USA Men’s 3000: Ryan Hill Stamps Himself as a Medal Contender & Paul Chelimo Kicks His Way On To Team USA in a Classic Race

March 11, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — The men’s 3000-meter final was hyped as the race of the meet at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships and the final race on day one of competition did not disappoint. There were plenty of juicy storylines both before and after the race, but more than anything, the outcome of tonight’s competition served to burnish the growing reputation of Ryan Hill. As he did to win titles in the indoor 2-mile and outdoor 5,000 in 2015, Hill used a devastating final 200 (27.25) to kick to victory and stamp himself as a medal contender at next week’s World Championships on this same Oregon Convention Center track.

While Hill’s berth on Team USA was expected, the identity of his teammate in Portland next week came as a surprise. Plenty of observers expected Oregon-based athletes to dominate on Friday, with Evan Jager, Eric Jenkins, Hassan Mead and Galen Rupp all among the pre-race favorites, but it was another Oregonian — Beaverton-based Paul Chelimo of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) — who stole the show. Running a masterful race, Chelimo elected to back off the hot early pace set by Hill’s Bowerman Track Club teammates and instead fell back to the chase pack before making an aggressive move with 350 meters to go. And thanks to a tremendous final two laps, Chelimo wound up a clear second, 2.19 seconds ahead of Jenkins in third. Chelimo actually had the fastest last lap of the race (26.85), though he was denied the victory by Hill, whose combination of strength and speed enabled him to hold off Chelimo in the final lap.

Rupp, who drew plenty of attention for even starting this race just 27 days removed from a 2:11:13 debut marathon victory at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, was a non-factor, but deserves major props for getting out there and competing for his hometown fans. It’s a shame there weren’t more of them in the half-empty stands to cheer on Rupp and his fellow competitors on Friday night.

41 year old Bernard Lagat moved up well the final lap to finish 4th.

Race recap, analysis and interviews below.

Hill FTW Hill FTW

The Race

This one was action-packed from the gun as the Bowerman Track Club immediately showed its hand by having all four of its runners (Hill, Jager, Lopez Lomong and Andy Bayer) sprint to the lead. Bayer led the field through in a ridiculous 28.52 first lap and his second wasn’t much slower as he hit 400 in 58.60 with Lomong, Hill and Jager in tow. By the time Bayer ceded the lead at 1k (2:31.82) to Lomong, the four BTC boys had dropped everyone but Chelimo and Garrett Heath.

Lomong continued to press, hitting 1600 in 4:03.59, at which point Chelimo began to drop back toward the chase pack of Jenkins, Rupp, Mead and Bernard Lagat. Lomong stepped off the track at 2k (5:06.60), his job done as Jager took over in an attempt to finish the job. The lead pack’s 15-meter lead remained constant until two laps to go, with Bayer the only casualty up front.

Things got interesting with 350 meters to go. For several laps, Jenkins had attempted, to no avail, to close the gap on the leaders. Sensing that the time was right to go all-in, Chelimo blew by Jenkins halfway down the backstretch on the penultimate lap and by the bell he had moved into striking distance into fourth just behind Jager, who had begun to crack. Hill assumed the lead at the bell and launched into his kick, Heath following behind him, but Chelimo was moving faster than all of them. He passed Jager without a second thought on the first turn and quickly moved by Heath at the top of the backstretch. But Hill presented a tougher challenge, and Chelimo found himself unable to go by before the turn. Without Chelimo challenging him on his shoulder, Hill took the opportunity to surge on the final turn, earning back some of his lead, and as they swung wide to avoid lapped runners entering the homestretch, Chelimo could never entirely close the gap.

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Hill came through to defend his title in a meet-record 7:38.60 while Chelimo offered a salute as he crossed the line in a well-deserved second place. Third was a close battle between Jenkins, Lagat and Heath, with the trio finishing in that order separated by just .07 of a second.

Race video here

1 Ryan Hill Nike / Bower TC 7:38.60
2 Paul Chelimo U.S. Army 7:39.00
3 Eric Jenkins Nike / Nike O P 7:41.19
4 Bernard Lagat Nike 7:41.25
5 Garrett Heath Brooks / BBeasts 7:41.26
6 Hassan Mead Nike / NIKE OTCE 7:43.59
7 Evan Jager Nike / Bower TC 7:44.05
8 Galen Rupp Nike / Nike O P 7:48.34
9 Trevor Dunbar Nike 7:54.30
10 Andy Bayer Nike / Bower TC 8:01.28
11 Dorian Ulrey Brooks / BBeasts 8:02.80
12 Frezer Legesse Under Armour 8:03.36
13 Nick Happe Speed Factory 8:09.13
14 Troy Fraley Gonzaga 8:12.10
15 Jacob Hurysz N J N Y 8:18.04
Lopez Lomong Nike / Bower TC DNF

For complete splits for every athlete, click here.

Quick Take #1: Ryan Hill is a force to be reckoned with at Worlds

That makes three consecutive U.S. titles for the 26-year-old Hill (’15 indoor, ’15 outdoor, ’16 indoor) and by the time his career is done he figures to collect quite a few more. Hill neglected to discuss his medal chances when asked about next week’s World Championships, but make no mistake, he is a contender for a podium spot. One trait shared by common the great 3k/5k runners in history is the ability to run a fast final 200 off any pace, and Hill has shown time and again that he can do just that.

A medal will at Worlds will certainly be tough as even without Mo Farah, studs like Caleb Ndiku and Augustine Choge and Dejen Gebremeskel and Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia will be extremely formidable. But in the last month, Hill has closed a 7:38 3k in 26.36 and a 7:39 3k in 27.25. The African studs aren’t going to be able to close much better than 26 seconds, so if Hill has the strength and tactical ability to remain near the front at the bell next week (again, no easy task), he has a real shot at a spot on the podium.

There are also no doubts about how seriously Hill is taking this season.

“To me, [the indoor season] is really important,” Hill said. “You can’t just sit around and obsess all year about outdoor track. I think you have two peaks. I think it’s healthy to peak in March and then kind of come down for the outdoor season. It’s just as important as outdoor to me, especially because I think the 3k is my best event.”

Chelimo Does a Salute at the Finish Chelimo Does a Salute at the Finish

Quick Take #2: Paul Chelimo goes from overlooked to overjoyed

Less than a month ago, Chelimo couldn’t even get into the Millrose Games 3k, even after defeating Eric Jenkins over 3k in Portland on January 22. Now he’s headed to a much more exclusive race: the 2016 World Indoor Championships.

Chelimo was in the lead pack through 1k but from that point began to slide backwards as he felt the pace was too quick.

“Even if it’s fast, it’s just going to come back to a kick, [a] kicker’s race. I knew the pace was too fast for me. And I didn’t want to get onto the train, I’m not used to it. I’m not used to training [for that type of race], going out hard or fast.”

Indeed, Chelimo said he was more comfortable gradually ratcheting things up and kicking rather than going hard from the gun, and that’s what he did over the final two laps to earn his spot at Worlds.

Chelimo is based in nearby Beaverton, Ore. (home of Nike), and trains with 2015 World Championship 10k man Shadrack Kipchirchir, Paul Katam, and Aron Rono under 2004 Olympian and West Point alum Dan Browne.

When Chelimo, who was 2nd at NCAAs in the outdoor 5k in 2012 and 2013 at UNC-Greensboro, joined Browne in 2014, he had a lot of work to do as he had spent the previous year serving in the regular army (as opposed to the WCAP, which allows him to focus on running). Since then, he’s gradually gained fitness, and Browne said that there wasn’t one moment or workout that signaled to him that Chelimo was ready to make this team. Rather, Chelimo has been able to consistently add volume and intensity, and after he returned from a January training stint in Kenya, he was set up well for success on the track in 2016.

Still, Browne knew it would take something special to make the team against tonight’s stacked field, and Chelimo was able to come through with a 5+ second PR.

“I knew he would have to have a PR-level race and he did that,” Browne said.

We also asked Browne about Galen Rupp’s ambitious plans for 2016. Rupp is trying to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 10,000 and the marathon; Browne was the last American to accomplish that feat in 2004. We asked whether Browne could have imagined running the 3k at USA Indoors on top of Olympic Trials in the marathon and on the track.

“That was a really tough thing to try, I really respect him for giving that effort,” Browne said.

We also wondered what advice Browne might have for Rupp should he run both the 10k and marathon in Rio.

“It’s a hard thing to train for both the 10k and the marathon,” Browne said. “There’s a little bit of give and take on either side. I was a little bit more prepared for the 10k where I got 12th. In the marathon (Browne was 65th in Athens), some of the specific marathon training that might not have gotten completely dialed-in. I think at the end of the day, Alberto and Galen will just sit down and figure out where that balance is, how they can strike that balance.”

Quick Take #3: BTC’s plan didn’t quite work

Jerry Schumacher’s charges came in with a deliberate plan to get two guys to Worlds, but ultimately only Hill will be donning the Team USA singlet next week. The plan was to have Bayer take the first kilometer and Lomong, who was not 100%, take the second kilometer before dropping out. The group felt confident that Hill would make the team in any race scenario but that a fast pace favored Bayer and Jager, who was hoping to grind down the field over the final kilometer.

Though the plan did not work to perfection, it’s hard to argue with the logic. After Hill, Jager had the best chance of making the team from BTC and though he has 3:32 1500 speed, he would likely have been outclassed by Chelimo, Jenkins or Lagat if it came down to a 200-meter kick off a slow pace. He just doesn’t change gears that well at the end of races, and thus Schumacher tried to engineer a situation where Jager wouldn’t have to do that. Ultimately, Jager wasn’t quite strong enough to finish the job — it’s incredibly difficult to drop a field of this quality from the front and remember he missed about three weeks of workotus in January due to injury — but that doesn’t mean that his strategy was a bad one.

Quick Take #4: Bernard Lagat just finished fourth in the U.S. at age 41

Lagat won’t have a chance to earn a fourth consecutive World Indoor medal, but taking fourth in a loaded field at the age of 41 is a ridiculous accomplishment. Hill and Chelimo were the two best guys tonight, but in a slower race, Lagat would have had a shot — his final 400 (57.87) and 200 (28.25) were third-best in the field behind Hill and Chelimo.

Quick Take #5: Galen Rupp took just one day off after the Olympic Marathon Trials

Rupp wound up eighth tonight and it became apparent when the race began to heat up with a couple of laps to go that he simply didn’t have his kick tonight — totally understandable given he raced a marathon 27 days ago. Rupp said once he committed to running the 3k at USAs, he didn’t look back.

“I don’t think you can have that mindset coming in here,” Rupp said. “If you’re wavering, you’re already mentally giving yourself excuses to come out. Definitely, we put everything into the marathon, getting ready for that obviously was the main thing. After that, you rest as much as you can and get ready for this.”

Rupp revealed that he took just one day off after the marathon and got into workouts again by the end of that week; there was such a quick turnaround between the two races that he had to get back into the swing of things quickly. Overall, Rupp was glad he gave it a go tonight and will now look forward to the outdoor season after a well-earned break.

“I have no regrets and now that my season’s done, I’ll definitely look forward to taking some time off.”

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