June 14, 2014
NEW YORK — It was a big day for high schoolers at the adidas Grand Prix in New York on Saturday. Sure there were the adidas Dream high school miles, but the best high schoolers were taking on the pros in the women’s 1500 and women’s 800.
The biggest news was one of them impressing in a pro race and her name wasn’t Mary Cain. In the pro women’s 1500m, Washington native Alexa Efraimson ran 4:07.05 to become the second-fastest high school 1,500 runner of all time. Cain meanwhile ran to a fourth place finish in the women’s 800m.
Women’s 1,500: Aregawi Keeps Winning, Simpson Best of Americans, but Efraimson The Most Impressive
Perhaps the day’s most exciting race was the women’s 1,500 meters.
It pitted Swedish world indoor and outdoor champ Abeba Aregawi against, among others, 17-year-old Ethiopian Dawit Seyaum and America’s Jenny Simpson, who won the 2011 World Championships at the distance.
There were also a host of American contenders, from Brenda Martinez to Shannon Rowbury to high school sensation Efraimson.
It was a sunny, blustery day at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island, which is situated on the East River between Manhattan and Queens, and the majority of the stadium’s 5,000 seats were filled with engaged, if not entirely frantic, spectators.
Early on, the race was a tight jumble, with rabbit Annette Eichenberger passing 400 meters in 65.49. Seyaum was in third, Aregawi in fourth and Simpson just behind in fifth.
Later, asked what lessons she’d learned from the race, a still heavily breathing Efraimson would say of the opening lap: “Girls can be pushy.”
Save for the rabbits, Seyaum did much of the pushing, following rabbit Heather Wilson through 800 meters in 2:12.34. Seyaum ratcheted things up on lap three, passing 1,200 meters in 3:16.47.
At the bell, Seyaum and Aregawi were pulling ahead of the pack, which consisted of Martinez, Simpson, Rowbury, Efraimson and several others.
Simpson then quickly gapped that chase pack, but she couldn’t get within striking distance of Seyaum and Aregawi. Still, Simpson kicked the last 300 meters basically by herself, with the chase pack filled with Americans about five to 10 meters behind her.
Down the homestretch, Aregawi kicked into first for a meet-record victory of 4:00.13 to Seyaum’s 4:00.66.
Simpson held on for third in 4:02.54, followed by Rowbury in 4:03.36 and Kenya’s Irene Jelagat in 4:04.07.
Then came Americans Treniere Moser, Morgan Uceny and Martinez. Poland’s Renata Plis finished ninth, followed by Efraimson.
Later, Simpson regretted letting the leaders pull clear of her.
“I didn’t have contact with them in the last 400, and that’s a problem,” she said. “I wasn’t as aggressive as I would have wanted to be.”
One reason is that she’s still doing hard workouts, she said, hoping to stay world-class through September.
“To beat the people I’m racing now, they’re so good at fast races and tactical races and everything in between that I have to be good at everything,” she said. “So that’s why I’m a little disappointed — even though it’s a fast time.”
Simpson is entered in both the 1,500 and 800 meters for the USATF Outdoor Championships, which begin on June 26, but she’ll likely decide to race just one of them, she said. She plans to then race the 1,500 meters at the Diamond League meet in Paris on July 5. “This year is all about running fast times,” she said.
For her part, Rowbury thought she could have threatened Simpson.
“The pace just felt a little quick, because I’ve been doing slower stuff,” said Rowbury, who set an American record in the two mile of 9:20 at the Prefontaine Classic.
“I got gapped a bit with 400 to go, but I was closing well at the end,” she said.
Rowbury said she’ll run the 5,000 meters at outdoor nationals, followed by a 1,500 meters in Paris, a 1,500 in Glasgow on July 12 and the 3,000 in Monaco on July 18.
Meanwhile, Martinez said she was feeling pretty good but that her legs simply wouldn’t kick into top gear over the last 300 meters.
“When the girls started responding, I tried to focus on the girls in front, but I ran out of gas and lost it,” she said.
If Saturday wasn’t the match — and Efraimson and coach Mike Hickey said it wasn’t — then there are exciting times ahead.
