July 10, 2016
EUGENE, Ore. — No athlete has endured a bigger emotional rollercoaster in these 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials than Brenda Martinez, but it ended on a high note as her dramatic at-the-line lean over Amanda Eccleston gave her the third and final Olympic spot in the women’s 1500 final. Martinez and Eccleston finished well back of champion Jenny Simpson, who stormed to her third straight U.S. title in 4:04.74, and Shannon Rowbury, who closed well over the final 100 meters to make her third Olympic team. Morgan Uceny, the 2012 Trials champ, was in second entering the home straight but could not close it out and finished fifth as Martinez and Eccleston moved by her with 50 meters to go.
Simpson’s brilliance deserves to be recognized, as does Rowbury’s consistency — she’s finished in the top three at USAs every year since turning pro in 2008 — but this race was about Martinez, who was forced into the 1500 after tripping and finishing 7th in the 800 final six days ago. Unlike Simpson and Rowbury, Martinez had never made an Olympic team, and at 28 years old, this may have been her last shot at one in her prime. Now she has, and represents one third of one of the strongest U.S. Olympic 1500 squads ever.
Great conditions, just like as in the 5K, awaited a loaded women’s 1500 final.
Lauren Johnson had the early lead, 68.0 at 400. The field hit 800 in 2:16.0 before Simpson took over 100 meters later. Rowbury, Martinez and Uceny followed behind on her outside, but it began to bunch up as they ran on the homestretch for the penultimate time. The close proximity of the field resulted in contact between Martinez, Alexa Efraimson and last year’s fourth placer Lauren Johnson, who staggered and took a few steps inside the rail before returning to the track toward the rear of the pack.
Uceny moved onto Simpson’s shoulder at the bell. Then Simpson switched gears with 300 to go, creating some separation. Uceny remained in second with 200 to go as Rowbury moved up to third on the inside with Efraimson on her outside and Martinez lurking just behind. The places were the same entering the home stretch, with Eccleston moving up to sixth behind Martinez.
As Simpson pulled away, Rowbury showed her class by separating for second as Uceny struggled to hold on. Eccleston and Martinez were both moving well and Eccleston initially moved to the inside to try to pass but Martinez beat her to the spot. Martinez passed a fading Uceny with about 50 to go, and at that point looked to have her Olympic spot booked.
But Eccleston wasn’t done, as she launched one final attack in the final strides. She closed the gap but not enough. Both she and Martinez threw themselves across the line, collapsing to the track, but Martinez had just enough.
Full Race Video and Results
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QT: The crowd wanted to see Brenda Martinez on the Olympic team
When the Hayward Field in-stadium announcer introduced the women’s 1500 field Martinez received by far one of the loudest cheers. It was evident that after the devastation of what happened to her in the 800, they were pulling for her to get some justice in the 15. After the dramatic diving finish between her and Eccleston the entire stadium waited watching for the third result to pop up on the jumbotron and when it came up Maratinez the crowd absolutely erupted in cheers. It was one of those moments where you can’t fully appreciate the atmosphere when watching the meet at home on TV and it makes the trip to watch live in Eugene worth it.
QT: Jenny Simpson is as classy as it gets
Rather than take off in celebration after crossing the line, the first thing Simpson did was look around for Martinez. Once she found her collapsed on the ground, Simpson got down with her and embraced her fellow Olympian, telling her “I told you you could do it, I’m so proud of you. Nobody else could do this” before helping her to her feet for their victory lap.
In her post-race interview Simpson said the race was “terrifying and fun at the same time” as she felt really confident (“as confident as I’ve ever felt in all my years of racing”) that she had it, but still had to come through. Asked about looking ahead to Rio Simpson said:
“Immediately crossing the finish line one of the major thoughts is, ‘Now I have a month of really hard training.’ If you make the Olympic Games I feel like this is the first three of six rounds. And so this is really fun and it’s great and I can’t wait until the awards ceremony and to know I’m going to be a three-time Olympian. But really this is like a blip on the radar screen; it’s right back to work and right back to trying to really have an excellent Olympic Games.”
Shannon Rowbury: “I would rather quit the sport than cheat.”
Rowbury made her third Olympic team here today and while she wasn’t as competitive with Simpson as we’ve seen in the past, she was still the definitive second place. At the post-race press conference Rowbury said, “I felt very confident that I could be in the top three, but thinking it is one thing and doing it is another” and was happy to get it done. She praised the US Olympic Trials process as she feels having to face tough competition like Simpson makes her better.
Rowbury was asked a few questions about drug cheats in the sport at the press conference and she expressed her hopes that maybe this would be a cleaner Olympics and disdain for cheats saying, “I would rather quit the sport than cheat.” Rowbury spoke about all the hard work it “it actually takes to be a champion” vs the shortcut of doping. Rowbury talking about all the things she does to be as good as possible like double runs, gym sessions, massage, ice bath, diet, sleep, etc.
