US Olympic Trials Women’s 1500 Preview: Simpson & Rowbury Should (Probably) Make It? Who Will Emerge in the Battle for Third?

July 7, 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 women’s 1500.

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

Women’s 1500 (prelims Thursday, 9:26 p.m. ET; semis Friday, 8:03 p.m. ET; final Sunday, 8:00 p.m. ET) *Rio Standard is 4:07.00

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Name Affiliation Qualifying time SB Comment
Shannon Rowbury Nike Oregon Project 3:56.29 4:04.65 AR holder was beaten by Simpson, Martinez and Houlihan at Pre showing she’s not invincible
Jennifer Simpson New Balance 3:57.30 4:01.57 Former world champ. US leader at 4:01.57 this year
Sarah Brown New Balance 4:03.20 4:09.16 Give her some slack for only running 4:09 this year. She gave birth March 4th
Alexa Efraimson Nike 4:03.39 4:06.38 Teen phenom was last at Pre, also is going to World jrs
Shelby Houlihan Nike BTC / Bowerman Track Club 4:03.39 4:03.39 Will likely scratch after making 5k final
Kerri Gallagher Nike 4:03.56 No mark Made team last year but has raced only once since Feb.
Brenda Martinez New Balance 4:03.57 4:03.57 Looking for 1st Olympic spot after her 800 bid ended in disaster
Katherine Mackey Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 4:03.81 4:06.33 Will likely scratch after making 5k final
Morgan Uceny adidas 4:03.94 4:03.94 2011 World #1 is slowly regaining her form
Gabriele Grunewald Brooks 4:04.26 No mark Will likely scratch after making 5k final
Heather Kampf ASICS / Team USA Minnesota 4:04.46 4:04.46 5th fastest in US this year
Lauren Johnson 4:05.29 4:05.29 Made Worlds last year
Amanda Eccleston Brooks 4:05.56 4:05.56
Sara Sutherland Saucony 4:06.43 4:06.43
Rachel Schneider Under Armour 4:08.70 4:08.70
Treniere Moser Nike OP / Nike Oregon Project 4:07.04 4:07.04 US champ in ’05, ’06, ’07 and ’13
Kate Murphy 4:07.21 4:07.21 HS junior
Stephanie Brown Nike 4:07.55 4:09.16
Mary Cain Nike OP / Nike Oregon Project 4:09.08 4:10.84 Made world final in 2013 as a 17-year-old. Now she looks up at high schooler Kate Murphy having run 4:07 this year
Shannon Osika 4:09.08 4:09.08
Christina Aragon 4:09.27 4:09.27 HS senior is Stanford-bound in fall
Cory McGee New Balance 4:09.38 4:08.65 Made World Indoor team
Stephanie Schappert Hoka One One / New Jersey New York Track Club 4:09.41 4:09.41
Melissa Salerno ASICS 4:09.49 4:18.32
Elise Cranny Stanford 4:09.54 4:09.54 NCAA runner-up turned 20 in May. Prd for 1st time since HS at NCAAs.
Heather Wilson New Jersey New York Track Club 4:09.57 4:23.22
Rebecca Tracy Oiselle 4:09.75 4:09.75
Sara Vaughn Brooks 4:10.19 4:10.19
Erin Donohue 4:11.22 4:11.22  Former Olympian was last one in.

It’s been said before, but we’ll say it again. Running three rounds in this event with a field this small makes no sense at all. There are 29 names on the list above (Kate Grace is on the start list but she’s a scratch), but when the heats go off on Thursday evening, there could only be 26 women in the field (hat tip to Ryan Fenton/Steve Magness) as Shelby HoulihanKatie Mackey and Gabriele Grunewald will all likely scratch assuming they make the 5k final. So USATF is running three prelims on Thursday and will, in all likelihood, only eliminate two women (and a maximum of five).

Yes, there are three rounds at the Olympics, but the field size there is 50% larger (45 women). If you’re going to run three rounds at the Trials, make the field bigger than 30 athletes (this goes for the men’s 1500 too). Expanding the field isn’t going to knock out any of the big names, it allows more athletes to compete at the greatest meet on U.S. soil and provides extra excitement for the spectators (even dyed-in-the-wool track fans become restless watching pointless races). We’d even be fine going to 48 athletes — four heats in the prelims, two in the semis, one in the final. Please tell us why this shouldn’t happen.  If they had even let 36 people in, former NCAA champs Emily Lipari and Brie Felnagle would be competing.

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

Simpson edged Rowbury last year at USAs Simpson and Rowbury were the class of the field last year

In terms of the final, Jenny Simpson has to be the favorite. The two-time World Championship medallist has won two straight U.S. titles and is the U.S. leader by almost two seconds at 4:01.57. Simpson is strong, consistent and an excellent championship runner. She’s not a lock to win, but she’s a lock to make the team.

