Men’s 1500 Semis: David Torrence Goes Home Early – Leo, Lopez, Leer and Casey all advance

June 26, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — There were two heats of the men’s 1500 today on day one of the 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships at Hornet Stadium. Though most of the favorites advanced including Leo Manzano, Lopez Lomong and Will Leer, there was a significant casualty as David Torrence, whose 3:33.23 was the #2 time in the U.S. last year, failed to advance (or in lingo went “home devastated” – MB: David Torrence goes home devastated!!! Along with Merber, Dunbar, Elliott…)

Heat recaps and interviews below.

Heat 1

Place    Athlete    Time
1    Pat Casey    03:44.4    Q
Oregon TC Elite
2    Ford Palmer    03:44.7    Q
New Jersey New York Track Club
3    Garrett Heath    03:45.0    Q
4    AJ Acosta    03:45.1    Q
5    Kyle Merber    03:45.3
New Jersey New York Track Club
6    Trevor Dunbar    03:45.3
7    David Torrence    03:45.3
8    Duncan Phillips    03:46.2
9    Jack Bolas    03:46.3
New Balance
10    Rob Finnerty    03:46.8
Furman Elite
11    Tommy Schmitz    03:47.3
Speed Factory Athletics
12    Michael Hammond    03:47.5
Furman Elite
13    John Simons    03:51.3
14    Matt Miner    03:54.2
DNS    Austin Mudd

This was definitely the weaker heat and the runners didn’t do themselves any favors early, running 48.81 for the first 300 and 64.32 for 300-700. Though former Oregon Ducks A.J. Acosta and Trevor Dunbar got the pace going on lap three, it was too late as the heat would only be won in 3:44.41, ensuring that the second heat wouldn’t have to work that hard for the four time qualifiers.

Dunbar led at the bell but there were plenty of men still in this one on the final turn. By the finish line, however, it was clear that Pat Casey was the class of this field, as he opened a small gap on second while the other runners battled for position. NJ*NY TC’s Ford Palmer was a surprising second, with veterans Garrett Heath and Acosta grabbing the other two auto spots. Torrence didn’t look comfortable in the final stretch and was just seventh.

Pat Casey has been running well all season and wasn’t surprised at all that he won heat 1.

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Casey looked the best of anyone in the first heat, even checking on the homestretch to see whether he had enough room to let off the gas. He said his training has been going great and coupled with his results on the track, it’s given him a ton of confidence heading into USAs.

Casey had a solid collegiate career, getting third at NCAAs twice (indoor mile in 2010; outdoor 1500 in 2013) but his real breakthrough came on May 15 when he ran a 4+ second PR to get down to 3:35.95 in the 1500.

Since then, he’s been on fire. He handed off in first in the 4×1500 at the World Relays and then ran a 3:53.71 mile at the Pre Classic (another PR). Casey hadn’t raced since then and was excited to get back on the track today. Heat 2 was the stronger of the two, but Casey’s performance today and throughout 2014 suggests he’ll be a contender in Saturday’s final.

David Torrence

David Torrence struggled to comprehend his performance after he was just seventh in heat 1 and failed to advance.

Torrence recently began training with coach Jama Aden and said that “all the pieces were lined up” for him to run well in Sacramento. But when the kicking started, Torrence had no answer and said that he “didn’t know why [he] couldn’t close.” He was clearly frustrated and had no idea why he ran so poorly.

Torrence initially felt he was strong enough to run the 800 and 1500 at USAs but he and Aden ultimately decided on the 1500 because they felt he had a shot to win, which made his performance all the more disappointing.

Who The Hell Is Ford Palmer?

Ford Palmer started off his interview saying what we were all thinking: “To be honest, nobody knows who I am.” New Jersey-New York TC’s Palmer is a graduate of Monmouth University, a private school located in New Jersey. While there he never made NCAAs, never broke 4-minutes in the mile and ended his collegiate career with a dead last finish in the 2013 NCAA East Preliminary round with a 4:01 1500.

Today, Palmer still hasn’t broken 4-minutes as in his career he’s ran 4:00.46, 4:00.43, 4:00.07 and 4:00.00. He’s improved his 1500 a lot though as he’s dropped his PR from 3:44.90 in college to 3:38.58 at the Oxy High Performance Meet in May. Building on that breakthrough, he came out of nowhere today with a big kick in the final 100 to get 2nd ahead of a bunch of guys you actually know, like Garrett Heath, AJ Acosta and non-qualifiers Kyle Merber, Trevor Dunbar and David Torrence.

He was clearly really pleased with his race afterwards saying, “I had no pressure coming into this race. Although I’ve been running really well all year nobody saw me coming. And that’s fine, now they’re going to see me coming Saturday.”

Talking about his improvement he gave all the credit to Coach Gags and training in the NJNY TC saying that he’s a “Gag production” and that training with the guys on the team takes away all the pressure from the races.

He says his goal is top 3 or 5 in the final, but whether or not that happens you won’t see him racing on the European circuit this summer? What are his plans? He’s going to keep working as a lifeguard and bartender so he can afford to move into a house with some of the other NJNY TC guys in the fall.

AJ Acosta Is Really Happy To Be In The Final

Acosta lead a lot of this heat and said that wasn’t his plan, but he just wanted to be in a good spot and it happen to be out in the lead. In the last lap he was worried that he wouldn’t qualify as he put himself on the rail with 300 to go which is a big “no-no”, but was able to get through to the final which he says is promising compared to where he was last year.