Brenda Martinez Ultimate Redemption
Martinez deserves a ton of respect for the way she conducted herself immediately after and in each step since the women’s 800 debacle. Courageous is probably the best way to describe it. Rather than get angry or wallow in self pity, she picked herself up and came back for three rounds of the 1500. Her attitude is best conveyed in her LetsRun Quote of the day from after the first 1500 round when she said:
“We moved forward that night. I woke up a different person. … There’s been so many times in my life where I felt sorry for myself and that got me nowhere, so why waste your time doing that? … Me and my husband have had so many adversities in our life that we learn. And you move on. And it’s really hard, but … rainy days do happen and you just move forward. … I was in the car and I stopped crying and I was like, ‘You know what, this is God’s plan. … Now I have the 15 which is an opportunity for me to redeem myself.'”
Her positive attitude payed off as today she was rewarded with a spot on her first Olympic team. Speaking post-race today Martinez said, “I feel like it had to happen for a reason. And that’s the way I believe life works, you’re going to get tested. And if people can see what I went through, then maybe they won’t doubt themselves next time something happens to them. And if I can give them any words of encouragement it’s ‘Just keep moving.'”
QT: Opinions Are Divided On Caster Semenya
It was interesting that each of the three women’s 1500 Olympians had a different take on the Caster Semnya hyperandrogenism debate. Asked about the possibility of facing Semenya in the 1500 in Rio, Simpson gave a neutral non-answer saying she focuses on being the “very best version of myself” (1:59 into the interview). Meanwhile, Shannon Rowbury was vehemently opposed to Semenya racing women saying “it challenges and threatens the integrity of women’s sports” and Brenda Martinez was for it saying, “I don’t think anyone should be denied” (although she admitted Semenya “has an advantage”). It seems pretty obvious to us that CAS made the wrong decision, but we guess this is why they call it a controversy.
QT: Amanda Eccleston misses out again
Eccleston had mixed emotions in the mixed zone. On the one one hand, fourth was the best she’s ever finished at USAs by far (she was 10th in 2014 and didn’t make the final in 2013 or 2015).
“I ran 5:13 in high school and I never even imagined I’d ever get to the Trials, much less be that close to making the Olympic team,” Eccleston said.
At the same time, Eccleston was upset as she came just .03 short of fulfilling her Olympic dream. Adding insult to injury, she was also the first one out of making the World Indoor team in March, but that race wasn’t as close — and not nearly as important.
Eccleston said she couldn’t have done anything else — every time she had a move, Martinez matched it. She said that when she hit the track, she thought Martinez had edged her, but she still held out a glimmer of hope that she may have snagged third.
QT: Morgan Uceny’s 5th-Place Finish Shows Sometimes The Storybook Endings Come Up Short
While the crowd wanted to see Martinez get redemption, we imagine many of them were unaware that perhaps a greater redemption story would have been for Morgan Uceny to make the team. The 2011 world #1 was robbed of a medal at 2011 Worlds due to a fall and then fell again at the 2012 Olympics. The last three years have been a huge struggle for Uceny (4:08 in 2013, 4:04 in 2014 and 4:09 in 2015) but 1/3rd down the final straight today it appeared she’d regained her form just in time this year before being run down over the final 50.
An emotional Uceny was unable to hold back the tears in an interview that showed why the Trials are must-watch TV every four years – they provide utter joy for the top 3 and sadness for nearly everyone else.
“It’s pretty hard. It’s just been a really tough three years and there weren’t a lot of bright moments,” said Uceny who was unable to hold back the tears. “[I’m just] trying to stay positive. A year ago, I wasn’t even in the final.”
“I [thought I] had it. I felt like I was right on Jenny and I felt really strong. You hear the crowd and it’s really exciting and I just started tying up. You know the other girls ran really smart and chased me down. It’s the hardest last 100 meters I’ve ever raced,” added Uceny. “The wheels came off. The other girls were better today.”
Uceny added that she wished she’d been in a really hot race before the Trials but that she wasn’t accepted into the Pre Classic as she only ran 4:09 last year. Looking ahead, she’s got some big goals. “I think I can break four. I still have things to accomplish this season,” said Uceny.
A Recommended Watch below:
QT: Alexa Efraimson: “I did all I could. The 1500 is really strong.”
Efraimson finished 6th and made no excuses saying the women who beat her were just better. She said, “I did all I could. The 1500 is really strong. … I really tried to switch gears and girls outkicked me. But you know what, I’m happy that I was able to get 6th today.” Efraimson said that she did all she could and ran a tactically sound race, but just didn’t have as good a kick as the women who finished ahead of her.
Up next, Efraimson has World Junior Championships which start in eight days in Poland. On her goals there she said, “No American has medalled at World Juniors in the 1500 before and I want to be the first.”
Sara Vaughn After Finishing 7th
Lauren Johnson 8th
Mary Cain in Tears
Another media member told us Mary Cain “pulled a Blankenship” (and jumped the fence to avoid talking to the media), and we heard from a coach that the former high school star was in tears in the warm-up area after the race. No doubt, Cain had envisioned making this team when she made the World final in 2013, but she was only 11th today. Still, given where Cain was earlier this year, just making the final was a step in the right direction. It was her worst finish at USAs since going pro (she was 2nd in 2013, 2nd in 2014 and 8th in 2015), but at only 20 years old, we’re sure Cain will be back for more Olympic Trials.
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