2017 USA Men’s Mid-D/Steeple Preview: Centro & Jager Look to Extend Win Streaks as Murphy Tackles an Epic Double
June 20, 2017
The 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships will be held this week at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California, and LetsRun.com will be on-site all week providing coverage as America’s best runners, jumpers and throwers try to book their tickets to this summer’s World Championships in London. Before we arrive on the West Coast, we’ll be rolling out previews of each of the middle-distance/distance events to prepare you for the meet. We begin below with a look at the men’s 800, 1500 and 3,000 steeplechase.
Remember, unlike at the Olympics, if an athlete finishes in the top three at USAs but doesn’t have the World Championships standard, they have until July 23 to chase it. If they still don’t have it by then, their Worlds spot passes to the next-highest placing athlete at USAs with the standard.
Before you read the preview, make sure you enter our prediction contest. It’s free to play and the top three entries win a $100 giftcard plus the New Balance shoe of their choice thanks to our friends at Running Warehouse.
Men’s 800: Donavan Brazier vs. Clayton Murphy as last year’s NCAA 800 & 1500 champs square off
Prelims: Thursday, June 22, 8:00 p.m. ET
Semis: Friday, June 23, 11:11 p.m. ET
Final: Sunday, June 25, 4:20 p.m. ET
World Championship standard: 1:45.90; athletes with standard in bold
|Clayton Murphy||NIKE||1:42.93||1:43.60||Has been incredible in ’17, but 800 final will be his 5th race in 4 days|
|Donavan Brazier||NIKE||1:43.55||1:44.63||Super talent; can he handle rounds after going out in 1st rd at Trials?|
|Drew Windle||1:45.02||1:45.02||Former DII star broke out w/big PR in Atlanta on May 19|
|Isaiah Harris||Penn St.||1:45.12||1:45.12||6th at Trials in ’16 and has gone even faster in ’17; 2nd NCAAs|
|Erik Sowinski||NIKE||1:44.58||1:45.23||2016 World Indoor medalist has run 1:45 in all 3 races outdoors|
|Charles Jock||Nike / NIKE OTCE||1:44.67||1:45.48||2016 Olympian struggled early this year but running better of late|
|Shaquille Walker||Brooks||1:44.99||1:45.68||3rd in 600 at USA Indoors; 1:45.68 in only outdoor 800|
|Eliud Rutto||Middle Tenn.||1:45.37||1:45.70|
|Devin Dixon||Texas A&M||1:45.71||1:45.71||True frosh won SECs but only 7th in NCAA final|
|Harun Abda||Nike / NIKE OTCE||1:45.55||1:45.77||7th last year but has only broken 1:47 in 1/4 races in ’17|
|Jesse Garn||HOKA NJNYTC||1:45.82||1:45.82|
|Edose Ibadin||District Track Club||1:45.87||1:45.87|
|Casimir Loxsom||1:44.92||1:45.93||Set 600 WR indoors but hasn’t raced since 1:49 in Shanghai on 5/13|
|Ryan Martin||ASICS / ASICS Furman Elite||1:44.77||1:46.03||Has run 1:46 last 3 races; 5th at USAs in ’15; has standard as NACAC champ|
|Russell Dinkins III||NYAC||1:46.40||1:46.40|
|Chris Giesting||HOKA NJNYTC||1:46.49||1:46.49|
|Charles Jones||Texas Tech||1:46.70||1:46.70|
|Ryan Manahan||Ole Miss||1:46.96||1:46.96|
|Derek Holdsworth||District Track Club||1:47.07||1:47.07|
|Clay Lambourne||Utah St.||1:47.09||1:47.09|
|Brandon Lasater||Atlanta Track Club||1:47.09||1:47.09|
|Domenic Perretta||Penn St.||1:47.29||1:47.29|
|James Gilreath||Team Green Running||1:46.70||1:47.36|
|Isaiah Jewett||UC Irvine||1:47.43||1:47.43|
|Nicholas Symmonds||Brooks||1:42.95||1:49.48||6-time US champ just doesn’t seem fit enough to make team at 33. This may be the end of a tremendous career.|
|Avery Bartlett||Georgia Tech||1:47.32||1:47.32|
Last year at NCAAs, fans were denied a showdown between two of America’s brightest young talents — Clayton Murphy and Donavan Brazier. Though both men put on a show in their respective events, Murphy ripping a 3:36 to win the 1500 and Brazier smashing the collegiate record to win the 800 in 1:43.55, the question will forever remain: who would have won an 800 between Murphy and Brazier at NCAAs? Given that Murphy earned a bronze medal in Rio while Brazier went out in the prelims at the Olympic Trials, the obvious answer seems to be Murphy. But Brazier’s 1:43.55 on that day in Eugene was better than any single performance by Murphy as a collegian. Brazier could well have pushed Murphy to a new level in that race — and as we saw at the Olympics, Murphy was capable of 1:42 last summer — but Murphy, in turn, could have pushed Brazier to a new level. We’ll never quite know for sure.
