By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
DES MOINES (21-Jun) — With machine-line precision, Molly Huddle picked apart the field of the women’s 10,000m here on the first day of the USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium, winning her fourth straight 10K title by a comfortable four seconds in 31:52.32. In doing so, Huddle became the first American woman ever to win four consecutive 10,000m titles. It was also her 27th national title in any discipline, track or road.
“I’ve come to this race 14 times in my career; it’s important to me,” Huddle told reporters while wearing her winner’s medal around her neck. “I’ve lost as many times as I’ve won, so even if I’m not a shoo-in to win I want to show up, do my best, and try to finish in the top three. That’s important to me.”
Huddle, 33, from Providence, R.I., led every lap of the race. From a very slow start, she gently eased the pace down to 77-seconds per lap range, slow enough to be comfortable for her but fast enough to shake off about half of the field. Through halfway, in about 16:13, there were still 12 women in contention, including Olympian Marielle Hall, who ran close on Huddle’s heels; marathoner Stephanie Bruce; and Huddle’s regular training partner, Emily Sisson. Huddle said she didn’t mind leading. It’s what had to be done, she said.
“I think if you’re strong you need to tire people out, or there’s too many people there at the end,” Huddle explained. “It’s a tried and true strategy. You just do the work and you’ll whittle it down.”
Huddle kept the pace steady through 8400m, then she masterfully stepped down the pace for the final four laps: 73.2, 71.8, 69.0, and 64.6. Hall stayed right in Huddle’s draft until the bell, but that final lap was too much for her to maintain. Huddle, who ran the highly competitive NYRR New York Mini 10-K just 12 days ago and finished third, was surprised she was able to close so quickly.
“I didn’t think I’d have that kind of speed,” Huddle said. “I think, maybe, my last race brought me on. That painful Mini 10-K kind of got my legs going. I was surprised by the last lap. I was hoping I could run, like, a 66.”
Hall was a clear second in 31:56.68, Bruce was third in 32:05.05, and Sisson was fourth in 32:06.61.
“Any time I can win is special,” Huddle said.
In the men’s 10,000m two-time national 1500m champion Lopez Lomong upset the heavy favorite Shadrack Kipchirchir on the strength of a 54.2-second closing lap. Lomong, a two-time Olympian, became the first American man to win both 1500m and 10,000m titles during a career. Lomong clocked 28:58.38 to Kipchirchir’s 28:59.67. Marathoner Elkanah Kibet finished third in 29:05.51.
“I’m really blessed, so happy,” said Lomong, 33. “It’s been a while. I’ve been battling a lot of injuries that last three years. This year has been perfect. Training has been amazing like clicking really well.”
Reigning 10,000m champion Hassan Mead chose to compete in the 1500m here, instead, finishing fifth in the third heat in 3:43.65. He did not advance to the final.
In qualifying action earlier today, the big surprise was the elimination of reigning 1500m champion Robby Andrews. Running in the third of three heats, Andrews was in sixth position with 250 meters to go, and had moved up to fifth as he rounded the final bend. But in the homestretch, his usually strong kick failed him. Andrews actually slipped a place to finish sixth.
Facing the media after his race, Andrews was at a loss to explain what had gone wrong. “Hasn’t happened to me a lot,” he said of his difficult final sprint. “I don’t know what happened.” He added: “I’m pretty shocked. That was frustrating.”
Reigning Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz had a much better race, easily winning the first heat in 3:46.06.
“I just put myself in the back, then found myself in the front later in the race and made my move,” Centrowitz said matter of factly.
Most of the other favorites advanced, including Centrowitz’s Nike Oregon Project teammate Eric Jenkins, who won the second heat and posted the fastest time of the day: 3:40.63. University of Colorado runner Drew Hunter also moved on to the final in 3:40.68, finishing a close second to Jenkins.
“I don’t think anyone feels good in the prelim,” Hunter said. “Coming in, I was just like, be top three with 200 meters to go. I felt like I had a good shot if I did that. That’s exactly what I did and got the job done.”
