Men's 1500: The Three Best Men Punch Their Tickets To London
After Four Runner-Up Performances, Leo Manzano Earns His First US 1,500 Title To Make His 2nd US Olympic Team
July 1, 2012
Eugene, OR - In the end, the distance aficionados got what they wanted.
Some of the guys without the 'A' tried to be a little bit heroic and went for the standard of 3:35.50 but in the end the three best US 1,500 meter runners of recent years punched their tickets to London.
Three best you say? But what about Runners X. We don't want to hear it.
1. Leo Manzano - The most consistent guy over recent years made the team. Manzano, who had been the top three at the US champs in the 1,500 since 2006 but never won, kicked past Matt Centrowitz for his much deserved first US title - a title that even surprised himself.
2. Matt Centrowitz- The most decorated guy internationally given his world championship bronze medal from last year made it as well. The savvy tactician Centrowitz put himself in perfect position as he grabbed the lead just prior to the bell before losing it in the home stretch.
3 Andrew Wheating - The fastest 1,500 guy in the field and 2nd fastest American born runner in history at 3:30.90 made it as well. Wheating, who was only seventh at the bell, used his patented late surge to make his second Olympic Team.
One other way to think of it is that the two previous Olympians in the field as well as the one guy with a global championship medal punched their tickets to London.
In terms of how the race played out, it went almost exactly as we predicted - it would start fast but then things would really stagnate until the bell. We figured that the race would go out under 58 and it did thanks to a 57.6 by the Oregon Track Club's Jordan McNamara. After 400, former OTC member Will Leer went to the lead and we knew that a plan was in place.
To be truthful, Leer didn't do much with the lead as he only went through 700 in 1:42.65 (59.94 from 300 to 700). After 800 was hit in 1:57.6, and the pace didn't pick up, it seemed as if the "A" was most likely out the window.
After the race, Leer said that 800 into the race, he felt a little bit like Steve Prefontaine in Without Limits when Pre was expecting a fellow competitor to take the pace at a certain point but was left wondering where he was when he didn't show up. Leer said he was expecting was expecting the Army's John Mickowski to take over between 700 and 800 but Mickowski didn't get up to the lead until the next turn after 900.
"I had a momentary flash of Without Limits when Pre takes the lap with three laps to go and the guy is supposed to go around him and Pre (looks around and says) 'Come on, come on.' I felt that way because John was supposed to come around between 700 and 800 and that didn't happen and I was like, 'Ah shit, I'm going to be hung out to dry here for the next 700 meters or until everyone blows by you,'" said Leer, who wasn't trying to make excuses as he added, "Here, the field is so, so good, you're going to have to have an A plus plus day to do it from the front."
When asked about his conservative second lap, Leer said that the plan was to go somewhat conservative through 800.
The Plan - "Wind It Up With 700 To Go"
"That was kind of our plan - to go out relatively conservative because if we blow the doors off the first 800 meters, we'd have nothing left at the end to deal with it Centro and Wheating and Manzano and David. Our plan was to get out, get it within reach, and then really wind it up with 700 to go and give ourselves an opportunity. Going out super hard - more likely than not - especially fighting the wind, you are just going to die," added Leer about the plan which is certainly easier formulated than implemented as slamming it home from 2 laps out isn't easy.
Coming down the homestretch the next to last time, the field was tightly bunched as everyone seemingly composed themselves for the last lap. At the bell (2:42.30), the top 11 of the 12 person field were all within 1.29 seconds of the lead. At the bell, it was the world championship bronze medallist Centrowitz who spurted to the lead over David Torrence - a lead that he wouldn't relinquish until the final 20 meters of the race.
On the backstretch after 1200 (2:55.9 for Centro), a bunch of guys in the back tried to make moves to put themselves in contention including noted come from behind runners Andrew Wheating and former UVA star Robby Andrews who had found themselves 7th at the bell (2:43.11) and 11th (2:43.49) respectively at the bell. Andrews move was the most pronounced move (in hindsight, the move may have been too big and too soon) but he couldn't quite get around the big Andrew Wheating as they started the final turn. Entering the turn, Andrews was slightly ahead of Wheating and probably could have cut him off if he really wanted to be dirty but instead backed off and tried to regroup when they hit the homestretch in 4th and 5th.
When the runners came off the final stretch, Centrowitz still had the lead and Manzano was starting to pull clear of Torrence as the leading duo of Centrowitz and Manzano were about to engage in a battle for the win. Two questions remained, "Who was going to win?" and, "Who was going to get third - Wheating or Andrews?"
In the last battle for the win, Manzano was really gritting and fighting whereas Centrowitz looked way more smooth but in the end it was the more pained Manzano who got the win in 3:35.75 after a 53.08 last lap to Centrowitz's 3:35.84 (53.55 last lap). Perhaps Centro isn't quite race sharp enough.
In the battle for third, Andrews had followed Wheating around the final turn. In the homestretch, as they both blew by Torrence (who would fade to 6th), Andrews was unable to gain on Wheating. In the final 20 meters or so, Andrews faded a bit and was caught by the NCAA champ Andy Bayer who had started the last 100 meters in 7th but ended up 4th as he smartly saved ground by staying on the rail as many of the other runners went way wide.
Quick Take (QT) #1: Cream rises to the top. The best three 1,500 guys in terms of career accomplishments made the team. Six seconds from the finish line (3:29 into this race), the top five 1,500 guys in the field in our minds in Manzano, Centro, Wheating, Andrews and Torrence - were going 1-5. Actually, make that six if you count Jordan McNamara. If you held a time trial in Europe next week, we'd expect those six guys to go 1-6.
QT #2: People talk a lot about positioning, tactics, boxes and what not but point #1 proves that the most fit and most talented guys normally come through. Supporting that point is the fact that the three guys with the three fastest last laps went 1-2-3 and the order of finish was in the order of their last lap splits. Manzano ran 53.08, Centro ran 53.55 and Wheating 53.58.
QT#3: Let's talk tactics now though. Robby Andrews is a big time talent and will be a force to reckoned with in the year's to come. Would he have made the team had he cut off Wheating with 200 to go? It's possible but we doubt it as Andrews last lap was 53.97 (although Andrews seemingly packed it in a bit with about 10 meters to go when it was clear he wasn't getting third) and Wheating's 53.58.
In our mind, what we think might have made a bigger difference for Andrews would be for him not to have been so far back at the bell or for him not to make such a big move between 250 and 200 to go. Just as if we were coaching Bernard Lagat in a re-run of the men's 5000, we'd tell him, "Bernard, you don't have to be in first with 80 meters to go - just at the finish line" we'd probably tell Andrews, "You don't have to be in third by 80 to go - just at the finish line."
Might a full season of college racing helped him get slightly better in tactics? We'll never know. He really shouldn't be too upset with himself though. He ran a credible race and was beaten by three studs.
QT #5: In his post-race comments, race winner Leo Manzano was very honest as he admitted he was surprised he won and also admitted he's psyched himself out in the past in some big raises. That's a big admission for a guy who has never been inconsistent at a US outdoor championship as he's been top three every year since 2006.
QT #5: We thought the guys without the 'A' trying to set the pace would ultimately a) not fully commit to it and b) pay the price for trying. That's pretty much what happened as Mickowski ended up next to last and Leer last (McNamara held up pretty well in 7th).
In terms of Leer's post-race small critique of Mickowski not taking the pace fully 700 or 800 into the race, we can understand why Leer made it but feel it was a bit off based. Setting the pace from 700 to 1100 is way harder than any point in the first 700. There is a reason afterall why a rabbit in Europe will often get 3rd or 4th placed money in Europe - it's a hard job. Additionally, it's not like Leer did much on the lap he led as he basically ran a 60 - even if it was the plan to go conservative on that lap. Realistically, to get the A, the guys needed to be 1:56 at a minimum before maybe floating a 45 for 300 before slamming it home.
Now, we certainly don't want people to slam Leer for his comments or slam us for trying to create controversy. You can see post-race interviews from both Leer and Mickowski below.
QT #6: The NCAA champ Andy Bayer didn't go for the 'A' but making the Olympics wasn't a realistic option for him. And his finish was helped by the fact that some that did go for broke blew up big time, but he should be very proud of getting 4th after being the last guy into the final.
Interviews, splits and results appear below.