USA Distance Recap: Favorites Boris Berian, Ajee Wilson & Brenda Martinez Cruise to U.S. Titles

March 12, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — Saturday was a good day to be a favorite at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships at the Oregon Convention Center. The four mid-distance finals produced four predictable champions, and while Matthew Centrowitz had to give everything he had to hold off Robby Andrews in the men’s 1500, the other three races (men’s and women’s 800, women’s 1500) contained considerably less drama. In each case, the favorite won with considerable ease; 800 studs Ajee Wilson and Boris Berian cruised to wire-to-wire victories while Brenda Martinez used a devastating 30.44-second final lap to destroy the women’s 1500 field.

We recapped the epic men’s 1500 in its own article here; below, we recap and analyze the other three mid-d races.

Women’s 800: Ajee Wilson Prevails in Trouble-Free Fashion

In her past two U.S. finals, tragedy has struck Ajee Wilson. In last year’s indoor 600 final, she hit the ground hard midway through the race and wound up last. In the outdoor 800 final four months later, she lost a shoe and came .04 from missing out on Team USA (adding injury to insult, she eventually withdrew from Worlds anyway). So tonight Wilson made it her mission to get to the front early and stay out of trouble. She accomplished that, leading the field through 200 meters in 29.91 seconds. Wilson has looked great all year and cruised through yesterday’s prelim, and given that evidence, plus the ease with which she assumed the lead today, the outcome felt predetermined even with 600 meters to go. Wilson led for the next two laps but had a ton left to give at the bell, and her final lap also happened to be her fastest of the race (29.50) as she negative-splitted her way to a 2:00.87 victory (61.47-59.40).

The more interesting battle was for second place. Even though Laura Roesler was assured of a spot to Worlds as the only other woman with the IAAF standard, she had her work cut out for her tonight. She was in fourth at the halfway mark and moved up to third just before the bell, sitting behind 2011 U.S. indoor champ Phoebe Wright. But Wright would not go down without a fight, and it took all Roesler had to barely nip Wright for second, 2:02.44 to 2:02.51.

Athlete Affiliation Time
1 Ajee’ Wilson adidas 2:00.87
2 Laura Roesler Nike 2:02.44
3 Phoebe Wright Nike 2:02.51
4 Mckayla Fricker Brooks 2:02.84
5 Geena Gall Brooks / T R E 2:05.30
6 Shannon Leinert Brooks / Sp F A 2:08.59

Race video * Lap-by-lap splits

Quick Take #1: Ajee Wilson is ready to roll at Worlds

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Prior to this year, Wilson had broken 2:01 indoors just once in her career. Now she’s done it twice in two meets, running a PR 2:00.09 at Millrose and following it up with a 2:00.87 tonight. And the way she ran that 2:00.87, running a big negative split, suggests that she’s capable of going well under 2:00 right now. Whether she actually will at Worlds is another thing, but on current form, Wilson, the 2016 world leader, has a great chance to give the U.S. two straight World Indoor champions in the women’s 800.

Quick Take #2: Laura Roesler is hoping she feels better next week but is very happy to make her first U.S. senior team

Roesler said that she wasn’t pleased with her race.

“I just feel like I ran really scared…I just haven’t felt like I’ve had my legs the last couple days,” Roesler said.

However, there were several things Roesler can be proud of, chief among them qualifying for her first senior World Championships, which she said was “really cool.” And despite being unhappy with the way she ran, she was also proud to take second. Even though Roesler could have finished last and still made the team, she wanted to feel as if she earned her spot and to do that, she had to finish in the top two.

Roesler said she’s felt flat the entire weekend but is optimistic that with some rest, she’ll be in a better spot a week from now.

“I’m kind of hoping that’s my body’s way of saving energy for next week,” Roesler said. “It has a plan.”

Phoebe Wright after taking 3rd

Men’s 800: Boris Berian earns a well-deserved first U.S. title

Berian has been crushing it for almost a year now, running 1:43.34 last summer and 1:46.00 and 1:15.51 (for 600) indoors this season. One thing he had yet to accomplish was win a national title, but he accomplished that in fine fashion today, taking the lead just before the 200-meter mark and never looking back. His strategy was as simple as they come — run away from everyone else — and though Harun Abda was close behind him at 400 (which Berian passed in 51.90) and the bell (Abda was just .12 back), Berian had speed to burn over the final lap, closing in 27.50 to ice a 1:47.19 victory. Erik Sowinski managed to move past Abda to take second and will now hope that he’s done enough to earn an at-large spot to Worlds. The IAAF said it will take 18 runners and Sowinski is currently #18 on the world list for 2016 (200-meter tracks).

