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Ben True dusts Centro in 2-Mile; NOP takes Wanamaker Miles at NYRR Millrose Games

Upstaging even the iconic Wanamaker Mile, the Paavo Nurmi 2-mile was the main event for distance running fans at Saturday’s NYRR Millrose Games. Matt Centrowitz, who last year set the Wanamaker Mile record of 3:50.63 en route to his Olympic Gold at 1500m, was moving up in distance, while his strongest competitors, including the Canadian Mo Ahmed and Scotsman Andy Butchart, 4th and 6th at Rio in the 5,000m, respectively, were moving down. Centrowitz said that the absence of rival Nick Willis was a reason for his choice. Having conquered one hill, he was picking a fight on another, and with unrivaled finishing speed he seemed primed to come out on top.

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His competitors knew this, of course, and it wouldn’t play to their advantage to do any lollygagging. The pace-setters were Ford Palmer and Lawi Lalang. Mo Ahmed led the charge behind Lalang as the field quickly strung out single file, with Butchart in fourth. After Palmer stepped off the track, Lalang was scheduled to lead until 2400m. In a delicious move, Butchart passed Ahmed and Lalang two laps before Lalang was scheduled to forfeit the lead, forcing the rest of the field to start racing in earnest with 1200m, rather than 800m, to go.

Centro was set adrift as the chase pack was unmoored from the leaders. Butchart however, wasn’t the only one to bring a dagger to this fight. With about 750m to go Ben True worked his way around Centrowitz, among others, and bridged the gap to join the lead group of Butchart, Ryan Hill, and Ahmed. Hill and True (who both fell short in their own attempts to make the U.S. Olympic team for Rio in the 5000) stormed Butchart at the bell, and at this point Hill, who closed in 26 seconds to win the 3,000m at last year’s Millrose, seemed likely to win. But the race had one last surprise. After Hill held the lead down the backstretch, True offered yet another move, accelerating around the final turn and passing Hill midway down the last straightaway to break the tape in 8:11.33 to Hill’s 8:11.56 and Butchart’s 8:12.63 (Centrowitz would finish 7th in 8:21). True ran the last lap in 27.68, Hill in 28.04.

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The longest race for the women, 3000m, was a memorable duel between Stephanie Garcia and Canada’s Kate Van Buskirk. Garcia, who specializes in the steeplechase, was the only runner to follow the rabbit Ashley Higginson, and with six laps to go she held a three second lead on Van Buskirk. The gap then shrank until Van Buskirk was on Garcia’s shoulder with three laps left.

“With about 600 to go, I thought, she’s going to beat me. You never want to think that, but I thought if I could just hold on to her and she could drag me though, that would be really great” Van Buskirk said. “I could tell that her arms were getting a little tight. I knew that at some point in that last lap I would have to make a move, but I had to wait that long because she made me wait that long. She was really working for it.”

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Garcia, for her part, said she “was torn between easing up so I had a little bit to give that last bit, or just push it. I chose more to push, which is why I didn’t have that strong last 50 meters.” Van Buskirk took the lead on the last turn and finished in 8:52.08 to Garcia’s 8:53.48. If one second doesn’t seem like much of a difference, well, the race felt closer than that.

David Torrence seemed to be running his own race in the men’s 1,000m as he sprinted away in the mid three laps of the five lap competition. Brooks teammates Cas Loxsom, who on Jan. 28 set the 600m indoor world record; and Brannon Kidder, who finished a close second to Duane Solomon in the 800m at Millrose last year; put the kibosh on this little fantasy. Kidder dominated the final 200m for the win, with Loxsom second, and Torrence third.

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There has been no more dominant performer at Millrose since it moved from Madison Square Garden to the Armory than Ajee Wilson. She won the 800m for a fourth consecutive year, setting an American indoor record with a 1:58.27.

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“When I’m older and look back this is going to be a staple in my career that I’m proud of” she said. “I’ve been running at Millrose for a long time. Of course to be under two my first time indoors is incredible.” Spoken like a true veteran, at age 22. Seventeen year-old Samantha Watson finished sixth in 2:01.78, setting the American indoor high school record.