Not surprisingly, Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson led all qualifiers in the women’s 1500m heats. Simpson, who has won the national title at this distance for the last four years, ran most of her heat behind the University of Colorado’s Dani Jones, one of Simpson’s training partners. The two women kept the pace high, then Simpson eased away from the field in the final 300m to win in 4:07.67. Jones finished sixth in 4:08.82, but was the third of three time qualifiers, so she made it into the final.
“Yeah, it was really good,” said Simpson. “With the help of a teammate, got the job done.”
Nike Bowerman Track Club Teammates Shelby Houlihan (4:14.79) and Kate Grace (4:14.95) went one-two in the last –and slowest– of the three heats to advance to the final. Houlihan, who won the 1500m at the Prefontaine Classic last month, is the fastest American of the season with a 3:59.06 to her credit, while Grace, a 2016 Olympic finalist at 800m, is just coming into form. Grace said that she is still adapting to the training system of her new coach, Jerry Schumacher.
“I’m just looking to go out and get my mojo back,” Grace said.
Brenda Martinez (4:10.51), Rachel Schneider (4:10.64) and Shannon Osika (4:10.65) finished one-two-three in the second heat and all advanced.
In the first of three rounds of the 800m, training partners Ajee’ Wilson and Charlene Lipsey each won their heats to move to the semi-finals. Lipsey won the first heat in 2:02.06, while Wilson won the third in 2:02.63. Wilson, last summer’s IAAF World Championships bronze medalist, stayed in front and out of trouble and won easily over Sabrina Southerland of Oregon (2:03.15) and Danae Rivers of Penn State (2:03.27).
“My coach just told me to take the lead and not get caught up in anything and make it through to the next round,” Wilson said.
Former Oregon Ducks Raevyn Rogers and Laura Roesler also made it to the semi-finals, finishing one-two in the fourth heat in 2:02.74 and 2:02.95, respectively. Roesler, who is coached by Rose Monday, ran her strongest race in the last 12 months, striding confidently to the finish line just behind Rogers.
“I was expecting it to feel like a typical first round,” Roesler told Race Results Weekly. “People say the first round is so hard, and it really is. First round of any major championship feels like the hardest race of the year.”
In men’s 800m qualifying, one of the key contenders for the title, Drew Windle of the Brooks Beasts, did not answer the starter’s gun. Windle, who had a terrific indoor season where he won a silver medal at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, was pulled by Beasts coach Danny Mackey.
“He’s just super worn-down,” Mackey told Race Results Weekly in a text message. “I know he just won Portland, but he looked off.” He continued: “Pre-race, my gut was telling me to pull him. I just wanted to protect him from getting sick or hurt.”
On the track, Olympic bronze medalist Clayton ran confidently in third of four heats, winning comfortably in 1:47.17.
“Probably it wasn’t the best tactics-wise getting boxed in like that,” Murphy said of his race execution. He continued: “Wasn’t the greatest positioning, but felt strong all the way through; just tried to be patient.”
Newly-crowned NCAA two-lap champion Isaiah Harris of Penn State out-kicked Harun Abda of the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite to win the first heat, 1:48.71 to 1:48.83. Harris, who had to run 1:44.76 to win his NCAA title, said that he felt relaxed and still has some spring left in his legs despite the long college season.
“I’m not letting anything stress me out,” Harris told reporters. He added: “I’m feeling a little bit more fresh than in the past.”
Jesse Garn of the Hoka New York-New Jersey Track Club delivered a slight surprise by winning the second heat in 1:49.94. As he came through the mixed zone, he stopped to look at the television monitor to watch the third heat where Borris Berian, the 2016 world indoor champion, was finishing fifth. Shaking his head, Garn said: “The 800 is a beast.”
Finally, in the women’s steeplechase qualifying last year’s world championships’ gold and silver medalists, Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, won their respective heats setting up a top-quality showdown for the final. Coburn ran 9:48.79 while Frerichs ran 9:42.02.
“I just wanted to get through as easy as possible and not be in traffic,” Coburn said. She added: “I was glad that I got to run through as easy as possible and rest for Saturday.”
The USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships continue tomorrow at Drake Stadium. In the middle and long distance events, the men’s steeplechase qualifying will be held, along with the 800m semi-finals for both men and women.