Athlete Affiliation Time
1 Boris Berian Big Bear TC/NBal 1:47.19
2 Erik Sowinski Nike 1:47.62
3 Casimir Loxsom Brooks / BBeasts 1:47.89
4 Drew Windle BROOKS Beasts 1:48.02
5 Harun Abda Nike / NIKE OTCE 1:48.05
6 Patrick Peterson Big Bear TC/NBal 1:53.49

Race video * Lap-by-lap splits

Quick Take #1: Boris Berian earns U.S. title #1; now will somebody sponsor the guy?

Berian was on the fringes of the sport a year ago. Now he’s the US champ but unsponsored. That should change soon.

Quick Take #2: Erik Sowinski was unhappy with his tactics but will be at Worlds next week

It was always going to be tough to beat Berian, but Sowinski did himself no favors tonight. His plan was to be in the top two when the runners broke from their lanes, but Abda and Cas Loxsom beat him to the punch; Sowinski was in fourth at the 200-meter mark. He managed to work himself into third by the bell, but was in horrible position to move as Berian was in the lead on the inside of lane 1 with Abda on his shoulder on the outside of lane 1. As a result, Sowinski had to run much of the final lap in lane 2. Sowinski couldn’t get around Abda on the backstretch, and by the time he finally passed him on the turn, Berian was gone. Sowinski managed to close the gap slightly over the final 50 meters, but it was never going to be enough.

Sowinski said ideally he would have been in position to attack with 300 to go, but his tactics were poor, leaving him too much work to do to catch a fine runner in Berian.

Sowinski mentioned yesterday how he’s hoping the IAAF grants him an at-large spot to Worlds as they fill the field and said he’s going to reach out to USATF to see if they’ve heard anything on the matter.

“I ran really well two days in a row,” Sowinski said. “I’ve run six races between 1:47.11 and 1:47.6, so you can’t be too upset with that. I’ve been consistent, I feel good so I’d like to give it a go next week if they let me.”

Sowinski said it was frustrating because he didn’t know where he stood heading into the meet or what criteria the IAAF would use to select additional runners — did he need to time-trial a 1:46 or would they value place over time? Sowinski ultimately decided to approach it as he would a normal championship, focusing solely on the win. Hopefully he did enough this weekend to earn his place.

UPDATE: Sowinski announced on Twitter that he did indeed receive an invitation to compete at Worlds next week.

Cas Loxsom reflects on his 2016 indoor season

The big focus is on outdoors.

Former D-II star Drew Windle after taking 4th in his first U.S. final

Women’s 1500: Brenda Martinez dominates; Cory McGee grabs second spot on World Indoor team

After pre-race favorite Shannon Rowbury scratched (she wanted to rest up for the 3k at Worlds), the women’s 1500 became the most wide-open distance race of the meet. Perhaps not for first, where Martinez was likely to win, but you could make a case that of the remaining nine runners, seven had a legitimate case for the second spot (and all seven had the IAAF standard).

For several laps, not much changed in this one as from 500 to 1100 meters, the order remained the same up front: 2014 World Indoor finalist Heather Kampf, followed by Katie Mackey, Amanda Eccleston and Brenda Martinez.

After a string of 33- and 34-second laps, the pace dropped to 32 for the penultimate lap as Martinez grabbed the lead and made a hard move just before the bell. That really shook things up as what had been a close race strung out quickly. Martinez pulled away up front, creating a gap on second-place Cory McGee, who in turn built a gap on third. With Martinez’s win assured, the only drama was for second, where Eccleston fought back to narrow the deficit to McGee. But McGee’s early burst at the start of the final lap had provided her with a cushion too large to overcome, and she would hold onto second at the line, crossing with a fist pump as a megawatt smile broke out on her lips.

