The 5th Avenue Mile is a spirited encore at the end of a long season for elite mid-distance runners. In Episode 40 we’ve got post-race interview clips from the Big Apple with Nick Willis, Chris O’Hare, and Jenny Simpson. Elsewhere in the show Brenn and Gregg toss Paula Radcliffe, Usain Bolt, Cam Levins, and Malcolm Gladwell into the ongoing dope talk. Do doping suspicions affect who you root for? And who is America’s best distance runner? We offer our two cents (pence for those on Gregg’s side of the pond).
In Episode 39 Gregg chats with Runner’s World columnist Peter Gambaccini, who in a recent article pieced together the US men’s and women’s marathon teams for the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Beijing. We scratch our heads about why USATF withheld that information, particularly in light of the Pan Am Games selection fiasco. On the bright side, great match-ups are afoot on the track, and Brenn shares effective training habits from Alan Ruben and James Chu.
With a lap to go in the men’s 5,000m at the Adidas Grand Prix on Saturday, Ben True‘s eyes widened as if he were in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon with coordinates aligned to punch it to hyperdrive. True was shoulder to shoulder with the leader in a tight pack of six runners. He had triumphed in faster 5,000m races, but not on this stage and against this caliber of competition (he finished fourth at the meet in 2013, running 13:16 as Hagos Gebrhiwet prevailed in 13:10).
Given the race’s methodical pace, it was clear that True would have a kick, but so too would Olympic 1500m silver medalist Nick Willis, who, with 200m to go, slingshot from sixth to first in a matter of 10 seconds. There weren’t many seconds to go after that. “When I came up to the lead I thought Thomas Longosiwa was going to kick again, but once I passed him I thought I had it. I figured all the other guys I had already passed. But that’s a long straightaway into a bit of wind.” Willis said after the race.
“I had doubts, yeah.” said True. “On that straightaway I moved out to lane 3 and I just really pushed hard. I realized I wasn’t losing more, I was starting to gain, and when you have that little bit of positive feedback, that you are closing a little bit, mentally you get such a big gain that you can really go for it.” True won in 13:29, beating Willis by three tenths of a second. “I can’t let a 1500 meter runner win a 5k,” he laughed.
For a 1500 meter runner, Willis has dabbled quite a bit in the 5,000m. He has raised his training volume with an eye to the future at both distances. “I still think the 1500 is the event I have the best chance of medals. Perhaps I’ll consider giving the 5k a go as a more concerted effort after this Olympic cycle. At the moment it’s just used as a mechanism to keep me accountable to the high mileage training. My shortest runs have been 90 minutes the last three months. Weekly mileage is 95, I run six days a week. It has taught me how to strengthen my legs to cope with running rounds as well. At the last few championships my legs have been pretty sore after the semifinals. Doing 150s or 100 meter strides after long runs is a good way to toughen up the muscles.”
The media scrum around Ajee Wilson after her victory in the women’s 800 was thicker than it had been in past meets. The 21-year-old, who appeared on the cover of the event program, finally seems to be getting her due. Wilson likes to keep it simple. Her goal for this race was to win, and she did, in 1:58.83, dispatching the field by over half a second.
At Friday’s press conference, David Rudisha stated his goal was to run a world leading time. Check. His 1:43.58 clipped the prior 2015 best, Ayanleh Soulieman’s 1:43.78, and bested his own winning time from last year by over a second. The men’s 800 meter race was the most fashionable of the lot, with Duane Solomon matching his orange Saucony singlet with an orange bandana and orange-tinted glasses, while French 800 meter ace Pierre-Ambroise Bosse ran in a white Henley collared tee-shirt equally suitable for tennis.
What was an off year for Rudisha last year was a year off for Usain Bolt, and the difference showed. Bolt stated at the presser on Friday that his goal was to run sub 20 and that one of his remaining career goals is to go sub 19. Bolt’s narrow victory in 20.29 into a -2.9 m/s headwind wasn’t quite what he was hoping for. The Jamaican legend was upstaged by the 19.58 that 20-year-old Canadian Andre De Grasse ran Friday at the NCAA championships (wind was +2.4 m/s for De Grasse). Bolt is 28, Justin Gatlin 33.
In her blog entry on June 30, 2013, Olympic steeplechaser Bridget Franek wrote that “I’ve decided to hang up the spikes temporarily and take an extended break from the sport.” Two years later Franek is once again thinking about the Olympics, this time with a different mindset. “I want to make the team in 2016. Right now I’m running with the motivation of using this talent that I’ve been given and this opportunity that I’ve been given to travel and to compete and to get into some of these big meets as a way to do something bigger. I want to get more involved in communities and reach out a little more and use running as a platform for social change. It’s not just about me any more.” Franek finished sixth in the 3000m steeplechase on Saturday, running 9:36, slicing 11 seconds off her time from the Birmingham Diamond League meet a week ago.
Another runner making a splash on the comeback trail was 2008 Olympian Erin Donohue, the surprise winner in the women’s 1000. Nike Oregon Project’s Treniere Moser doubled back from the 800 and gave a spirited chase for second. “We decided a couple of days ago that the double would be best for my future,” said Moser. “When the idea was put to the table I’m like, that sounds so painful, but I’m glad I did it.” When asked to comment on the recent controversy surrounding coach Alberto Salazar, Moser said “[t]he coaches have done a great job of putting it all on them. At the end of the day we know our job is to go out there and perform. They’ve been really good about making sure we stay focused and not letting the distractions take over.”
All photos by Andy Kiss. See our full photo gallery of the Adidas Grand Prix.
