August 22, 2015
BEIJING- The 2015 World Track and Field Championships kicked off Saturday morning in Beijing and the highlight was the men’s marathon where Ghirmay Ghebrselassie of Eritrea pulled the huge upset to win Eritrea’s first world gold after a 2:16 guy put in a brave effort to win the race. The race was also marked by the finish – none of the top 10 knew where the finish line was in an embarrassing gaffe for the organizers. We recap the marathon in a separate article here.
The track action Saturday morning included the first rounds of the men’s steeple, men’s 800, and women’s 1500. We give you the highlights below starting with a big scare in the first track distance race for the US, the men’s steeple with gold medal hopeful Evan Jager in heat 1.
A Big Scare for Evan Jager
Going into Worlds, we viewed Jager as America’s best hope for a distance gold, but his championships were almost over very quickly as he had to battle all the way to the line for an auto spot in the steeplechase final. Jager was in the first heat, and said that he was happy that it went slowly because he was looking to expend as little energy as possible to make it to the final. However, the slow pace almost came back to bite him as he was in fifth place coming off the final turn and had to outsprint Matt Hughes of Canada, Yoann Kowal of France and Amor Ben Yahia of Tunisia to finish second in 8:41.51 (there were three auto spots). Had Jager run just .15 of a second slower, he would have had to watch the final from the stands.
Jager said that his 58.3 final lap was “interesting” but he did not seem too concerned about the near-miss. Jager tried to get into better position on the backstretch but didn’t want to go too wide to pass so decided to hold off. Coming over the final water jump, he said he still felt like he had a lot left and after finding some room to run in the home stretch, he was able to qualify.
Looking ahead to the final, Jager said it will take a “perfect” race for him to win. Jager feels like he hasn’t lost any fitness since his 8:00.45 American record in Paris on July 4 but he knows there are several quality guys in the final who will pose a threat. He also added that he’d prefer Monday’s final to be a fast race.
“I think I’m more comfortable with a faster pace from the get-go. I think it kind of plays to my strengths over any event, whether it’s 15, steeple, 3k or 5. I think I do better in overall faster races.”
Off camera Jager also revealed he brought his own Aeopress coffee press to China as he didn’t know what the joe would be like here.
Jager definitely had to work for it over the final 200. We asked fellow American Donn Cabral, who was in the next heat, if he had watched Jager’s run. Cabral said he came out of the tunnel with about 200 left in the heat and saw Jager battling. He said he thought at first that Jager must have fallen (as he was in 5th) but then realized the guys were flying and the heat had been incredibly slow.
You can listen to our chat with Cabral, who said he didn’t feel great today but never feels great in a heat, below (Editor’s note: if you interview someone early on in the media zone, you aren’t allowed to film):
The IAAF Needs to Change the Steeplechase Qualification System
Right now, there are three heats at Worlds, with the top three in each heat plus the next six fastest men advancing to the 15-person final. In general, we don’t like time qualifiers in distance races, especially once you get to the steeple and 5,000. Just because someone ran 8:41 in a slow heat doesn’t mean he’s not as good as someone else who ran 8:27 in a different heat. All it means is that one race went out faster than the other one.
We’d be fine with no time qualifiers (just take the top five from each heat) as that eliminates the advantage of being in the last heat, but at the very least, there should be four auto spots in the steeple and three time qualifiers. Three and six makes no sense and favors runners in later heats. And it almost cost Evan Jager a spot in the final today.
It Was A Great Morning for Americans
The track events couldn’t have gone much better for Team USA at the first session of the 2015 IAAF World Championships. Between the men’s 800, women’s 1500 and men’s steeplechase, nine of the 10 Americans advanced to the next round, with Cas Loxsom the only member of the red, white and blue going home.
The other events didn’t go as well for Team USA — none of the men’s hammer throwers advanced to the final, though two of the three women’s shot putters did, with Tia Brooks missing out by just two centimeters. In the marathon, Ian Burrell was the top U.S. finisher in 25th (2:23:17) with Scott Smith finishing three place behind him (2:24:53). Jeffrey Eggleston was a DNF.
Back to the good news, though. This morning’s results were further evidence of just how good the United States is in the middle distances. Over the last few years, Kenya and Ethiopia are the only two countries who you could argue have fared better than the U.S. in the middle distance events. It was not always this way.
If you compare the results in the same events in 2005, it’s clear how much progress the U.S. has made. In the 800, the U.S. advanced the same number of men (two) to the semis 10 years ago, but in the 1500, only one American made it to the semis (the format was different as there were two rounds, not three, but the point stands). In the steeple, only one of the three U.S. men in 2005 made it to the final compared to three today — the first time ever the U.S. will send three men to the steeple final at Worlds.