Athlete Affiliation Time
1 Brenda Martinez New Balance 4:08.37
2 Cory McGee New Balance 4:09.97
3 Amanda Eccleston Brooks 4:10.42
4 Heather Kampf ASICS / TUSA Mn 4:11.56
5 Katie Mackey Brooks / BBeasts 4:13.16
6 Alexa Efraimson Nike 4:13.44
7 Treniere Moser Nike / Nike O P 4:14.87
8 Rachel Schneider Under Armour 4:19.48
9 Emily Lipari Boston A A 4:22.04
Heather Wilson N J N Y DNF

Race video * Lap-by-lap splits

Quick Take #1: As expected, Brenda Martinez was the class of this field

With Rowbury gone, Martinez was the obvious choice for the win and she showed she was a cut above by closing her final 200 in 30.44, 1.39 seconds ahead of McGee, who had the next-closest lap. In fact, McGee and Eccleston were the only other women to close in under 33 seconds. It makes sense. Martinez’s 4:04 in Boston earlier this year was far superior to anything anyone else in this field had run this year, and given that the winning time was fairly honest, most of the women behind her weren’t going to be able to rip off a 30-second final 200 to close out a time in the low-4:10s.

Martinez said that after Worlds her focus will shift to the 800 outdoors, but that she’ll probably leave the event behind next year and move up to the 1500, and perhaps, eventually, the 5,000.

“I know the speed’s going to go away eventually when I get older,” said the 28-year-old Martinez.

She has the background to make a smooth transition. Her 1500 pb is 4:00.94 and Martinez already trains more like a 1500/5k runner than an 800 runner — she revealed that she does 10-mile runs at 5:40 pace!

Martinez said her goal at Worlds is to put herself in contention and race smart, and she likes her chances.

“Ethiopia can only take two girls, so I’m happy about that,” Martinez said.

Brenda, we hate to break it to you, but Ethiopia can actually send three women in the 1500. Axumawit Embaye won the IAAF World Indoor Tour, so Ethiopia gets an extra spot.

Quick Take #2: Cory McGee was overjoyed to join teammate Abbey D’Agostino on the Worlds team

No one was smiling more after this race than McGee, who desperately wanted to join training partner D’Agostino on the World Championship team. D’Agostino and coach Mark Coogan were equally excited, peeking through the backdrop to offer congratulations before McGee reached the athlete recovery area (Coogan was so excited for her that he interrupted the interview to offer his congratulations). After a 2:02 time trial in practice last week (running start), McGee was confident in her speed. It turns out that confidence was well-placed as only Martinez was better over the last lap.

McGee made the World Championship team at 1500 as a junior at Florida in 2013 and took second at NCAAs the following year, but the day she signed with New Balance in 2014, she found out she was injured. It’s taken a little while for her to get back to the point of making another U.S. team, but she feels very happy with the progress she’s made and is well-positioned heading into the outdoor season.

McGee said that one of the keys to her improvement is that she didn’t push herself too hard too early in her career.

“I wasn’t really a distance runner up until this year,” McGee said. “I thought of myself as a runner but I didn’t really know what it was like to do heavy training in the fall or do a long run of 90 minutes…I think the most important thing from middle school to high school to college and beyond is to always have room to improve.”

Before we spoke to her, McGee conducted an entertaining interview with two (very) young reporters. We caught part of it here. Soon they will have our jobs.

Quick Take #3: Amanda Eccleston was bummed to miss out on the team but very pleased with her season as a whole

Eccleston has made a big breakthrough in 2016, running 4:26 for the mile twice (the latter earned her third at Millrose) and now recording her highest finish in a U.S. final — third. Eccleston was happy with her effort but was a little too far back with 200 to go and wasn’t able to reel in McGee for the second spot on the team.

Eccleston feels like she’s “got that last 150 down” but needs to continue to work on her strength. A low-mileage runner to begin with, Eccleston was limited to about 25 miles per week for eight months in 2015 due to a nagging shin issue, but put in a lot more volume and tempo work last fall and she’s started to reap the benefits this year. Now she’s up to her more-typical 45-55 mpw but also supplements that with about 30 miles per week of cross training.

Quick Take #4: Alexa Efraimson wants World U20 gold this summer

She will be able to run US juniors and the Olympic Trials as they are different weeks.

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