Nobody doubts Alberto Salazar’s determination to help his Nike Oregon Project athletes run fast, but the potions and lotions he has reportedly used to that end have put him in a pickle. In Episode 38, Gregg and Brenn discuss how Salazar has interpreted the rules of track and field, and why it matters.
For those willing to look through the clouds hanging over the sport, there were bright blue skies in Birmingham, U.K. on Sunday and a welcome chance to focus on running, jumping, and throwing. In the third Diamond League event in eight days, several British stars rose to the occasion and other top athletes made statements with 11 weeks left until World Champs in Beijing.
For dramatic finishes, the event of the day was the women’s 200 meters, where Allison Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh brought back memories of their tie for third place in the 100m at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Tarmoh once again got out to the quicker start, and they again crossed the line in unison, with rising U.K. superstar Dina Asher-Smith just a sliver behind. This time, Tarmoh was the winner in the photo finish. She and Felix ran 22:29, with Asher-Smith a hundredth behind in 22:30.
For the 19-year old Asher-Smith, it was a personal best of more than three-tenths of a second and came after she became the fastest U.K. woman ever with by running the 100 meters in 11.02 seconds at Hangelo, Netherlands, last month.
Other Brits sparkled as well, notably Adam Gemili, who first set a new best of 10-flat in round 1 of the 100 meters and came back less than two hours later to run 9.97 for second place to American Marvin Bracy (9.93). He is now the first U.K. athlete to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters and 20 seconds in the 200.
Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and long jumper Greg Rutherford will forever be linked by a Saturday night three years ago when each won Olympic gold in front of a roaring home-country crowd. While the first two withdrew from this meet, Rutherford held up his end of the bargain with a victorious 8.35-meter second jump. “I am chuffed to bits,” Rutherford said afterward. He also received the afternoon’s loudest ovation from the fans.
In distance events, the men’s 5,000 went out fast with a 2:33 first kilometer (12:45 pace) from the pacemakers. From about midway on it was a two-man affair as Thomas Longosiwa, the bronze medalist at this distance in London 2012, tucked in behind the younger and taller Isiah Koech. With about 480 meters to go, Longosiwa surged to the front, gained separation by the bell, and won handily with a 57-second-final lap – not the swiftest close by recent standards, but evidence that the wind and fast early pace had taken a toll. Australia’s Collis Birmingham made a bid for third in the final few laps but faded late to a finish seventh in 13:36. The stadium announcer pointed out that Collis was the only athlete with Birmingham written twice on his race bib.
In the men’s 800, Nigel Amos was his usual arm-flailing dynamo in the final meters, and took the win in 1:46.77 ahead of a late charge from Adam Kszczot of Poland. If we were grading outfits, Kszczot would have finished dead last with his green t-shirt beneath a purple singlet with black bottoms. Britain’s Guy Learmouth was tripped just past the midway point of this race and splayed out on the track as the back of the pack had to negotiate over and around him. American Eric Sowniski, who has high hopes to make the U.S. team for Beijing, said it rattled the field but the bigger factor in the slow times was the stiff wind on the backstretch.
Since turning 40 in December, Bernard Lagat has been gobbling up master’s world records like Pac-Man (who himself turns 40 in a few years) and added another in the men’s 1,500 with a 2:41:87 for 8th place. Lagat has looked sharper in longer races this year, including a road 10K in Manchester, U.K. But this race made his best 1,500s such as his classic duels with Hicham El Guerrouj seem like eons ago. James Magut won in 3:37.61 and probably would have had a difficult time beating Farah, but it’s hard to know for sure.
Kenya’s Eunice Sum won the women’s 800 with a 1.59.85, one week after winning a nail-biter with Ajee Wilson at the Pre Classic. Behind Sum was yet another strong performance by a Brit as Laura Muir set a personal best of 2.00.42.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses for the British contingent. One athlete who left Birmingham disappointed was Jessica Judd, who in the U.S. is sometimes called “England’s Mary Cain.” A year older than Cain, Judd similarly took a brief pause from her training a year ago at age 19. Judd is now back and focused on the 1,500 but was looking to run quicker than her 4:12 for 10th place on Sunday.
Mo Farah’s withdrawal from the Birmingham Diamond League meet left a gaping hole in an event that lost other big names, among them star Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sally Pearson, Shelly-Ann Fraser Price, and for distance fans, David Rudisha, Hagos Gebrhiwet, and Tarik Makhloufi. Those athletes have won eight Olympic and 14 World Championship golds.
Farah was the meet’s poster child, even before reports broke early in the week on alleged doping by athletes under Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar. Mo addressed the media Saturday in a hotel across town, less than 20 hours before releasing a statement that he would not run. Withdrawals come with the territory in elite track and field, especially in mid-season meets that are stepping stones to the bigger prize of a World Championships or Olympics. But this was particularly disappointing.
You’d think that even if “emotionally and physically drained,” as Farah described himself in the brief statement, the world’s greatest mid-distance runner could handle 1500 meters. One wishes the British expression “Keep calm and carry on” would have prevailed on this day.
In his statement, Farah explained that he wants “to run well in the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing and have decided it is better for me to go back to the U.S., seek answers to my questions, and get back into training.” But Beijing is in August, and racing at Birmingham would not have affected his chances for double gold there. Couldn’t he have waited one more day to seek answers from Salazar?
No evidence against Farah was cited in the allegations of wrongdoing by Salazar. ProPublica journalist David Epstein went so far as to say “nothing reportable came up on him. It’s as simple as that. If it had, and I could have nailed it down, I would have reported it.”
The day before the race, Farah said “you guys are killing me” to the journalists assembled. Rumors have been swirling around the coach and group for years, but given the shift in public perception against Salazar in a story that has finally been aired to the general public, the stakes of running for him are higher than they’ve ever been.