800 Semis: Donavan Brazier Makes His First Final, So Do 2 Ex-DII Guys, Mouthwatering Women’s Final Set

By LetsRun.com
June 23, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Two tremendous 800m finals are now set for Sunday at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento after Friday’s semifinals. We recap the 800 semis below.

Men’s 800: An Intriguing Final is Set After Two Interesting Semis as Brazier Makes His First Final

The 800 is one of the most exciting events in the sport and the rounds at a major championship are routinely full of drama and intrigue. Tonight’s men’s semis were no exception.

Among the storylines: Erik Sowinski looked the best of anyone in cruising to victory in heat 1; Donavan Brazier advanced to his first U.S. final, but once again looked a little shaky; Clayton Murphy kept his 800/1500 dreams alive by making his second U.S. final in as many days; a pair of former DII stars — Abraham Alvarado and Drew Windle — went 1-2 in heat 2.

Sowinski and Murphy both looked good in advancing in heat 1. Sowinski took off during the second lap and no one went with him, while Murphy was content to measure his energy and nab the second auto qualifier.

Heat 2 was more dramatic, as third through seventh were separated by just .17 of a second (the top four in each heat made the final with no time qualifiers).

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Just check out the finish (click for a larger image):


In case you’re unfamiliar with the man flexing across the finish line as he won the heat, that would be Abraham Alvarado, a transfer from Cal State Stanislaus now running for BYU (he redshirted outdoors). Shaquille Walker, second with 30m to go, wound up failing to advance in sixth as Brazier squeezed through a gap to grab an auto spot to the final.

Interviews and analysis below results.

1 (1) Erik Sowinski
1:45.48 Q 4
2 (3) Clayton Murphy
1:45.70 Q 5
3 (5) Isaiah Harris
Penn St.
1:45.77 Q 6
4 (7) Drew Piazza
Virginia Tech
1:45.83 Q 3
5 (9) Ryan Martin
ASICS / ASICS Furman Elite
1:46.18 1
6 (10) Joseph White
1:46.20 8
7 (13) Eliud Rutto
Middle Tenn.
1:47.04 7
8 (16) Isaiah Jewett
UC Irvine
1:47.96 2
1 (2) Abraham Alvarado
1:46.62 Q 2
2 (4) Drew Windle
1:46.69 Q 5
3 (6) Donavan Brazier
1:46.88 Q 6
4 (8) Charles Jock
1:46.92 Q 7
5 (11) Edose Ibadin
District TC
1:47.00 3
6 (12) Shaquille Walker
1:47.02 4
7 (14) Ryan Manahan
Ole Miss
1:47.05 1
8 (15) Jesse Garn

Quick Take: It wasn’t easy, but Donavan Brazier is in his first U.S. final

Brazier has been a big story in the sport ever since his ridiculous 1:45.93 in his first collegiate 800 in January 2016. That race, and the season that followed (including a 1:43.55 collegiate record to win the NCAA outdoor meet) made Brazier’s talent clear, but he is still figuring out how to run the rounds, as his three races at USAs (two this year and one in 2016) have shown.

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After easing up early and having to wait on a time qualifier to advance yesterday, Brazier once again had to work for it tonight as after leading the first lap, he allowed several guys to go by him and wound up boxed in on the home stretch. Fortunately for Brazier, the two men in front of him were moving in opposite directions (Alvarado was speeding up as Walker was slowing down), providing him with the window he needed to make the final.

By pure talent, Brazier and Murphy are the two best guys in this field. Brazier usually does well in races where he can just turn his brain off and run, but he’s still learning how to handle being one of the top dogs (not easy task for a 20-year-old).

“Whenever I try pushing myself up front on days like today and I come through in 52, it’s kind of discouraging,” Brazier said. “Because I feel like I’m going through in 51/50. And when I see 52-mid, it makes me feel like, how hard do I push my body right now? Maybe I’m not really testing myself hard enough.”

Brazier’s tactics have been the subject of some scrutiny (and not without good reason), but two things must be remembered: 1) he’s in the final and; 2) he’s 20 years old. Even veterans still make tactical errors in the 800, and the more experience Brazier gets running rounds, the better he will become. And he knows that exposing himself to different race scenarios will benefit him in the long term.

