2015 Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic Men’s Preview: Will America’s Biggest Stars Return To Form?

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By LetsRun.com
May 12, 2015

The Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic (formerly known as the USATF Oxy High Performance Distance Classic) is ideally suited for fans of American distance running. With no sprints, jumps or throws and fields consisting primarily of Americans with select foreign pros, U.S. fans will get a chance to see almost every domestic distance star in a three-hour window on Thursday night. In addition to an outdoor debut for Galen Rupp (5000), there will also be appearances by Nick Symmonds (800), Matthew Centrowitz (800), Leo Manzano (1500) and many, many more. It’s an impressive turnout on a weekend that features not one, but two Diamond League races.

For many events, this will serve as a U.S. Championships preview. With USAs just six weeks away, there are few races between now and then that will draw fields with the same depth of American talent as Oxy. Win here and you’ve got the inside track on a ticket to Beijing.

We break down the fields below and tell you what you need to know (Editor’s note: Some runners are double entered so it’s hard to do a perfect preview).

What: 2015 Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic

Where: Jack Kemp Stadium, Eagle Rock, Calif.

When: Thursday, May 14. First event starts at 6:15 p.m. PT (9:15 p.m. ET).

How to watch: Live online on USATF.TV.

*Schedule *Entries (heat sheets will be posted on Wednesday by 8:00 p.m. ET) *2014 LRC coverage

Men’s 3000 steeplechase (9:30 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 8:28.00
Athletes entered with standard: Taylor Milne

ChrisDulhanty3000m SCSpeed River New Balance TFC
ChrisWinter3000m SCSpeed River New Balance TFC
TaylorMilne3000m SCSpeed River New Balance TFC
MattHughes3000m SCNike
TravisMahoney3000m SCNJNYTC
AustinBussing3000m SCAdidas/Rogue Athletic Club
RyanBrockerville3000m SCCanada
MichaelJordan3000m SCUnattached
LuisIbarra3000m SCMexico
DavidGoodman3000m SCNE Distance
HenrySterling3000m SCNE Distance
JamesNipperess3000m SCASICS Sydney Australia
MattCleaver3000m SCadidas/rogueAC
JavierQuintana3000m SCUnattached
TroyReeder3000m SCUnattached/Furman
BenBruce3000m SCHOKA NAZ Elite

Most of the top Americans are sitting this one out, so this event will serve as a Canadian showcase. The top four from last year’s Canadian champs are in the race, led by Matt Hughes, who was sixth at Worlds in 2013 and ran a nine-second pb of 13:19 in the 5,000 last week at Stanford. His top competition will be fellow Canadian Taylor Milne, who ran 8:25 at Stanford last week. American Craig Forys (6th USAs last year, 8:24 pb), was initially entered in this race – which would have been his first in 2015- but he didn’t end up declaring. 8:19 man Ben Bruce of the USA is entered but he hasn’t broken 8:35 since 2012.

Men’s 800 (10:05 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 1:46.00
Athletes entered with standard: Boris Berian, Mark Wieczorek

AnthonyRomaniw800mSpeed River New Balance TFC
NickSymmonds800mBrooks Beasts
MarkWieczorek800mBrooks Beasts
CasimirLoxsom800mBrooks Beasts
EricAvila800mHoka One One
MatthewCentrowitz800mNike Oregon Project
BorisBerian800mBig Bear TC
LukeMathews800mMelbourne Track Club
MikeRutt800mHoka One One/NJ*NY
JaredWest800mNike Aus
AaronEvans800mTeam run Eugene
JamesGilreath800mAdidas Team Green Running
NathanWoodward800mGreat Britain
CharlesJock800mNike OTC
MichaelDavila800mEmpire Track Club

The big story in this one is Nick Symmonds, who hasn’t run an 800 on the outdoor track since September 2013. Symmonds, 31, never threatened in the top heat of the 1500 at Payton Jordan last weekend, taking 10th in 3:44.22. Was that because he’s not in shape, or because he’s not in 1500 shape? As the U.S. showed last weekend in the Bahamas, it’s well-stocked with 800 runners right now and though Symmonds has made every U.S. team since 2007, he’s not a lock in 2015. In the past, Symmonds hasn’t raced many 800s prior to USAs, and one of those is usually the Pre Classic — an event he’s not entered in as of right now. How he runs on Thursday will be a key reading of his progress.

Among Symmonds’ toughest competition will be Brooks Beasts teammates Mark Wieczorek and Cas Loxsom. Wieczorek has had a great year so far, taking second to Loxsom at USA indoors in the 600 and running 1:45.89 in his outdoor 800 opener last weekend (he also set a PR with a 3:43.68 1500 on April 17). Loxsom ran a terrific 1:45.59 split totally alone at the World Relays last year after winning the 600 at USA indoors in American-record time. Brandon Johnson is another man who ran well at World Relays, splitting 1:44.75 as part of the world-record-setting DMR. Your winner is likely one out of Symmonds, Wieczorek, Loxsom or Johnson.

Actually, there is one other guy who could win: Boris Berian, a two-time NCAA D-II champ at Adams State who ran a U.S.-leading 1:45.30 at Payton Jordan last weekend. Berian, who is coached by Brenda Martinez’ husband, Carlos Handler, entered 2015 with a 1:48.89 pb. He’s still only 22 years old, and his potential in the event is great. With the IAAF standard out of the way, he’s a threat to make the U.S. team this year.

1500 specialist Matthew Centrowitz could be a factor (1:45.86 PR). He was also initially double entered in the 1500 but has declared just for the 800.

2012 NCAA champ Charles Jock is also in the field.

Men’s 1500 (10:50 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 3:36.20
Athletes entered with standard: none

TomLancashire1500mNew Balance
HamishCarson1500mNew Zealand
CoryLeslie1500mNIKE/Furman Elite
LeoManzano1500mHoka One One
RossMurray1500mMelbourne Track Club
LukeMathews1500mMelbourne Track Club
MacFleet1500mNike OTC
AndrewWheating1500mNike OTC
RossProudfoot1500mSpeed River New Balance TFC
JoeStilin1500mZAP Fitness-Reebok
ThomasRiva1500mUniversity of Victoria
CharlesPhilibert-Thiboutot1500mASICS – Canada
PatCasey1500mNike OTC
DanielGorman1500mHalifast Athletics
TravisBurkstrand1500mBrooks ID
MattHillenbrand1500mBrooks Beasts
KyleMerber1500mHoka One One/NJ*NY
DavidTorrence1500mHoka One One
MichaelAtchoo1500mStrava TC
DylanFerris1500mStrava TC / Brooks
JordanMcNamara1500mNike OTC
JeremyRae1500mSpeed River New Balance TFC

Leo Manzano is the headliner but we don’t need to devote too many words to him here. He seems to be in good form as he was second to Matthew Centrowitz in the road mile on April 21 at Drake before getting revenge on the track four days later. Manzano should in contention for the win. There are a ton of other guys worth discussing, however, many of whom will be battling for a spot on Team USA in six weeks’ time. Let’s take a quick run through them (we’d mention Ben Blankenship, who was initially entered, but he didn’t declare as he’s running the Shanghai Diamond League meet on Sunday):

  • Rupp ran

    Rupp ran 3:36.98 to take second in the 1500 at Oxy two years ago

    Ford Palmer, the vegan/linebacker/bartender/lifeguard turned stud miler who was fifth at USAs last year, just missed out on the win in the top heat at Stanford (he was second in 3:39.07 to Ryan Hill’s 3:38.79).

