2016 Adrian Martinez Classic: HSers Sammy Watson (US #1 2:03.07 800) & Thomas Ratcliffe (4:01.50 Mile) Run Fast as Brandon Johnson (1:46.79) & Gabriele Grunewald (15:25.40) Pick Up Wins

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By Jonathan Gault
June 2, 2016

CONCORD, Mass. — The 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials begin in 29 days, and you can believe that every American elite at Thursday night’s Adrian Martinez Classic knew that, from 16-year-old Sammy Watson to veterans such as Brandon Johnson and Gabriele Grunewald. In four weeks, the times will have been run, the start lists etched in stone. Tonight was about getting your name on that list.

Though no new athletes officially booked their place in Eugene next month, some, such as Grunewald, who won the 5,000 in 15:25.40, agonizingly close to the 15:25.00 Trials standard, took big steps in the right direction (indeed, Grunewald’s time will likely be good enough to get her into the 24-athlete Trials field).

The night featured a thrilling men’s 800, won by Johnson in 1:46.72 over the Brooks Beasts’ Drew Windle (1:46.81), a ridiculous 2:03.06 800 from high school junior Sammy Watkins (#1 in the country by 2.59 seconds) and a 4:01.50 mile from another high schooler, Thomas Ratcliffe, who was roared on by hundreds of fans on his home track.

Meet recap plus video interviews below.

Men’s 800: Brandon Johnson Holds Off Drew Windle

Johnson came through 400 in front in 51-mid and held the lead until James Gilreath passed him entering the final turn. Johnson battled back and retook the lead coming off the turn as he and Windle, who had swung wide into lane 4 off the turn, began to separate from the field. The two men battled all the way to the line but Windle could not haul in Johnson, who earned the win in 1:46.72.

Heat 1
1 Johnson, Brandon Nike 1:46.72 1
2 Windle, Drew Brooks Beast 1:46.81 1
3 Solis, Dusty Big Bear Tc/ 1:47.33 1 1:47.327
4 Wheating, Andrew Nike-OTC 1:47.33 1 1:47.330
5 Rutt, Mike Hoka One One 1:47.45 1
6 Kemboi, Edward High Perform 1:47.63 1
7 Romaniw, Anthony Speed River 1:47.80 1
8 Torrence, David Hoka One One 1:48.55 1
9 Kiplagat, Abraham Kenya 1:48.58 1
10 Gilreath, James Team Green R 1:48.64 1

Heat 2
1 Willig, Ned Brown Univer 1:48.92 2
2 Ibadin, Edose District Tra 1:49.59 2
3 Marshall, Myles Harvard Univ 1:49.69 2
4 Ulrey, Dorian Brooks Beast 1:49.87 2
5 James, Jamaal Trinidad and 1:49.88 2
6 Piazza, Drew Unattached 1:50.28 2
7 White, Sadiki Jamaica/USA 1:51.09 2
8 Ledder, Billy District Tra 1:52.40 2
9 Ellison, Sam Boston AA 1:52.72 2

Heat 3
1 Holdsworth, Derek District Tra 1:47.96 3
2 Black, Mitchell Tufts Univer 1:48.95 3
3 Land, Tommy Speed River 1:49.93 3
4 Smith, Andrew District Tra 1:50.11 3
5 Morin, Nicolas Caul Canada 1:50.58 3
6 Minors, Dage Bermuda 1:50.69 3
7 Saville, Sebastian Ottawa Lions 1:51.34 3
8 Donnelly, Jordan Providence G 1:51.52 3
9 Atkinson, Sean Cptc New Bal 1:51.72 3

Quick Take #1: Brandon Johnson feels that everything is falling into place — “I’m pretty sure I can get top 3; matter of fact, my plan is to get top 3 and make that Olympic team”
Johnson has been snakebitten by injuries the past two years but for the first time since 2013, he’s healthy and ready to go in the month of June. It worked out pretty well for him last time — he ran 1:43.97 to finish third at USAs and qualify for Worlds.