More records were set in the women’s Wanamaker Mile. Shannon Rowbury was the two-time defending champ, running 4:24s in 2015 and 2016. Given her strength over longer distances, she would be expected to tuck in behind the pacer Lauren Wallace. Surprisingly, Rowbury ceded the position to long-limbed Kate Grace, a finalist in the 800m at Rio.

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Grace said that “I was pleasantly surprised at first, and then I was like oh no, I don’t want to be rabbit #2 when she drops off.” Wallace and Grace both train with the NorCal distance project and were teammates at Oiselle.

With three laps to go, Sifan Hassan, Rowbury’s teammate on the Nike Oregon Project, breezed by Grace just as Wallace stepped off the track. Rowbury followed Hassan around Grace. Hassan’s elbows flailed wider and wider as she whirled her way to the win. Her time of 4:19.89 was a meet record and a national record for The Netherlands. Grace regrouped and ultimately edged Rowbury for second in 4:22.93. Grace debuted at Millrose with a 4:28 Wanamaker Mile in 2013.

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The undercard to the men’s Wanamaker Mile was the Invitational Mile, and the day’s 2nd fastest time came from this heat. Cristian Soratos said post-race “My plan was to get right on the pacer and the second he stepped off to just start cranking.” He did just that, and plans to race the mile at the USA indoor championships at Albuquerque.

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Without Centrowitz or his combatant Nick Willis in the men’s Wanamaker Mile, the race seemed destined to fall to either Olympian Robby Andrews, who won the high school event back in 2009; the Nike Oregon Project’s Eric Jenkins, a 4th place finisher at the US Olympic Trials in the 5,000m; or Olympic bronze medalist in the 800m Clayton Murphy.

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Eric Jenkins, Robby Andrews, Kyle Merber, and Clayton Murphy follow pacer Daniel Winn in the Wanamaker Mile.

Jenkins, who resembles the carefree, sand splattered character Andrew Lindsay from the opening of “Chariots of Fire,” controlled a relatively uniform race until Kyle Merber made a play for the lead at the bell. Merber won the high school race a year before Andrews had, but in his last attempt in the Wanamaker Mile, in 2015, he finished 11th of 12.

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And so it came down to this: Could the slender longshot and Twitter personality @TheRealMerb hold off the rising star from America’s elite distance running squadron? Well, give Merber credit for making the race more dramatic, anyways. Jenkins sprinted back into the lead on the backstretch en route to a 26.9 last lap and a victory in 3:53.23.

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It wasn’t the first time Jenkins had pulled off such a fast finish. He also split a 26 second final lap in the 3,000m at Millrose last year, and he used a lethal kick to sneak past Centro in the 2016 5th Avenue Mile. In future editions of this race, Centro’s stiffest competition may indeed come from his own teammate, who, on this day, had less trouble moving down in distance than Centro had moving up. — Brenn Jones

What did Eric Jenkins and Sifan Hassan do after winning the miles? Post-race workouts, of course (click the link for our extended coverage). See also our complete photo gallery with pictures from Andy Kiss.

Episode 48: Rio, incoming

In Episode 48, we recount the high drama at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where America’s best distance runners left nothing on the track, and we discuss the participation of Intersex athletes at the Games. Gregg welcomes a new runner to the fold.

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Jenny Simpson and Brenda Martinez, here pictured at the 2015 5th Avenue Mile, won spots on the Olympic team in a dramatic 1500m race. 

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Highlights and teasers, 2013 to 2014

As Father Time gives way to Baby New Year, it’s natural to take a look back and forward. One of the general trends we noticed is that at the end of the year, it was a different cast of characters grabbing headlines than at the start.

After an early Diamond League meet, Nick Willis tweeted:

So hard to be on your game through a whole season at the world level. Could be totally different guys going well in Moscow.

— Nick Willis (@nickwillis) June 1, 2013

This actually summed up the year for Willis himself, who struggled with an injury early in the season but dominated late season action in New York City, with convincing victories over quality competition at the 5th Avenue Mile and the Race to the Finish Line 5k.

So here are a few lists to add to the pile of year-end lists, focused primarily though not exclusively on action in the U.S.

Savviest prize money grab 2013

3. Jenny Simpson
2. Stephen Sambu
1. Kim Smith

Kim Smith nabbed the $100,000 for the best cumulative results in the BAA Distance Medley’s 5k, 10k, and half marathon. Given the fat payout, she faced surprisingly thin competition. Smith added $12,500 the hard way, with a 6th at the NYC Marathon. Stephen Sambu won the same BAA Distance Medley prize for men. Jenny Simpson won $25,000 for a single race: the 1500m at the Hy-Vee “Women’s Mile” at Drake Relays. She supplemented that with $30,000 with her silver at the Worlds 1500. Kate Grace gets honorable mention for a 5-day stretch in which she won $5,000 at the US Road Mile Champs in Des Moines and $10,000 for finishing 3rd at Drake.

Best start to the year 2013

3. Lopez Lomong
2. Galen Rupp
1. Hagos Gebrhiwet

Lopez Lomong won the Wanamaker Mile, upsetting defending champ Matt Centrowitz, then set the American indoor 5,000 record. Galen Rupp set the American indoor record in the 3,000. Hagos Gebrhiwet beat Rupp indoors and appeared unbeatable in the early Diamond League meets. The three were unable to build on their early season successes.

Best end to the year 2013

3. Laura Thweatt
2. Nick Willis
1. Molly Huddle

Molly Huddle beat Shalane Flanagan twice late in the year to take the NYRR Dash to the Finish 5k and the US National Road Racing Champ 12k races.

Breakthrough races 2013

3. Jason Hartmann 4th at Boston Marathon
2. Cheserek beats Kithuka at NCAAs
1. Sowinski beats Symmonds and Solomon at Millrose

Jason Hartmann had finished 4th at Boston in 2011, but the heat in that race made it seem an outlier. His DNF at NYC in the fall showed how fickle the sport can be.

Likely marathon PRs 2014

3. Tyler McCandless
2. Matt Tegenkamp
1. Shalane Flanagan

Tyler McCandless has set his sights on a sub-2:12 this year. That might seem audacious for a guy with a 2:16:46 PR, but the Steve Jones-coached athlete led for much of the U.S. marathon champs last year at Twin Cities and plans to look for faster courses than the hilly and humid Kauai, Hawaii, where he has won three straight years.

Matt Tegenkamp brought his impressive track and road credentials to the marathon this year and was disappointed with his 2:12:28 debut in Chicago.

Shalane Flanagan‘s track PRs of 14:44 in the 5,000 and 30:22 in the 10,000, as well a her half marathon best of 1:08:31, all point to something a minute or two quicker than her 2:25 marathon best at the 2012 Olympic Trials. She is the best woman marathoner in the U.S., and at one of these races it’s all going to come together for her.

Most dominant wins 2013

3. Nick Willis at 5th Avenue Mile
2. Jenny Simpson at Drake Women’s Mile
1. Shalane Flanagan at US Outdoor Champs 10,000

Best strategic win 2013

3. Efraimson outkicks Baxter at NXN
2. Arciniaga wins US Marathon Champs
1. Bekele beats Farah at Great North Run

In how many races late in the year did a seemingly dropped runner come back to win? Nick Arciniaga fell of the pace several times while nursing a sore achilles, but he stormed back in a dramatic finish to take his first national title. Kinenisa Bekele‘s win stands out because of the larger context. Mo Farah, coming off the 5,000/10,000 double at World’s, looked unbeatable, while Bekele, after losing his dominance on the track, had been written off by many. His whole career now has a promising second act.

Best performance by shoe
1. Adidas Adios Boost

Perhaps it’s just that many of the best marathon runners in the world are signed with Adidas, but that shoe was all over the podium in late season marathons.

Best early season matchups 2014

3. Jenny Simpson versus Shalane Flanagan at US Cross? Neither is confirmed, but Simpson has hinted at it and Shalane won it last year, even though she ran Boston.

2. Mary Cain versus Ajee Wilson versus Iceland’s Mary Cain (Anita Hinrikdottir) at the Millrose Games.

1. Mo Farah versus the field at the London Marathon, which could include Kenenisa Bekele and will likely include the world’s best.

