TrackTown Summer Series Preview: Robby Andrews vs. Ben Blankenship in an Olympic Trials Rematch, Plus Matthew Centrowitz vs. Erik Sowinski & Melissa Bishop vs. Brenda Martinez at 800
July 27, 2016
Track & field at the 2016 Summer Olympics begins in 15 days. While most athletes have raced for the final time before toeing the line in Rio, 23 Olympians will run one last tuneup on Friday at Hayward Field in the inaugural TrackTown Summer Series. The “Series” portion of the name is a misnomer — there’s actually only one meet this year — but the hope is that, under the guidance of TrackTown USA president Vin Lananna, the meet will expand across the country in the years to come.
(Editor’s note: TrackTown USA is a non-profit group with Mike Reilly as its CEO and Vin Lananna as its President. The TrackTown Summer Series is run by a for-profit group. LRC asked TrackTown USA’s Communication Director, Curtis Anderson, what formal roles Vin Lananna and Mike Reilly have with the TrackTown Summer Series and whether the financial backers of the TrackTown Summer Series would be announced. Anderson replied, “We have no plans to release that information at this time.”)
This series is playing catch up to the American Track League series run by Paul Doyle which had two meets this year.
The great news for American track fans is for the second week in a row, ESPN will air live track & field in primetime (last week’s American Track League Meet in Houston was on ESPN)– the meet is on Friday from 9:30 p.m. to midnight ET.
There are several tasty matchups on tap. Matthew Centrowitz faces Erik Sowinski and Duane Solomon in the 800, while 2016 Olympians Robby Andrews and Ben Blankenship square off in the 1500. On the women’s side, 2015 World Champs silver medallist Melissa Bishop takes on 2016 Olympians Shannon Rowbury and Brenda Martinez in the 800. The women’s 1500 is deep as well, with 2016 Olympians Emma Coburn and Kate Grace taking on Amanda Eccleston and Morgan Uceny all entered. In non-distance action, Olympic Trials champ Will Claye leads the triple jump field, Olympic champ Brittney Reese is entered in the women’s long jump and Olympic medallist Erik Kynard is in the men’s high jump.
Update: It looks like USA hurdle champ Devon Allen may run as well. We’ve been told there will be one or two surprises announced for the meet and the Eugene Register-Guard is reporting Allen wants to run. The only problem is 8 guys are already entered in the hurdles.
What: 2016 TrackTown Summer Series
When: Friday, July 29
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon
How to watch: Live on ESPN from 9:30 p.m. ET to 12:00 a.m. ET
Final schedule (all times U.S. Pacific)
So What Exactly Is the TrackTown Summer Series?
The idea behind the TrackTown Summer Series is to provide U.S. athletes with top-quality competition during the summer without having to travel to Europe. Strictly in terms of prize money, the Diamond League pays better:
|Place||Diamond League||Summer Series|
But there’s also a team structure to the Summer Series meet, which pays out additional money to the athletes. Eight athletes per team (New York, San Francisco, Portland or Philadelphia) were drafted back on June 25 and an athlete’s appearance fee depends on which the round they were drafted (see below):
Each athlete on the winning team also earns a $1,000 bonus. So say you’re Matthew Centrowitz (Team New York). Centrowitz was the #1 overall pick on the men’s side, so if he wins his race, he earns $7,000. Considering it’s much harder to win a Diamond League race (Centro has never won one), that’s a good payday.
The team system is an intriguing idea, but there are some kinks that need to be worked out. TrackTown held its draft back on June 25 (conducted over Twitter) but there were a ton of unanswered questions at the time. Nobody knew which athletes were eligible, and nobody knew who was making the picks for each team. Now we know which athletes are on which team, but the team designations don’t really mean much. Athletes won’t be wearing team jerseys, so you’ll have to rely on their bibs (which are color-coded) to tell who’s on which team. And since there’s only one meet (and it’s not held in any of the four cities with a team, though Portland is only two hours from Eugene), it’s hard to feel much of a connection to an athlete’s team. If you’re from Philadelphia, are you really going to be rooting extra hard for Phyllis Francis in the women’s 400 when she’s not wearing a Philadelphia jersey and will never race in Philly?
With that said, if Friday’s meet is a success (and for a domestic meet right before the Olympics, the fields are strong), these problems could be solved in the future. Ideally, you’d have meets in all four cities next year and reach an agreement with sponsors to help out. Would it be that much trouble for Nike to make some jerseys with “New York” on the front or adidas to print a few “Portland” jerseys? Each athlete could keep his or her individual sponsor’s logo on the jersey, but having a unified color scheme for each team would make following the meet easier.
Eight athletes score per event, with points from first to eighth as follows: 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Each team consists of 18 men and 18 women, spread across 20 events, with the team that earns the most points declared the winner.
Take a Good Look, Because Hayward Field Will Look Different the Next Time You See It
After the meet is finished, renovation work will begin in order to make Hayward Field ready to host the 2021 World Championships. Per Runner’s World, construction crews will first tackle the iconic East Grandstand (running along to the back stretch) and build a new concourse at the south end (first turn) of the stadium. Construction will then pause so Oregon can host the Pac-12 Championships, Pre Classic and NCAAs in 2017 before finishing up renovations prior to the 2018 season.
Ok, let’s preview the mid-d and distance races.
Men’s and Women’s 4-Mile Road Race (8:15 p.m. ET)
Since these races will be held before the TV broadcast, you probably won’t see much more than highlights of the winners crossing the finish line (which is on the Hayward Field track).
|Sam Chelanga||New York|
|DJ Flores||New York|
|Chris Derrick||San Francisco|
|Ben Bruce||San Francisco|
This race throws together several guys who came just short of making the Olympic team. Scott Fauble, Chris Derrick and Sam Chelanga went 4-5-6 in the 10,000 at the Olympic Trials, while Luke Puskedra and Matt Llano went 4-6 in the Olympic Marathon Trials. You’d think that Fauble, Derrick and Chelanga would have the best shot here, given that four miles is a lot closer to 10k than it is to a marathon. Chelanga has run the fastest of the 10k guys this year (27:54 at Payton Jordan) but Fauble beat him at the Trials and wasn’t much slower at the Stanford Invite (28:00). If Derrick has put together four more weeks of healthy training since the Trials, he could challenge for the win as well.
|Jessica Tebo||New York|
|Megan Patrignelli||New York|
|Tara Welling||San Francisco|
|Lauren Paquette||San Francisco|
Hasay (9th in the 10,000 at the Trials) and Welling (U.S. Half Marathon champ, 9th in the 5,000 at the Trials) had the best Olympic Trials results, though Lauren Paquette had been running well (15:14 sb) until bombing out in the 5,000 prelims (she went on to run 15:28 on July 16 in Belgium).
Women’s 3,000 Steeplechase (9:50 p.m. ET)
|Stephanie Garcia||New York||9:23.48||9:26.26|
|Ashley Higginson||New York||9:27.59||9:29.77|
|Mel Lawrence||San Francisco||9:36.35||9:36.35|
|Nicole Bush||San Francisco||9:24.59||9:39.84|
This is the only distance race on the track without a single Olympian, though it does feature the 4th through 7th place finishers at the Olympic Trials, led by 4th placer Shalaya Kipp. This one figures to be a battle between Kipp and Garcia (Garcia got revenge on Kipp for her defeat at the Olympic Trials, soundly beating her in London on Saturday), though Ashley Higginson — the only other woman in this field to have broken 9:30 this year — is coming off a 4:28 mile on the roads last weekend. We’ll go with Garcia for the win considering she’s been the faster, more consistent performer over the last few years.