“There’s a lot of runners out here that will refuse to take the lead, you know? And I don’t want to be that kind of runner. I don’t want to be the runner that has to always rely on someone else to run fast.”

It reminds us a little of David Rudisha. Before his injury in 2013, Rudisha never had to think in an 800 — he just followed the rabbits and ran faster than everyone else. Since his return in 2014, Rudisha hasn’t hit the same times as he did pre-injury, but he’s also been able to win races in a variety of different ways as opposed to going wire-to-wire every time.

For now, the only question that matters is whether Brazier will be able to put himself in the right position on Sunday in the biggest race of his life to this point.

Quick Take: DII power! Abraham Alvarado and Drew Windle go 1-2 in heat 2

Small schools have had some big runs in the 800 at these USATF Championships as in addition to Emily Richards of DIII Ohio Northern (a finalist in the women’s 800), the men’s 800 final will see two former DII runners on the start line. Windle, a six-time DII champ at Ashland and now a member of the Brooks Beasts, had already shown promise this year with a 1:45.02 PR on May 19, and he closed incredibly well to take second in heat 2.

Alvarado was the bigger surprise. Alvarado, who ran 1:46.90 and finished as the DII runner-up in 2016 before transferring to BYU, made the NCAA indoor meet in March but didn’t make the final, and ran 1:52, 1:48 and 1:52 in his first three 800’s outdoors while redshirting. But he took a step forward and ran 1:47.18 at the Portland Track Festival on June 11 and tonight he ran way beyond any expectations, notching a PR in the semis (1:46.62). Now he finds himself in the US final.

QT: Drew Windle Lacking Confidence

Windle came in with the third fastest time in the country, and had an impressive final 100m in round 1 on Thursday. Yet he said today he was suffering from a big lack of confidence. Nonetheless he managed to make the final.

A strong showing in the final would show Windle what his running appears to be showing, that he more than belongs at this level.

Quick Take: Don’t sleep on Erik Sowinski — “52 for me is a jog…if it goes like that in the final, I like my chances”

Sowinski looked great tonight and was surprised no one went with him when he took off on the second lap. He said he was able to start shutting it down with 75 meters to go but still ran 1:45.48, the fastest time of the night and just .25 off his season’s best.

Sowinski has been super-consistent in 2017 (apart from yesterday’s first round, he’s run 1:45 in every one of his races) and he said that he feels more prepared this year than he’s ever been as he has no nagging injuries and his technique has improved.

Sowinski said that he likes it when races go out on the slower side –”52 for me is a jog…if it goes like that in the final, I like my chances,” he said — but given how easy he made 1:45.48 look, we think he should be able to run low-1:44s or even 1:43 if that’s what it takes to make the team (his PR is 1:44.58).

QT: Clayton Murphy’s Double Continues

Clayton Murphy is trying to be the first guy to win the 800 and 1500 at USAs since 1933. He didn’t look that good in last night’s 1500, and we’re unsure to know what to make of tonight’s 800 until after the finals. Murphy very well could be saving as much energy as possible for the final.

Women’s 800: The Big 4 Advance But Only 3 Will Make the Team

After a second straight day of 800-meter rounds, a mouthwatering women’s 800 final is all set for Sunday as all of the expected major players advanced to the final.

Looking at outdoor seasonal bests, 7 of the 8 fastest entrants will be in Sunday’s final with the lone casualty being #6 seed Hannah Fields of the Brooks Beasts. The person taking her place? Ajee Wilson, who most likely would have been the #1 seed if she had raced outdoors prior to USAs.

In the first round on Thursday, the four women we expected to battle it out for three World Championship spots on Sunday all won their heats. Today, those same four women – Wilson, her training partner Charlene Lipsey, NCAA superstar Raevyn Rogers and 2017 US leader Brenda Martinez, all once again looked fantastic. In semifinal #1, Wilson and Lipsey went 1-2 and destroyed the field by running 1:58.94 and 1:59.56 respectively whereas Martinez and Rogers were way ahead of everyone in heat #2. That certainly wasn’t a surprise – what was a surprise was the fact that Matinez and Rogers raced hard against each other all the way to the line when there was no need to (top 4 in each heat advanced). In the battle for perhaps a psychological edge for the final, we wouldn’t say there was a real winner as both women were given the same time of 2:00.93 (Martinez was the winner of the heat).

