Men’s 800: Duane Solomon Looks to Defend, Elijah Greer Aims to Surprise and No Nick Symmonds

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By LetsRun.com
June 24, 2014

Men’s 800

First round: Thursday, 7:40 p.m. ET

Semifinals: Friday, 11:26 p.m. ET

Final: Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET

The men’s 800 has been a strong event for the U.S. on the global stage the last two years. Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds finished fourth and fifth at the 2012 Olympics to move up to #2 and #3 on the U.S. all-time list, and last year Symmonds won the U.S.’s first outdoor WC 800 medal since 1997, taking silver in Moscow while Solomon finished sixth.

After that big leap forward, the event hasn’t been quite as strong for the U.S. this year, partially because Symmonds, who won five straight national titles from 2008 to 2012, hasn’t run since indoors because of a left knee injury (Symmonds will not race at USAs). Solomon has stagnated a bit since running the world’s first-ever 1:43 in April, and runners such as Brandon Johnson and Tyler Mulder haven’t been able to repeat big 2013 seasons.

Thus the quality of the 800 at this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento isn’t as strong as in recent years (it being an off year with no global championships doesn’t help), but it may mean it’s a more wide-open, unpredictable event.

There are several storylines worth noting and we touch on all of them below.

Name Affiliation DOB PB SB Comment
Duane Solomon Saucony 12.28.1984 1:42.82 1:43.88 Defending champ; 6th at worlds in ’13; slowed down after fast start in ’14 — last race 1:45.13 for 3rd in NY DL
Brandon Johnson   3.2.1985 1:43.84 1:46.67 3rd last year and later ran 1:43.84; has only broken 1:47 once in ’14
Tyler Mulder Nike / Oregon TC Elite 2.15.1987 1:44.34 1:46.80 Mr. Near Miss: 5th in ’13, 5th in ’12, 4th in ’11, 4th in ’10. Only 1:51.07 at Pre.
Erik Sowinski Nike 12.21.1989 1:44.58 1:44.58 2-time defending U.S. indoor champ was 6th in ’13. Ran PB at Mt. SAC in April but in 1:45/6s since
Elijah Greer Nike / Oregon TC Elite 10.24.1990 1:45.04 1:45.30 4th last year; ’13 NCAA indoor/outdoor champ; won Oxy and 2nd in B 800 at Pre
Michael Rutt Hoka One One / NJ*NY TC 10.28.1987 1:45.08 1:46.33 7th in ’13; ran SB at NY DL on June 14
Brian Gagnon NJ*NY TC 5.8.1987 1:45.45 1:46.62 Ran SB on June 5 in Concord, Mass., but just 1:50.26 in B 800 at NY DL
Harun Abda Oregon TC Elite 1.1.1990 1:45.55 1:45.55 Former U. of Minnesota runner ran PB in Puerto Rico on May 17 but just 1:47.77 in Portland on June 15
Charles Jock Nike 11.23.1989 1:44.67 1:45.90 2011 Team USA member + ’12 NCAA champ ran SB in Puerto Rico on May 17 and 1:46.84 at Pre
Mark Wieczorek BROOKS Beasts TC 12.25.1984 1:45.36 1:46.81 5th at U.S. indoors; ran SB in Concord on June 5 (4th place)
Robby Andrews adidas 3.29.1991 1:44.71 1:46.28 Hasn’t regained form of ’11 (NCAA champ) or ’12 (3:34 1500) but moving in right direction
Ryan Schnulle Florida   1:46.29 1:46.29 Sophomore was 2nd at NCAAs; first USA champs
Drew Windle Ashland   1:46.52 1:46.52 NCAA Division II champ gets crack at the big boys here
Ryan Martin Asics 3.28.1989 1:44.77 1:46.58 Former UCSB runner was 4th at Portland Track Festival in 1:47.46
Casimir Loxsom BROOKS Beasts TC 3.17.1991 1:45.28 1:46.31 2010 World Junior silver medalist coming off good wins in Concord + Portland
Brandon Lasater Georgia Tech 10.9.1992 1:47.19 1:47.19 Junior didn’t qualify for NCAAs
Gabriel Hilbert   10.24.1991 1:47.25 1:47.25 Won B heat at Portland Track Festival in 1:48.14
David Torrence Nike 11.26.1985 1:45.14 1:47.25 7th in 1500 in ’13; 3:53.95 for 7th in International Mile at Pre
Benjamin Scheetz NJ*NY TC 6.5.1990 1:47.26 1:47.26 Ran SB at Oxy; 1:48.92 for 3rd in B 800 at NY DL
Jesse Garn   6.4.1993 1:47.36 1:47.36 Binghamton U. runner redshirted outdoors
Richard Jones   7.15.1988 1:45.56 1:49.78 Ran on WR 4×800 relay indoors; hasn’t broken 1:49 outdoors
Nick Hartle   1.14.1994 1:47.51 1:47.51  
Christopher Low Long Beach St.   1:47.52 1:47.52  
Samuel Ellison Villanova 12.5.1992 1:47.60 1:47.60  
James Gilreath Adidas Team Green Running 8.7.1989 1:47.38 1:47.63  
Lucas Lefebure Stanford 12.6.1992 1:47.64 1:47.64  
Shawn Roberts Georgia Tech 6.6.1991 1:47.66 1:47.66  
Mark Husted   6.4.1987 1:47.56 1:49.48  
William Ledder Georgetown 6.26.1992 1:47.89 1:47.89  
Derrick Daigre Jr Washington 5.15.1993 1:48.03 1:48.03  
Matthew Hillenbrand Kentucky 5.8.1992 1:48.07 1:48.07  
Travis Thompson     1:47.60 1:48.70  

(Entries subject to change. Check the status of entries here.)

Can Solomon repeat?

Solomon celebrates as he wins USAs in 2013

Solomon celebrates as he wins USAs in 2013

Solomon began his 2014 outdoor season, as his nickname suggests, with a bang. After a couple of tuneup races in Australia in March, Solomon ran 1:43.88 at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 19, the fastest time ever run in the month of April. It was a clinic in front-running and a good omen that Solomon, whose 1:42.82 PR makes him the #2 fastest runner in U.S. history, could seriously threaten the American record of 1:42.60 held by his coach, Johnny Gray.

But since Mt. SAC, Solomon’s season hasn’t gone according to plan. He had the fastest split in the field in the 4×800 at the World Relays on May 24, but he was outkicked for silver in the home stretch by Poland’s Adam Kszczot, who later admitted that he wasn’t in the best of shape at the time. Solomon followed that up by billing the loaded Pre Classic 800 as an American record attempt, but scrapped that plan midway through the race when he couldn’t get into good position and it was clear any chance at the record was gone. He ultimately would finish last in 1:47.40, his slowest time since the first round of the Olympic Trials in 2012.

Since then, Solomon’s performances haven’t exactly been bad — he was fourth in Rome on June 5 behind well-regarded runners Mo Aman, Abubaker Kaki and Marcin Lewandowski, and was third in New York on June 14 behind David Rudisha and Irishman Mark English. But they’re not what Solomon was looking for after running 1:43 in April.

With no Symmonds, Solomon is still the man to beat here — he beat a healthy Symmonds to win this race last year and went on to take sixth at Worlds. He has the fastest PR and the #2 time in the world in 2014. Everyone in the field knows Solomon’s game plan is to go to the front, set a grueling pace and dare someone to pass him in the home stretch. It worked to perfection last year, with Solomon running a very fast 1:43.27 to claim his first U.S. outdoor title.

Based on Solomon’s performances so far this year, one wouldn’t expect him to run that well at USAs this year. However, it should be noted that Solomon hadn’t run faster than 1:44.91 before USAs last year, a mark Solomon has bettered three times already in 2014. Of course, Solomon isn’t on the same trajectory as last season (he got faster every race before USAs after opening with a 1:46.03 in April). Still, if Solomon can run 1:44 low from the front, he will be very tough to beat in this race as the only other man in the field to have broken 1:44, Brandon Johnson, isn’t running well at all this season.