Women’s 800 (10:25 p.m. ET)
|Jessica Smith||New York||1:59.86||2:01.84|
|Kendra Chambers||New York||2:00.76||2:00.76|
|Melissa Bishop||San Francisco||1:57.43||1:57.43|
|Shannon Rowbury||San Francisco||2:00.03||2:05.30|
In another year, Melissa Bishop might be the Olympic favorite. The 2015 World Championships silver medallist lowered her own Canadian record to 1:57.43 in Edmonton on July 15, five days after winning her third Canadian title. Only Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba have run faster this year. But given the state of the women’s 800, Bishop’s gold-medal hopes are non-existent. If Bishop runs the race of her life in Rio, she has a shot to beat Niyonsaba or Kenya’s Margaret Wambui on the right day and snag a medal. That’s about the best she can hope for unless the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues a ruling before Rio about Hyperandrogenism.
Bishop faces no such obstacles in this race, and will be favored to win, though Brenda Martinez is not to be discounted. Martinez has broken 1:59 just once since the start of 2014 (for comparison, Bishop has done it four times since June 1) but she looked to be on track to an Olympic berth — and possible national title — over the two-lap distance on July 4 before disaster struck. The 27-year-old Bishop is in the shape of her life, so we expect her to take this one, but Martinez could be dragged to a fast time if Bishop pushes the pace.
Aside from her runner-up showing at the Trials, Shannon Rowbury‘s results haven’t been impressive this outdoor season, but with the Olympics just around the corner, Rowbury should be sharper for this one.
Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase (10:35 p.m. ET)
|Donn Cabral||New York||8:13.37||8:26.37|
|Craig Forys||New York||8:24.09||8:27.19|
|Stanley Kebenei||San Francisco||8:18.52||8:18.52|
All seven men in this field competed in the Olympic Trials final earlier this month, with Donn Cabral (3rd) and Andy Bayer (4th) leading the way. Both Bayer (who ran an 8:17 pb in Monaco on July 15) and Stanley Kebenei (8:18 pb in Rome on June 2, 13th at the Trials) have shown better fitness than Cabral this season, but Cabral husbanded his energy better at the Trials, running both men down over the final lap to grab the third and final ticket to Rio. With no Evan Jager to set a suicidal pace up front, expect Kebenei and Bayer to have more in the tank over the last lap this time. With that said, Cabral is a tough, smart racer, so it would be foolish to count him out.
LRC Pick: Cabral is a two-time Olympian and Olympic finalist. No one else in the field has even been to the Olympics. Cabral FTW.
Men’s 800 (10:53 p.m. ET)
|Matthew Centrowitz||New York||1:44.62||1:47.69|
|Cas Loxsom||New York||1:44.92||1:45.93|
|Erik Sowinski||San Francisco||1:44.58||1:45.35|
|Harun Abda||San Francisco||1:45.55||1:46.16|
Centrowitz was the #1 overall pick in the draft but may not even win his race as he’s competing in the 800 rather than his specialty 1500 distance. Centro, with a 1:44.62 pb, still has plenty of speed, and he almost ran down U.S. 800 champ Clayton Murphy last week in Houston, closing the final 200 of his 1000 in 25-flat.
Some might argue that Erik Sowinski, 5th at the Olympic Trials in the 800, is the man to beat. Sowinski — who, in case you forgot, earned bronze at World Indoors in March — has been remarkably consistent this year, running 1:45 or 1:46 in each of his last six 800’s (including all three rounds at the Trials). Sowinski took a quick trip to Europe earlier this month, running 1:45.44 in Hungary and 1:45.35 in London, and given that both those times are faster than what anyone else in the field has run so far this year, we wouldn’t blame you if you give him the nod particularly since we’re pretty sure that, unlike the Olympic Trials, they’ll be starting this race in lanes.
— Erik Sowinski (@eSowinski) July 26, 2016
We’re picking Centrowitz for the win, however. It may not be the smartest pick but he’s sharp and we want to get excited for the Olympics. A win here over the 800 specialists will get us extra excited for Rio.
Duane Solomon can’t be discounted either. Had he not let up too early in the first round of the Olympic Trials, he might be going to the Olympics. He ran 1:45.51 in Edmonton after the Trials.
Women’s 1500 (11:24 p.m. ET)
|Emma Coburn||New York||4:05.10||4:06.92|
|Katie Mackey||New York||4:03.81||4:06.33|
Along with two recently-crowned U.S. champions (Emma Coburn and Kate Grace) this field contains three women who suffered some serious Olympic Trials heartbreak in Katie Mackey, Morgan Uceny and Amanda Eccleston (Mackey and Eccleston missed the team by one spot, Uceny by two). So far, all three women have bounced back in impressive fashion. Since the Trials, Mackey ran a 3k pb of 8:46 in Monaco followed by a 4:25 mile pb in winning last week’s Morton Mile. Eccleston has PR’d at 1500 twice (4:04 then 4:03), while Uceny missed her SB by just .02 in London last Friday.
If you’re wondering how they can rebound from such an emotional moment, then you NEED to read Eccleston’s recent blog post, “0.03 Seconds“. Here’s an excerpt:
You see the scenario playing out in your head thousands of times, sprinting down the homestretch battling neck and neck with another athlete for that final coveted Olympic spot, and you wonder if you’ll really dive for it when the time comes, so you just imagine that you throw yourself across the line and the crowd will scream like crazy because you just slipped into that third spot and will forever be an Olympian. And that’s exactly how the story played out, with a fairy tale ending, only it wasn’t my fairy tale.
The article is extremely well-written, and in it, Eccleston explains how she’s used the support she’s received and her love of the support to turn a near-miss into a positive experience.
In terms of this race, Eccleston and Uceny will certainly like their chances, but they’ll have their hands full with Grace, who has effortlessly switched between the 800 and 1500 this season. With everyone in the field running well (Coburn set the America record in the steeple last year and is coming off her third straight U.S. title; Lauren Johnson was bumped in the OT 1500 final and forced to step inside the rail with a lap to go but still managed eighth), this should be a fast, compelling race.
Our pick: Grace FTW.
Men’s 1500 (11:35 p.m. ET)
|Eric Jenkins||New York||3:38.98||3:39.86|
|Johnny Gregorek||New York||3:37.36||3:37.36|
|Colby Alexander||San Francisco||3:36.26||3:36.26|
|Robby Andrews||San Francisco||3:34.78||3:34.88|
This is the race of the meet, so it’s only fitting that it’s the final individual event. You’ve got three Olympians (David Torrence (Running for Peru now), Robby Andrews, Ben Blankenship) and a total of six guys from the 1500 final at USAs plus Eric Jenkins (4th in 5k) and Ryan Hill (6th in 5k), who at 3:35 has run faster than anyone else in the field this year save Andrews. Andrews crushed everyone except for Centrowitz at the Trials, and he will be the favorite in this race as well. Andrews has always been able to kick off a slow pace, but since returning to coach Jason Vigilante last year, he’s gradually built his strength up, which has enabled him to use that devastating kick even in faster races. Recall that at the Olympic Trials, he ran the second-fastest time of his career (3:34.88) while closing in 54.27 — Centro was the only other guy to go sub-56 on his last lap, and Andrews was actually gaining on him at the end of the race.
That means the rest of the field is in trouble, even though every guy entered is fit and ready to run fast. Blankenship hasn’t raced since the Trials, but he showed his fitness by making the team; both Hill and Eric Avila are coming off big PRs in Europe; NJ*NY TC teammates Johnny Gregorek, Kyle Merber and Colby Alexander went 1-2-3 at the Morton Mile in Dublin last week; Jenkins missed the Olympics by .06 of a second, while Torrence was third behind Centrowitz and Murphy in the 1k in Houston on Saturday.
LRC Prediction: Based on the Trials, Andrews is your champion with Blankenship second, but it’s anyone’s guess as to the order behind them. It needs to be remembered that Andrews crushed Blankenship at the Trials (1.30 seconds).
Other Events. While there isn’t a sprinter the caliber of Asafa Powell or Andre De Grasse, you can see the start lists here as there are a slew of Olympians in the non-distance events.
Talk about the meet on our fan forum / messageboard: MB: 1st TrackTown Summer Series Meet will be live on ESPN on Friday 9:30-midnight ET. Talk about the meet here.