Shannon Rowbury is also a good bet to make the team, but after running 3:56 to break the American record last summer and winning World Indoor bronze in the 3k in March, she has not been as dominant outdoors. Her first two races were essentially run as a workout (2:05 and 4:06 at Oxy on May 20), so the times there aren’t that important. But at the Pre Classic, Rowbury was only fourth among Americans, running 4:04 (Simpson, Shelby Houlihan and Brenda Martinez all beat her handily). She won her final pre-Trials race, running 4:09 to edge Canadian Gabriela Stafford at Harry Jerome on June 17.

Rowbury isn’t blowing people away, but we’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She and Simpson have dominated this event domestically for years, and Rowbury’s coach Alberto Salazar likes his athletes to peak twice: at the end of indoors and the end of outdoors. The end of this year’s indoor season was a little later than usual (March 20), so Rowbury may just be taking her time, knowing that the Trials and the Olympics are what matter.

The real question is who gets the third spot, and there are a ton of women in the hunt. Let’s run through them one-by-one.

  • Brenda Martinez: Martinez looked poised to win the 800 — or at the very least, make the team — on Monday before she was clipped on the final turn. It was a heartbreaking moment for Martinez, but the good news is that she’s an excellent 1500-meter runner. She won USA Indoors this year and was the top non-Ethiopian-born finisher at World Indoors (5th). Outdoors, she has the #2 time among entrants at USAs (assuming Houlihan scratches), running 4:03 at Pre; her 4:00.94 pb is bettered by only Simpson, Rowbury and Morgan Uceny.

  • Morgan Uceny: The 2012 Trials champ saw her form dip over the last couple of years — she didn’t even make the final at USAs last year — but she’s looked good in her last two 1500’s, running 4:09 to win her heat at Oxy and securing the Olympic standard by winning the Furman Elite 1500 in 4:03 on June 4. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but the talent is there: remember, Uceny finished 2011 ranked as the world #1 and made the World Championship final that year and the Olympic final the next year. At 31, she may never return to that level, but she’s trending in the right direction and will be dangerous at the Trials.
  • Cory McGee: The runner-up at USA Indoors, she made the team in 2013 as well and enters in good form, with an 800 pb on June 11 (2:01.94) and a win at the adidas Boost Boston Games on June 18 (4:08.65). McGee’s chances of finishing top three are decent, but she also needs to achieve the Olympic standard of 4:07 to make it to Rio — a time she’s bettered just once in her life.
  • Kerri Gallagher: She made the team in 2015 and was looking good earlier this year (second in Millrose Mile in 4:26) but then didn’t race again until the US Club Champs on June 25, where she was a distant third in 4:26. She may not be healthy enough to contend in Eugene.
  • Heather Kampf: Best known for her road exploits, Kampf has run 4:04 and 2:00 in her last two races, good signs heading into the Trials. Kampf is good — she’s finished sixth and seventh in the last two USA finals — but she’ll need to reach a new level to make the team.
  • Lauren Johnson: The soft-spoken 29-year-old was a World Championship semifinalist last year. Her last 1500 — a 4:16 at Harry Jerome — was a disaster, but she did run 4:05 earlier this year.
  • Amanda Eccleston: Eccleston was third at USA Indoors and has run 4:05 outdoors.
  • Cain winning World Juniors in 2014 at Hayward Field; can she recapture that form? Cain winning World Juniors in 2014 at Hayward Field; can she recapture that form?

    Mary Cain: This is not the Mary Cain of 2013-14 that was setting the world on fire — she’s run six 1500’s this year (including indoors) and hasn’t finished higher than third or run faster than 4:10.84. She doesn’t have the Olympic standard, either. But Cain has been making gradual progress (she just missed her 5k pb, running 15:49 on June 23 even though she was doubling back from a 1500 earlier in the night) and she enters this year’s championships with low expectations and low pressure compared to years past. And even though Cain wasn’t running well last year, she still took eighth in the final at USAs. Cain probably won’t make the team this year, but at 20, she’s not done either.

  • Alexa Efraimson: 6th at USA Indoors and ran 4:03 last year as a HS senior. But she was last in the 1500 at Pre.
  • Sarah Brown: Props to Brown (who was 9th last year) for giving it a go after giving birth on March 4, but three months to lose the pregnancy weight and get in shape for one of the biggest races of her life just isn’t enough.

Also look out for NCAA runner-up Elise Cranny of Stanford (4th at World Juniors in 2014) and high school junior Kate Murphy of Virginia, whose 4:07.21 at the adidas Boost Boston Games put her at #3 on the all-time HS list. They won’t make the team but might emerge as fan favorites.

LRC Prediction: Simpson and Rowbury’s talent wins out and they go 1-2 in the final. The third spot is a tougher call but we’re going with Martinez. It doesn’t matter that she’ll be extra motivated — everyone at the Trials is motivated. What we like about Martinez is that she’s fit. She looked great in the 800 and if anyone is going to double back from the 800 and run well in the 1500, it’s her. She’ll put her 800 demons behind her and qualify for her first Olympic team.

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