Fleshman to return at XC club champs; Oiselle update

In episode 8 we interviewed Oiselle’s Lauren Fleshman and Kate Grace, along with CEO and founder of the Seattle-based company Sally Bergesen (see interview transcript). Since then, Fleshman had a baby, Grace cracked the 2:00 barrier in the 800 and was an alternate at World’s, Bergesen committed to run this weekend’s ING NYC Marathon, and the three showed off the company’s spring 2014 collection at NYC’s fashion week.

Look for Fleshman to return to competition at the USATF National Club Cross Country champs on Dec. 14 in her hometown of Bend, Oregon. Here’s a quick update on Lauren, Kate, and Sally, in their own words:

Fleshman: After 12 weeks of post partum semi-jogging and some Elliptigo, I’m feeling ready to start pushing myself a bit. My focus has been building into a schedule again, living like a pro runner again. It’s an adjustment getting into the routine of weights and PT and massage and all the little things much less adding in hard workouts and two a days which won’t come in for a while. Training with my new team, Little Wing, is exactly the community and energy I want in my life. I’m with the people I want to be with doing exactly what I want to do. Club Cross Country champs are in December and Oiselle will have a few teams. I’ll be gasping for air somewhere in the middle eating humble pie and enjoying every bite. Hopefully you’ll see me racing at USA outdoors and if things progress well before that, I’ll take an early spin around the tracks in Australia in March and do some key road races.

Grace: I have so much positive to take away from 2013. I felt strong and confident going in to my races, and started to see that I could compete with anyone in the US. The goal is to have that feeling with anyone in the world, and that is on the horizon. My base treated me well, but I also learned that I have a ways to go with injury prevention – knowing when to push the gas, or pump the brakes. Starting around when we last spoke in mid May, I had a succession of mini setbacks, nothing major, hamstring here, plantar fascia there, but the sum of the time off meant I probably started my taper prematurely. By the time USAs and Europe rolled around, I was running very limited mileage. The 800 was the right race to choose under the circumstances, and I was blown away by how strong I felt with very minimal speed work. I did hit my A standard, one race too late for the Moscow team (came in 4th at the USA Championships). Overall, I am excited and inspired by the strength of the US middle distances. We had 5 women in the World finals of the 800 and 1500, and two medals. It’s great to know that being at the top of the US puts you at the top of the world. So, I’m back here chugging away working to get there. I took a long break, and now the goal for this fall and winter is continuing to focus on tightening my stride, and increasing tissue mobility and strength, so the body can absorb all the work ahead.

Bergesen: NYC marathon training has gone the best since my last sub 3 in 2008. That aside, my goal is to run as fast I can while still having fun. Like a showboat with a few jet packs tucked away. 😉 Captain Fleshman has been a thoughtful, experienced, intuitive coach. No matter what transpires by the clock, it will be an honor to run alongside my Every Mother Counts teammates and support their efforts to raise money and awareness for maternal health. Oiselle continues to fly. 100% growth year over year is exciting but also rife with challenges. Fortunately, we have a crackerjack team…one that is focused and tightly knit. We hope to continue to take a strong stand on pro runner issues as well as ways in which the sport can grow by welcoming more players to the dance floor.

Track Money Winnings (Distance Events Only)

Jenny Simpson‘s 3rd place finish at Rome in the 1500 yesterday netted her $4,000. She had a much bigger payday on the track in late April when she picked up $25,000 for winning the Hy-Vee Drake Relays 1500. Kate Grace picked up $10,000 in the Drake 1500 as well, for finishing third. Here is a tally of the money that U.S. distance runners have made from the Drake and Diamond League meets in 2013:

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Clearly, Simpson has made the most of her two appearances. If you break the money down by sponsor, New Balance has carried the day.

The data do not include appearance fees. Note also that Cain won’t actually receive her money, as it would muddle her college eligibility. We’ll expand the list as we get data from more meets.

Here are some charts on Diamond League points and earnings by country for distance events, updated to reflect the results from the meet in Rome yesterday.

