2015 Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic Women’s Preview: Jenny Simpson’s Season Debut As Stars Old (Kara Goucher) And Young (Mary Cain) Try To Regain Their 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 outdoor debuts for Jenny Simpson (800) and Emma Coburn (1500), there will also be appearances by Shannon Rowbury (entered in 800 and 1500), Mary Cain (entered in 800 and 1500) and Kara Goucher (5,000), who hasn’t raced on the track for almost two years. 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.

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.

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

Women’s 3000 steeplechase (9:15 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 9:44.00
Athletes entered with standard: none

JamieCheever3000m SCClub Northwest/Brooks
GenevieveLalonde3000m SCSpeed River New Balance TFC
StephanieGarcia3000m SCNew Balance
AshleyHigginson3000m SCSaucony/ NJ/NY Track Club
MayukoNakamura3000m SCCERESPO
MeganRolland3000m SCOiselle
RebekaStowe3000m SCNJNYTC
NicoleBush3000m SCNew Balance
Ana CristinaNarvaez3000m SCMexico
AddieBracy3000m SCBrooks/Hudson Elite
MelLawrence3000m SCOiselle Running
LennieWaite3000m SCAdidas/RogueAC
ShalayaKipp3000m SCOiselle
CollierLawrence3000m SCOiselle Running
AmberSchultz3000m SCUnattached
MaryGoldkamp3000m SCRogue AC
SarahPease3000m SCAdidas/Rogue AC
CourtneyHeiner3000m SCStrava TC

In the past, the women’s steeple was arguably the U.S.’s weakest event, but after Coburn’s breakthrough and the emergence of several talented collegians — UMKC’s Courtney Frerichs, Florida State’s Colleen Quigley and Michigan State’s Leah O’Connor — Americans are trending upward. Frerichs is the U.S. leader this year at 9:32.12 but that, like many of the U.S.-leading marks, will be in jeopardy on Thursday.With no Emma Coburn, the favorites figure to be Ashley Higginsoand Stephanie Garcia, who went 2-3 at USAs last year. Both women enjoyed big years in 2014, Higginson lowering her pb from 9:34 to 9:27 and registering her second consecutive runner-up finish at USAs and Garcia chopping 17 seconds off her pb to get down to 9:24. Both will make their 2015 steeple debuts here.

Two other women to watch for: Nicole Bush and Shalaya Kipp. Bush lowered her PR from 9:39 to 9:24 last year but went from first to eighth at USAs and will be looking for redemption. Kipp, who made U.S. teams in the steeple in 2012 and 2013, was seventh at USAs in 2014 but started 2015 right with a 13-second PR in the 1500 (running 4:14.34 at Payton Jordan). With Coburn as a training partner, Kipp could be on track for big things this year.

Women’s 800 (9:45 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 2:01.00
Athletes entered with standard: Chanelle Price

RachelAubry800mSpeed River New Balance TFC
MeganMalasarte800mBrooks Beasts
BrittanyMcGowan800mMelbourne Track Club
SelmaKajan800mMelbourne Track Club
JennySimpson800mNew Balance
NevadaMorrison800mMontgomery track club
AnnetteMelcher800mAir Force WCAP
LindseyButterworth800mSimon Fraser University
ShannonRowbury800mNike Oregon Project
MaryCain800mNike Oregon Project
TreniereMoser800mNike Oregon Project
KarineBelleau-Beliveau800mSpeed River/ASICS

This race is full of questions. Here are a couple:

  • Can Lauren Wallace carry over her indoor success to outdoors? Wallace was the surprising 1000-meter champ at USA Indoors and will run her first outdoor 800 of the season on Thursday. Her outdoor opener last week at Payton Jordan went well (4:14.67, a 4+ second PR) and after running 2:02.98 indoors, she’s got a good chance to lower her 2:02.16 outdoor pb this week.
  • Where is Laura Roesler? The 23-year-old ran like a stud last year winning NCAA titles indoors and outdoors and running a pb of 1:59.04 to take second at USAs. 2015 has not gone as smoothly for the former Oregon star. Now training in San Antonio under Rose Monday, Roesler ran one race indoors before getting hurt. She opened up with a 2:03.99 outdoors in San Antonio on March 21 and hasn’t raced since March 28. It’s too early to panic about Roesler, but it’s going to be brutal to make the U.S. team at 800 this year. She was on the initial entries for Oxy but didn’t end up on the declared list today; will she get in a good race before USAs?

