800/1500 Recap: Donavan Brazier Almost Blows It Again, Drew Hunter Makes His First Final, Alysia Montaño and Gabe Grunewald Inspire
June 22, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A busy first day of the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships is in the books. Thursday saw the first rounds in the men’s and women’s 800 and 1500, and though the favorites mostly advanced, there were a few notable happenings. Donavan Brazier advanced to the 800 semis but had to do so as a time qualifier as he once again ran like a rookie in his heat. Clayton Murphy’s quest to make both the 800 and 1500 teams is still on track, though he had to go from ninth to fourth over the final 200 to qualify on time in his 1500 heat.
There were a few notable goodbyes as six-time U.S. 800 champ Nick Symmonds hung up his spikes after an 11-year professional career (separate article here) and Gabe Grunewald ran her final race of 2017 as she will spend the rest of the summer undergoing chemotherapy. Andrew Wheating and Leo Manzano were forced into goodbyes of the more temporary sort as both men were eliminated and will not run in Saturday’s 1500 final. Six-time U.S. champ Alysia Montaño also made news as she ran 2:21 in her heat of the 800 while five months pregnant.
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We recap everything below.
Men’s 800m: Nick Symmonds Ends a Stellar 800 Career, Donavan Brazier Gets a Second Chance, Cas Loxsom Opens Up
The first individual running event of the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships was the men’s 800. And in the very first heat, which was run in more than 105 degrees of heat, things started off quite interestingly as Donavan Brazier failed to advance automatically for the second straight year as he was passed just before the line by Ole Miss’s Ryan Manahan. However, Brazier’s third-place time of 1:46.97 would end up being the sixth-fastest time on the day and more importantly the second-fastest time qualifier as he’d move on to tomorrow’s semifinals.
In the end, there really weren’t any huge surprises in terms of who moved on and who didn’t as 11 of the 12 fastest Americans in 2017 moved on to the semis, with the one casualty being Texas A&M freshman Devin Dixon.
However, two big names didn’t advance. In heat #2, Cas Loxsom, who made the US team in 2015 but had only run 1:49 this year outdoors, went from second fifth in the final 20 meters and failed to move on. After the race, Loxsom, who was let go by sponsor Brooks earlier this year after breaking team rules, tweeted that he has battled “severe depression” both this year and in the past and that he will be relocating to State College, Pa., to continue training and finish his degree.
— Casimir Loxsom (@cazzylox) June 23, 2017
And in heat #4, the track and field career of one of America’s greatest 800 runners ever, Nick Symmonds, came to an end as he never got out of last place and ended up running 1:51.52. Symmonds said he’ll end his running career in December by running the Honolulu Marathon.
Symmonds’ farewell gets its own article: LRC Nick Symmonds – One Of America’s Greatest-Ever 800 Runners – Has Run His Final Track Race, But He’s Already Got a New Goal: Run a Marathon
*Interviews: We talked to Nick Symmonds, Drew Windle and Erik Sowinski post-race. Those interviews are all here.
Brazier did not stop in the mixed zone, but told NBC’s Craig Masback that he knew he’d get into the semi-final on time, but that he was cramping in the heat. He also said when not stopping in the mixed zone something along the lines of “It’s hot as shit out there.”
Discuss: Donovan Brazier… Seriously?
Women’s 800: Ajee Wilson Returns to Racing, Superwoman Pregnant Alysia Montaño Races Again
There were zero surprises in the first round of the women’s 800 today as the 12 fastest women entered in the event all moved on to tomorrow’s semifinals. And the four big names in the event – the four women we think are most likely to finish in the top three in Brenda Martinez, Charlene Lipsey, Raevyn Rogers and Ajee Wilson – all looked fantastic as they were the four heat winners this evening.
In terms of interesting stories, high schooler Sammy Watson also moved on out of heat #3 and Alysia Montaño raced for the second time at USAs in Sacramento while pregnant (2:21.40, not advancing).
Ajee Wilson: “I know what happened and I can walk around and race with my head held high”
On Monday, it was announced that Wilson tested positive for the banned anabolic agent zeranol back at the Millrose Games in February, and the fallout from that test — Wilson will not face a ban, but the American indoor record she set in that race will not count — was one of the major pre-meet storylines. Wilson said that it has been an emotional spring.
“It’s been rough,” Wilson said. “I’ve got way more gray hairs is one thing. It’s been really stressful but I’m glad it’s over.”
