Amazing Grace: Kate Grace' s 1500m strength and patience carried her to a upset victory in the Women's 800m.
A pervasive theme throughout this trials has been drastic upsets as heavy favorites have gone home disappointed and surprising champions have risen. Day 5 of the olympic trials continued to deliver much of the same chaos. Perhaps the heat has once again played a role as the Men’s steeple saw three falls over the last lap, unheralded collegians made themselves known in the men’s 800 and a dramatic fall in the last 200 left a 2012 olympian at home in the women’s 800.
Women’s Steeplechase Prelim
The event was previously expected to have just 24 entrants but due to a larger than expected number of qualifiers the field was expanded to 36. Kudos to USATF who in the past has not filled out fields despite the opportunity. Most notably in 2013 5000m when they ran just 9 men in the final.
Top 3 advanced automatically with the remaining places in the final allocated by time. In the first heat, 2008 Olympian Bridget Franek and Ashley Higginson spent no time messing around as they pushed the pace hard and only Nicole Bush and 2016 NCAA champion COurtney Frerichs went with them. By halfway, Bush began to tail off but Franek kept her foot on the gas while Higginson and Frerichs chose to conserve energy finishing 3rd and 2nd, respectively to round out the automatic qualifiers. Bush would be rewarded with a qualifier on time as her 9:46 was good enough to advance.
Heat two saw Stephanie Garcia employ a similar strategy with 2015 NCAA champion Leah O’Connor and Bowerman Track Club’s Colleen Quigley sticking with Garcia. The pace was similar to heat one and they would easily distance themselves from the field and advance as O’Connor would take it in 9:35.77 with Garcia running 9:35.95 and Quigley 9:37.03. Quigley has been injured and crosstraining extensively. Quigley employed a conservative approach as she chose to shadow the leaders throughout the race. It will be interesting to see where she fits into this loaded final.
Heat three saw American record holder Emma Coburn jump out to an early, fast lead and then pump the brakes a bit as she began to get immediate separation. Just around halfway, Coburn chose to take no chances and eased away over the rest of the race. She was followed in by Megan Rolland who ran a game 9:37.90 and her teammate, 2012 Olympian Shalaya Kipp.
The US women’s steeplechase is as good as ever with the likes of Frerichs, O’Connor and Quigley having joined the senior squad of Franek, Higginson, Garcia and Kipp. A lot of women will be going home disappointed in the final come thursday. With Quigley’s injury, it seems she may be one of the many odd women out, unfortunately. Frerichs look very fit having just set the NCAA records with a big PR. Leah O’Connor has had a quiet season but looked very dominant in heat two and we like her chances come Thursday.
With just 24 entrants, the men’s race saw just two heats with top 5 automatically advancing which lead to slightly more top-heavy fields. After an honest opening 600m, the men’s race slowed dramatically as they went from 66 second pace to 70. By the 4th lap, 2012 Olympian Donn Cabral became antsy and took the lead powering home. Behind him, he was closely followed by Andy Bayer of Bowerman track club. The top four of Cabral, bayer, Kebenei and Huling comfortably began to pull away and Craig Forys of Furman Elite fought hard to keep the fifth and final spot. Up front, Huling and Kebenei chose to save energy in the final stretch while Cabral sprinted hard to take the win over Bayer, despite the fact that they would both automatically advance to Friday’s final. With Ole Miss runner MJ Erb running 8:37 for 9th, athletes in heat two knew they would need to better that mark to make it on to the final.
Despite being armed with knowledge of time qualifiers, heat two appeared to key off american record holder Evan Jager, who resigned himself to running within the pack to conserve energy. The pace continued to dawdle up front as they hit 2K over six seconds slower than heat one before Jager moved to the lead and began to ratchet down the pace dropping the fastest lap of the race with a 67. Cory Leslie responded quickly as he shadowed Jager looking strong. A penultimate lap in 64 was good enough to allow collegian Mason Ferlic, US Army’s Hillary Bor and DMike Hardy to separate from the chase pack and move into automatic qualifying positions. However, at the bell Hardy took a hard fall and would drop out of the race and Darren Fahy would move into Hardy’s all-important automatic qualifier. Down the backstretch of the last lap, Jager was beginning to string things out as the pace increased and now Fahy was down! Over the water jump, another fall would allow Isaac Updike to claim the last spot in the final as time qualifiers would all go to heat one.
Jager and Cabral have established themselves as the favorites for Friday with Bayer’s aggressive style showing he is game for a run at the team. Huling ran perhaps the smartest race of all today and conserved energy as he comfortably advanced in the fourth automatic spot. His decision may pay off in the final where the team will almost definitely decided by decimals.
