2016 Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic Preview: U.S. Stars Evan Jager, Leo Manzano, Shannon Rowbury & Brenda Martinez Headline Deep Fields
May 19, 2016
The 2016 track season is in full swing, with the Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic on Friday the next meet up on the domestic calendar. With six weeks until the Olympic Trials and 12 until the Olympics, the meet (formerly known as “Oxy”) should offer a good look at which distance runners are ready to roll and which ones still have some work to do before Eugene. Robby Andrews, Laura Roesler, Brenda Martinez, Shannon Rowbury, Leo Manzano, Emma Coburn, Evan Jager, and Eric Jenkins are among the big names who will be in California on Friday night to strut their stuff.
Meet details are below, followed by entries. For each event, we’ve highlighted the key athletes and how this meet factors into their 2016 season.
What: 2016 Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic
Where: Jack Kemp Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Friday, May 20. First event starts at 6:15 p.m. PT (9:15 p.m. ET).
How to watch: Live for free online on USATF.TV.
Talk about the meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Hoka One One Oxy Live Discussion Thread
Women’s 3000 steeplechase (9:00 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 9:45.00 Olympic Trials standard: 9:53.00
Eight of the top nine from USAs last year will be absent from this event, so the results here won’t tell us much about the race to Rio. The woman to keep an eye on is Shalaya Kipp. Kipp made the Olympics four years ago at 21 years old while still at Colorado, and the 9:35.73 she ran in the final made her the eighth-fastest U.S. steepler of all time. Here’s what the list looked like on that day:
- Jenny Simpson, 9:12.50
- Anna Willard, 9:22.76
- Lisa Aguilera, 9:24.84
- Emma Coburn, 9:25.28
- Briana Shook, 9:29.32
- Lindsey Olson-Anderson, 9:30.75
- Bridget Franek, 9:32.35
- Shalaya Kipp, 9:35.73
The women’s steeplechase has grown tremendously in the interim. Here’s what the list looks like now (new additions in bold):
1. Emma Coburn, 9:11.42
2. Jenny Simpson, 9:12.50
3. Anna Willard, 9:22.76
4. Stephanie Garcia, 9:23.48
5. Nicole Bush, 9:24.59
6. Lisa Aguilera, 9:24.84
7. Colleen Quigley, 9:24.92
8. Ashley Higginson, 9:27.59
16. Shalaya Kipp, 9:35.73
To make the World Championship team last year, you had to run 9:24.92 or faster — over 10 seconds better than what it took to make the Olympics in 2012. Kipp has still been a competent steepler since then, making Worlds in ’13 and finishing in the top seven at USAs in ’14 and ’15, but she has yet to better her PR from the ’12 Trials, which she’ll almost certainly have to do to make the Olympics.
The good news for Kipp is that she already has the Olympic standard, finished third in the 3k at USA Indoors two months ago and ran well for Team USA last summer, taking silvers at Pan Ams and NACACs. The bad news is that she was beaten badly by New Mexico’s Courtney Frerichs at Payton Jordan (9:29 to 9:43) and Frerichs may not even make the team this summer. Kipp (and everyone else in this field) will need to get under 9:30 if they want a shot at taking down the likes of Coburn, Frerichs, Garcia and Quigley for an Olympic spot, and they won’t get many better chances than Friday in Los Angeles.
Men’s 3000 steeplechase (9:28 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 8:30.00 Olympic Trials standard: 8:32.00
Unlike its women’s counterpart, the men’s steeple is packed with talent as Bowerman Track Club teammates Dan Huling, Evan Jager and Matt Hughes — who went 5-6-8 at Worlds last year — will all suit up here. It will be the first steeple of the year for Huling and Jager (Hughes won his steeple debut at Payton Jordan in 8:22), and 2016 will be a crucial year for both men.
Olympic years are always important, but it’s not a stretch to say that 2016 will be a defining year for both Huling and Jager. Everything came together for Huling last year and he beat Jager to finish as the top non-Kenyan at Worlds in fifth. He’s unlikely to replicate that feat this year in Rio (though with one fewer Kenyan in the field, it’s possible), but last season should give him hope that he can make his first Olympic team.
That’s right. Huling, the sixth-fastest steepler in U.S. history and the 2010 U.S. champ, has made every Worlds team since 2009 but has yet to make an Olympics. One reason for this is that Huling has been bothered by severe grass allergies in Eugene over the years. But last year he used an inhaler and Albuterol for the first time before USAs and ran great. Huling turns 33 in July, so this represents his last, best chance to make the team. That starts with a good run on Friday in his steeple opener.