The other four qualifiers to the final are no slouches. In heat #1, Division III star Emily Richards of Ohio Northern, who won the 800 and mile indoors at D3 NCAAs and the 800 and 1500 outdoors, was third in 2:01.95 and Laura Roesler, the 2014 NCAA D1 champ, fourth in 2:02.19. In the second heat, the final two qualifiers were 2016 Olympian Chrishuna Williams (2:01.80) and NY high school sensation Sammy Watson (2:02.54).


1 (1) Ajee’ Wilson
1:58.94 Q 6
2 (2) Charlene Lipsey
1:59.56 Q 4
3 (6) Emily Richards
Ohio Northern
2:01.95 Q 5
4 (7) Laura Roesler
NIKE / Texas Elite TC
2:02.19 Q 7
5 (11) Ce’Aira Brown
2:03.37 8
6 (12) Baylee Mires
2:03.62 2
7 (15) Hanna Green
Virginia Tech
2:06.58 1
DQ Kendra Chambers
Texas Elite TC
1 (3) Brenda Martinez
New Balance
2:00.93 Q 6
2 (4) Raevyn Rogers
2:00.93 Q 4
3 (5) Chrishuna Williams
2:01.80 Q 5
4 (8) Samantha Watson
Rochester Running Rebels
2:02.54 Q 8
5 (9) Hannah Fields
2:03.01 7
6 (10) Dana Mecke
Brooks / Texas Elite TC
2:03.22 2
7 (13) Cecilia Barowski
2:03.87 3
8 (14) Shea Collinsworth
2:05.20 1

Quick Take: One Stud Will Be Left Out of the London Team

There is definitely a big four in this event this year, with Rogers, Lipsey, Martinez, and Wilson running tremendously well. One of them won’t make it to Worlds.

All four of them wasted unnecessary energy today to get in the top 2 in their semifinals when they were clear of the rest of the field. Perhaps they were trying to play mind games with one another. No matter what they were trying to do, a tremendous final is set up for Sunday.

Quick Take: Ajee Wilson and Charlene Lipsey Thriving Together

Wilson and Lipsey dominated heat #1 and both ran very fast. Afterwards, Wilson said it wasn’t her plan to run particularly fast, she just ran how she felt. She said Lipsey has been making her a better runner and there is no doubt Lipsey has gone to another level since joining Wilson’s training group. Three years ago Lipsey was an afterthought in the final in Sacramento, now she’s a contender who would have the indoor American record if she had been drug tested at the Millrose Games this year.

Lipsey credited Wilson with helping keep her loose before the race. We didn’t ask Wilson about it, but she no doubt benefited tremendously having Lipsey to work out with this spring while Wilson was not racing trying to figure out if she would have to serve a drug suspension for eating what USADA said was tainted beef.

The friendship will be put aside for likely a little less than 2 minutes on Sunday afternoon. Wilson did say while great friends off the track, they definitely are competitors on the track.

QT: DIII Star Emily Richards Makes the Final

Emily Richards’ dream 2017 season continued, as the DIII runner from Ohio Northern advanced to the final. Afterwards, Richards said she has championship race experience which helped her make the final. That idea is crazy to us, as a DIII championship final is nothing like the USATF semifinal. Nonetheless, Richards is in the final, and she indicated she may go professional rather than use her final season of eligibility at Ohio Northern next year.

QT: Neither Rogers Nor Martinez Seemed Concerned About Trying to Win Heat #2

Raevyn Rogers and Brenda Martinez battled to the line in heat #2, even though the top 4 would make the final automatically. Neither was worried about it taking something from them for the final. Martinez said she always tries to win the heats, and Rogers said she focuses on her own race.

One thing is certain: who beats who matters in the final and we should have a great one on Sunday.

QT: High Schooler Sammy Watson Makes Final

Watson will be a freshman at Texas A&M next year, but her young age didn’t stop her from making the final. However, we didn’t get to speak to her in the mixed zone as she had to go talk to her mom. Perfectably acceptable for a high schooler.

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