  • Mac Fleet, winner of the last two NCAA 1500 titles, didn’t race indoors but has started quickly outdoors, running 3:40.52 at the Oregon Relays on April 17 and following that up with a 2:21.25 1000 on Friday at Oregon Twilight. Fleet won both races (the latter over the likes of Pat Casey and Jordan McNamara) and has a chance to do some damage this summer in his first full year as a pro.
  • Andrew Wheating has run precisely two 1500s since June 2013. A 2012 Olympian at this distance, Wheating’s fragility is well-documented, but he appeared to be in very high spirits after his first U.S. outdoor race of 2015 on Friday (a 1:48.70 800 for second behind Centrowitz at Oregon Twilight). This is Wheating’s first major test against top Americans for almost two years. How will the 27-year-old respond?
  • Robby Andrews, who outkicked Wheating to win an NCAA indoor title at 800 meters in 2010 is also entered in the 1500 here and how he fares against a deep field will likely be a key factor in determining which event he runs at USAs. After winning the 1000 at USA indoors, Andrews said the plan was to focus on the 1500 outdoors, but when we caught up with him at the World Relays two weeks ago, he was coy, saying only “You’ll see” when asked about his outdoor plans. Three years ago, this meet was the site of what remains far and away Andrews’ best 1500 performance — 3:34.78, which is almost three seconds better than his next-fastest time (3:37.45). If he can run something similar to that, the big-kicking Andrews will likely opt for the 1500 at USAs. But if he’s not near the front, it may make more sense to run the 800. The 800 team is going to be difficult to make as well, but most of Andrews’ best performances have come at that distance and there aren’t quite as many top-quality guys as in the 1500.
  • Former Oklahoma teammates Pat Casey and Riley Masters have both enjoyed strong years so far. Following his breakout 2014 season, Casey ran 2:18.30 for 1k indoors, and was third in the Wanamaker Mile and USA indoors. Masters PR’d in the mile indoors (3:56.15) and ran a massive pb of 13:17.97 in the 5,000 at Stanford two weeks ago to notch the IAAF standard in that event.
  • Former Columbia runner Kyle Merber ran 3:35.59 in the perfect Swarthmore race in 2012. Fresh off a running a 1200 leg on the world record winning team at World Relays, is that PR ready to fall?
  • The injury-prone Jordan McNamara was only .15 behind Fleet in a 1k last weekend in Oregon. He ran 3:34.00 in 2013. Is he healthy enough to contend for a Worlds spot in 2015?
  • David Torrence ran 3:33 in 2013 but only 13:39 at Stanford a few weeks ago. Are his best days past him?
  • In addition to almost all of the top Americans, there are several international studs in the field. Four-time defending Canadian champ Nate Brannen and fellow 2013 Worlds finalist Chris O’Hare are both entered, as is Ireland’s Ciaran O’Lionaird. British 800 specialist Andrew Osagie (1:43.77 pb) is entered in his first 1500 since 2009.

Men’s 5,000 (11:46 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 13:23.00
Athletes entered with standard: Tom Farrell

GeorgeAlex5000mReebok/ Zap Fitness
GalenRupp5000mNike Oregon Project
CamLevins5000mNIKE NOP
TomFarrell5000mNike OTC Elite
MitchelBrown5000mBowerman Athletic Club
DorianUlrey5000mBrooks Beast
JakeRobertson5000mNew Zealand
ChrisKwiatkowski5000mNew Balance//Pacers Running
SUGURUOSAKO5000mNike Oregon Project
RossProudfoot5000mSpeed River New Balance TFC
DevinMonson5000mRogue Athletic Club
PeterCorrigan5000mRunning Room Athletic Club
Levins capped it off with what ended up being a comfortable win in the 2 mile

Levins pulled off an impressive mile/2-mile double at the Armory in January

Galen Rupp has finished second at this meet three years in a row (he ran the 1500 in 2012 and 2013 and the 5,000 last year). Rupp didn’t look like himself in his only indoor race this season, getting his doors blown off by teammate Cam Levins in the 2-mile at the Armory Track Invitational on January 31 (Rupp wound up fourth in 8:17.24). It was later revealed that Rupp had been battling a virus and he has not raced since then. If Rupp runs on Thursday, we’d expect him to look like his old self as the meticulous Alberto Salazar rarely rushes his athletes back if he doesn’t feel that they’re ready.

If Rupp is fully fit, expect him to contend for the win, but a loss would be far from disastrous.  Remember, he was upset in this race last year by Collis Birmingham, losing out 13:18-13:19, but came back and ran a spectacular 26:44 10,000 (where he last 5000 was 13:18) at Pre a few weeks later. Now last year, Rupp had a good excuse for not being on top of his game – his wife was dealing with a difficult pregnancy.

With that in mind, there are several quality runners in the field capable of taking him down. His NOP teammates Cam Levins and Suguru Osako (both of whom beat him in his lone indoor race) will both be making their outdoor debuts in this one. The biggest challenge to Rupp is Kenya’s Lawi Lalang, who has run 13:00 and won the Carlsbad 5000 in March (he ran 3:40.01 for 1500 at Stanford two weeks ago, which was only good for fifth in the top heat).

It will be interesting to see what kind of shape Levins is in. He was dominating indoors, pulling off a 3:54/8:15 double victory 30 minutes apart at the Armory Track Invitational on January 31, but he was just sixth in the 5,000 at Millrose (13:33) two weeks later and hasn’t raced since. If Levins is close to his 3:54/8:15 form, a run at Jeff Schiebler‘s 13:13.96 Canadian record is possible (Levins’ pb is 13:15.19). He, Rupp and Osako may all be using this as a tuneup prior to the Prefontaine 10,000 in two weeks and will likely be looking for a strong effort ahead of that.

Update on 5/14: Coach Salazar has spoked to WR about the meet: Salazar wants to make sure Rupp gets 5k qualifier – “(the) important thing is to get the qualifier in case he doesn‘t get it at (Pre)”