The stakes are even higher for Jager this year. A four-time U.S. champion and owner of the seven fastest times in U.S. history, Jager has nothing left to prove domestically. Only an Olympic medal will do this year, and at 27, he’s in his prime. Jager lost some training in January due to a calf strain, but he still managed to run 7:40 indoors at Millrose. He opened up his outdoor season at Payton Jordan three weeks ago by running 3:38.67 to take third in the 1500 behind Izaic Yorks and Henrik Ingebrigtsen. With teammates Hughes and Huling ranking as his top competition here, we likely won’t learn a lot about Jager on Friday (unless one of them beats him). Instead, this race will offer him to shake off the rust, work on his form and prepare for the championship races that await him this summer.
Other top entrants include Craig Forys (9th at USAs last year, 8:28 at Payton Jordan), Andy Bayer (4th at USAs last year) and Cory Leslie (6th at USAs last year).
Women’s 800 (10:07 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 2:01.50 Olympic Trials standard: 2:03.00
The women’s 800 is one of the U.S.’s deepest events and should be one of the highlights on Friday. Of particular interest is the battle between 2013 Worlds bronze medallist Brenda Martinez and Laura Roesler, who came up .36 shy of a bronze of her own at World Indoors in March. While Roesler has carried over her indoor form to outdoors (two 1500 PRs and two 800 wins, 2:01 at Mt. SAC and 2:00 at the Michael Johnson Classic), Martinez looked totally out of sorts in her outdoor opener at Drake, fading from first to last in the 1500 with an ugly 69-second last lap. She ran far better in outdoor race #2, winning the Oxy Invitational on May 7 in 2:01.51. We’ve yet to see a sub-2:00 by a U.S. woman in 2016 (Kate Grace is the U.S. leader at 2:00.05) but with Martinez and Roesler in the race, we may get one on Friday.
There are three other women to be aware of in this field. The first is Phoebe Wright, who was third behind Ajee Wilson and Roesler at USA Indoors. Given that both women finished in the top four at World Indoors, third at USAs is an impressive accomplishment. Wright hasn’t broken 2:00 since 2012, and it won’t be easy to do it on Friday, but it’s most likely going to take 1:58-1:59 to make the Olympic team, so she should be looking for a 2:00-2:01 performance here to give herself a chance. The other woman to watch is Shannon Rowbury, who will be making her outdoor opener. Rowbury’s coming off a dream season indoors that saw her win the U.S. title and World Indoor bronze at 3,000 and, as in 2015, she’s entered in both the 800 and 1500 here. That means her results at Oxy aren’t as important; we’ll have to wait until she tackles a strong field at Pre next week to get a real read on her current level of fitness. Finally Molly Ludlow, a 2015 World Championship semifinalist, is a late entry to the meet.
Men’s 800 (10:22 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 1:46.00 Olympic Trials standard: 1:46.00
There’s no Erik Sowinski or Nick Symmonds (who spent this week touring China) or World Indoor champ Boris Berian, but this race will be important for two Olympic contenders in Brandon Johnson and Cas Loxsom. Johnson, a semifinalist at Worlds in 2013, has battled injuries over the past two seasons, but finally appears to be healthy and is starting to approach his 2013 form. When he made Team USA three years ago, this meet was his breakout race as he knocked 1.38 seconds off his PR to win in 1:44.85. Last week he ran 1:46 on consecutive days in Rio to take third at the Ibero-American Championships at the Olympic stadium and he’ll look to go even faster here and knock out the Olympic standard of 1:46.00.
Loxsom has struggled since making Worlds last summer. He failed to break 1:47 in either of his pre-Worlds races before bombing out in the heats in Beijing, and he’s failed to break 1:48 in four of his five races so far in 2016 (four of them indoors). The good news is that Loxsom ran his best race of 2016 when it mattered most to take third at USA Indoors in 1:47.89 and he’s still got six weeks until the Trials to get it together. But for Loxsom to make Rio, he has to show something here. He doesn’t necessarily have to win in 1:46.23 like he did last year, but he can’t afford another 1:48.16, which is what he opened up at in Eugene two weeks ago.
Loxsom’s college rival Robby Andrews is also entered here for his outdoor opener. There won’t be as much pressure on Andrews to perform as the 800 isn’t his primary event any more and Andrews ran extremely well indoors. But obviously a nice showing here in the 1:45-1:46 range would be a good sign. David Torrence will race as well after knocking out Olympic standards in the 5,000 and 1500 so far this month. Getting the standard in the 800 will be his toughest task yet, but he has broken 1:46 four times in his career (though none since 2011).
World Championship 1500 finalist Charlie Grice of Great Britain will be looking to lower his pb of 1:47.00 from two years ago.
Women’s 1500 (10:42 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 4:07.00 Olympic Trials standard: 4:09.50
Outside of a Diamond League meet, you won’t find many stronger domestic 1500 fields than this one. Shannon Rowbury (who will be racing this one tired with the 800 just 40 minutes before) and Jenny Simpson are two of the world’s top 1500 runners and that means that two of the spots to Rio are essentially spoken for, leading to a battle royale for the third spot. Many of the contenders are entered in this race: Amanda Eccleston (third at USA Indoors), Kate Grace (breaking out at just the right time with PRs of 2:00 and 4:06 so far this year), Cory McGee (second at USA Indoors), Rachel Schneider (fifth at USAs last year) and veterans Gabe Grunewald, Katie Mackey, Treniere Moser and Morgan Uceny.
Not every contender is here (2015 Team USA members Kerri Gallagher and Lauren Johnson are absent) but most are. If you can’t win this race (or at least come close), it’s going to be very hard to make the Olympics in the 1500 this summer. There’s just too much talent in this event to make up that amount of fitness in six weeks, so the outcome here will be key.
In addition to the 1500 specialists, there are also a number of other women from other disciplines, such as steeplers Emma Coburn and Stephanie Garcia and 5,000 runners Kim Conley and Nicole Tully. Garcia, Conley and Tully all ran great in the 5k at Payton Jordan three weeks ago; the woman to watch is Coburn, who has yet to race in 2016. As the winner of four of the last five U.S. titles in the steeplechase, Coburn is a strong favorite to make her second Olympic team in July, and we’re not going to overreact to anything she does on Friday. But a strong showing here would obviously be a good sign before she makes her steeple debut (likely at Pre next week, though the field has not been announced yet).
Aussie champ Heidi See will also be looking to book her place in Rio by hitting the 4:07.00 Olympic standard.
Men’s 1500 (11:10 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 3:36.20 Olympic Trials standard: 3:38.00
There’s more uncertainty in this event than any other. The headliner here is Leo Manzano, who won here last year before the rain and lightning brought an early end to the meet. Manzano’s 2016 has been rocky so far. He changed coaches, from John Hayes to Ryan Ponsonby, and missed three weeks of training in February due to pneumonia, shuttering his indoor season. With a late jump on outdoors, he finished a well-beaten 5th at the Texas Relays on March 31, running 1:49.92 for 800, his slowest outdoor mark in 10 years. He hasn’t raced since then.
Manzano has bounced back from challenging circumstances before — one need only look back two years ago. In 2014, Manzano entered the year sponsorless and in the midst of a coaching change and ran just 3:59 for the mile to finish fourth at the Adrian Martinez Classic in his final race before USAs. He wound up winning his second U.S. title and running a PR of 3:30 for 1500 later that summer.
At 31, Manzano still has some running left in his legs, and he’s finished in the top three at USAs an incredible 10 years in a row. But he barely got on to Team USA last summer, beating out Ben Blankenship for the final spot by .02, and Blankenship, Robby Andrews and Matthew Centrowitz have all been running well this year. It would be foolish to ever count out Manzano, but he needs a good race on Friday to show he’s on track to contend for a spot in Rio.
Garrett Heath and Canadian 3:34 man Charles Philibert-Thiboutot should provide good competition, but we’re most interested in a quartet of Oregon Track Club runners who have battled injuries in recent years: Pat Casey, Mac Fleet, Jordan McNamara and Andrew Wheating. All have flashed potential over the past two years. Casey was second at USAs in 2014, Fleet a two-time NCAA champ at Oregon in 2013 and 2014 and McNamara ran 3:52 two years ago. None of those three have raced yet in 2016.
But the guy we’re most interested in is Wheating. Wheating obviously has the talent (he’s made two Olympic teams, has PRs of 1:44 and 3:30 and is still only 28 years old) and he was rolling along indoors with three wins in three races before withdrawing from USA Indoors as a preventative injury measure. The biggest thing with Wheating has been making it to the start line healthy. If he can do that at a US championship, there aren’t many men who can beat him. So yes, it would be a good sign if Wheating were to win here on Friday. But the best sign would simply be for him to make it through the next six weeks injury-free, allowing his immense talent to shine through.
Two other names worth noting: Ben Saarel, who hasn’t raced since taking 31st at NCAA XC in November, is entered unattached, as is California high schooler Austin Tamagno, who ran 4:03 for the mile at Mt. SAC last month.
FYI: Only nine Americans (Matthew Centrowitz, Jager, Heath, Kyle Merber, Leslie, Ben Blankenship, Torrence, Andrews and Manzano) have the Olympic standard in this event right now. If you take out people who aren’t likely to run it at the Trials (Jager and Leslie (steeple), Heath (5000), Merber?? (injured)), you are down to five or six and that assumes Blankenship runs the 1500.
Since you can’t get the standard after the Trials, the people who don’t have standard have every incentive in the world to go after it on Friday.
Women’s 5000 (11:38 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 15:24.00 Olympic Trials standard: 15:25.00
Only four U.S. women have run the Olympic standard this year (a bunch more have it from 2015, but many of them may wind up running different events at the Trials). Here’s a look at who has it right now (with athletes likely to contest the event at the Trials in bold):This event isn’t particularly deep; many of the women expected to vie for the 5,000 team in Eugene either ran the 5,000 at Payton Jordan or already knocked out the standard earlier. But there are plenty of good stories in this race, whether it’s women coming down from the marathon for a run at the Track Trials (Sara Hall, Kellyn Taylor) or getting back into the swing of things on the track after long layoffs (Stephanie Bruce, Jessica Tebo). Jordan Hasay, who’s run 800/1500 doubles in each of the past two weeks in Oregon, will also take a crack at a fast 5,000 here.
|Molly Huddle||14:57.42||5k/10k double is definitely doable but she opted only for 10k last year|
|Marielle Hall||15:06.45||Ran a 10k earlier this year but makes sense to do 5k at Trials|
|Emily Infeld||15:07.18||Ran 5k/10k double at USAs last year but hasn’t raced this year which leads us to believe she’s suffered a setback|
|Shalane Flanagan||15:10.02||Already on marathon team|
|Kim Conley||15:12.73||Could run 10k as well|
|Stephanie Garcia||15:16.56||Will likely run steeple at Trials|
|Katie Mackey||15:16.60||Could run 1500 instead|
|Ashley Higginson||15:18.53||Will likely run steeple at Trials|
So that’s eight women. The number could change (Huddle is a lock if she wants to do the 5k, but it’s possible Hall, Conley or Infeld could skip out on the 5k if they make the 10k team) but that’s not a lot. If anyone can get the standard here (Tebo and Rochelle Kanuho just missed it at Payton Jordan), they’re definitely in the hunt for a spot in Rio.
Men’s 5000 (11:58 p.m. ET)
Olympic standard: 13:25.00 Olympic Trials standard: 13:28.00
This should be a competitive race. The Nike Oregon Project’s Eric Jenkins is the favorite on paper following a strong indoor season that saw him run 7:39 and take third at USA Indoors in the 3k. And with the Olympic standard out of the way, he can focus purely on racing on Friday. 2015 World Championship finalist Tom Farrell of the UK and Jenkins’ collegiate rival Kemoy Campbell are also entered here and should provide good competition (Farrell is also listed in the 1500).
Like Jenkins, both Farrell and Campbell have the standard but that doesn’t mean the race will go slow. One man in particular has a big incentive: Ross Proudfoot. Only three Canadians have the Olympic standard in the 5,000 — Cam Levins, Mo Ahmed and Matt Hughes. But with Hughes likely to do the steeple in Rio, Proudfoot could find himself on the team if he can get under the 13:25 standard (his PR is 13:29).
Finally, a trio of Kenyans-turned-Americans should be near the front. Leonard Korir and Sam Chelanga are more suited to the 10k (both have the standard in that event) but it doesn’t make sense to run a lot of 10ks in a season, making the 5k a nice fit for them here. Stanley Kebenei could be dangerous here as he’s been in fine form so far in 2016. In March, he won the U.S. 15k title, and he ran a steeple pb of 8:22 at Payton Jordan. Kebenei should focus on the steeple at the Trials, but he looks well-positioned to smash his 13:45 5k PR here.
Related: MB: Trouble in NOPland? Rupp SCRATCHES the 5000m at Oxy.
Talk about the 2016 Hoka One One meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Hoka One One Oxy Live Discussion Thread.