2015 USA 1500 Preview: Centro, Leo, Then Who in Men’s Race? Women: Jenny Simpson Should Repeat and Rowbury’s A Lock Unless She Doubles But What Other Two Women Qualify?
June 22, 2015
Finally, it’s time to select Team USA for this year’s World Championships in Beijing.
By the end of the day on Sunday, June 28, the team won’t be finalized (some athletes will try to chase the IAAF standard; others may later surrender their spots due to injury) but we’ll have answers to the questions that have been driving conversations in track circles for months. Those include:
- Can 800 studs Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds regain their form in time to make another Worlds team?
- Which of the U.S.’s five sub-2:00 800 women will be left home?
- Can Ben Blankenship and Boris Berian cap breakout years with a World Championships appearance?
- Will Ben True finally make a U.S. team on the track?
- Can 40-year-old Bernard Lagat make his seventh U.S. team?
- Can NCAA stars Eric Jenkins, Emily Sisson and Colleen Quigley make the team?
- What will Galen Rupp say to the media and how will he perform under intense media scrutiny?
We’ll be previewing all the mid-d/distance events in the ensuing days before the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships kick off at Hayward Field on Thursday. We began with the men’s and women’s 10,000s on Thursday, looked at the men’s and women’s 5,000s on Friday and now it’s time to look at the men’s and women’s 1500s.
Below, you can find all the key information for USAs, followed by a preview of the men’s and women’s 1500s.
As a reminder, the top three finishers in each race with the 3:36.20 (3:53.30 mile)/4:06.50 (4:25.20 mile) IAAF standards qualify to the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing from August 22-30. Athletes have until August 9 to achieve the standard. But there are several other ways to qualify for Worlds without the standard, which we’ve outlined below. Here’s how to qualify:
- As a result of being one of the best ranked athletes at the end of the qualification period (to fill the remaining places in order to reach the target number of athletes by event established by the IAAF). This target number is 48 for the 800, and 45 for the 1500 and 3,000 steeplechase (athletes cannot qualify this way in the 5,000 or 10,000). So if an athlete places in the top three at USAs and not enough athletes worldwide achieve the IAAF standard, he/she can still make it in by being ranked highly enough on the global descending-order list. We go into more detail about this process here, but suffice to say that it makes it a lot easier for Americans to qualify. When you limit each country to three entrants (four if that country has the defending world/Diamond League champ), the #45 times for the 1500 as of June 22 are 3:39.71 for the men and 4:12.09 for the women.
- By being the defending World or Diamond League champion in an event. These athletes (Jenny Simpson in the 1500 is the only American in the mid-d/distance events who meets this criteria) only need to compete in one round of any event at USAs to make the team.
- By placing top three at USAs and winning their event at the 2015 NACAC Championships in San Jose, Costa Rica, from August 7-9.
- Remember that the priority always goes to the higher finisher at USAs. If Runner A places 3rd at USAs in the 1500 and doesn’t have the IAAF standard by August 9 and Runner B places 4th but does have the IAAF standard, USATF will only enter Runner B if Runner A doesn’t receive an invite from the IAAF based on his ranking on the global descending order list.
Men’s 1500 (prelims Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 5:20 p.m. ET)
Athletes in bold have IAAF qualifying standard (3:36.20/3:53.30 mile)
2014 USA finish in parentheses
|Leonel Manzano (1)||Hoka One One||3:30.98||3:30.98||Defending champ has been running well outdoors; 1:45 800 at NYC DL|
|Matthew Centrowitz||Nike / Nike Oregon Project||3:31.09||3:31.09||Dominated indoors, was 2nd in Bowerman Mile and ran 1:44 in NYC|
|William Leer (4)||Nike||3:34.26||3:34.26||Has made 8 straight U.S. finals (6 top-5s) but has yet to make U.S. outdoor team|
|Kyle Merber||Hoka One One / New Jersey New York Track Club||3:34.54||3:34.54||His 3:34 on May 30 is fastest sb in the field; has never made U.S. final|
|Ben Blankenship||Nike / NIKE OTCE||3:35.28||3:35.28||Breakout star of ’15 was 4th in Shanghai DL + won Int’l Mile at Pre|
|Pat Casey (2)||Nike / NIKE OTCE||3:35.32||3:35.32||2014 runner-up has battled injury recently after strong indoor season|
|David Torrence||Hoka One One||3:33.23||3:36.36||Only 3:41 at Oxy; 13:30 last week at Portland Track Festival|
|Frezer Legesse||Under Armour||3:36.93||3:36.93||Former Oklahoma runner PR’d by 4+ secs at Furman on May 30|
|Isaac Presson||Furman Elite||3:37.06||3:37.06||Like Legesse, set big (3+ sec) PR at Furman|
|Jordan McNamara||Nike / NIKE OTCE||3:34.00||3:37.84||3:37 for 3rd behind Jager, Heath at PTF on June 14|
|Chad Noelle||Oklahoma St.||3:38.35||3:38.35||NCAA champ|
|Dorian Ulrey (8)||Brooks||3:35.23||3:38.40|
|Mac Fleet||NIKE OTCE||3:38.35||3:38.62||2013-14 NCAA champ was just 13th in Int’l Mile at Pre|
|Ford Palmer (5)||Hoka One One / New Jersey New York Track Club||3:38.58||3:38.64|
|Andrew Wheating||Nike / NIKE OTCE||3:30.90||3:38.75||Enigmatic talent ran just 1:47.75 for 800 at NYC DL on June 13|
|Jack Bolas||New Jersey New York Track Club||3:35.54||3:38.76|
|Cristian Soratos||Montana St.||3:39.68||3:55.27 (mile)|
|Robby Creese||Penn St.||3:39.02||3:39.02|
|Kirubel Erassa||Oklahoma St.||3:39.05||3:39.05|
|Joe Stilin||ZAP Fitness Reebok||3:39.42||3:39.47|
|AJ Acosta (6)||Bay Area Track Club||3:36.41||3:39.97|
|Michael Atchoo||Strava Track Club||3:39.57||3:40.20|
|David Elliott||Boise St.||3:40.44||3:40.44|
|Robby Andrews||adidas||3:34.78||3:57.15 (mile)||Big kicker and U.S. indoor 1k champ is dangerous in a tactical race|
|Will Geoghegan||Oregon||3:44.88||3:57.53 (mile)|
Also entered in 5,000: Torrence
Before you freak out and realize that only three of the men in the 30-runner field have the IAAF standard, re-read what we wrote about how to qualify in the introduction (LRC Don’t Have The 2015 IAAF World Championships Standard? Don’t Worry About It – You Can Still Go To Worlds (Particularly If You Are American)) Right now, 3:39.71 would get a U.S. athlete into Worlds, and 23 of the 30 men in the field have a faster seed time than that. That time will drop between now and August 9, but U.S. athletes — particularly those that finish top-three at USAs will run faster as well. So barring a colossal upset at USAs or a sudden, massive increase in overall quality of global 1500 running, the top three finishers at USAs will make it to Beijing.
Barring a fall, two of the three spots seem pretty easy to call. Matthew Centrowitz has made each of the last three U.S. teams, has finished 3rd, 4th and 2nd at Worlds/Olympics in those years and is running better in 2015 than he ever has. Centro won USA indoors easily in the mile, took down studs Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat to finish second in the Bowerman Mile at the Pre Classic and chopped over a second off his 800 pb at last week’s adidas Grand Prix, running 1:44.62. Centrowitz is the favorite for the win and it would be a huge shock if he finished outside the top three.
Another spot seems destined to go to Leo Manzano. The defending champ and Olympic silver medalist, Manzano is a terrific championship racer. We discussed his immaculate record at USAs in our preview last year, but it bears repeating. Here’s how he’s done at nationals, starting in 2006 (his sophomore year at the University of Texas):
The guy makes teams, plain and simple. And the 30-year-old has given little reason to doubt that he’ll make it 10 straight top-three finishes at USAs this year. He and Ben Blankenship are the only Americans to have beaten Centrowitz in a 1500/mile this year and Manzano also made it look easy in taking down a deep American field of 1500 runners at Oxy on May 14. Though he was only 11th in the Bowerman Mile at Pre, that performance came against an incredible field. His 3:53.55 time in that race is faster than any American this year outside of Centrowitz and Blankenship. Finally, Manzano ran 1:45.24 for 800 in New York on June 13, his fastest 800 in five years. Time and again, Manzano has shown that he has a gear in the last 100 of a race that few others possess and he’ll use it to make his seventh U.S. team on Saturday afternoon.