For starters, how’s this for fueling the fire? Efraimson’s most-recent track workout, according to Hickey, consisted of 3 x 600 meters, then 3 x 300 meters. Running solo, she hit 1:32, 1:34 and 1:33, before coming back with 41, 42-high, 42-high, Hickey said. (The rest was 5 minutes between 600s and 5 to 8 minutes between 300s, he said.)
Before Saturday, Hickey said he told Efraimson that anything under 4:08 would constitute a score of perfect 10 on the scale they use to rate performances.
When she hit the bell lap close enough to touch Jenny Simpson, Hickey said, he figured a 4:03 was a possibility.
Of course, Simpson closed the last lap 4.5 seconds faster than Efrainson, but that didn’t bother the coach.
“I’ve seldom seen Alexa not be able to finish with a great fury and a great turnover,” he said. “It shows you how hard she pushed those first few laps. But I think this is a perfect place for us right now.”
They’re trying to peak at the IAAF World Junior Championships, which take place July 22-27 in Eugene, Ore.
Hickey said he really thinks his star is capable of running 4:03, which would be a second faster than Mary Cain’s U.S. junior record of 4:04.62 set last year.
Asked if he thinks Efrainson could have beat Cain Saturday, Hickey responded diplomatically — but ruled nothing out.
Cane, he noted, ran 2:01 in Saturday’s 800 meters.
“Alexa’s probably in two-flat, 2:01 shape,” he said. “I think that with Mary and Alexa, I hope they can work together and continue to build this whole thing. And then there’s Elise Cranny. I think she’s a phenomenal talent.”
“Mary’s got the record. Mary’s the top girl right now,” he said. “The World Junior Trials is going to be awesome.”
1 Aregawi , Abeba SWE 4:00.13 4
2 Seyaum , Dawit ETH 4:00.66 2
3 Simpson , Jennifer USA 4:02.54 1
4 Rowbury , Shannon USA 4:03.36
5 Jelagat , Irene KEN 4:04.07
6 Moser , Treniere USA 4:04.33
7 Uceny , Morgan USA 4:04.87
8 Martinez , Brenda USA 4:06.42
9 Plis , Renata POL 4:07.03
10 Efraimson , Alexa USA 4:07.05
11 Sifuentes , Nicole CAN 4:08.11
12 Lagat , Viola KEN 4:09.13
13 Grunewald , Gabrielle USA 4:10.12
14 Terzic , Amela SRB 4:13.16
Wilson , Heather USA DNF
Eichenberger , Annette USA DNF
Afterward, Cain acknowledged she’d been outmaneuvered.
“My actual 800 meter time is faster; the problem is, I ran about 820 meters,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m honestly happy with it.”
Cain added that while she’s enjoyed running the past couple of 800s, the event is not very well-suited for her right now.
“The problem is, with me, it’s a lot more of a tactical race,” she said. “And since I’m younger, it’s harder for me. The 1,500, though — oh, I can race that all day. I can be in dead last, then just shoot for it.”
She’ll have reason to smile, then, when she runs the 1,500 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships. However, for the USATF Juniors the week after, she’s considering racing the 3,000 meters, she said. Nothing is set in stone, yet, but she said she wants to lower her personal best at that distance before losing her junior eligibility.
Cain, of course, has other tests coming up — namely, her driving test, next Friday. The day after that, she graduates from high school.
Then it’s off to nationals.
“I know I’m a lot stronger than I was last year,” she said. “And I still have a lot to improve on. But I’m running really good.”
1 Goule , Natoya JAM 2:00.28
2 Thomas , LaTavia USA 2:01.11
3 Okoro , Marilyn GBR 2:01.57
4 Cain , Mary USA 2:01.67
5 Cummins , Diane CAN 2:02.89
6 Edao , Dureti ETH 2:04.92
7 van Buskirk , Kate CAN 2:05.08
8 Gallagher , Kerri USA 2:05.91
9 McDonald , Kimarra USA 2:06.06
10 McKenzie , Lorain JAM 2:10.59
11 Herrick , Stephanie USA 2:10.65
Taylor , Benita USA DNF
Carlin , Jesse USA DNS