Cas Loxsom Was Obviously Disappointed Not To Advance But Already Is Preparing For 2016 – Loxsom Also Says Nick Symmonds Is In Better Shape Than Himself
Loxsom, who has historically been a noted front-runner, was second-guessing the way he ran his heat today. His plan was to not lead and just focus on finishing fast and getting into the top 3 as an auto qualifier. However, Loxsom wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to lead heat 1, as it went out very slow. As a result, he found himself in the lead but the opening pace was only 54.70. At that point, he picked the pace up but in hindsight thought that was a mistake. He thought he should have just stayed relaxed and focused on finishing fast as trying to make the time decent after such a slow start was just a waste of energy.
Looking ahead, Loxsom said he’s calling it a season now. He said he realizes he has a “long ways to go aerobically” and that he can’t wait until October 11, 2015 – the date the Brooks Beasts begin training for 2016. Loxsom said he’ll be training with a vengeance and a goal in mind- to break 4:00 in the mile indoors. He thinks if he can develop the type of strength to break 4 in the mile, that with his speed he’ll be a real force in 2016.
We asked Loxsom about his teammate Nick Symmonds who isn’t at Worlds after his run-in with USATF. Some fans thought Symmonds might not have come to Worlds as he wasn’t in good shape. Loxsom dismissed that speculation and said Symmonds was fitter than himself.
Jenny Simpson had some harsh words when asked about drug cheat Tatyana Tomashova – “The sport still has has a ways to go.”
Simpson advanced with ease in heat two of the women’s 1500 today, spending as little energy as possible and just making sure she was top 6 in her heat (she ended up 5th). Simpson’s reserved running was contrasted by that of 2003 and 2005 world champion Tatyana Tomashova who jumped out to a huge early lead in the heat before finishing 4th to advance to the finals at age 40.
Tomashova served a two-year 9 month doping ban from the end of 2008 to early 2011 and also had 15 months of results prior to 2008 wiped out, effectively wiping out 4 years of her results and there has been recent speculation that she is going to lose her 2005 World Title at 1500 thanks to the IAAF’s recent retest of the drug samples from those World Champs.
We asked Simpson what she thought when she saw Tomashova on the start line in her heat and running pretty well at age 40. “It makes me think the sport still has a ways to go. We’re not as clean and pure and perfect as some people want to portray. There are people who have brought this sport down and we need to help get them out of the sport and clean up the sport and make it a fair fight for everyone out there,” said Simpson who will spend the next day and half resting and watching the one English tv channel at her hotel. “But as I said at the press conference. She’s competing within the rules and the rules say she can be here so that’s kind of another side of the story, making the rules so people feel as if they are playing on a fair playing field.”
You can listen to Simpson talk about Tomashova below:
Genzebe Dibaba Didn’t Take It Easy LIke Jenny Simpson – She Blasted A 59 Final Lap and Won Her Heat
Yesterday, Jenny Simpson said she believes the heats are a big equalizer for her. Today, she clearly tried to spend as little energy as possible as she was nowhere near the lead of her heat. World record holder Genzebe Dibaba had a different strategy – crush the last lap. Even though qualification was never in doubt, she ran a 59.34 final lap to win her heat in 4:02.60 which according to statistician Ken Nakamura is the fastest first round 1500 ever. We asked her why she didn’t just take it easy and she said through an interpreter because the first few laps felt “so easy” she wanted to see what she had “By kicking as much as possible.”
Reigning World Champs Mo Aman and Abeba Aregawi Have Been Banged Up This Year
Both Aman and Aregawi have had good races in 2015, but neither has been as consistent as they were two years ago, when they combined to lose one race at their specialty distances (800 for Aman, 1500 for Aregawi). Aman explained that he’s been bothered by a hamstring injury this year but that he loves living and training in America with Mark Rowland and the Oregon Track Club and that he feels “almost perfect” now.
We spoke to someone from the Swedish federation in the mixed zone and he reported that Aregawi has been dealing with an upper hamstring/lower back injury but she said she still expects to fight for a medal. When we asked her what color, she just smiled knowingly.
Clayton Murphy Keeps Rolling and Takes Advantage of Opportunity Created by Nick Symmonds
Coming into the season Clayton Murphy was a 19 year old sophomore at Akron who had run 1:50.03 for 800m and placed 11th in the 1500m at USA Juniors last year.
He has raised the bar tremendously this year. He placed third at NCAA indoors in the 800 lowering his PR to 1:47.06 in the process, and followed up with a 3rd at NCAA outdoors. No one expected much of him at USAs, but he PRd in all three rounds to place fourth with a 1:45.59 in the final.
He then raced internationally for the first time and got the gold at the Pan Am Games, and followed that up with a silver at the NACAC championships. That was supposed to be the end of the season, but Nick Symmonds was booted from the US team for not signing the team contract, and that opened the door for Murphy to run at Worlds.
Murphy did not run like a novice on Saturday as he ran 1:48.08 with a negative split to make the semis as the final automatic qualifier in his heat.
Afterwards, he talked about his magical season with LRC and credited Nick Symmonds with being very supportive and offering advice. Perhaps the best advice Nick gave him was the track at Worlds is still 400m around.
Nick, not running Worlds was a huge letdown for 800m fans in the US, but now they’ve got someone new to root for in the semi.
We have a lot more including tons of interviews here: