July 10, 2016
EUGENE, Ore. — Same four guys. Same track. Different outcome.
One year ago, in the USA 1500 final, Matthew Centrowitz won his third national title as Robby Andrews, Leo Manzano and Ben Blankenship waged an epic home-stretch battle for the remaining two spots on Team USA. On that day, Blankenship was the hard-luck fourth placer, finishing .03 behind Andrews and .02 behind Manzano.
Today, at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, the top two spots in the men’s 1500 were the same, Centrowitz once again proving his class up front in 3:34.09 and Andrews (3:34.88) taking second with a lot more breathing room than 2015. But the battle for third was intense, with Blankenship and Manzano re-enacting their thrilling finish from a year ago. This time, it was Manzano who came up short, cracking just before the line to allow Blankenship to make his first Olympic team, running 3:36.18 to Manzano’s 3:36.62. It was the first time in 11 appearances at the U.S. championships that Manzano, who earned silver at the 2012 Olympics, placed outside the top three.
The pace was fast as some athletes chose to chase the Olympic standard of 3:36.20 (only Centrowitz, Andrews, Blankenship, Andrews and Kyle Merber had it). The result was a new Olympic Trials (and USATF Outdoor Championship) record of 3:34.09 for Centrowitz. Perhaps poetically, only three men achieved the standard in the race: the three Olympians, Centrowitz, Andrews and Blankenship.
The big question heading into this one was whether any of the men without the standard would try to push the pace, and that was answered quickly by Jordan McNamara, who shot to the lead early, stringing out the field along the first turn. But things began to bunch up on the home stretch, which led to some contact: Eric Avila cut in front of Blankenship, who responded by pushing Avila to create room to run. Immediately, an official’s flag went up, signaling a possible foul.
McNamara towed the field through 400 in 58.01 before Avila took over on the second lap. Just before 800 (1:57.33), Yorks passed Avila and continued to press. The standard was well within reach with a fast close. At that point, the field was strung out single-file, with Yorks leading Avila, Blankenship, Centrowitz, Manzano, Colby Alexander and Andrews.
Things got serious when Blankenship moved to the lead at the bell, followed closely by Centrowitz, Manzano and Andrews, who wasn’t taking any risks by hanging back. With the quick pace Centrowitz hung on Blankenship’s shoulder for half a lap before taking the lead just before the final turn. At that point, the top four were breaking away from a fading Yorks, with Blankenship a stride behind Centrowitz and a slight gap back to Manzano and Andrews in third and fourth.
Centro broke away and by the time he hit the homestretch, he was five meters clear and en route to another national title. Andrews, who launched into his trademark kick on the final turn, had moved up into second by that point and was sprinting away for second.
The question was who would get third? Manzano moved onto Blankenship’s shoulder with 100 to go and drew level with 60 to go. But as soon as he did, Blankenship responded and that was it. Manzano tried desperately to call on his remaining strength but his reserves were dry; Blankenship was the third Olympian unless he was disqualified. Blankenship had pushed Avila early in the race and he and Manzano had made contact during the final 100m.
A protest was filed by Manzano and the race was reviewed by officials but ultimately the contact was ruled incidental. Eric Avila told LRC (video below) that he if anyone was responsible for the contact with Blankenship and Blankenship should not be DQd. Fortunately for Blankenship the officials agreed and he is off to Rio.
Results *Race Video
Nike Oregon Project
Hoka One One
ASICS / NJ-NY TC
Hoka One One / NJ-NY TC
Boston Athletic Association
Hoka One One
Hoka One One
Nike OTC / NIKE OTCE
Nike OTC / NIKE OTCE
QT: This race went almost exactly according to form
Here’s what we wrote in our preview at the start of the Trials:
Centrowitz and Andrews have been the two best guys in the U.S. of late and we don’t anticipate that changing at the Trials. The third Olympic spot is trickier. Manzano and Blankenship were extremely close last year, and it could come down to a similar margin again in 2016.
That’s exactly what happened — though to be fair, we picked Manzano to edge Blankenship instead of the other way around.
