reach.”

Parker Cotton can be reached at pcotton@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.