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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.
David Rudisha is not often upstaged in a Diamond League race, but though he won the 800m this time around, the audience was clearly distracted. Intermittent and progressively louder roars from the crowd signalled something unusual going on. It was a competition in which not one but two high jumpers – Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko – approached the world record. Some come to these races to watch the sprints, others to watch the distance events, but the jumpers taking flight were the most transcendent performers of the day.
Back to the 800. Because Rudisha is currently a 1:44 guy and not the 1:41/42 version of years past, the question is not how fast he’ll run, but whether he’ll win. Heading in to the race, Duane Solomon had the season’s best time among the competitors, and four others had run faster than Rudisha this year. The pacemaker opened the kind of gap on Rudisha that Rudisha has been known to open on the pack. Solomon was the lead predator on Rudisha’s shoulder, poised to strike.
We asked Solomon after the race whether at any point he thought he had it. “The backstretch from 500 to 600, I was kind of hesitant. I wanted to pass Rudisha. It was kind of windy and I wanted to bide my time. I think I waited a little bit too long. In the last hundred when I really wanted to pass him, he got stronger. He’s still the best in the world. I’ll come back a little better next time, I’ll come back more aggressive.” Rudisha won in 1:44.63, Solomon finished third exactly half a second back in 1:45.13.
The headliner in the women’s 800 was Mary Cain, but it was Jamaica’s Natoya Goule who took hold of the race from the get-go. “There were too many people in the race. I’m not going to be left around by the back getting kicked on and stepped on and all that, because I’m the smallest. I’m not going to stay at the back and get run over,” said Goule.
There were other pleasant surprises, from even smaller competitors. When 10-year-old Jonah Gorevic of White Plains took out the first quarter of the Youth Mile in 71 seconds, gapping a field of bigger 11-12 year olds, it seemed a classic, if plucky, pacing blunder. But the kid kept at it, pulling off 78, 78, and 74 second laps, kicking to a 5:01.55 finish, the fastest recorded time at that age. The press huddled around Gorevic after the race, which the boy, who resembles a cross between Ryan Vail and Galen Rupp, handled with aplomb.
With about 700 meters to go in the women’s 3000m, a race broke out where none had been expected. Kim Conley had moved into second and was closing the gap on leader Mercy Cherono. “My plan had been really to try to wait and then kick hard, but I just couldn’t help myself. Mercy kind of lulled in pace for a second, and I could see that maybe it was possible,” Conley said. Cherono regained her pace, while Conley held on to finish fifth with a 3-second PR of 8:44. She’ll be running the 10,000 at the US Championships.
While Cain opted for the 800, high school junior Alexa Efraimson stuck her nose in the women’s 1500m. At the Pre Classic, another mid-distance wunderkind, Elise Cranny, caboosed the 1,500 and was pulled along to a 4:14. In New York, Efraimson was right behind Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, and Shannon Rowbury at the bell – only two strides behind Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi. Her 4:07.05 was the second fastest high school 1,500 of all time behind Cain’s 4:04.62 last year. Morgan Uceny ran 4:04.87, her fastest 1500 since she crashed to the track at the 2012 London Olympics while being trailed by Aregawi, then competing for Ethiopia.
Efraimson gave everything she had, if the amount of time spent doubled over and breathless after the race is any indication. A few minutes later, by the side of the track, she was still having trouble catching her breath. Written in marker on her calf was an inspirational quote, the kind of thing you’d see in a high school yearbook, and one that seemed to explain her excellent performance.
For more Adidas Grand Prix photos, click here.
None of the 13 competitors in the women’s Wanamaker Mile on Saturday ran in last year’s 1500m “Metric Wanamaker Mile.” Absent are Jenny Simpson (last year’s winner), Shannon Rowbury (2nd last year), and Morgan Uceny (who won the 800m at Millrose last year), all of whom represented the US in the 1500m at the 2012 Olympics. And yet this year’s race, loaded with young talent and with no clear favorite, is just as compelling without them.
Sixteen-year-old prodigy Mary Cain (4:32.78 indoor PR), former prodigy Jordan Hasay (still just 21), and 20-year-old Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino, who barely missed qualifying for London last year with her 15:19.98 at the dramatic Olympic trials 5000m, headline the youth movement. Sarah Brown (nee Bowman) beat Cain in the mile at the Armory on Jan. 26, running 4:31.61. Emily Infeld (22 years old) is the 2012 NCAA indoor 3000m champ and 4th place finisher at the 2013 USATF x-c championship, and has been training with Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher in Jerry Schumacher’s Oregon Track Club group. Her sister Maggie finished 4th in the Metric Wanamaker Mile last year. Kate Grace (24), running for Oiselle, which recently signed Lauren Fleshman from Nike, has been slashing new PRs and beat both D’Agostino and Hasay in the 3,000m at the University of Washington Invitational. Giving the race the slightest of international feels are Canadian Olympians Sheila Reid (23) and Hilary Stellingwerff (31). A third Canadian Olympian, Nicole Sifuentes (5th last year), was originally slated to run but is out with a plantar injury.
Cain has both a blistering kick and home track advantage. The trick for her will be retaining contact with the leaders for the first seven laps so that she and the crowd can ride the wave of high drama in the eighth. I expect D’Agostino or Reid to take it with a time in the high 4:20s, with Grace and Cain in the mix. Whoever wins, expect to see several of these runners at Rio in 2016.
Unlike the women’s race, the men’s Wanamaker Mile has a clear favorite and plot line. Twenty-three year old Olympian Matt Centrowitz is the defending champ, it’s seen as his race to win, and the question is whether he will
- break his Armory record of 3:53.92 from last year’s race
- break Bernard Lagat’s Millrose record of 3:52.87
- beat Galan Rupp’s 3:50.92 from earlier this season
- go sub-3:50 and take down Lagat’s indoor American record of 3:49.89
Centrowitz controlled last year’s race from the front, a tactic he repeated to win the mile at Boston two weeks ago (3:56.26) and that seems to work for him when Leonel Manzano isn’t in the race. There are some high-upside guys who could pose a challenge: Lopez Lomong, Lawi Lalang, who ran 13:08 in the 5,000m at the meet last year, or Robbie Andrews (winner of the High School Mile at Millrose in 2009). It’s unlikely, though, that they will bring it in the low 3:50s.
Centrowitz is such a smooth runner that it seems he leaves energy unspent on the track. Despite how smooth he might appear, though, we can’t assume that he’s left gears untapped, gears that we wouldn’t see until his veins are popping out of his neck and his head bobs back and his form goes all to hell.
In order to knock all the names off the list, Centrowitz will probably have to win the race by several seconds and run it as a personal time trial, much how Rupp ran his 3:50. In three months Rupp will turn 27, and Alberto Salazar has not been afraid to push the pedal to the floor on Rupp’s short track races, which aren’t even considered his forte. The incentives are different with Centro, who has a longer horizon and less reason to risk a race for a record. He ran a 3:31.96 1500m at the Lausanne Diamond League meet outdoors last year and he’ll likely run sub 3:50 for the mile at some point, but it’ll take elite international competition to push him to it.