Men’s And Women’s 1500 Heats: Much Ado For Nothing As Six Races Are Run To Eliminate Eight Athletes

July 7, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. –  Tonight at the 2016 US Olympic Track and Field Trials six heats of men’s and women’s 1500 heats were run to eliminate eight people. We almost didn’t recap these races out of protest for the absurdity of running such a pointless first round, but here you go. While we understand that USATF has three rounds to correctly mimic the Olympics, we feel if they’re going to go through the trouble, then they should let more people into the meet. A first round with 36 athletes or even 48 would make much more sense and not be a huge waste of everyone’s time. Predictably, no pre-race favorites went home, although a big name was left out on the men’s side as Will Leer wasn’t able to improve on his recent poor form  and finished last in his heat with 3:54.

*MB: What about the sport? USATF does it again – They will run three 1500 heats that will eliminate at most 2 people

Men’s 1,500 Prelims – Advance 24 to 2 semis:  top 6 + 6 times


Ben Saarel brought the pack through 400 in an honest 58.8 and then 800 in 1:59.7.  Things were strung out behind him but with 550 to go there was some shoving and Ford Palmer fell to the track.  It appeared that Jordan McNamara may have been caught up in the confusion as well.

Saarel remained in the lead at 2:59.7 at 1200 and It looked like he would lead every step of the way.  The race took another unexpected turn, and with 50 meters to go he started to tie up and stumbled a bit, knocking down Isaac Presson, who had done a nice job to move into second.

Craig Engels, fourth in the 800 final, was yet again involved in a chaotic race, but this time appeared to be un-involved in any of the falls.  He ended up capitalizing for the win in 3:41.92.  Saarel faded badly to eighth in 3:43.68.

1 (1)

Craig Engels

Ole Miss

3:41.92 Q 5
2 (2)

Daniel Winn

Boston Athletic Association

3:42.22 Q 10
3 (3)

Graham Crawford


3:42.39 Q 7
4 (4)

Jordan McNamara


3:42.58 Q 9
5 (5)

Robby Creese

Penn St.

3:42.89 Q 2
6 (6)

Johnny Gregorek


3:43.04 Q 1
7 (7)

Brandon Hudgins


3:43.25 q 6
8 (8)

Ben Saarel


3:43.68 q  8
9 (9)

Isaac Presson


3:50.01 q 3
10 (10)

Ford Palmer

Hoka One One / NJ-NY TC

3:51.31 4

The Craig Engels Show Continues:

Engels, a rare HSer to break both 1:50 and 9:00 in HS, is having a breakout Trials. He said if a noted front-runner like Izaic Yorks wanted to go for the Olympic standard of 3:36.20, he wouldn’t be opposed to helping out in the final.

Ben Saarel Strained His Hamstring With 50 Meters to Go

Article continues below player.

Saarel has strained his hamstring four times this spring, the most recent coming in this race in the home straight — hence his rapid slide from first to eighth. Saarel was really tying up and struggling to move after the injury, and that looked to have caused Presson to fall behind him. Saarel was initially DQ’d, but later reinstated.

But Saarel, who redshirted indoors and outdoors for Colorado, is now a question mark for Friday’s semis as he said he could barely stand on his leg right now.

Saarel also explained why he wasn’t racing in his Colorado singlet tonight.

Ford Palmer talks about his fall

Palmer’s first question to us in the mixed zone was “Where can I protest?” He got up and finished the race but the appeal was not accepted.

Isaac Person Runs Great, Falls, Still Makes Final

Isaac Person said he ran great “for 1460 meters” until he went down in a fall. In the mixed zone, he said he was hoping to advance to the semis on a petition, but heat #2 was slow so he advanced on time.

Person is the assistant coach at Mississippi where he helps coach Craig Ingels who he called a “freak athlete” and was full of praise.

Jordan McNamara Said He Didn’t “Want To Do A Step of Work”

McNamara, like most of the men in the 1500, doesn’t have the 3:36.20 standard and said he definitely wasn’t thinking about time. When asked out about if he’d rather go for it in the semis or finals, McNamara said, “You need more than one person to be for it so we’ll see what happens.”

Quick Interview With NJ-NY Track Club’s Johnny Gregorek


Heat two began two much more cautiously and Ben Blankenship had the lead at 400 in 65.7.  As the crowd hit 800 meters, Kyle Merber had moved on to his shoulder as it was another slow split, 2:11.7.  

The slow pace had them four abreast with a lap to go.  A 57.8 split by Blankenship heading into 1200 opened things up as he pulled away from the field to with ease to win in 3:49.61, controlling this race every step of the way.  Blankenship had yet another gear in the last lap, closing in 52.88.  Looking just as strong, however, was Robby Andrews, who bided his time and patiently and easily worked his way into fourth in 3:50.26.  Andrews’ final 400 of 52.86 was tied for the best last lap in the field with Colby Alexander, who was second in 3:50.01. Merber finished third in 3:50.07.

1 (9)

Ben Blankenship

Nike OTC

3:49.61 Q 5
2 (10)

Colby Alexander

Hoka One One / NJ-NY TC

3:50.01 Q 8
3 (12)

Kyle Merber

Hoka One One

3:50.07 Q 2
4 (13)

Robby Andrews


3:50.26 Q 4
5 (14)

Sam Prakel


3:50.73 Q 3
6 (15)

Dorian Ulrey

Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC

3:50.80 Q 10
7 (16)

Chad Noelle


3:51.19 9
8 (18)

Lex Williams


3:51.38 1
9 (19)

Jack Bolas

Hoka / NJ-NY TC

3:51.91 6
10 (20)

William Leer


3:54.31 7

Ben Blankenship Dominates Despite Not Needing Too: “If I look like shit tomorrow I’ll regret it.”

Blankenship didn’t let off the gas until really late in heat #2, despite having an auto spot in the book at that point. He said the video board was delayed and he could “see like 10 people with him… so I was like ‘what the hell’’. He advanced with style but said, “If I look like shit tomorrow, I’ll regret it.”

Ben Blankenship Talks Post-Race Said “He’s Ready for Anything Really”

Kyle Merber Is Coming Back From A Sacral Stress Fracture

Merber said he felt really good today which was a big positive after his first race of the outdoor season was only a 3:41. Merber only got in 5-weeks of training as he had a sacral stress fracture so was encouraged to feel as good as he did today saying it was a “million times better” than his 3:41. He felt he was in really good shape before the injury and did a lot of cross training including long inclined walks on the treadmill, so he got back in shape quick. He’s never done 3-rounds before so this will be a new experience for him.

Robby Andrews Wants To WIn, Not Just Make The Team

“We’re there to win. We’re not here to mess around.  I”ll race anyone who wants to race,” said Andrews post race who said he’s ready for any type of race. “We’ll expect it all. If they want to go from 600 out. That’s fine. If they want to make it a 3:34 race, that’s fine. If they want to make it a a 2:11 race, that’s fine, too. We’re here.”

“We definitely worked on the lungs a good bit. The tempo and long runs – they were increasing a lot. And just being able to be their mentally more. We worked more on the mental game than the physical game almost,” Said Andrews. When asked about his speed, Andrews said it was “good” and added, “I ran 1:46 two weeks ago – 53, 53. I don’t think anyone else in the field has gone under 1:37 this year.”

Colby Alexander Has the Fastest 2016 Time in the Field but Only Recently Became Sponsored

Alexander, who ran 3:36 last year and made the U.S. final, was unsponsored as of two weeks ago. He said he tried not to think about being unsponsored and said that coach Frank Gagliano kept telling him to get out there and run hard and “someone will notice.” Hoka One One finally did and now Alexander, who has the top time this year of anyone in the 1500 field, has a sponsor.

Will Leer: “I pretty much had a nervous breakdown in Boston.”

Will Leer was a total non factor today finishing last in heat #2 in 3:54.31. It was the end of a very six tough weeks for Lear. Will ran 3:39.09 and 3:38.23 in mid-May and then its been downhill since as his last two races were a DNF in Portland and a 3:58 in Boston.

Lear said he opened probably as fast as he ever has and “then shit hit the fan.” Leer had been trying to get out of his Nike contract and that was taking its toll, and then Leer started feeling nothing in workouts. “I couldn’t finish a workout, I couldn’t do runs,” Leer said.

But this was the Olympic Trials and Leer had to give it a shot.

“I would have lived with regret if I didn’t step on the track today. #31 (the first person who didn’t qualify (Princeton’s Garrett O’Toole)) is probably a little pissed,” said Leer.

Leer now turns his attention to supporting girlfriend Aisha Praught in Rio in the steeplechase. He doesn’t want his own career to end tonight.


A loaded heat three was out aggressively, as Dusty Solis and Matthew Maton wasted no time in establishing a fast pace, crossing 400 in 56.9.   The big fish (Leo Manzanel, Andrew Wheating, and Matthew Centrowitz) were content to lie in wait in the back of the pack.

Eric Avila took over pacing duties as Solis began to slow significantly, and Avila hit 800 in 1:59.9.  As Manzano and Wheating moved up, Centrowitz remained relaxed in the very back.

Avila crossed 1200 in 3:01.3 with Manzano in second.  The Hayward crowd begin to roar as Wheating moved up quickly on the backstretch to position himself in third. Centrowitz, cool as always, was more patient, and eased his way into the top four over the final 100 meters.

A large pack stayed together in crossing the line and given the relatively honest pacing throughout, four of the six time qualifiers came from this section; hence everyone in this heat advanced;.  Avila held on for first in 3:42.27 with Manzano second in 3:42.28, Wheating third in 3:42.41, and Centrowitz fourth in 3:42.48.

1 (3)

Eric Avila

Hoka One One

3:42.27Q 5
2 (4)

Leonel Manzano

Hoka One One

3:42.28Q 3
3 (6)

Andrew Wheating


3:42.41Q 1
4 (7)

Matthew Centrowitz

Nike Oregon Project

3:42.48Q 7
5 (8)

Thomas Awad


3:42.49Q 2
6 (9)

Matthew Maton


3:42.51Q 9
7 (10)

Izaic Yorks


3:42.57q 8
8 (12)

Frezer Legesse

Under Armour

3:42.74q 10
9 (17)

Duncan Phillips


3:45.05q 6
10 (18)

Dusty Solis

Big Bear TC / New Balance

3:46.08q 4

Eric Avila Goes From Out of the Meet to Prelim Winner

Avila only got his qualifier at the eleventh hour, clocking 3:38.30 at Oregon State on June 26, but he looked good today. Avila and some of the other guys decided to make their heat fast to grab the time qualifiers and it worked as all 10 guys in their heat made it to the next round.

Andrew Wheating Isn’t Chasing The Standard, He’s Here To Win

Wheating said he’s been to the Olympics twice before so maybe it’s “someone else’s turn”. He said he’s running for place and to win and isn’t chasing times, although he wouldn’t be opposed to working with some of the other guys if they decided they wanted to go after the 3:36.20 standard.

Matthew Centrowitz interview

Centro was brief in his comments to the media.

Thomas Awad Interview:

Penn’s Awad said his training has been going great since a disappointing NCAAs.

Izaic Yorks

Women’s 1500 First Round – Advance 23 to 2 semis:  top 6 + 6 times


9 started the heat as Shelby Houlihan was a scratch after advancing in the 5000 earlier in the day.  Amanda Eccleston made the pace honest in heat 1, coming through in 68.1 at 400.

The paced slowed as they hit 800 in 2:19.2 and the entire group remained in contact.

With a lap to go, Rebecca Tracy was poised on the lead…but behind the top two there was trouble, as with 350 to there was a collision and Rachel Schneider went to the ground.  It was hard to tell whether she stumbled over the rail or collided with another runner.  Nevertheless,  she was able to climb back into the race, despite being on the ground for several heart-beats and was able to get up and pass Sarah Brown.

Up-front the top two remained unencumbered and Eccleston (4:13.82) and Tracy (4:13.87) both advanced.  Two high schoolers followed in third and fourth:  Christina Aragon (4:14.06) and Kate Murphy (4:14.11).

1 (1)

Amanda Eccleston


4:13.82 Q 1
2 (2)

Rebecca Tracy


4:13.87Q 2
3 (3)

Christina Aragon


4:14.06 Q 8
4 (4)

Kate Murphy


4:14.11 Q 10
5 (5)

Heather Kampf

ASICS / Team USA Minnesota

4:14.12Q 4
6 (6)

Erin Donohue


4:14.37 Q 9
7 (7)

Alexa Efraimson


4:14.40 q 3
8 (8)

Rachel Schneider

Under Armour

4:22.94 q 5
9 (9)

Sarah Brown

New Balance

4:24.97 7

Shelby Houlihan

Nike Bowerman TC


QT: HS Senior Christina Aragon (who has a faster pb than Elise Cranny) “Really, Really Wanted To Get Out of The Prelim” and Would Love to Make The Final:

QT: High School Junior Kate Murphy Moves On, Says Her Goal is to Make Final

Murphy ran at the back for most of her heat and said that while that wasn’t her plan, she enjoys running at the back and chasing people down. Murphy said that she was nervous heading into the race, but tried to channel that nervousness into excitement.

Murphy was also pleased to be joined in Eugene by her coach and personal massage therapist after they raised over $5,000 through GoFundMe. She said her goal is to make the final on Sunday.

MB: Kate Murphy using Gofundme to get her coaches to Eugene

QT: Sarah Brown’s Return From Pregnancy Was An “Uphill Battle”

This was Brown’s first race on the track since last July as she gave birth to a baby girl on March 4th. Brown said it was an “uphill battle just to get here” as she dealt with multiple injuries including three fractures due to low bone density and only started workouts on the track 3-weeks ago. Even though she didn’t get the “fairytale story” she was happy to be back competing and wants to still run more races with a focus on doing something in the fall. She said the one thing she took out of the entire comeback experience was her “perseverance”. Brown said, “[I was like] a zombie. You cut off my arm and I was still like, ‘No, I’m still going forward.’ I kind of felt like that throughout this whole process.”

QT: Alexa Efraimson Talks About The Fall

Efraimson said she clipped the back of Rachel Schneider and fell on top of her and then hopped back up and then just tried to get back into the top six.

QT: Rachel Schneider Talks About Fall

Schneider missed going to Worlds last year by .01. Today she fell in heat #1, and was hoping to advance on petition but didn’t need it as she still advance on time. She said her fitness is good and now it is on to round #2.


There were two scratches here (Katie Mackey and 800 Olympian Kate Grace).  The early pace, therefore, was very slow, with only 8 runners in the race.  Melissa Salerno and 2012 Trials Champion Morgan Uceny had the early lead, crossing 400 in a pedestrian 73.7.

Elise Cranny, Stephanie Shappert, and Brenda Martinez lurked right behind as Salerno came through 800 in 2:27.6.

With 600 to go, Corey McGee surged to the lead, with Uceny looking relaxed right on her shoulder.

A 68.3 third lap strung out the group a bit and with 150 to go it was Uceny and Martinez leading a group of six to automatic qualifying slots.

Martinez and Uceny crossed the line in identical 4:23.48, with Martinez given the nod for the heat win.

1 (9)

Brenda Martinez

New Balance

4:23.48 Q 3
2 (10)

Morgan Uceny


4:23.48 Q 10
3 (11)

Elise Cranny


4:23.59 Q 1
4 (12)

Kerri Gallagher


4:23.60 Q 9
5 (13)

Stephanie Schappert

Hoka One One / NJ-NY TC

4:23.68 Q 5
6 (14)

Cory McGee

New Balance

4:23.80Q 7
7 (16)

Heather Wilson

Hoka / NJ-NY TC

4:25.07 2
8 (17)

Melissa Salerno


4:35.42 8

Kate Grace



Katie Mackey

Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC


QT: Brenda Martinez on bouncing back from the 800: “We moved forward that night. I woke up a different person.”

Martinez talked a lot about how she has dealt with her heartbreaking Olympic miss in the 800. Martinez said:

“We moved forward that night. I woke up a different person. … There’s been so many times in my life where I felt sorry for myself and that got me nowhere, so why waste your time doing that? … Me and my husband have had so many adversities in our life that we learn. And you move on. And it’s really hard, but … rainy days do happen and you just move forward. … I was in the car and I stopped crying and I was like, ‘You know what, this is God’s plan. … Now I have the 15 which is an opportunity for me to redeem myself.’”

Martinez said that after the 800 she got a sandwich and went home to her dogs which always put her in a good mood. On the 1500 racing she said she felt very good and wasn’t complaining about the mostly pointless first round as you have to get used to three rounds since that’s what they’ll be doing in the Olympics.

QT: Morgan Uceny wants to be top-three through the rounds “because that’s what it’s going to take to make the team”

Uceny said she felt comfortable out there today, though she noted that they weren’t running particularly fast. Uceny also said she likes the fact that there are three rounds at the Olympic Trials.

“That’s what the Olympics are like,” Uceny said. “And I think for anyone going to the Olympics or World Championships, it’s important to know what that feels like, running the rounds.”

She did add that in the case of scratches — like today — the fields should be filled.

“It would be nice if USATF maybe had a clause where if people dropped out and if people paid their own way out and they were here, then fill them in at the last minute.”

QT: Elise Cranny Said Things Have Gone Well Since NCAAs

The Stanford sophomore said she’s been home in Colorado the last month and that things have gone well. Originally, she was planning on racing in Portland pre-Trials but is happy she didn’t.


The only heat to line up its advertised full field of ten runners, heat three was out in a controlled 69.8 at 400 as Jenny Simpson had control of the pacing.

Sara Sutherland sat in second with Shannon Rowbury lurking in third as Simpson brought them through 800 in 2:22.0.

Everyone remained in contention as the group 1200 in 3:21.2.  The group was now in full flight and Simpson assertive in fending off all challengers.

Simpson would power to the win in 4:17.31, leading wire to wire, while Lauren Johnson moved up for second in 4:17.53 and Rowbury was third in 4:17.80.

Simpson’s honest pacing ensured that everyone in heat three advanced to the semi-finals.

1 (8)

Jenny Simpson

New Balance

4:17.31Q 6
2 (9)

Lauren Johnson


4:17.53Q 1
3 (10)

Shannon Rowbury

Nike Oregon Project

4:17.80Q 5
4 (11)

Stephanie Brown


4:17.98Q 10
5 (12)

Sara Vaughn


4:18.01Q 2
6 (13)

Gabriele Grunewald


4:18.07Q 9
7 (14)

Shannon Osika


4:18.27 q 7
8 (15)

Mary Cain

Nike Oregon Project

4:19.10 q 8
9 (16)

Treniere Moser

Nike Oregon Project

4:19.38 q 3
10 (17)

Sara Sutherland


4:19.77 q 4

QT: Jenny Simpson said “it felt right” to go to the front

Simpson said she didn’t plan on leading but she felt comfortable at the front and figured that she might as well lead as the only way she could screw up and miss the final was to fall — and her best chance to not fall was to run up front.

Simpson said that she liked having three rounds here as it serves as a great dress rehearsal for the Olympics and she feels that she does well with rounds.

QT: Shannon Rowbury Says “It’s Not Right” To Have Caster Semenya And Other Intersex Athletes Competing Against Women

Asked about the possibility of facing Caster Semenya in the Rio 1500 Rowbury was strongly opposed and did not hold back or mince words. Rowobury said:

“I think it challenges and threatens the integrity of women’s sports having intersex athletes competing against women. I think Caster [Semenya] is a wonderful person, I have nothing against her. But I think we already have an established precedent of men’s sports and women’s sports and I think we need to honor that. Women have fought far too long to even have the right to compete and now it’s being challenged by intersex and trans athletes and I don’t think that’s right.”

Speaking about her own running when asked about her less than stellar times since indoors, Rowbury said that last year she felt her best races came in July and so this year she trained to “be ready to go in August”. She said she didn’t even start official 1500 training until after the Pre Classic and since then she’s been healthy and training has gone well.

QT: Mary Cain was very upbeat: “I feel I’m completely on the right track.”

We caught up with Cain, who was very much aware of the time needed to qualify out of the last heat. Cain said she just cruised in as she knew she was on pace for a time qualifier as she was told she only needed a 4:23 and hoped that saved energy would save her down the road. Cain said she her main plan was to make sure she didn’t fall so she ran most of it on the outside.

In general, Cain seemed very positive about things.

“This early season I made some training mistakes. It’s one of those things where you live and you learn – that’s why I went pro early so I could make mistakes, learn and go from them,” said Cain. She added that when her mom gave her a pep talk last she said, ‘No matter what. I’m excited for your future.’

Cain shared that sentiment of her mom’s today as she said, “I feel I’m completely on the right track – so excited. I’m feeling good. I’ve had some really good workouts just in the last week – Hopefully that means I’m really ready to go – really ready to click,” said Cain.

When asked what her training mistakes were, Cain said she got little anemic (for a runner she added) and that hurt her indoors. Once that was taken care of she said they immediately hit the track once the outdoor season started and it was “probably a little  too much too soon.”

QT: Gabe Grunewald from Bombing Out in 5000 to Advance in the 1500 in Span of 2 Hours
Gabe Grunewald was the only person in heat #2 of the women’s 5k not to advance running 15:52.

Two hours later she was entered in heat #3 of the 1500 as a backup, and with nothing to lose she ran 4:18.07 to nab an automatic qualifying spot for the final. It was the first 1500m she had finished all year.

What accounted for the amazing transformation?

Some bars and food from the local grocery story in the two hours between races, according to Grunewald. Grunewald said her fitness is good, but she just felt out of energy in the 5000 saying, “With 5 laps to go the general energy was leaving my body I felt hypoglycemic…. I wasn’t sure I should finish the 5…. I’m really happy to die another day. I’m going to come out tomorrow ready to make that final (in the 1500)”.

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