Johnson, who comes from a 400 hurdle background, has been working on building his strength for the rounds at the Trials, and though his 1500 at the Rio test event (3:57 in a race won in 3:38) was ugly, it came after running 1:46 on each of the two days before it. He described the 1500 as “torture” but feels that it will help him mentally and physically prepare for the Trials. Johnson won’t race again between now and the Trials and he still needs to hit the Olympic standard (1:46.00). But considering it will likely take 1:46.00 or faster to finish top three, Johnson doesn’t need to worry that much about the time.

Quick Take #2: David Torrence is focused on the 800/1500 this year
Torrence struggled tonight, which he chalked up to a calf strain after Oxy which prevented him from going faster than 29-second 200 pace in practice. He also said that his plan is to focus on the 800/1500 this year.

I thought that was a bit odd considering Torrence was kicking for a spot on Team USA at 5,000 last year (he came up .70 short) and took silver at Pan Ams but he said that he doesn’t think he has the strength to run two rounds of the 5,000, hence the shift down in distance. Torrence has the Olympic standard in the 1500 and the 5,000, but not the 800.

Quick Take #3: Some progress for Andrew Wheating, who ran a tactically awful race
Wheating improved on his last place showing at Pre last week, running 1:47.33 for fourth, but he left himself way too much work to do in the final 100. Wheating ran in last place for the first 700 meters and when Wheating finally started to move outside to kick on the home straight, everyone else had the same idea, forcing him all the way out to lane 5. Once Wheating got going, he was able to run some people down but it was too little, too late and he had to settle for fourth.

I didn’t get the chance to speak to Wheating afterwards but it’s looking like 1500 for him at the Trials by default as this was his fastest 800 during the qualifying window and it’s still well off the 1:46.00 Trials standard.

Men’s Mile: Sam Penzenstadler Looks Great as High Schooler Thomas Ratcliffe Runs 4:01.50


Top heat of the men's mile getting final instructions

Top heat of the men’s mile getting final instructions

The final event of the night was by far the most anticipated as several hundred locals turned out specifically to cheer on senior Thomas Ratcliffe of Concord-Carlisle High School, racing on his home track. A roar reverberated around the track when Ratcliffe was introduced before the race and the cheers during the four-lap event were by far the loudest of the night.

Rabbit Mike Rutt ran just under 4:00 pace for the first 800, hitting 409 in 59 seconds and 809 in 1:59; at halfway, Penzenstadler was first among the racers behind Rutt while Ratcliffe was in second-to-last in the large 16-person field.

Penzenstadler had a lead of around five meters when Rutt dropped out at 1k and hit the bell still in the lead at 3:00.3 (Ratcliffe hit 809 in 2:02 and 1209 in 3:02). By the back stretch of the final lap, his lead had stretched to almost 10 meters, at which point Eric Avila launched an attack and attempted to reel Penzenstadler in. He caught him with just under 100 to go, but Penzenstadler responded immediately and held on for the win. Ratcliffe closed well, but not well enough over the final lap to break 4:00. His 4:01.50 was still a nice improvement over his 4:06 best coming in.

Your men's mile podium: Avila, Penzenstadler and Joel Hubbard

Your men’s mile podium: Avila, Penzenstadler and Joel Hubbard

Heat 1
1 Penzenstadler, Sam District Tra 3:57.80 1
2 Avila, Eric Hoka One One 3:58.23 1
3 Hubbard, Joel Syracuse Uni 3:59.18 1
4 Oakley, Julian Providence N 3:59.33 1
5 Cheplaiti, Abraham K Kenya 3:59.68 1
6 Ross, Nick New England 3:59.73 1
7 Cowart, Donnie Saucony 4:01.16 1
8 Ratcliffe, Thomas Unattached 4:01.50 1
9 Gregory, Pat Dartmouth Co 4:02.02 1
10 Hurt, James (Tripp) Team Run Eug 4:02.12 1
11 Alex, George Reebok/ Zap 4:02.26 1
12 Campbell, Kemoy New Balance 4:02.66 1
13 Patton, Mark Speed River 4:08.00 1
14 Reher, Michael Boston AA 4:09.95 1
15 Mangan, Steve New England 4:15.75 1
16 Dixon, Harvey Providence G 4:16.79 1

