RRW: Weekend Action Gives Glimpse of USA Women’s 800m National Championships

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By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
June 16, 2015

Fewer than ten days out from the USA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., the women’s 800m is shaping up to be one of the toughest disciplines to qualify for a team spot ahead of the IAAF World Championships. Five American women have dipped under two minutes so far this year, and many more have come oh-so-close. Only three athletes can represent Team USA for the World Championships in Beijing, and the top-3 finishers in Eugene earn provisional spots on the team.

Last weekend, a number of the best 800m competitors raced across the country, particularly at the adidas Grand Prix in New York City. With the first round of the event getting closer and closer –kicking off on June 25– Race Results Weekly looks at the main contenders of the event, and what we learned from them this weekend.

MISS CONSISTENCY: Ajee’ Wilson — Throughout this year, Ajee’ Wilson has told Race Results Weekly multiple times that the key to racing well is consistency and competitiveness. Listening and always adhering to coach Derek Thompson’s race plans, Wilson has established herself as one of the world’s best over two laps, going to the front of races and holding on for dear life. She is the second fastest woman in the world this year, having run 1:57.87 at the Prefontaine Classic, and currently sits second in the Diamond Race standings with six points.

Yet the 21-year-old knows nothing is guaranteed about making the United States’ team for the World Championships in Beijing. Confident in her abilities, Wilson is not getting complacent, knowing that anything can happen at a Championship event. Case in point, her devastating fall at this year’s USA Indoor Championships 600m.

“Still, anything can happen, but I’m hopeful I make the team,” said the two-time World Junior Champion. “I’m just ready to compete.”

STUDENT OF THE SPORT: Brenda Martinez — Step by step, Brenda Martinez has learned a little bit more every time she’s toed the line this year. While her season best of 1:59.06 may not quite be on par with her personal best of 1:57.91, Martinez assured Race Results Weekly that she’s a student of the sport, learning a bit more about her fitness with each day that passes. At Saturday’s adidas Grand Prix, Martinez placed a disappointing fifth in 2:00.33. After the race, she knew exactly what she needed to do at USA’s.

“I just didn’t get out with the pack and that was my fault. I just got to prepare for USA’s,” said Martinez, the bronze medalist at the 2013 World Championships. “It’s always, you never know what to expect from the 800m. Today I got defeated big time. I’m not going to give up or anything. I’m just going to go back home, recover, and get ready for USA’s.”

“It will be tougher that today,” she affirmed.

TRADITIONAL POWER: Alysia Montano — While she may not have yet dipped under 2:00 in the open 800m this season, Alysia Montano is a formidable competitor. Last year, Montano was determined to race at USA’s, lacing up her spikes and completing two laps despite being 34 weeks pregnant. This year, she seeks to return to the top, though will likely need to run faster than her 2:01.78 season best to do so.

Montano has five USA Outdoor titles to her name, and the experience to know what it takes to finish in the top three of the final. Most recently she ran 2:03.72 for 10th at the Pre Classic. At the IAAF World Relays, Montano anchored home the winning quartet in 1:58.90. If she can run that time at Hayward Field at the National Championships, she’ll be in prime position for the World Championships.

SUB-2 CREW: Chanelle Price and Molly Ludlow — Ranked eighth and tenth in the world right now on time, Chanelle Price and Molly Ludlow (née Beckwith) have had very solid seasons so far, running season bests of 1:59.47 and 1:59.81, respectively. The pair dipped under two minutes at the adidas Grand Prix, finishing in third and fourth positions.

Price does have global experience on her side, having won gold in the discipline at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships. However, at last year’s USA Outdoor Championships, Price ran 2:01.97 in the heats to qualify for the semi-finals, but did not start in the semi-final. She’ll have to make it through three races to book her ticket to Beijing.

Ludlow has raced frequently this spring, both on the oval and roads. She has broken two minutes twice, won a road mile in 4:34.0, and won gold at the IAAF World Relays in the 4x800m (8:00.62). Can she make her first World Outdoor team?

THE DARK HORSE: Erin Donohue — After two years of not racing due to Haglund’s Deformity (a bone enlargement on the back of the heel) and subsequent surgeries, the 32-year-old Donohue has emerged back on the circuit, setting a season best of 2:02.17 for the 800m in May and winning the 1000m at the adidas Grand Prix over Mary Cain, Treniere Moser, Hannah England, and Dana Mecke. Her time for the kilometer was 2:37.42.