On paper, the favorites are Chanelle PriceCharlene Lipsey and Maggie Vessey, who are currently third, fourth and fifth on the 2015 world list (Price and Vessey teamed up for 4×800 gold at the World Relays two weeks ago).

9:18.35 American 2 Mile Record for Simpson

Simpson’s only race of 2015 so far was a big success

Jenny Simpson is also a name to watch as the 1500 specialist set her PR of 2:00.45 to win this meet in 2013. We’ve seen Simpson just once since the end of 2014, as she set a national record in the 2-mile of 9:18.35 in her only indoor race in Boston on February 7. What will be most interesting to watch with the 2011 world champion this season isn’t necessarily how fast she runs, but what tactics she chooses to employ. After failing to break 4:00 from 2010 to 2013, Simpson accomplished the feat three times last year, headlined by a 3:57.22 in Paris on July 5 that was just .10 of a second off Mary Decker‘s American record. Simpson achieved those fast times by utilizing an aggressive front-running strategy, a new approach for her at the professional level. It was something she and coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs decided upon in the non-championship year, with the goal of setting PRs and running well on the Diamond League circuit, and it worked.

This year, Simpson has zero pressure to focus on USAs (she has a bye into worlds as DL champ) and doesn’t need to peak at all until Worlds. Facing that situation, does Simpson revert to the more patient approach that earned her a world title in 2011 and a world silver in 2013? Talking to her last year, that seemed to be likely the case. But she did have success from the front, so it’s still possible she and her coaches will incorporate that into her race plans more often going forward. Obviously tactics in the 800 are different than the 1500, but Simpson’s strategy in her 1500 opener (whenever that may be) bears monitoring.

32-year-old 2008 Olympian Erin Donohue is also entered in her first open track race since 2011.

NOP teammates Mary Cain and Shannon Rowbury are both declared in both this event and the 1500 which is scheduled to start just 40 minutes later. More on them below in the 1500 section.

Women’s 1500 (10:25 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 4:06.50
Athletes entered with standard: Shannon Rowbury

HilaryStellingwerff1500mSpeed River New Balance TFC
SarahBrown1500mNew Balance
NikkiHamblin1500mNew Zealand
RachelSchneider1500mUnder Armour
EmmaCoburn1500mNew Balance
SallyKipyego1500mNike OTC
MaryCain1500mNike Oregon Project
ShannonRowbury1500mNike Oregon Project
CoryMcGee1500mNew Balance
SheilaReid1500mNike OTC
TrychelleKingdom1500mUTS Norths
MelissaDuncan1500mMelbourne Track Club
NicoleTully1500mHoka One One/NYAC
KatieMackey1500mBrooks Beasts
RosieClarke1500mIona College
AmandaMergaert1500mBrooks Beasts Track Club
GabrielaStafford1500mUniversity of Toronto
SashaGollish1500mUniversity of Toronto
GabrieleGrunewald1500mBrooks / Team USA Minnesota
Traceevan der Wyk1500munattached
LaurenJohnson1500mNIKE OTCE
KendraPomfret1500mUVic Vikes
CariseThompson1500mSpeed River New Balance TFC

The women’s 1500 initially had even more stars in it as world championship medallists Jenny Simpson and Brenda Martinez were on the initial entry lists as well but they both only declared for the 800. Even without them, this race is a must-watch for US fans.

The leader on paper without a doubt in this one is Shannon Rowbury. However, we’re not 100% confident she runs this and if she does there’s a possibility she runs this tired after doing the 800 40 minutes before. Could Rowbury still win? We doubt it but we aren’t ruling it out as Rowbury put together one of the more impressive indoor seasons by a U.S. woman in recent memory, culminating in her victories in the mile and 2-mile at USAs — a feat last achieved by Simpson in 2012. Rowbury showed no rust in her outdoor opener at the World Relays two weeks ago, splitting a solo 4:27.92 anchor leg in the DMR to propel the U.S. to a world record.

If Rowbury doesn’t race this to win, Simpson’s training partner Emma Coburn, the 2013 NCAA mile champ (pb of 4:05.29), may be the favorite. Kenyan Olympic 10,000 silver medalist Sally Kipyego (4:06.23 pb) and Nicole Tully (4:06.87 pb) will be looking to follow up impressive 5000 performances at Stanford two weeks ago (Kipyego ran 14:57, Tully ran 15:05). U.S. indoor mile runner-up Katie Mackey (4:04.60 pb) should also challenge for the win.

Cain will be looking for a strong race on Thursday

Cain will be looking for a strong race on Thursday

One of those women is your likely winner but much of the public’s attention will be on teen Mary Cain, particularly if she toes the line fresh (also entered in 800). Some Cain fans were panicking after she got her doors blown off by Oregon’s Annie Leblanc at the Oregon Relays on April 17 (Cain ran 4:17.91 to Leblanc’s 4:16.17) and though Cain won her next race — at the Oregon State High Performance Meet on May 1 — she ran just 4:15.42, well off her best. It’s still early in the season, so those results don’t signal a death knell, even after an illness-shortened indoor season. But if Cain runs poorly in this meet, then it might be time for Alberto Salazar & Co. to start worrying. The field here is deep and if Cain fails to break 4:10 in this meet, she could find herself way down the field (4:10.05 was 11th last year).

Some felt Cain started slowly outdoors last season, but in retrospect, that wasn’t really the case. Yes, 2:02.31 and 2:01.67 weren’t great times for a woman who ran 1:59.51 the year before, but Cain was focusing on the 3,000 at World Juniors. Those times aren’t that slow for a top U.S. 1500 runner (remember, Jenny Simpson ran 2:05.08 in her only 800 last summer); they just seemed disappointing because of the sky-high expectations heaped upon Cain.

But 4:17 and 4:15 are slow, even if the 4:15 could have been faster as Salazar told The Oregonian‘s Ken Goe that there was a pacing miscommunication and that the race was run in windy conditions. In that article, Salazar said he expects Cain to be down to the 4:07 range by June (this from a man who said just two months ago he was “very confident” Cain could run 3:55 in her career). It’s hard to make the U.S. team if you’re in 4:07 shape.

It’s way too early to freak out about Cain’s long-term future (in another life, the 19-year-old Cain would be a freshman in college right now) but there are legitimate concerns about her 2015 season, which will only be exacerbated by a poor performance on Thursday.

Women’s 5,000 (11:25 p.m. ET)
IAAF World Championships standard: 15:20.00
Athletes entered with standard: Stephanie Twell

StephanieTwell5000mNew Balance
EmilyBrichacek5000mNew Balance
RachelMitchell5000mSRA Elite
AlyciaCridebring5000mSRA Elite
AlexiPappas5000mNike OTC Elite
BrittniHutton5000mBoulder Running Company/adidas
ChristineBabcock5000mOiselle Running
CamilleBuscomb5000mNew Balance
KellynTaylor5000mHOKA NAZ Elite
AmyVan Alstine5000mHOKA NAZ Elite
KristenRohde5000mBowerman TC

Ethiopian Buze Diriba, who was fifth at Worlds in 2013, should be the class of this field and will have no trouble knocking out an IAAF qualifier (15:20). There are a few women who could push her, notably Stephanie Twell of Great Britain, who ran 15:13 at Payton Jordan.

Goucher's last track race: the 10,000 at USAs in 2013 (she finished 5th)

Goucher’s last track race: the 10,000 at USAs in 2013 (she finished 5th)

Between Mark Coogan‘s New Balance group and the B.A.A., seven Boston-based runners are were initially entered. The most intriguing names in that group were Abbey D’Agostino and Jen Rhines, though neither of them may end up running this meet. D’Agostino definitely won’t as she will stay close to home and run the 1500 at the New Balance Boston Twilight Meet after running 15:42 at Stanford two weeks ago (teammate Liz Costello won’t run in California either). The other interesting possibility is Rhines, who could go after Carmen Troncoso‘s American masters record of 16:02.27 in her first outdoor track race since 2013. However, Rhines’ status is uncertain as well and it’s possible she may not race at all this weekend. Another woman who hasn’t been on an outdoor track in two years is Kara Goucher, who was last seen struggling to a 14th-place finish at last fall’s New York City Marathon. It’s unreasonable to expect Goucher, 36, to be the force she once was on the track, especially at the shorter 5,000 distance, but there’s been little news on her training or fitness since NYC in November. Goucher is planning on running several track races this summer; this race will let her get a marker down and see what kind of shape she’s in and what kind of goals are realistic for her outdoor season.

Goucher has written on her blog about her goals and says she is hoping “to run something around 15:40, dip my toe into the racing waters, get information, and go back to Boulder to put in more work,”