Could this be a breakthrough race for Elijah Greer?

Greer was golden at NCAAs last spring

Greer was golden at NCAAs last spring

Overshadowed for his first three years of college by classmates Cas Loxsom and Robby Andrews, everything finally came together for Greer in 2013 as he won NCAAs indoors and out and finished fourth at the U.S. championships, narrowly missing out on making his first U.S. senior team. Greer has been relatively quiet so far in 2014, though he’s run well in both races that he’s finished. He ran 1:45.86 to win at Oxy on May 15 and followed that up with a second-place finish (top American) in the International 800 at Pre on May 30, running 1:45.30.

Beating Solomon will be a tough task, but if anyone can do it, it’s Greer. He only has the fifth-best PR in the field, but he’s a winner and runs his best when it matters the most. In 2013, Greer ran 10 800 finals. He won seven of them and PR’d in one more. Additionally, of his five fastest 800s ever, four of them came in NCAA or USA championships. It’s hard to tell what kind of shape Greer is in at the moment since he hasn’t run an NCAA season like last year, but we can assume that he’ll be at his best in Sacramento given how well he’s timed his peak in the past. This is still Solomon’s race to lose, but if he’s not on his game, Greer will be ready to pounce.

The only other man who could threaten

Barring a major upset or a sudden return to form by Johnson or Tyler Mulder, there’s only one other man who could win this race: Erik Sowinski. Like Solomon, Sowinski, the two-time defending U.S. indoor champ, ran a very fast time at Mt. SAC (1:44.58) but hasn’t touched that since, running between 1:45.23 and 1:46.95 in every subsequent race. The 1:44 suggests that he can contend for the win here, and there is something to be said for being consistent. But consistent won’t win Sowinski this race; he’s 0-4 all time vs. Solomon and will need to produce a special effort to unseat the champ.

One other note about Sowinski: he’s raced a lot this spring. From May 18 to June 8, he ran six races on four continents in a 22-day span (once every 3.7 days). You could argue that so much racing will wear Sowinski down, but it’s also possible to spin the information the other way — some guys only run well when they’re racing a lot. No matter your stance, Sowinski’s consistency in the midst of all that travel is impressive, and he’ll have gone 17 days without a race by the time he toes the line in Sacramento. That’s plenty of time to recover and get in some good training ahead of USAs.

The decline of Brandon Johnson and Tyler Mulder

Two of the guys who could have stepped up in Symmonds’ absence were Johnson and Mulder, who were third and fifth a year ago. But both have struggled to regain the form that saw them run PRs of 1:43.84 (Johnson) and 1:44.34 (Mulder) in 2013. Johnson started slowly and hasn’t raced since running 1:46.67 for seventh in the Shanghai Diamond League meet on May 18. Mulder ran in the 1:46s twice in May, but then ran 1:51.07 at Pre on May 30 and hasn’t raced since. Maybe some time away from racing is what these guys needed for USA, but their prospects for a top-three finish– very bright a year ago — have dimmed significantly.

Wild-Card

We said above when talking about who could win that Sowinski was the only man besides Symmonds or Greer that we thought could win. Well that’s pretty much true but if anyone else wins we think it would be Robby Andrews. Back when he was in college, he was a ferocious competitor who was hard to discount in tactical races. We were hoping that a return to a team environment with the NJ*NY Track Club this year would reignite Andrews’ career. A second-place showing at USA indoors and 1:46.35 outdoor opening win were encouraging but seeing him become stuck in the 1:46 range race after race (3 straight) has become painful.

It’s way more likely that he doesn’t make the final than he wins but we’re just not willing to totally give up hope on him quite yet.

LRC Prediction: It’s time for some new blood in the 800. Greer FTW.

1. Greer 2. Solomon 3. Sowinski