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And this list shows earnings on the track by Americans at Diamond League distance events:

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At the races: Diamond League NYC

097 Hagos Gebrhiwet takes no prisoners

When the women’s 400m runners knelt into their blocks at the adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet on Saturday, there was a vacancy in lane 4 where Sanya Richards-Ross, a late scratch, was supposed to be. It seemed cruelly unfair that the fans who were shivering in the wind and rain were denied this attraction, at a meet already handicapped by a number of absences. In the 5,000m, Americans Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat and Olympic bronze medalist Thomas Longosiwa from Kenya, along with a flotilla of other Nike athletes, were keeping their powder dry for next week’s Prefontaine Classic. Even a specially placed pole-vault runway beside the final straightaway was unused due to the wind and rain. But if the inclement weather and thin fields precluded Olympian high drama, the meet did offer glimpses of the fastest men and women on earth, including a 19-year old who could already be the world’s best long distance track runner: Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet.

At last year’s Diamond League meet in NYC, David Rudisha ran the fastest 800m ever in the U.S. with a 1:41.74. The time was less astonishing than the gap of nearly three seconds he had on the field. Rudisha again won handily on Saturday, even if by half the margin, but it was Gebrhiwet who made the statement of the meet.

Gebrhiwet clobbered the field in the 5,000m, winning with a world-leading time of 13:10 as top contender Dejen Gebremeskel (6th, 13:31) faded badly. The 5,000m is often decided by a sprint kick, but Gebrhiwet broke the field early and the drama was actually in the race for third, as American Ben True, who had steadily moved up through the field as Gebremeskel dropped back, dueled with Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan. Though True (13:16) could not reel Jelian in, he bolstered his credentials with the strong race in tough conditions, and he’s clearly the top American threat to the U.S. Nike-sponsored runners in the 5000m and 10,000m (True is sponsored by Saucony). True will likely run the 10,000 at US Nationals.

IMG_1937 True chases Jelian on the final lap

The women’s 1500 featured a huge field of 19 runners, including pace setters, jostling for position.

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and there they go (final lap)  044

Predictably, as Kate Grace (8th, 4:08.92) noted about her first Diamond League race, there was a lot of pushing and shoving. It was no surprise that Brenda Martinez (3rd, 4:06.25) was the top American runner, finishing strong after hanging back at the start. Morgan Uceny (7th, 4:08.49) sliced 9 seconds off her Drake performance. She said after the race that unlike at Drake, she “felt like herself” and that she stayed off the rail to stay out of trouble. After falls in the Olympics and World Champs over the past two years, Uceny is fated to always be cognizant of this issue. The winner of the race was Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi, who like Gebrhiwet, has a commanding early season lead in the “Diamond Race” standings with two wins in two competitions (the Diamond Race is the cumulative result of 7 competitions over the course of the season).

aregawi Flowers for the winner

Elsewhere in the meet, Amantle Montsho ran an impressive 400, 49.91 in far worse conditions than her 49.88 from Doha. Youth was on display with a pair of stellar dream mile races, and the return of Blanka Vlasic to the high jump brought the shutterbugs to their feet. The high jumpers were a sight: impossibly tall and thin, they approached the bar in their warmups like a basketball team completing a layup drill in slow motion. Vlasic was particularly vocal, like a team captain, though she seemed often to be barking at herself.

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The one race for which the sun shined uninterrupted was the master’s men’s 75+ 100m dash, won by William Bittner in 14.69. Bittner scored one for the elders, outpacing the Fastest Kids for the boys (Xavier Donaldson, 15.42) and girls (Adaria Reaves, 15.32).

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Shore A.C. teammates Alexander Johnson and Michael McDonnell head to the press tent

Episode 8: Oiselle Versus the Establishment

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It is said that birds of a feather flock together, and so it was in podcast episode 8.  Oiselle runners Lauren Fleshman and Kate Grace are joined by the company’s founder and CEO Sally Bergesen in a wide ranging interview that covers Fleshman’s best races, Grace’s taking flight on the track and roads, and Bergesen’s attempt to turn the running industry on its head. Elsewhere in the episode Brenn does an inventory of shoe contracts and reads viewer feedback from the mailbox, while Gregg takes Bill Rogers’ “Marathon Man” off the shelf of the library and climbs on the soapbox to rant about new baggage policies at races.

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