Donohue said it’s been a long journey back, but she is more excited than ever before entering the most important part of the season as part of the New Jersey/New York Track Club coached by Frank Gagliano. While her season best may not quite be on par with Wilson, Martinez, Price, and Beckwith-Ludlow, anything can happen when you get to rounds and a Championship format.

“I wouldn’t go out to Eugene if I wasn’t trying to do that [qualify for Worlds]” said the 2008 Olympian at 1500m. “I know I have a very outside shot, and it’s a little intimidating watching the women’s 800m and Ajee’ Wilson and the whole crew that are running really, really well right now. I’m just listening to Gags and he’s all about three rounds. I just got to stay tough and put myself in a position to be in the final and be ready to close.”

THE COLLEGIAN: Raevyn Rogers — The most surprising and jaw-dropping performance of the weekend was University of Oregon freshman Raevyn Rogers running away with the NCAA 800m crown, setting a personal best of 1:59.71 in the process. Previously, Rogers had only run a lifetime best of 2:01.67. Yet at NCAA’s –run on her home track of Hayward Field, where USA’s will be– she’d pass former collegiate champion Natoya Goule and run alone in front down the stretch, breaking the two minute barrier.

According to USATF’s website, Rogers is already entered in the USA National Junior Championships, held concurrently with the Open Senior Championships next week. In the Junior ranks, she has the fastest qualifying time by more than three seconds.

With her win this week, she easily could qualify for the Open Senior Championships. Could she switch and now race the senior race? It’ll be interesting to see what happens, and if anything changes over the course of the next week.

OTHER NOTABLES: Many of the other contenders raced last weekend, including Phoebe Wright, Lauren Wallace, and McKayla Fricker — all of whom squared off in the 1500m at the Portland Track Festival. Wright finished sixth in 4:11.62, followed across the line by Wallace (4:13.47) then Fricker three spots later in tenth, 4:18.14 her time.

Wallace is coming off of her first national title indoors, winning the 1000 meters in Boston this winter. Could she surprise again and win outdoors? Wright, the former NCAA indoor and outdoor champion, is consistent and has gotten closer and closer to breaking two minutes again. Fricker is the training partner of junior sensation Alexa Efraimson; she’s shown glimpses of promise this year.

Of course, no one can count out Maggie Vessey, who timed 2:00.07 to win the National 800m at the Prefontaine Classic on May 29. She’s a veteran of two world championships teams, 2009 and 2011 (in the latter she finished 5th in the world).

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The first round of the Women’s 800m will be on June 25, followed by the Semi-Finals on June 26 and Final on June 28. A current list of entries for the discipline  (as of June 16) can be found below.

NAME / AFFILIATION / QUALIFYING TIME / STATUS?

Brenda Martinez     New Balance          1:58.84 declared
LaTavia Thomas      NJ/NY TC             2:00.95 declared
Ajee’ Wilson        adidas               1:57.67
Molly Ludlow        Saucony              1:59.30
Chanelle Price      Nike                 1:59.47
Maggie Vessey       —                   2:00.07
Phoebe Wright       Nike                 2:00.79
Charlene Lipsey     adidas               2:00.91
Lauren Wallace      Oiselle/SRA Elite      2:01.13
Hanna Green         Virginia Tech      2:01.17
Dana Mecke          —                   2:01.49
Chrishuna Williams  Arkansas             2:01.61
Shannon Leinert     Brooks/Speed Factory 2:01.62
Mckayla Fricker     —                   2:01.64
Alysia Montano      ASICS/NYAC           2:01.78
Geena Lara          —                   2:01.87
Kendra Chambers     —                   2:01.93
Erin Donohue        NJ/NY TC             2:02.17
Annette Melcher     U.S. Air Force       2:02.32
Megan Malasarte     Brooks               2:02.54
Kaela Edwards       Oklahoma St.         2:02.63
Stephanie Charnigo  Saucony              2:02.66
Claudia Francis     Florida              2:02.92
Christy Cazzola     Oiselle              2:02.95


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