Sam Chelanga started off quick with Diego Estrada on his shoulder in heat one. The pair of marathoners did not want to leave the automatic qualifiers to a kicker’s roulette over the last lap. However, Chelanga’s run in the 10,000m was apparently wearing on him as he was unable to get any separation from the field. Chelanga began to fade into the back of the pack while Estrada did not hesistate to push hard. By the bell, reigning champ Ryan Hill had worked himself into second and Ben True positioned himself well in third. The last lap would prove to be a furious kick with Willy Kincaid, who beat Rupp at Portland Twilight, would close fastest on the day to take the win. Hill cruised in for second while True and See claimed third and fourth. Shadrack Kipchirchir overcame any 10,000m fatigue he was feeling to take the second to last automatic spot after running a relatively quiet first 12 laps, running a pedestrian 13:48. Estrada’s front running left him with a sixth place finish and place in the final.
While the first heat times appeared relatively slow, even for a championship race, the warm Eugene sunshine was apparently sapping these runners energy as the second heat would fail to be any faster on time. A slow early going saw a lot of jostling for position but no one eager to push until a mile to go when Chris Derrick took the lead and injected some pace into it. However, Derrick’s move was not enough to take any sting out of the field and moving into the bell Hassan Mead would claim the lead with Jenkins, Lopez, Chelimo, Heath, Rupp and Lagat in tow.
Rupp sprinted hard down the backstretch as Heath faded out the back. Chelimo and Jenkins looked very strong and Hassan Mead appeared to crack. Rupp would find himself in danger as Bernard Lagat stalked him into the final 200 and would pass him leaving Rupp in sixth. Around the curve, Rupp and Mead collided but both runners managed to stay on their feet as Mead quick stepped into 5th going into the stretch. Lagat rocketed for home to take the top spot followed by Chelimo, Lopez, Jenkins and Mead in the automatic spots. Rupp looked back thinking he had locked up sixth but Brian Schrader found an extra gear and almost managed to get Rupp at the line.
Lagat looked good in this race but with an extra four days of rest, may of these 10,000m runners will find themselves on more equal footing. Ryan Hill looked smooth and in control so look out for him to take this final.
Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers took the race out fast with Montano overtaking her going into 200m in 27.73. Wilson and Ludlow followed in 3rd and 4th with Kate Grace sitting way back in 7th at the bell. At 400m Montano had separation having run a 57 low and the field coming through in 58 seconds. By 500m Montano looked done and Raevyn Rogers reclaimed the lead. WIlson and Martinez were starting a long drive for home themselves in second and third. By 600m Wilson had taken the lead. A desperate Montano found herself boxed around the final curve and went down in a flurry of action as she accelerated into the backs of the runners in front of her. The move appeared to almost take Brenda Martinez with her as Martinez would jog for home and finish out of the race. Kate Grace had kept herself out of the foray until this point and slingshotted her way off the curve into the lead and powered for home past Wilson. Chrishuna Williams would follow this momentum but ran out of gas in the final meters and would not catch Wilson. Meanwhile Ludlow, who had run up front in a physical race would find herself flailing for the finish line relegated to yet another 4th place US championship finish.
Montano alternatively kneeled snobbing and kicking the track with slowly jogging towards the finish line as she lamented her loss.
An uncommon waterfall start in the men’s 800m fortunately went without incident as the runners followed a modest early pace set by Brandon Johnson and Harun Abda, a surprise given that Berian had taken out his trial and prelim well below 50 seconds. Borian shadowed Abda in third looking relaxed and Charles Jock close behind. NCAA champion Clayton Murphy sat in last place through the bell lap while Berian took the lead as they came through in 50.6 seconds. Penn State’s Isiah Harris would move hard into second by 600m, challenging Berian and Erik Sowinski looked strong in third. Even further back, Murphy had moved up to fifth behind Casimir Loxsom.
Down the homestretch, Murphy launched an unbelievable move to pass and then gap Berian in the most dominant 800m win in the last few years thanks to a final 200 that was over a half second faster than the next best finisher. Harris would fade hard over the bend and Sowinski wildly pumped his arms in vain as Charles Jock moved into third. The unheralded Engels proved he belonged in the final as he would fly by Sowinski to take 4th in his first US championship.
Murphy’s kick was the final signal to skeptics that a new era has arrived in men’s middle distance running in the United States and Murphy will be its poster boy. The 21 year old Murphy will assuredly become a familiar face. Jock’s performance signalled a re-emergence as the 2012 NCAA champ looked his best yet in his three years since joining Mark Rowland’s OTC.
The trials record went down thanks to a 83.24 meter effort by Cyrus Hostetler. Mississippi State’s Curtis Thompson showed his sharpness from the NCAA season with a second place performance over professional Riley Dolezal.
Men’s Pole vault
Sam Kendricks would show he was the clear class of the field as he would be the only competitor to 5.70 meters. US Air Force’s Cale Simmons would take second thanks to a first attempt clearance at 5.65 to beat out Logan Cunningham. Cunningham was able to easily clear 5.60 meters but struggled tremendously at 5.65. Tray Oates would put in a last ditch effort at the team by passing on his vaults at 5.65 m and taking a crack at 5.70 but couldn’t clear the bar and would tie for fourth with Mark Hollis.