In the four middle distance events on the track tonight, we had a good sense of who would win. Ajee Wilson and Boris Berian in the 800m; Brenda Martinez and Matthew Centrowitz in the 1500m. All those came to pass, and, honestly, most of the second place finishers were in line with consensus predictions as well.
But, the result is never what makes championship track races compelling. Tactical races cause us to factor more uncertainty into our predictions than we might have in a rabbited race. With 5 or more athletes in the mix in the final laps, tactical races create a perception of chaos that, though rarely exploited, gives rise to a sense that anything can happen. While to is probably true that a slower early pace opens a wider spectrum of possible outcomes, talent usually still wins the day. That held tonight.
Ajee Wilson didn't leave any room for debate: She's the best runner in the event for the United States. She led the race wire-to-wire and pulled away over the final 300m or so. Her winning time of 2:00.87 is not only impressive for an indoor race, but especially impressive in a championship where she had nothing the way of help along the way. She won the race by nearly two seconds and is well-positioned to medal--or even win--next weekend.
Lauren Roesler had a difficult go of things tactically. She got out near the back of the field and had to run the majority of the race on the outside as she tried to move up as the race went along. She was able to overtake Phoebe Wright toward the end to claim second in 2:02.44, with Wright just behind in 2:02.51.
Boris Berian, unsurprisingly, won this easily. But some surprising news came out that the U.S. extended an invitation to Erik Sowinski to represent the U.S., along with Berian, at the World Championships. The IAAF allows for host countries to invite an athlete to represent them at the meet regardless of entry standard. It was speculated, and widely understood, that this didn't apply to events in which the U.S. already had a qualifier. It was assumed, then, that since Berian had a qualifier, he would be the sole American representative next week. It seems, however, that there was a broad mis-reading of this rule. Berian and Sowinski will remain in Portland for next week.
This was Brenda Martinez's race to lose and she made it clear that that was the case. After a quick first two laps, the race settled into a more tactical race. Martinez spent most of the race hanging out mid-pack in lane two ready to cover any moves that might occur. It ended up that she was the one to make a move with a little over 200 to go. Her New Balance teammate, Cory McGee, who was snubbed in my preview of the event, was the only woman who went with her and hung on for second. Amanda Eccleston made a push to close the gap on McGee over the last 100m, but came up a bit short.
The tactical race may have benefitted McGee, who ran a season best by over a second to make the team. One has to wonder whether the field could have forced her out of the picture with a more honest pace.
It must have been a disappointing result for Treniere Moser, who decided to not run the 800m last night to focus on qualifying in the more-crowded 1500m field. She was never a factor in the race and finished 7th.
Another tactical race as Matthew Centrowitz controlled the race from the gun. The luxury of being the clear favorite in the field, like Centro was, is that others are wary of challenging you for fear of getting burned. You don't come at the king, you can't miss. Cory Leslie took some bids at challenging Centro's pace only to find the latter perfectly content to do just enough to hold him off.
With 400 to go, it became clear that the team would be some combination of Centrowitz, Robby Andrews, and Ben Blankenship, but that suspense was soon put to rest as Robby Andrews easily moved past Blankenship and even challenged Centro over the final 100m. In the end Centrowitz showed off his strength to hold off Andrews, but that doesn't take away at all from the statement Andrews made challenging Centrowitz.
Also impressive: Garrett Heath doubled back from a 5th place finish in last night's 3000m to place 4th in 3:46.67.