QT: Centrowitz was brilliant (again) but Andrews has closed the gap from last year
In 2015, there was absolutely no doubt who the best 1500-meter runner in America was as Centrowitz simply crushed the field in the U.S. final, winning by a massive 1.50 seconds. Centrowitz ran another spectacular race today — he was over two seconds ahead of fourth, three seconds ahead of fifth and four seconds ahead of sixth — but Andrews was actually closing the gap toward the end. Of course, Centro may have had an extra gear in reserve, but Andrews has been more competitive with Centro than this year, as he was just .07 behind at USA Indoors and .79 back today.
QT: Blankenship was very businesslike after making his first Olympic team
If you didn’t know the results, it would be hard to tell Blankenship just qualified for the Olympics. He said that he’s been thinking about this for a year, and said that he simply did his job out there by getting top three.
“Really it’s a prelim to do another prelim,” Blankenship said. “Hopefully all can go well down in Rio.”
Blankenship was full of praise for Manzano afterwards.
“Every time you race Leo, he’s going to be in it. He’s a fighter. I knew if I was going to make the team, I was going to have to beat Leo. That was my idea last year, if I was going to make the team, I had to beat Leo. This year I finally came up with it.”
QT: Manzano would not have changed anything and wasn’t even sure he would be able to make it out here after a turbulent season
Manzano ran a strong race and was where he needed to be at the end of the race.
“I just didn’t have any more in the tank,” he admitted afterwards.
That Manzano was even close is a testament to his perseverance. He came down with bronchitis in December, battled pneumonia in January and got sick again in April. In between, his uncle died in what Manzano said “appeared to be an attempted robbery”; Manzano also switched coaches from John Hayes to Ryan Ponsonby in February.
Manzano’s training and racing suffered as a result, but he was happy with his recent training and his result here given the setbacks.
QT: All Streaks Must Come To An End
Today’s win by Centrowitz stopped two streaks. For the last 10 years, Leo Manzano had finished top 3 at USAs. This afternoon, he was 4th.
Leo Manzano’s Career Finishes at USAs (all in 1500)
It also stopped the alternating of wins we’d seen over the last five years at USAs between Manzano and Centrowitz (In 2014, Centro didn’t race at USAs).
2011 – Matthew Centrowitz 3:37.25
2012 – Leo Manzano 3:35.75
2013 – Matthew Centrowitz 3:45.17
2014 – Leo Manzano 3:38.63
2015 – Matthew Centrowitz 3:37.25
2016 – Matthew Centrowitz 3:34.09
QT: What A Meet For Ole Miss’ Craig Engels
Engels was only 7th in the 1500 at NCAAs, but then came into the Olympic Trials and got 4th in the 800 and 5th in the 1600. After the 800 Engels mentioned “maybe repeating what [Clayton Murphy] did in the NCAA” next year. We’d say that’s looking like a very good possibility. Certainly no returning collegiate distance runners were anywhere near as good as Engels at this meet.
12 Minutes with Centro
The champ talks London, Rio, everything in between and even the women of Brazil.
QT: Robby Andrews was hoping to gun down Centro but was thrilled to make the team
Andrews was full of praise for his family (his dad runs his workouts a lot of the time) and coach Jason Vigilante after this one was over.
QT: You gotta respect Yorks, McNamara and Avila for going for the standard
A big question before this race started was, “Would the guys without the standard go for it?” They definitely did. And for the record, the top 3 finishers in the race were all under the 3:36.20 standard although none of the guys helping with the pace early were anywhere near the top 3. The plan hatched pre-race was for Jordan McNamara to lead early before Izaic Yorks would take over. Eric Avila, who wasn’t part of the pre-race planning ended up realizing that the guys were going for it and leading some of the early going as well.
Jordan McNamara post-race: (Before the video with McNamara started recording, he said that he said he’d go for the team after the semis and he meant it)
Yorks said post-race that he wanted McNamara to lead early as he sometimes gets the early pacing wrong. He said he’s not sure if he’s in quite as good of shape now as he was earlier in the year.
Avila talks about the race below and said for the record that he didn’t think Ben Blankenship should be DQd for shoving him early in the race. Avila said if anything he thought the contact was his fault as he cut in when there wasn’t a lot of space.
Andrew Wheating post-race:
Wheating said that he realized with 600 to go he didn’t have it today. Looking forward to the future, he’s looking for answers as his strength (his kick) doesn’t seem to be there anymore and he’s never been much of an endurance guy.
Post-Race Press Conference: