US Olympic Trials Men’s 1500 Preview: Can Anyone Stop Centro? And Will Anyone Else Get the Standard?

July 6, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. — One of the greatest events in track and field — the United States Olympic Team Trials — are halfway over. No domestic event holds more significance or produces more drama than this meet. has all hands on deck, providing wall-to-wall coverage from Eugene. Below is our look at the men’s 1500.

Schedule/entries * TV/streaming information * LRC Trials coverage hub

Men’s 1500 (prelims Thursday, 10:21 p.m. ET; semis Friday, 7:12 p.m. ET; final Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET) *Rio Standard is 3:36.20

Name Affiliation Qualifying time SB Comment
Matthew Centrowitz Nike OP / Nike Oregon Project 3:30.40 3:37.81 World Indoor Champ, clear US #1. He’s a lock barring a ‘Uceny’
Kyle Merber Hoka One One 3:34.54 3:41.25 Did a great workout recently according to the forums, but only run 3:41 this year
Ben Blankenship Nike BTC 3:35.48 3:53.83 mile Just missed team last year, running very well in 2016 (7:44i, 3:53 mile) but hasn’t raced since May 28. On purpose or is there an injury?
Robby Andrews adidas 3:35.52 3:37.52 Ran well indoors (4th at Worlds). Great tactical speed
Leonel Manzano Hoka One One 3:36.16 3:39.70 Olympic silver medallist has made every team he has tried out for since 2006. On comeback this year. Ran 3:39.7 for 2nd last time out which was a big improvement
Colby Alexander New Jersey New York Track Club 3:36.26 3:36.26 Didn’t make NCAAs last year. 9th at USAs last year. Can he run well in a tactical race?
Frezer Legesse Under Armour 3:36.93 3:44.14  Trains with Leo Manzano
Ford Palmer Hoka One One / New Jersey New York Track Club 3:36.98 3:38.35 11th last year, 5th in ’14
Isaac Presson 3:37.06 3:42.04
Graham Crawford 3:37.08 3:37.08
Jordan McNamara Nike OTC / NIKE OTCE 3:37.20 3:38.07 Made final in 2012. Won Harry Jerome this year
John Gregorek ASICS / New Jersey New York Track Club 3:37.36 3:37.36 Has famous last name, ran at Columbia like Merber
Daniel Winn Boston Athletic Association 3:37.56 3:38.81 7th last year
Izaic Yorks 3:37.74 3:37.74 Tough ask to beat all these guys and get the standard but he does well in faster races.
Thomas Awad Penn 3:37.75 3:37.75  Ivy League record holder
Brandon Hudgins 3:38.20 3:38.20
William Leer 3:38.23 3:38.23 Used to run for Nike
Duncan Phillips 3:38.28 3:38.28
Eric Avila Hoka One One 3:38.30 3:38.30
Dorian Ulrey Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 3:38.34 3:38.34 Former World Champs team member
Chad Noelle 3:38.35 3:39.15 2015 NCAA champ
Benjamin Saarel Colorado 3:38.40 3:38.40
Samuel Prakel Oregon 3:38.43 3:38.43
Jack Bolas New Jersey New York Track Club 3:38.52 3:42.99
Andrew Wheating Nike OTC / NIKE OTCE 3:38.60 3:38.60 2-time Olympian and former stud. Can he find the Hayward magic?
Matthew Maton Oregon 3:38.62 3:38.62  Oregon runner went sub-4 in HS
Lex Williams Saucony 3:38.77 3:38.77
Craig Engels Ole Miss 3:38.82 3:38.82 4th in 800 at Trials
Robby Creese Penn St. 3:39.02 3:42.29  Hasn’t run great this year
Dusty Solis 3:39.32 3:39.32

Before we get into any talk of who will actually win this race, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Unless someone runs faster than 3:36.20 this week, the U.S. men’s 1500 team will be some combination of the following five men: Matthew CentrowitzKyle Merber, Ben Blankenship, Robby Andrews and Leo Manzano. No one else has the Olympic standard, and even if someone else finishes in the top three overall and is in position to elicit an IAAF invite, USATF will still take the top three finishers with the standard. And there’s no chasing the standard after the meet, which means that if guys like Colby Alexander want to make the Olympic team, they’ll need to break 3:36.20 in either the prelims, semis or final. Trying to do it in the prelim is tough; it’s less risky (only six guys are eliminated) but the semifinal is 21 hours later. Trying to do it in the final is also tough — whoever chooses to lead could wind up as the the sacrificial lamb and have nothing left for a kick. Remember, four years ago only six of the 12 finalists had the Olympic ‘A’ standard — and the only guy who made an effort to get it in the final, Will Leer, wound up dead last.