Talking about his training he says he’s been self-coached the last year, but is still doing the same type of stuff he was under Vin Lananna. He said it’s still tough with no sponsor, but is living at home and is thankful that he has great parents that help support his running.

Kyle Merber says he just hasn’t raced enough this year after he just missed making the final.

This is only Merber’s 3rd race of the outdoor season and said he thought he would have been better prepared for a faster paced race rather than a really tactical one. He had been able to stay mostly healthy this year, but then after indoor he bought a stationary bike thinking he could do some extra cross training while watching Netflix, but ended up hurting his knee doing that and had to take 6-weeks off. So after that, he was pretty happy to come into USAs and do as much as he did and expects to have a great summer season racing in Europe.

We asked Merber if he was surprised about Willy Wood, the Columbia head coach for the last 20-years, retiring. He said he wasn’t a complete shock as he had an idea that something was coming, but doesn’t know what Wood’s future plans are. Merber is confident Columbia will still be strong moving forward as they have a really good group right now. He really credited Wood for raising Columbia to this level though saying, “Twenty-years ago Columbia was terrible, probably the worst team in the Ivy League. And Columbia hired a young coach, brought him up, and now we’re making nationals every year, doing good things and the program has figured it out. You can be good running in New York City.”

Heat 2

Place    Athlete    Time
1    Leonel Manzano    03:42.0    Q
Hoka One One
2    Lopez Lomong    03:42.3    Q
Nike / Bowerman Track Club
3    William Leer    03:42.4    Q
4    Matthew Hillenbrand    03:42.7    Q
5    Liam Boylan-Pett    03:42.8    q
New Jersey New York Track Club
6    Riley Masters    03:43.0    q
7    Dorian Ulrey    03:43.1    q
8    Eric Avila    03:43.6    q
Southern Oregon State College
9    Chad Noelle    03:44.3
Oklahoma St.
10    Daniel Herrera    03:44.4
11    Craig Miller    03:46.8
New Balance
12    Michael Atchoo    03:48.5
13    Reed Connor    03:52.4
14    Matthew Elliott    03:55.1
DNS    Tony Jordanek
Team Ohio

After a relatively slow first heat, the pace was honest from the gun in heat 2. Lomong went to the lead and held it for most of the race as the field was content to sit and let Lomong do the work. By the home stretch, it was clear that the veterans Lomong, Manzano and Leer were the class of the field and they broke away from the pack. Behind them, there a mighty battle ensued for the last five spots, with Kentucky’s Matthew Hillenbrand, Liam Boylan-Pett, Riley Masters, 2009 Team USA member Dorian Ulrey and Southern Oregon’s Eric Avila all advancing to the final.

Manzano ran straight off the track and through the mixed zone without stopping so we couldn’t grab him for an interview but we did talk to several others below.

After watching the first heat of the 1500 go out in 2:08 Will Leer said to himself, “God, if we just keep it moderately honest it should be pretty easy to coast through.”

Leer said he felt really good and that this first round was just a “formality” as he didn’t think anyone who was favored to make the final missed (he must not have known about David Torrence). He feels that he proved himself indoors and knows that regardless of the pace he has a good finish. His goal in the final is to win and he says he’s “going to be hard to beat.”

Back in the winter Leer wasn’t sure he’d even be here racing at USAs and now that he is and some of the other top guys like Matt Centrowitz, Jordan McNamara and Andrew Wheating aren’t, we asked him about that decision. Leer said, “Everyone seemed to have different reasons for not showing up. I’m a little surprised to be here myself. That’s all I really have to say about that right now. I don’t want to potentially get kicked out of the final.”

Lopez Lomong was in high spirits after grabbing the second auto spot in heat 2 but said he’s still undecided on tomorrow night’s 5,000.

Lomong is double-entered and said that today’s 1500 prelim was “fantastic” but he didn’t commit one way or the other on whether he’ll run the 5,000. He was very happy with his tactics in the 1500 and said that he was right where he wanted to be with 100 to go. He said he plans on talking to coach Jerry Schumacher and together they will make a decision about tomorrow’s 5,000.

Eric Avila grabbed the last time qualifier and was overjoyed by his performance.

The first heat went slow so all the time qualifiers ended up coming from heat 2. Avila was the beneficiary, finishing eighth to grab the final spot. He said he was counting runners on the home stretch to make sure he would still qualify.

Avila, a prep stud, took the long road to success, leaving Northern Arizona, gaining 30 pounds and digging ditches before eventually finishing out his career this spring at NAIA Southern Oregon. Earlier this month, he broke 4:00 for the mile in dramatic fashion at the Jim Ryun Festival of Miles in San Diego and now he’s in the final at USAs. He said he’s grateful to his family and friends for supporting him through all the ups and downs.

“The year’s been awesome. I’m at the U.S. championships. I made the final. How much better can it get?” Avila said afterwards.

Avila joked that his goal in the final was to “not be last” but more seriously said that top eight is always a good goal. He said people like to build on breakthroughs like this and say “next year will be my year” but Avila figured that, “I made the final, why not go for [it]? If I crash and burn then I learn from it.”

Personally, we think it’s not good that there were four time qualifiers.

In our mind, the 1500 isn’t a race that’s run for time. Yet at meet after meet, you’ll see a huge portion of the 1500 field advancement decided by time. In the 1500, it should be as little as possible. Here, we’d have done zero on time (top 6 advance) or two (top 5 next two).

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