Heat 2
1 Godwin, Adam Team Green R 4:03.94 2
2 Greene, Kevin Flynn Runnin 4:06.63 2
3 Pitts, Andrew Henwoods Hou 4:07.93 2
4 Gravel, Christian Speed River 4:08.26 2
5 Moskowitz, Eli Brown Univer 4:08.42 2
6 Melly, David The Heartbre 4:08.77 2
7 Johns, Jacob Unattached 4:10.42 2
8 Elkurdly, Mostafa Speed River 4:10.80 2

Quick Take #1: Penzenstadler was happy to win, but wanted to go faster
Penzenstadler, who trains under Matt Centrowitz Sr. in Washington, D.C., really enjoyed himself, saying the meet was probably his favorite of all the ones he’s ever been to (obviously it didn’t hurt that he won). It marked his third win this year outdoors (also at Princeton’s Larry Ellis Invitational and the Penn Relays) but he’s still hoping to improve on the 3:39.64 he ran at Oxy in order to get into the Olympic Trials.

In a faster race up front, he’d probably run much quicker than the 3:57 he clocked tonight as he had a big lead late and responded well to Avila’s challenge. Part of the reason why the race was as close as it was is because Penzenstadler didn’t realize Avila was there when he moved up on his shoulder late in the race; once Penzenstadler recognized him, he shifted up “about three gears” and was able to pull away for the win.

Quick Take #2: Welcome to 2016, when 4:01.50 only makes you the fourth-fastest high school miler in America
Ratcliffe wanted sub-4:00 tonight, but was happy with his 4:01.50. The high schooler was bumped around a lot, particularly at the start (he actually began in the second row on the start line as there was no barrel) and on the back stretch of the third lap, which caused him to pick it up and start passing people.

Radcliffe had plenty of support on hand in Concord on Thursday

Radcliffe (bib #98) had plenty of support on hand in Concord on Thursday

There were both positives and negatives to racing against such a large professional field, however, as Ratcliffe said he felt relaxed until the final 400 as he simply let the guys in front of him drag him along for the first three laps.

Ratcliffe will now run the 2-mile at the Massachusetts state meet on Saturday. The meet record in that event is one of the oldest on the books (9:00.0 by Alberto Salazar in 1975). Ratcliffe said he would have to wait and see how he recovers from this race before deciding whether that’s a time he wants to attack.

One fun fact about Ratcliffe’s run tonight: it was barely the fastest high school mile ever run on this track: two years ago, Garrett O’Toole (now at Princeton) ran 4:01.89 here. Amazingly, both O’Toole (who worked out on this track while attending the nearby Middlesex School) and Ratcliffe ran those times on their home track. Not bad for a town of 17,000.

O’Toole’s time was the fastest by a high schooler in all of 2014. Ratcliffe ran faster than that tonight (his time also would have made him the fastest high schooler in 2013), but it was only good enough for fourth on the U.S. high school list this year. Crazy.

Fastest U.S. High School Outdoor Milers of 2016
1. Drew Hunter, 3:58.86
2. Michael Slagowski, 3:59.53
3. Austin Tamagno, 4:01.04
4. Thomas Ratcliffe, 4:01.50

Men’s 5,000

La Salle grad Alfredo Santana got the win here, dusting Lex Williams over the final 400 to break 14:00 for the first time.

1 Santana, Alfredo Adidas – PR 13:48.10
2 Williams, Lex Saucony 13:51.49
3 Ritchie, Timothy Saucony 13:56.20
4 Saad, Julian Boston AA 13:57.62
5 Esselink, Evan Speed River 13:59.04
6 Kwiatkowski, Chris District Tra 14:04.50
7 Mahalsky, Ryan District Tra 14:13.43
8 Kelly, George Adams State 14:17.26
9 Dawson, Owen Bryn Mawr Runnin 14:20.49
10 Ashe, Eric Boston AA 14:40.65
11 Chorney, David Boston AA 14:52.23
12 Harper, Dan Boston AA 15:01.02
— Britt, Barry Speed River DNF

Women’s 800

McKayla Fricker, who trains with High Performance West in Portland, got the win here for the second year in a row. She looked strong throughout and really opened up a gap on the field on the final turn. But high schooler Sammy Watson was the story as she closed really well over the final 200, moving from fifth to second and running 2:03.06, the fastest by a U.S. high schooler since Alexa Efraimson‘s 2:01.13 last year. Watson, who is young for her grade (she doesn’t turn 17 until November) won the World Youth Champs at 800 last year and ran 53.21 to win the HS 400 at the Pre Classic last week.

Heat 1
1 Fricker, McKayla Brooks / Hpw 2:02.77 1
2 Watson, Sammy Unattached 2:03.06 1
3 Praska, Bethany Unattached 2:03.31 1
4 Chambers, Kendra Texas Elite 2:03.41 1
5 Smith, Jessica Valley Royal 2:03.58 1
6 Wallace, Lauren Oiselle 2:03.77 1
7 Murphy, Sam Canada 2:03.84 1
8 Schneider, Rachel Under Armour 2:04.56 1
9 Aubry, Rachel Speed River 2:06.48 1

Heat 2
1 Iyevbele, Kenyetta Unattached 2:03.80 2
2 Fields, Hannah Brooks Beast 2:03.89 2
3 Lambdin, Raquel Unattached 2:04.36 2
4 Krumpoch, Megan New Balance 2:04.56 2
5 Willard, Anna Acumobility 2:04.61 2
6 Carlin, Jesse District Tra 2:04.77 2
7 Herrick, Stephanie Cptc New Bal 2:04.94 2
8 Belleau-Believeau, Karin Speed River 2:05.58 2
— Cox, Chelsea Unattached DNF 2

Heat 3
1 Smith, BreAnna Unattached 2:03.69 3
2 Martin, Heather Georgetown U 2:04.13 3
3 Bouchard, Maïté Sherbrooke/A 2:05.00 3
4 Manley, Meg Cptc New Bal 2:05.21 3
5 Côté, Laurence Caul Canada 2:05.28 3
6 Ayers, Katelyn Speed River 2:06.50 3
7 Martynova, Svetlana Ottawa Lions 2:07.61 3

Quick Take #1: Fricker was surprised the race wasn’t faster but was happy to win
Fricker was 4th at USAs indoors and ran 2:01.1 at Pre last week. This was definitely a good result but she’ll need to drop some more time from her 2:00.81 PR if she wants to get in the final at the Trials next month.

Quick Take #2: Watson was bummed to miss the Trials standard but isn’t stressing about it
Watson was upbeat after the race, and she had every right to be with a nice PR and huge national HS leader. Though she came up .06 short of the Trials standard, she wasn’t too worried about it.

“I decided not to really get stressed about getting that time,” Watson said. “I’m trying to focus on finishing my races well, getting out, work on my form on all that and I feel like the time will take care of itself.”

This was Watson’s first time racing against pros, so she was very nervous, but she acquitted herself extremely well and produced an outstanding result. Now she has six hours of travel before racing in the 400 and 1500 at the NY state qualifying meet on Friday.

Women’s Mile: Brie Felnagle Powers to Victory

The pace was modest early as the B.A.A.’s Emily Lipari led through 409 (69 seconds) and 809 (2:19) before Brie Felnagle took over on the back stretch of the third lap. Felnagle held the lead for another 400 meters before really kicking into gear over the final 200, closing in just under 65 seconds for her final 400 to win comfortably in 4:32.72. Lipari held on for second in 4:33.84 with 2009 NCAA XC champ Angela Bizzarri third in 4:34.01.

Lipari, Felnagle and Bizzarri

Lipari, Felnagle and Bizzarri

1 Felnagle, Brie Adidas 4:32.72
2 Lipari, Emily Boston AA 4:33.83
3 Bizzarri, Angela Brooks Beast 4:34.01
4 Farber, Lianne New Balance 4:34.59
5 Donohue, Erin Unattached 4:35.26
6 Mecke, Dana Texas Elite 4:36.28
7 Costello, Liz New Balance 4:36.91
8 Handler, Brook Saucony Hurr 4:36.98
9 Watts, Sophie Speed River 4:43.29
10 Ricardi, Jane Club Northwe 4:43.44
11 Thompson, Carise Speed River 4:43.60
12 Findley, Kristen High Perform 4:50.04
13 Long, Nikki Battle Road 5:00.11

Quick Take #1: Felnagle will attack the standard for as long as she can “I’ll keep racing until I get it”
Felnagle didn’t run great in her season opener at Payton Jordan, where she tackled the 5,000 (16:14.46), so she’s decided to focus her efforts on the 1500 after an injury limited her training during the fall. She said tonight was an improvement on her 4:13.79 at Oxy on May 20 and felt that if the race had been a bit faster tonight (and been a 1500, not a mile), she would have liked her chances to hit the 4:09.50 Olympic Trials standard, which she still needs to achieve.

Women’s 5,000: Gabriele Grunewald Comes Up Just Shy of Olympic/Olympic Trials Standards

Cliff, Pagano and Grunewald

Cliff, Pagano and Grunewald

New Zealand’s Kim Smith led a good chunk of this one, hitting 1600 in 4:53 and 3200 in 9:52, and with two laps to go (12:59), she was starting to put in a gap on Rachel CliffGabriele Grunewald and Sarah Pagano, who comprised the lead pack of four. But Smith was slowing as she hit the bell (14:14) and Grunewald made a strong move to the front with 300 to go to which Smith could not respond. From there it was all Grunewald, who closed in 71 to win in 15:25.40, while Pagano moved up to second in 15:26.79 thanks to a strong final 100.

1 Grunewald, Gabriele Brooks 15:25.40
2 Pagano, Sarah Boston AA 15:26.79
3 Cliff, Rachel Asics/Vancou 15:29.23
4 Smith, Kim New Balance 15:32.10
5 Gregg Goodman, Kaitlin Strava TC 15:37.51
6 Beck, Anne Strava TC 15:50.54
7 Sisson, Emily New Balance 16:01.21
8 Ward, Rachel Ragged Mount 16:01.90
9 Van Alstine, Amy Hoka Naz Eli 16:02.97
10 Dinius, Stephanie Strava TC / 16:04.38
11 Balouris, Elaina Boston AA 16:06.84
12 Spratford, Katrina New England 16:08.31
13 Patrignelli, Megan Team Run Eug 16:23.88
14 Hackett, Alexandria Abilene Chri 16:26.84
15 Dietz, Erin Emerging Eli 16:33.09
16 Kemp, Erika Unattached 16:45.97

Quick Take #1: Grunewald was bummed to just miss the standards but will run another 5k at the Portland Track Festival
Grunewald said the wind on the track didn’t help (the track is totally out in the open so there is nothing to block it) and she ran a bit cautiously until the final lap as she didn’t want to go too early. Grunewald, who described herself as a strength-oriented 1500 runner/speed-oriented 5,000 runner, knew she’d be able to close well but isn’t as experienced in the 5,000 as the 1500, hence why she waited until 300 to go to make her move.

Grunewald suffered a sacral stress fracture in December and didn’t get back to the track until March, which was strange for her as she’s used to being in great shape early in the outdoor season. But she said her recovery has gone as well as it possibly could have and is pleased with where she’s at right now. She’ll go after the 5k Olympic (15:24) and Trials (15:25) standards again in Portland on June 12 and should have a good shot to hit those marks and possibly PR (her best is 15:19.01).

Quick Take #2: Sarah Pagano was very happy with her 14-second PR
Pagano said she loves training in Boston with her B.A.A. teammates and that this felt like a home meet racing so close to Boston.

Quick Take #3: 2015 NCAA champ Emily Sisson took a step back
Sisson, who ran 15:12 while at Providence College last year, has battled injuries this year and today was not a great sign. She ran 15:32 in her track opener at Stanford last month but was never in contention here and finished just seventh in 16:01.21.

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