If Wilson, who has not raced since March, was rusty, she didn’t show it as she controlled her first-round heat to advance to tomorrow’s semis. Wilson said she’s tried to tune out the noise since the news broke, though that wasn’t entirely possible today. After her race, she said someone yelled something at her, but Wilson said she could not recall specifically what was said, only that it was “definitively negative.”
“I know myself, I know my heart, I know what happened and I can walk around and race with my head held high,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that she’s been hanging with training partner Charlene Lipsey — who has been on fire this spring and won heat 2 — in workouts, so expect her to contend for a spot in London. She has made one change this spring, however.
“I haven’t been eating any beef, that’s for sure,” Wilson said.
Brenda Martinez says she doesn’t care about winning as long as she’s on the team and says Boris Berian will not race in 2017
Martinez has never won a U.S. outdoor title (she did win the 1500 indoors last year) but the 2013 World Championship medalist said that she’s not too concerned about ending that drought in Sacramento.
“Top three is good enough for me,” Martinez said. “If I finish third, I feel like I won because you made a team.”
Martinez has been so good this spring, however, that she may win the thing anyway, even if making the team is her primary goal.
We also asked Martinez about her Big Bear TC teammate Boris Berian, the reigning World Indoor champ who has not raced at all in 2017. Martinez said that Berian has still been dealing with an Achilles injury that bothered him last year and that he will not race again until 2018.
“He just decided to end the season,” Martinez said. “His injury, he’s not 100%. He was building up, getting [ready] to open [his season]. It still didn’t feel right. We just said shut it down, it’s smart. He’s so young (24). He has a long year ahead of him, so now we’re just being careful.”
Raevyn Rogers hints that there’s much more to come after breaking the collegiate record this spring
Rogers may have been an NCAA hero for Oregon two weeks ago, but after taking fifth at the Olympic Trials last year as a sophomore, she said USAs was the meet she was focused on this year.
Rogers has mostly beaten up on collegians this spring, and though she set the collegiate record in the process (1:59.10), she believes she is capable of more. As for how much more? Well, let’s just say that Rogers has been schooled well by her tight-lipped coach, Robert Johnson.
“I know what I can do. God knows what I can do. My coach knows what I can do. So it’s a matter of going out there and doing it.”
Pregnant Alysia Montano Inspires at Trials
Three years ago, when USAs were in Sacramento, Alysia Montano was briefly the talk of America as she ran while 8 months pregnant. She returned again his year to race while 5 months pregnant.
Montano, who got dropped by sponsor Asics at the end of last year, raced in a Wonder Woman outfit, and spoke at length with the media about trying to inspire other women and the difficulties of a female athlete having a family and a career. It’s worth a listen.
“I don’t have a contract. I don’t have a coach. There are a lot of shifts and things that are happening right now. I had a lot of fun just being out there. Running is mine and will always be mine. Nobody defines it (for me) a coach doesn’t define it for me, a sponsor doesn’t define it for me. It’s about my journey…I don’t define myself as a runner, I define myself as a fighter for good,” she said.
Shea Collinsworth is looking forward to training with Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba
Collinsworth, who was 3rd and 4th at NCAAs the last two years for BYU, raced in an Oregon Track Club singlet for the first time today after signing with Nike last night. She said that the last 10 days have been stressful as she figured out which pro group to join, but with the process over, she slept great last night. Looking ahead, she’s excited to train with Niyonsaba, who has consistently run as #2 in the world behind Caster Semenya over the past two years.
“I love that [I’ll have] someone to push me every day,” Collinsworth said. “Surround yourself with greatness and you’ll become great like them.”
Sammy Watson would like to break 2:00 — but she’s not going to be the one to push the pace
Watson has been chasing a sub-2:00 all year — Mary Cain is the only other high schooler to do it — and if it’s going to happen, it will be in a race against the pros. That could come in tomorrow’s semifinal, but Watson said that she doesn’t like to run from the front and definitely won’t be the one pushing the pace.
Speaking about her race, Watson finished just behind NCAA champ Raevyn Rogers and was happy to advance after being eliminated in the first round of the Olympic Trials last year. Making the final in an event this deep will be a challenge, but if Watson can accomplish her primary goal — breaking 2:00 — a berth in the final will likely follow.
Men’s 1500: Drew Hunter Makes First USATF Final, Leo Manzano Misses His First USATF Final
Seven of the top eight fastest men in the US in terms of 2017 seasonal 1500 best all advanced to the finals in the men’s 1500 heats today with the lone casualty being #7 seed Andrew Wheating, who was one spot (and .16 of a second) away from the final time qualifier in the third and final heat, which he tried to make fast by taking it out in 57. However, NJ*NY’s Kyle Merber and Ole Miss’s Robert Domanic, who both ran 3:54 miles this spring, also failed to advance as they finished fourth and fifth in heat #1 (3 auto qualifiers per heat) which was the slowest of the day.
The three 2016 US Olympians at 1500 – Ben Blankenship, Robby Andrews and Matthew Centrowitz – all looked great and secured auto qualification as Blankenship won heat #1, Andrews finished second in heat #2 and the blond-haired Centrowitz was in total control of heat #3 until letting up at the line.
The biggest surprise was that 2016 Olympic 800 bornze medallist Clayton Murphy, who had run an 800 prelim less than four hours before, wasn’t an auto qualifier. Even though heat #3 was the fastest of the night, it was also the most closely bunched of the night. With 200 meters remaining, Murphy found himself in 9th. He’d move up late to finish fourth and grab the first of four time qualifiers – which all came from his heat.
2015 Foot Locker champ Drew Hunter also got a time qualifier in the heat as well.
QT: 19-Year-Old Drew Hunter Makes USATF Final
The biggest positive surprise was the 19-year-old Hunter, who turned professional out of high school, making the final. Hunter was in the difficult final heat, but he knew that meant he had to get in the final on time. He said, “I came into the race with my coach and we were like ‘we’re running for 5th or 6th place and going to make it (to the final) on time.’ I thought there were 2 or 3 guys I couldn’t beat. My goals coming into the year were a) to get the US qualifier and b) make the final so I’m pretty happy. I know I’m a good runner. It’s been an up and down year. I’m racing guys who are better than me.”
“I’d like to do well in the final…. (This is) a pretty good first year as a professional. It’s the US, if you make the final you’re a decent runner….Hopefully down the road I’ll have a few more Ws, but right now it’s just about gaining experience.”
Longer term Hunter said, “Realistically long-term I think I am a 5k runner. I think I’m more fluid at that distance. To be the best 5k runner, you’re still running 52, 53 seconds for the last lap. There’s no shame in training like a 15(00) guy for a few years. I made the final so I think I’m on the right track.”
More: Drew Hunter: “Realistically long-term I think I a 5k runner.”
Other 1500 news of note/interviews: Kyle Merber was disappointed not to advance, but said he has been having some periods this spring where he just hasn’t felt right in training. Henry Wynne will end his season, but has turned pro and signed with Brooks Beasts. Josh Thompson made the final and has joined the Bowerman Track Club. Leo Manzano’s 2017 struggles continued and he’ll miss his first USATF final ever and reassess with his coach but thanked the fans for their support. Craig Engels made the final and said he has signed with a shoe company and the news likely will come out tomorrow, but he has not chosen a group yet. Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz said he missed a week plus of training around Prefontaine with a virus, that he should make the Worlds team, and that his sister told him everyone should experience life as a blonde. Cristian Soratos made his first USATF final and looked good.
Women’s 1500: Gabe Grunewald’s 2017 season ends as the “Big Three” of Grace, Simpson and Rowbury all win their heats
The women’s 1500 went very much according to form as the top 10 seeds all moved on to the final and the three heat winners were the three women we expect to make the team – Kate Grace, Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury. Alexa Efraimson also looked very relaxed in running right behind Grace in the first heat. Rowbury, by the way, will be doubling back for tomorrow’s 5k.
The heats also marked the final race of 2017 for Gabe Grunewald, who ran 4:31.18 to finish last in heat 1 after enduring her first round of chemo over the last two weeks. Grunewald almost didn’t make it to the meet as she was hospitalized for a fever last week, but she made it out to Sacramento and competed in the meet, which had been her goal all season. Afterwards, there was a touching moment as all the women from Grunewald’s heat gathered in a circle where Stephanie Brown and Angel Piccirillo led them in a prayer for Grunewald.
“I am glad I made it to this meet and I am glad I stepped on the starting line,” Grunewald said. “The running is just getting harder for me, there’s no way around it…I’m kind of relieved it’s over. It’s been a whirlwind the last six/seven weeks of racing and trying to get all of my life obligations in order and keep running. I have had this on my schedule and as I’ve gotten closer to it, I’ve been more like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to be done running — I’m ready to be done racing for this season.’”
Moving forward, Grunewald will undergo between three and five more rounds of chemo which should take her through the rest of the summer.
More interviews: Kate Grace and Jenny Simpson (says she has changed some things up since Pre).
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