This may not end up mattering anyway. The top four from last year — Centrowitz, Andrews, Manzano and Blankenship — all have it, and they’re also the four best guys in this year’s field. Yes, Colby Alexander has been on fire this spring (and had the coolest sponsorship announcement of the year) but he hasn’t faced Centro, Andrews or Blankenship. And the Manzano he beat at Oxy on May 20 was nowhere near 100%.

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Centro and Andrews battled all the way to the line at USA Indoors this year Centro and Andrews battled all the way to the line at USA Indoors this year

Centrowitz has to be the favorite. The knock on Centro is that he’s only raced at two meets this year outdoors — a 1:47.69/3:41.39 double at the Portland Track Festival on June 12 and a 3:37.81 1500 win at the Stumptown Twilight meet on June 23. That second race was all we needed to see from Centro. He took what was a close race with 200 to go and turned it into a joke, winning by 2.41 seconds in the end over Andrew Wheating. 

Don’t overthink this. Centro was way better than everyone last year at USAs (his 1.50-second margin of victory was the biggest in 11 years), ran a 3:50 mile and won Worlds indoors. Andrews was a lot closer to him at USAs indoors in March than he was last year, but Centro’s Worlds performance showed he’s still the top dog. Centro was dealing with a stress reaction earlier this spring, which caused him to scratch from the Pre Classic, but remember that he underwent knee surgery in April 2012 and rebounded just fine from that — he made the Olympic team and placed fourth in London. Centro will be fine.

So too will Andrews. The 25-year-old has only run one 1500 outdoors, and it wasn’t exactly a confidence booster. Though the 3:37 time at the adidas Boston Boost Games on June 17 wasn’t awful, when he went to draw on his famous kick on the final turn, nothing was there. But Andrews told us afterward that training was going well and he wasn’t worried, and his two other races this spring suggest that is true. On May 20, he won the 800 at Oxy (1:47.22) and on June 25 he clocked 1:46.06 to win the USATF Club Champs. That’s almost exactly the same as what Andrews ran last year in the buildup to USAs (he ran 1:45.98 at the NY Diamond League, but that was with David Rudisha towing the field along). Andrews has been the U.S.’s clear #2 since the start of 2015 and he was just .07 from upsetting Centro at USA Indoors. He should be on the team as well.

The battle for third will likely come down to the same two men as last year: Manzano and Blankenship, who were separated by just .02 at USAs in 2015. Blankenship’s presence is easy to justify. He was third at USA Indoors, well ahead of everyone save Centro and Andrews, and though he hasn’t raced much outdoors, all his outings have been solid. He destroyed everyone to win the U.S. road mile champs on May 12 and then ran 3:53 at Pre on May 28 to finish as the top American in the Bowerman Mile. He hasn’t raced since then, but that’s part of Blankenship’s plan: he spent a month at altitude in Flagstaff readying himself for the Trials.

“I love racing, and I think most people do who are in this sport,” he told the Eugene Register-Guard. “But I also like training. For me, the bigger block of training I can get in, the more variety of workouts I can do, the more it helps. Last year I did a lot of racing when I came out of altitude. I probably raced three times as much as this year.”

Look solely at Manzano’s 2016 season and he doesn’t belong in this discussion. He switched coaches from John Hayes to Ryan Ponsonby (who coached him in the past) and has missed several chunks of training this year with injury and illness. His results (courtesy of All-Athletics) don’t paint a picture of an Olympic 1500 runner.

Date Competition Event Cnt. Cat Typ Nr. Pl. Result Score
16.01.2016 College Station Texas A&M Team Invitational 800m ind. USA F F 1. 1:50.15 1076
31.03.2016 Austin Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays 800m USA D F 1 5. 1:49.92 1028
20.05.2016 Los Angeles Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic 1500m USA E F 4 13. 3:43.86 1055
28.05.2016 Eugene Prefontaine Classic Mile USA F F 5. 4:00.27 1071
18.06.2016 Renton Brooks PR Invitational 1500m USA F F 2. 3:39.70 1110
Could the reigning Olympic silver medallist miss out on the team four years later? Could the reigning Olympic silver medallist miss out on the team four years later?

Those results actually look like those of a pretty decent college runner, not the Olympic silver medallist.

However, Manzano is famously inconsistent, and he’s a fighter, and he saves his best performances for the biggest stages. He has finished top-3 at 10 straight U.S. championships — dating back to his sophomore year at Texas — and he’s the reigning Olympic silver medallist. While his first three outdoor races this year were awful, his second at Brooks PR — where he beat Izaic Yorks and Clayton Murphy among others, running 3:39 into high winds — was a sign of life. If Manzano didn’t suffer any setbacks in the two and a half weeks since then, his championship experience should carry him through the rounds. And in the final, he only has to beat two guys in the final (unless it goes fast). Manzano’s not a lock for the team, but it would be foolish to count him out.

Merber had a good year last year (3:34 pb, 6th at USAs) and appeared set up to make a serious run at the Olympic team this year. But injuries have limited him to just one outdoor race — a 3:41 at Princeton on June 18 in a race that was won in 3:36. It’s hard to pick him to make the team off of that, especially since the 25-year-old hasn’t been close to making a team in the past.

The Non-Standard Guys

As mentioned earlier, ther former Oregon Duck Colby Alexander has been terrific this year. In his last three races, he’s gotten faster each time out, placing second at Oxy in 3:38, winning the Furman Elite 1500 in 3:37 and coming just .06 shy of the Olympic standard in winning at Princeton on June 18. But can Alexander, who didn’t even make NCAAs last year (though he was coming off injury and did go on to place 9th at USAs) survive three rounds and close hard in the final?

Wheating was fifth last year Wheating was fifth last year

2004 and 2008 Olymipan Andrew Wheating barely made it into the Trials (he did not achieve the 3:38.00 standard) but he is a two-time Olympian and is still only 28. But he hasn’t hit the Olympic standard since June 2012 and hasn’t broken 1:47 since 2013. Wheating looked good early in 2016, winning his three indoor races, but an ankle injury cost him time (a common theme in Wheating’s career) and his outdoor races have seen middling results. But part of that is because Wheating has been chasing the Trials/Olympic standard, rather that doing what he does best: relying on his kick to prevail in tactical races. Wheating said that is the approach he will take at the Trials.

“I’ve got this weird confidence now,” he told the Oregonian on Monday. “I’m not looking for Olympics and what’s going to happen this summer. I just want to win trials. I think it’d be so cool to do that on my home track in front of family and fans.”

Wheating was 5th last year and he’s actually run faster at both 800 (1:47.33 vs. 1:47.75) and 1500 (3:38.60 vs. 3:38.75) heading into the Trials this year than he did heading into USAs last year. Wheating’s chances of making the team are slim, simply because he doesn’t have the time, but don’t rule out Wheating conjuring some more Hayward magic on his home track.

There are a few other guys who could make some noise. Columbia/Oregon alum Johnny Gregorek hasn’t been far behind NJ*NY TC clubmate Alexander recently and is the son of Olympian/3:51 miler John GregorekJordan McNamara has made four U.S. finals and has finished first or second in four of his five races this year. Izaic Yorks was second at NCAAs but may not have the kick to succeed in the Trials. Craig Engels was fourth in the 800 earlier in the Trials and said that he considers himself a 1500 runner.

LRC Prediction: 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. Based on results, we’d be foolish to bet against Blankenship but we’re going to pick Manzano — he’s come through too many times after being written off. 10 years in a row is hard to bet against but we do realize all great competitiors eventually succumb to ‘Father Time’ . Nick Symmonds always came through in the men’s 800 -until suddenly he didn’t this year.

With that said, no one has dominated this event outdoors this spring, leaving the door open for someone to surprise in the final. But unless they can somehow get the standard — and no one in this field has broken 3:36.20 this year — they won’t be on the plane to Rio.

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