The Battle for Third
A couple of months ago, the men’s 1500 looked as if it would be one of the most exciting races at USAs, with some top-tier talent in Centrowitz and Manzano and a deep pool of contenders for the third spot. With USAs less than a week away, the 1500 still looks exciting, but several contenders have fallen by the wayside. Of the six men with the IAAF standard, half will be running other events at USAs (Evan Jager and Cory Leslie are in the steeple; Garrett Heath is in the 5,000). That leaves Centrowitz, Blankenship and Kyle Merber as the only men with the standard. And more and more, at least on paper, it’s looking like Blankenship will be the one to claim that third spot on Team USA.
First, there was the breakout indoor season, with a 3:53.13 mile and 3:35.28 1500, culminating in a pair of runner-up finishes at USAs in the mile and 2-mile. Then he ran a perfect anchor leg to deliver the U.S. a gold medal and world record in the DMR at the World Relays and came just .19 of a second away from winning a Diamond League 1500 on Shanghai. Most recently, at the Pre Classic on May 30, Blankenship won a thrilling International Mile, dusting several top Americans in the process. Defeating Centrowitz is still a stretch, but Blankenship is a real threat to Manzano and right now is the favorite for the third spot at USAs.
Two other men running well outdoors are Merber and Robby Andrews and based on 2015 performance, they’re the only two other guys in this field with a realistic shot at the team. Merber was the runner-up to Andrews in the 1000 at USA indoors and ran the leadoff leg for the U.S. DMR team that took gold in the Bahamas. After a solid showing at Oxy (he only ran 3:40.03 but beat everyone except Manzano and Andrew Wheating), he cast off the shackles of Swarthmore by running 3:34.54 at Furman on May 30. No one entered in the 1500 at USAs has run faster this year.
The concern about Merber is that has yet to get it done at a big outdoor championship. He failed to make the final at USAs last year, didn’t even make it to NCAAs (yet alone USAs) at Texas in 2013 and missed the final at NCAAs in 2012 three weeks after running 3:35. Merber is clearly a better runner now than he was last year or even three years ago, but even if he puts together a great race at USAs, that might not be enough to hold off one out of Centro, Manzano and Blankenship.
Merber’s former NJ*NY TC teammate Andrews has also put together a fine 2015 season. Andrews won his first U.S. title at 1k indoors, helped the U.S. to a gold medal in the 4×800 at World Relays, won the mile comfortably at the Adrian Martinez Classic and most recently ran 1:45.98 for 800 in New York on June 13, his fastest 800 since 2012. That race had positives and negatives for Andrews. Obviously the time was a good sign, but he wasn’t as close to Centrowitz or Manzano (both of whom beat him) as he would have liked, in part because he eschewed his typical strategy of waiting and kicking from the back of the pack by following David Rudisha and running more aggressively near the front. Still, Andrews is the only guy in this field (outside of Centro and Manzano) that can run 1:45 for 800 right now, and that can only help him in what is usually a tactical race. It’s impossible to say whether that speed will be enough to hold off Blankenship and everyone else for a spot on Team USA, but one of the scariest sights in track is seeing Andrews coming off the final turn with a full head of steam and room to run.
Andrews had the choice of either the 800 or the 1500 at USAs, and deciding on an event was difficult for the 24-year-old, as he even turned to crowdsourcing at one point:
RT for 800
FAV for 1500
— Robby Andrews (@RA_Andrews) June 16, 2015
Whether Andrews chose the 1500 on the advice of his followers (the 1500 won, 190 to 76) or — more likely — after consultation with coach Jason Vigilante, it will be interesting to see how the decision works out for Andrews. The 1500 has two near sure things in Centro and Manzano, while the 800 is wide-open after 1:43 man Boris Berian. That fact has led to the following discussion thread being “Super Hot” for much of Monday:
In our mind, Andrews probably was probably thinking, “I was training all year to run the 1500. It’s not my fault my one true test at 1500 was cancelled by God/USATF (thunderstorm at Oxy). I just ran 1:45 for 800 while training for the 1500. That shows things are going well. I’m good to go and not changing events simply because I haven’t run a super-competitive 1500 all year.”
The Andrews decision clearly shocked a few people but it really depends on what your goal is – simply making a team or being a contender when you actually get to Worlds. Relying on the advice Vigilante – who dreams big – is probably a smart move. Before Manzano was an Olympic medallist, one of the co-founders of LetsRun.com was talking to Vigilante about the 1500 and Vig casually made some comment about Manzano (whom he coached in college but no longer was coaching) potentially winning the Olympics. The Brojo responded, “‘Win? You mean win a medal? Not win gold, right?”
“No I mean win – win gold,” said Vig, who then explained how Manzano was really, really good in tactical races.
Based on previous results, the talk seemed very far-fetched considering in his first three times at Worlds, Manzano bombed out twice in the semis and only had a career high finish of 12th – that’s last place. Well history has since shown that Vig was pretty accurate in assessing Manzano’s capabilities as he’s the Olympic silver medallist.
So while a few fans are shocked by the decision, we also bet Ben Blankenship is as well and is thinking, “Damn. What was Robby Andrews thinking? I wish he’d run the 800.”
It’s unlikely anyone else challenges for the team at 1500. Andrew Wheating ran well at Oxy but his last three races have been poor. Pat Casey looked set to contend after the indoor season (third at USAs in the mile) but has been banged-up outdoors. Jordan McNamara ran 3:37 for third at the Portland Track Festival but got smoked by Jager and Heath. Will Leer hasn’t raced since April. Perhaps someone surprises to take fourth or fifth, but it’s hard to imagine an outsider breaking into the top three.
We discussed why Centrowitz and Manzano will be on the team earlier and of the three men with a legitimate case for third, Blankenship has the most impressive resume. We’ll take him for the final spot.
LRC Prediction: 1. Centrowitz 2. Manzano 3. Blankenship
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Women’s 1500 (prelims Friday, 8:55 p.m. ET; final Sunday, 5:40 p.m. ET)
Athletes in bold have IAAF qualifying standard (4:06.50/4:25.20 mile)
2014 USA finish in parentheses
|Jenny Simpson (1)||New Balance||3:57.22||3:59.31||Defending US/DL champ has won 4 straight DL races; bye into Worlds|
|Shannon Rowbury||Nike / Nike Oregon Project||3:59.49||3:59.49||U.S. mile/2-mile champ is also entered in 5,000|
|Sarah Brown (4)||New Balance||4:03.20||4:03.20||Running well in ’15 with PRs at 800 (2:01.56) and 1500|
|Alexa Efraimson||Nike||4:03.39||4:03.39||Broke Cain’s HS/US Jr records with 4:03 at Pre|
|Katie Mackey (3)||Brooks||4:03.81||4:03.81||Indoor mile runner-up PR’d in 1500 at Pre|
|Gabriele Grunewald (5)||Brooks / Team USA Minnesota||4:01.48||4:04.26||4:04 for 5th in last race at Oslo DL (best time in 2 years)|
|Treniere Moser||Nike / Nike Oregon Project||4:02.85||4:04.26||4-time champ ran nice 2:00/2:37 800/1k double at NYC DL|
|Heather Kampf (6)||ASICS / Team USA Minnesota||4:04.50||4:04.50||3 of her 4 fastest times in 1500 have come during June 2015|
|Morgan Uceny (12)||adidas||4:00.06||4:04.76||2-time champ has struggled to regain past form with sb of just 4:09|
|Mary Cain (2)||Nike / Nike Oregon Project||4:04.62||4:06.34||Has run poorly in ’15 but 2:38.57 1k at NYC DL was step in right direction|
|Lauren Johnson||Nike / NIKE OTCE||4:07.33||4:07.33||PR’d by almost 3 secs at Portland Track Festival on June 14|
|Stephanie Brown (9)||Nike||4:07.55||4:07.55|
|Brie Felnagle||adidas||4:05.64||4:08.06||Also entered in 5k|
|Amanda Eccleston (10)||4:08.08||4:08.08|
|Rachel Schneider||Under Armour||4:08.46||4:08.46|
|Melissa Salerno||Furman Elite||4:09.49||4:09.49|
|Stephanie Charnigo (8)||Saucony||4:09.00||4:28.02 (mile)|
|Heather Wilson||New Jersey New York Track Club||4:07.47||4:09.57|
|Shelby Houlihan||Arizona St.||4:09.67||4:09.67||2014 NCAA champ and top American at NCAAs in ’15 (2nd)|
|Kerri Gallagher||Oiselle / New York Athletic Club (NYAC)||4:09.64||4:09.99|
|Cory McGee (7)||New Balance||4:06.67||4:10.88||Made Team USA in ’13 but hasn’t broken 4:10 since|
|Amanda Mergaert||Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC||4:12.25||4:12.25||Also entered in 5k|
|Lianne Farber||North Carolina||4:13.16||4:13.16|
|Dana Mecke||4:13.34||4:13.34||Also entered in 800|
|Lauren Paquette||4:09.86||4:30.73 (mile)|
Note: Rowbury, Mackey, Grunewald, Felnagle are all entered in the 5,000 in addition to the 1500. At Worlds, it’s a doable double as the 5,000 prelims are two days after the 1500 final, but at USAs it’s very tricky — the 5,000 final is at 3:39 p.m. ET and the 1500 final is at 5:40 p.m. ET. That means once they finish the 5,000 final, they’ll have approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes to recover before the 1500 final.
Jenny Simpson is going to Worlds in the 1500. We could say that confidently based on the fact that Simpson has extended her reign over the 1500 (2014 DL champ) into 2015, winning Diamond League stops in Eugene and Rome, the latter in a world-leading 3:59.31. But the defending U.S. champ doesn’t even need to finish in the top three at USAs — heck, she doesn’t even need to make the final — in order to book her ticket to Beijing. Based on her status as the defending Diamond League champ, she only has to compete in one round of competition in Eugene to activate her bye to Worlds. Of course Simpson may as well run the final, in which she will be the heavy favorite.
Behind her, it figures to be a wild race for the other three spots (the rest of the field can thank Simpson for winning the DL last year as it means an extra spot for the U.S. at Worlds). Quite simply, the U.S. has never been deeper at 1500 meters. Already in 2015, eight women have run 4:04.50 or faster — prior to this year, the record for most American to do that in one year stood at five. The progress the U.S. has made in a decade is staggering. Consider that from 2004 to 2007, just one American (Treniere Moser) broke 4:05. This year, eight women have done it and we haven’t even hit July. Even with four entries, some very fast women are going to be left home.
The leading candidate for second is Shannon Rowbury, the 2009 Worlds bronze medalist and second-fastest woman on the year (behind Simpson). Under most circumstances, Rowbury would be a lock, but there’s only one problem: she could running Sunday’s final on tired legs, as she’s also entered in the 5,000 final, which will be held two hours earlier. It’s possible Rowbury scratches from the 5,000 (her chances of a medal there at Worlds are slim) but if anyone is to pull off the 1500-5,000 double, it’s Rowbury. She’s been practicing doubling all year (already, she’s run same-day doubles on three occasions, plus a two-day double victory in the mile/2-mile at USA indoors), most recently at the Portland Track Festival on June 14, where she ran 2:00.53 (her fastest 800 in five years) and followed it up with a 4:07.52 1500 less than 15 minutes later, missing out on the win by .19.
It’s a risky move for Rowbury, given that the risk seems to outweigh the reward. Best-case scenario, Rowbury qualifies in both events for Worlds. She’s a medal threat at 1500, but was 25 seconds out of a medal in the 5,000 two years ago. Rowbury is better now than she was in 2013, but medalling in the 5,000 is very unlikely. Almaz Ayana and Genzebe Dibaba have already run 14:14 and 14:18 this year; beating them is out of the question unless they get food poisoning/a major illness or injured between now and August. That means Rowbury will have to take down a slew of 14:30/14:40 women to get the final medal, which probably isn’t happening. Worst-case scenario, Rowbury qualifies for Worlds in the 5,000 but doesn’t recover quickly enough and misses out in the 1500. Rowbury knows her fitness better than anyone, so if she feels she can come back and make the 1500 team on tired legs, who are we to tell her no? But no matter how fit she is, running both events at USAs is a risk.
While the double is risky for Rowbury, it’s downright crazy for the other women — Katie Mackey, Gabe Grunewald and Brie Felnagle — unless one of the two following situations applies (and one of them probably does):
- They view the 5,000 as their best shot at making the team and are treating the 1500 as a fallback option if they don’t make it at 5,000.
- They entered the 5,000 as insurance in case they don’t qualify for the 1500 final and will scratch the 5,000 if they advance in the 1500.
Assuming the 1500 is their primary event, Mackey has the best shot at the team considering she was third last year and is coming off PRs at 1500 (4:03.81 at Pre) and 800 (2:01.20 at the Portland Track Festival). Felnagle ran just 4:14 at Payton Jordan and has never broken 4:05, so her best bet would appear to be in the 5,000. Grunewald could do either but the 1500 (4:04 in Oslo) has been going better for her than the 5,000 (DNF at Pre) recently so she may opt for the shorter distance at USAs.
Several other women will definitely be running the 1500 fresh and the best among them is Sarah Brown, who will look to make her second U.S. outdoor team after reaching the semis as an injury replacement in 2013. Brown got down to 4:03.20 (a 2+ second PR) in finishing as the third American at Pre on May 30 and followed that up with a comfortable 4:07 win at Harry Jerome on June 8 and an 800 pb of 2:01.56 (previous pb: 2:02.25) two days later. Clearly, she’s rounding into form at the right time.
The best case for Brown making the team is her result at Pre, though. That race served as a USA preview in the 1500, and here’s what happened:
|Pl.||Athlete / Team||Cnt.||Birth||Result||Score|
Little over a second separated Brown, Alexa Efraimson, Mackey and Treniere Moser and a month later, no one in the group has run demonstrably better or worse. Making things more complicated, Grunewald (4:04.26) and Heather Kampf (4:04.50) have run very similar times in different meets, creating a logjam for the final two spots on Team USA. Efraimson has the biggest room for improvement — remember, she’s only 18 years old — but she also lacks championship experience. Last year, she was sixth at World Juniors (fellow American Elise Cranny, whose PR was almost four seconds slower, was fourth) and struggled to the finish in her heat at USAs as she had to be helped off the track and through the mixed zone in distress. Perhaps Efraimson capitalizes on her immense talent and makes Worlds as a high schooler, a la Mary Cain, but it’s safer to bet on experience.
In that case, we’ll go with Brown and Mackey (assuming she scratches the 5,000) for third and fourth given that they’ve both been on a roll in 2015 and are peaking at the right time. With that said, it wouldn’t come as a surprise at all to see Efraimson, Moser, Kampf or Grunewald replace one (or both) on the U.S. team. In fact, if Rowbury does wind up doubling, it’s entirely possible that one of them threatens her spot as well, especially if Rowbury has to work hard in the 5,000.
A quick word on last year’s runner-up, Mary Cain. Cain, who finished 10th at Worlds in 2013, is a longshot to make the team considering her fastest 1500 this year is just 4:15.42. Now training at home in New York (but still under the tutelage of Alberto Salazar), Cain ran 2:38.57 at the adidas Grand Prix on June 13, which was a positive result given her season so far, but nothing that will worry any of the contenders at USAs. The winner in that race was Erin Donohue, who barely raced at all from 2012-2014, and Cain also lost to Nike Oregon Project teammate Treniere Moser, who was doubling back from the 800 earlier in the meet. Making the final at USAs would constitute a successful meet for Cain; making the team to Beijing is a pipe dream at this point. One other thing to watch for: Will Cain speak to the media about the Salazar doping allegations? Bet on no (she dodged the question in New York), but we’ll try to ask her anyway.
LRC Prediction: 1. Simpson 2. Rowbury 3. Brown 4. Mackey
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