Fortunately, we won’t have to deal with hypotheticals this year as Murphy and Brazier are both entered in the 800 in Sacramento. They’ve been the two best 800 runners in the country this year, and assuming both make the final (never a lock in the 800), it will be their first-ever final against each other (they were in the same heat at the Trials last year). For Murphy, it’s a chance to make history and become the first man since Rick Wohlhuter in 1976 to make the U.S. team in both the 800 and 1500. For Brazier, it’s a chance at redemption after a disastrous choke at last year’s Olympic Trials (for the full story on that one, read this: LRC Growing Pains: How Donavan Brazier Went From Breaking A 50-Year Old NCAA Record To Bombing Out Of The Olympic Trials 21 Days Later).
Murphy, 22, is the favorite, and if he weren’t attempting the 800/1500 double, we’d feel very confident in picking him for the win. The first round (Thursday, June 22, 8:00 p.m. ET) shouldn’t be an issue for him as the 800 prelim is the first running event of the entire championships. But he’ll have to run his semi on Friday night after two races on Thursday (800 prelim at 5:00 p.m. PT, 1500 prelim at 8:44), and the final on Sunday afternoon will be his fifth race of the weekend, a mere 23 hours after the 1500 final.
But Murphy, who ran cross country in college at Akron, is as well-equipped as any 800 guy to survive the rounds, and he practiced that by racing frequently during the month of April — in one stretch he won three races in a week. It also helps that Murphy is way better than most of the rest of the 800 field, as shown by his results this spring: 1:43.60 at Mt. SAC, a winning anchor leg at the World Relays (outsprinting Olympic 5th placer Ferguson Rotich) and a 3:51 mile at Pre. If there were more guys close to his level — such as World Indoor champ Boris Berian, who has not raced all year and isn’t entered in USAs this year (MB:No Boris Berian at USA’s) — we’d be concerned, but Murphy is the class of this field and our pick for the win even with the added workload.
Brazier, 20, hasn’t had any ridiculous races like his 1:43 last year, but he’s been consistently good, with a season’s best of 1:44.63 and a “season’s worst” of 1:46.11 in four races — still very quick. In his last race, in Rome, he took third against a world-class field while negative-splitting a 1:46.08. Murphy is the only other American who could do something like that right now. As long as Brazier makes it through the rounds okay, he’ll be on the team. And we think he will. Remember, Boris Berian was in a similar situation in 2015 to the one Brazier faced last year. Berian didn’t even make the U.S. final in 2015, but with a year of pro experience, he was a world indoor champ and Olympic finalist in 2016. We’re not guaranteeing that Brazier will make the Olympic final this year, but we think the added experience will get him to the U.S. final, where his talent can take over.
Any number of guys could take the third spot as 10 more guys have the World Champs standard of 1:45.90. Of that group, we like Erik Sowinski and Penn State’s Isaiah Harris the best. Sowinski, the World Indoor bronze medalist and U.S. 600 champ, is consistency personified. Check out his results this year:
|20.01.2017||Iowa City Larry Wieczorek Inv.||600m ind.||USA||F||F||2||1.||1:16.45||1160|
|01.02.2017||Düsseldorf PSD-Bank Meeting||800m ind.||GER||B||F||3.||1:46.96||1171|
|04.02.2017||Karlsruhe Indoor Meeting||800m ind.||GER||B||F||1.||1:46.80||1176|
|10.02.2017||Toruń Copernicus Cup||800m ind.||POL||B||F||3.||1:46.84||1175|
|15.02.2017||Athlone AIT International Grand Prix||600m ind.||IRL||E||F||2.||1:16.15||1173|
|18.02.2017||Birmingham Müller Indoor Grand Prix||800m ind.||GBR||B||F||4.||1:46.85||1174|
|04.03.2017||Albuquerque USA Ind. Ch.||600m ind.||USA||D||H||1||1.||1:15.51||1200|
|05.03.2017||Albuquerque USA Ind. Ch.||600m ind.||USA||D||F||1.||1:15.07||1219|
|15.04.2017||Torrance Mt. SAC Relays Invitational||800m||USA||C||F||1||3.||1:45.95||1145|
|23.04.2017||Nassau IAAF World Relays||4x800m||BAH||B||F||1.||7:13.16||1166|
|19.05.2017||Marietta Georgia Meet of Champions||800m||USA||F||F||2||3.||1:45.23||1166|
|10.06.2017||Kingston Racers Grand Prix||800m||JAM||C||F||3.||1:45.27||1165|
All four of his indoor 800s were between 1:46.80 and 1:46.96. All three of his outdoor 800s were between 1:45.23 and 1:45.95. And he knows how to make it through the rounds: Sowinski has made every single U.S. final, indoors and outdoors, since his first full year as a pro in 2013.
Harris, a sophomore at Penn State, has been overshadowed by Murphy and Brazier, but he’s a mega talent in his own right. He was 6th at the Olympic Trials last year as a 19-year-old true freshman, and he’s been terrific outdoors as he’s run 1:45 four times (including a PR of 1:45.12) and was actually gaining on UTEP phenom Emmanuel Korir at NCAAs before Korir pulled away late. For Harris to come that close to a 1:43 guy (he wound up second in 1:45.40) was impressive and showed he’s capable of something big at USAs.
LRC prediction: 1. Murphy 2. Brazier 3. Sowinski
We’re fairly confident Murphy will make the team, and Brazier’s ceiling is higher than anyone else in the field save Murphy’s. We’ll give the experienced Sowinski the slight edge for third over Harris for third. But given the unpredictable nature of the 800, it’s highly likely at least one of our picks doesn’t make the team. Guys like Drew Windle, Cas Loxsom, Ryan Martin and Charles Jock could all be factors on the right day.
As for six-time U.S. champ Nick Symmonds, running his final USAs? Given the shape he’s in right now, just making it out of the first round would be an achievement.
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Men’s 1500: Centrowitz goes for three in a row while as Murphy doubles up
Prelims: Thursday, June 22, 11:44 p.m. ET
Final: Saturday, June 24, 5:41 p.m. ET
World Championship standard: 3:36.00/3:53.40 mile; athletes with standard in bold
|Matthew Centrowitz||Nike / Nike Oregon Project||3:30.40||3:33.41||Olympic champ hasn’t raced since May 18 but he looked great at Oxy|
|Benjamin Blankenship||NIKE||3:34.26||3:34.26||8th Olympics, US mile champ indoors; 3:53 for 7th at Pre Classic|
|Colby Alexander||HOKA NJNYTC||3:34.88||3:34.88||7th last year but has only raced 1x outdoors and only ran 3:47|
|Robby Andrews||adidas||3:34.78||3:34.88||Hasn’t done anything crazy outdoors (3:38, 1:47, 1:47), but made last 2 US teams|
|Kyle Merber||HOKA NJNYTC||3:34.54||3:35.83||Ran 3:52 mile indoors but only 3rd at Adrian Martinez in only outdoor 1500/mile|
|Johnny Gregorek||ASICS||3:36.04||3:36.04||6th last year; aside from stinker at Pre Classic, he’s been in great form in ’17|
|Clayton Murphy||NIKE||3:36.34||3:36.34||Attempting 800/1500 double. Has looked great in ’17 + ran 3:51 mile at Pre, but 8/15 double will be tough|
|Eric Avila||Hoka One One||3:36.37||3:36.37|
|Leonel Manzano||Hoka One One||3:30.98||3:36.62||Has finished top-4 11 years in a row but consistently mediocre in ’17|
|Cristian Soratos||adidas||3:36.73||3:36.73||2nd in mile indoors; 3:36 at Oxy|
|Craig Engels||Ole Miss||3:37.66||3:37.66||5th last year at OT (also 4th in 800); 3rd at NCAAs (top American)|
|Andrew Wheating||Nike / NIKE OTCE||3:30.90||3:37.75||His 3:37 at Oxy was 2-time Olympian’s best time since ’13|
|Andrew Trouard||Northern Ariz.||3:38.96||3:38.96|
|Robert Domanic||Ole Miss||3:38.73||3:54.73 (mile)|
|Edward Crawford||HOKA NJNYTC||3:37.08||3:56.05 (mile)|
|Will Geoghegan||NIKE||3:40.05||3:56.24 (mile)|
|Patrick Casey||Nike / NIKE OTCE||3:35.32||3:38.86|
|Daniel Winn||Boston Athletic Association||3:37.56||3:39.22|
|Charles Marquardt||Bryn Mawr Running Club||3:39.53||3:39.53|
|David Ribich||Western Ore.||3:39.56||3:39.56|
|Craig Nowak||Oklahoma St.||3:39.64||3:39.64|
Last year, Matthew Centrowitz broke a 108-year U.S. drought by winning the Olympic 1500 gold medal. On Saturday, he’ll look to make more history in Sacramento by becoming the first American to win three straight U.S. 1500 titles since Steve Scott turned the trick in 1977, 1978 and 1979. A win would also make Centrowitz the fifth man to win five U.S. outdoor 1500 titles.
Expect him to do it. Let’s not overcomplicate this. Centrowitz is the Olympic champion. Though he missed the Pre Classic with what he described as a virus and hasn’t raced since May 18, he ran 3:33.41 in that race, the fastest time by an American since Centro himself ran 3:30 in Monaco in July 2015. Remember, last year, Centro’s best time before USAs was just 3:37 (though he did win the World Indoor title in March). And in his last two U.S. 1500 finals, he hasn’t just won; he’s dominated, winning by 1.50 seconds in 2015 and .79 in 2016. Centrowitz is fast, strong, consistent and a great tactical racer, and those skills should carry him to a third straight U.S. title.
The only difference from last year is that Centrowitz will now have to deal with Clayton Murphy. Like Centro, Murphy is an Olympic medalist and Murphy actually leads the all-time series, 2-1 (though one of those victories came at the 2016 Portland Track Festival, where Centro doubled in the 800 and 1500 and essentially ran the meet as a workout). Their best race against each other came at last year’s American Track League event in Houston, and Murphy’s win in the 1000 there — he closed in 25.2 for his final 200 — was a sign that he was ready to do something truly special in Rio.
But that was in a 1000, Murphy’s ideal distance. This time, the clash will be in Centrowitz’s specialty, and while Murphy is a terrific miler (3:51 at Pre), he will have three races in his legs before Saturday’s final — including an 800 semifinal 18 hours earlier — as opposed to just one for Centrowitz. We admire Murphy’s courage and confidence in attempting the 800/1500 double, but by running both events, he’s putting himself at a disadvantage compared to his competitors. Beating the Olympic champ is hard enough. Beating the Olympic champ on tired legs is damn-near impossible.
If Murphy were running the 1500 fresh, we’d still take Centrowitz but we’d feel good about Murphy making the team. Even factoring in fatigue from the double, Murphy is so good that he’s still got a decent chance to make the team, but it will be harder for him in the 1500 than the 800.
Outdoors, the two best guys this year outside of Centro and Murphy have been Ben Blankenship and Johnny Gregorek. Blankenship was an Olympic finalist last year, won the U.S. mile title indoors and ran 3:53.04 at Pre (1.05 behind Murphy). Gregorek, who finished sixth at the Trials last year, pushed Murphy to the line at the Drake Relays in April (he lost by .09), ran 3:36 at Swarthmore and last week beat Chris O’Hare, Kyle Merber and Robby Andrews in an 800 at Penn, running 1:47.33. The son of two-time Olympian John Gregorek, Johnny still isn’t the fastest miler in his own family (his dad’s PR was 3:51), but he could join him in repping the stars and stripes internationally this summer.
There are a ton of guys in contention for spots on the team, however. Craig Engels was fifth at the Trials last year in the 1500 (and 4th in the 800) and third at NCAAs for Ole Miss. Merber ran 3:52 indoors. Andrew Wheating has shown signs of life after taking a break from the Oregon Track Club. Leo Manzano has been totally awful in 2017 (SB of 3:41), but he’s said that workouts have been going as good or better than in 2012 (when he earned Olympic silver) and he always brings his A game at USAs — if he gets to the final, he has to be taken seriously.
Finally, there’s Robby Andrews, who has been second at USAs the past two years. Andrews battled a calf injury earlier in the spring, and his race results haven’t inspired a ton of confidence. He’s run 1:47 in his last two races, losing to Gregorek, O’Hare and Merber in the latter — runners that Andrews, a 1:44 guy and two-time NCAA 800 champ, shouldn’t be losing to in an 800. In his sole 1500 of the year, he was sixth at Swarthmore in 3:38, losing to guys like James Randon and Cory Leslie. It’s certainly been a rougher spring for Andrews than 2015 or 2016, and with so many quality guys fighting for spots to London, that could be enough to bump Andrews off the team. But, like Manzano, he’s a guy that should never be counted out in a championship race.
LRC prediction: 1. Centrowitz 2. Murphy 3. Blankenship
Centro is the obvious pick for the win, and Murphy is so talented that we think he makes it in both the 800 and 1500. The third spot was a tough call, but Blankenship was eighth at the Olympics last year and looks to be in similar form in 2017. That’s good enough for us to pick him as the third member of Team USA in what should be a great battle for the spots to London.
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Men’s 3,000 steeplechase: Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager looks to keep his perfect record at USAs intact
Prelims: Friday, June 23, 8:45 p.m. ET
Final: Sunday, June 25, 5:16 p.m. ET
World Championship standard: 8:32.00; athletes with standard in bold
|Evan Jager||NIKE / BTC||8:00.45||8:04.01||Has raced steeple 5 times at USAs and won 5 times. Only 1 race outdoors this year (3:43).|
|Hillary Bor||U.S. Army||8:11.82||8:11.82||2nd last year. Ran pb in Rome on June 8th|
|Andrew Bayer||NIKE / BTC||8:14.46||8:14.46||4th last year. Ran pb in Rome on June 8th|
|Donald Cabral||HOKA NJNYTC||8:13.37||8:20.72||2-time Olympic finalist is just #17 on US list this year|
|Mason Ferlic||NIKE||8:21.57||8:21.57||2016 NCAA champ has only raced a handful of times outdoors this yr|
|Stanley Kebenei||NIKE / American Distance Project||8:18.52||8:28.84||#3 on US list in 2017.|
|Daniel Huling||NIKE||8:13.29||8:30.34||33-year-old was 5th at Worlds in ’15; has made last 4 US Worlds teams|
|Michael Jordan||American Distance Project||8:30.86||8:30.86|
|Isaac Updike||Team Run Eugene||8:31.42||8:32.34|
|MJ Erb||Ole Miss||8:32.38||8:32.38|
|Josh Thompson||8:32.90||8:32.90||Has lowered PR from 9:22 to 8:50 to 8:32 in last 2 races|
|Brian Shrader||Saucony Freedom TC||8:33.38||8:33.38|
|Caleb Hoover||ASICS Furman Elite||8:33.77||8:33.89|
|Travis Mahoney||HOKA NJNYTC||8:25.44||8:35.17|
|Mark Parrish||Pure Athletics||8:35.56||8:36.79|
|Aric Van Halen||8:32.92||8:38.67|
|Brandon Doughty||ZAP Fitness Reebok||8:38.35||8:38.69|
|Tripp Hurt||Team Run Eugene||8:39.39||8:39.39|
Evan Jager won his first U.S. title in just the fourth steeple of his life in 2012, and every year since, it’s been easy to pencil him in as U.S. champ. Jager is the U.S.’s greatest-ever steeplechaser by some margin, something that his silver medal in Rio last summer confirmed. And based on his body of work — five straight U.S. titles, that Olympic silver, the nine fastest times ever by an American — he starts as the favorite in Sacramento this weekend, even though he has run just one race this spring, and it was not over barriers.
That race — a 3:43, eighth-place finish in the 1500 at Payton Jordan on May 5 — wasn’t particularly impressive, but Jager’s resume earns him the benefit of the doubt if he is healthy and training well, which we have heard that he is (despite his lack of races). We should also note that, as of now, Jager doesn’t have the World Championship standard of 8:32.00, but we expect it will take faster than that to make the team in Sacramento. Jager’s lack of races and the emergence of Kenyan-born Hillary Bor — coming off an 8:11 PR in Rome (#5 on the all-time U.S. list) — means that we could see Jager challenged at USAs. Remember, the 27-year-old Bor was seventh in the Olympics last year even though he began 2016 working a full-time job in the U.S. Army. It was only after Rio that he was able to join the WCAP program and dedicate his energies to training. Now his coach Scott Simmons says that Bor is “light years ahead” of where he was at this point last season. If Jager isn’t at his best, Bor could sneak in and win this thing.
Jager and Bor both look like strong bets to make the team, but third place is totally up for grabs. Donn Cabral was Olympian #3 last year, but he was a well-beaten 18th in Rome in 8:33, behind both Bor and Andy Bayer (8:14). Bayer has been snakebitten in the past, finishing fourth at USAs in 2015 and 2016, but with Cabral appearing to slip (although we’re not sure he’s really slipped as last year he only ran 8:29 before the Trials), he may have an opening in 2017. Still, he’ll have to fend off Stanley Kebenei, who just ran 8:18 in Portland on June 11. Kebenei was actually in second place entering the final water jump at the Trials last year, but he fell and faded all the way to 13th. That has been a pattern for Kebenei, who also fell at USAs in 2015 and NCAAs in 2014, but Simmons believes that Kebenei, who ran 27:58 for 10,000 in May, now has the strength to stay on his feet on the final lap.
And don’t forget 33-year-old Dan Huling. Last year, Huling ran 8:18 at Oxy before a foot injury derailed his season, but he always comes through in odd-numbered years as he’s made the last four U.S. World Championship teams. Like Jager, he has raced sparingly this year (3:40 1500 in April, 8:30 steeple at Portland Track Festival to knock out the WC standard) so his fitness is something of a mystery. Did Kebenei dust him in Portland because Kebenei is way fitter right now? Or was Huling just easing back into racing before unleashing at USAs. We’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out.
LRC prediction: 1. Jager 2. Bor 3. Kebenei
As we said, third place is a tough call, but after running out of gas in 2015 and 2016, we think Kebenei has the strength to hang on for a spot on the Worlds team in 2017. Bayer may have to settle for fourth for the third year in a row. And we’re tempted to pick Bor FTW in an upset.
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More: Talk about the 800, 1500 and steeple on our fan forum / messageboard. MB: 2017 USAs: Who wins at 800: Brazier or Murphy ? Can Murphy pull of the 8/15 double? Is Jager vulnerable in steeple?
- Donn Cabral ,
- Evan Jager ,
- 800 ,
- steeple ,
- Dan Huling ,
- 1500 ,
- 3000 Steeple ,
- Andrew Wheating ,
- Matthew Centrowitz ,
- Robby Andrews ,
- Erik Sowinski ,
- Leo Manzano ,
- Andy Bayer ,
- Stanley Kebenei ,
- Kyle Merber ,
- Ben Blankenship ,
- Donavan Brazier ,
- Johnny Gregorek ,
- Craig Engels ,
- Clayton Murphy ,
- Isaiah Harris ,
- Hillary Bor ,
- 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships