Ajee Wilson and Clayton Murphy the Class of US 800m Running Win 2018 USATF Titles

By LetsRun.com
June 24, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa —  Two of America’s biggest mid-distance talents were on full display today as American record holder Ajee Wilson and Clayton Murphy put on clinics in front-running to win 800-meter national titles at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships. Both athletes had worthy runners-up in Raevyn Rogers (second to Wilson in a pb of 1:58.57) and NCAA champ Isaiah Harris, but Wilson and Murphy were simply too good. This was the third outdoor title for the 24-year-old Wilson and the second for the 23-year-old Murphy.

We recap and analyze both races below.

Ajee Wilson Repeats and Tows Field to PBs

The 2018 USATF outdoor 800 final was essentially a re-run of the 2018 USATF indoor 800 final as all six of the finalists from indoors returned for this race. Just as in Albuquerque four months ago, Ajee Wilson won by holding off a late charge from Raevyn Rogers. After the top two, the same women (Ce’Aira Brown and Kaela Edwards) finished third and fourth; the only difference was, the order flipped from indoors with Brown taking third this time and Edwards fourth. The other difference was everyone ran much faster with the top 5 all going sub-2:00 and five of the top 8 setting PRs.

Ajee Wilson Wins 2018 USATF 800 Ajee Wilson Wins 2018 USATF 800 photo by Phil Bond

Wilson, as is her custom, took on leading duties early, with training partner Lipsey glued to her shoulder at 200 (27.3) and 400 (58.84). At the bell, Wilson, Lipsey, Brown, and Stanford’s Olivia Baker began to separate from the rest of the field, and it would remain that way around the final turn.

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Wilson still led entering the home straight and began to pull away from everyone except Rogers, who had been fifth with 150 to go but was storming back on the outside. Rogers gained on Wilson, but Wilson is the class of US 800m running, and she held on to win her third US title in 1:58.18 and tow the rest of the field to fast times, as Rogers went sub-1:59 for the first time in 2nd (1:58.57), Brown went sub-1:59 for the first time in 3rd (1:59.65) and Kaela Edwards went sub-2:01 and sub-2:00 for the first time with a 1:59.68 in 4th (2:01.06 previous pb).

Women 800 Meter Run
Section  1 Finals
  1 Ajee Wilson                  adidas                 1:58.18  
  2 Raevyn Rogers                NIKE                   1:58.57  
  3 Ce'Aira Brown                HOKA NJNYTC            1:58.65  
  4 Kaela Edwards                adidas                 1:59.68  
  5 Charlene Lipsey              adidas                 1:59.95  
  6 Olivia Baker                 Stanford               2:00.08  
  7 Hanna Green                  NIKE/NIKE OT           2:00.09  
  8 Sabrina Southerland          Oregon                 2:01.62

Quick Take: The field should buy Ajee Wilson dinner after this one as she towed them to some fast times

In Diamond League races, Wilson has occasionally been the beneficiary of running against Caster Semenya as when Semenya decides to go out hard, she winds up dragging the rest of the field to fast times. Today, Wilson took on the Semenya role with a 58.84 first lap, and the result was a slew of PRs for the women behind her. Check it out:

2. Raevyn Rogers, 1:58.57 (previous pb: 1:59.10)
3. Ce’Aira Brown, 1:58.65 (previous pb: 1:59.49)
4. Kaela Edwards, 1:59.68 (previous pb: 2:01.06)
6. Olivia Baker, 2:00.08 (previous pb: 2:00.63)
7. Hanna Green, 2:00.09 (previous pb: 2:00.69)

Props to Edwards for skipping the 2:00s entirely, and to Baker and Green for PRing for the second time in three days. Green’s 2:00.69 pb in the semis was her first PR in three years, but it took her less than 48 hours to PR again.

Brown, Wilson, Rogers Brown, Wilson, Rogers photo by Phil Bond

Quick Take: Ajee Wilson continues her mastery of the 800

Wilson, when healthy, has been the best 800 runner in the U.S. for the past five years and today was a fairly routine victory for her to make it three U.S. outdoor titles in the 800 (eight overall across all distances). There’s not really much more to say — she’s better than everyone in the U.S. right now (and maybe everyone in the world save Semenya) and controlled every inch of this race.

One interesting storyline came up in the mixed zone, however. Wilson, Rogers, and Lipsey all have the same coach (Derek Thompson) but there’s only three spots on the Worlds team next year (unless Wilson can somehow upset Semenya in the DL final). Will any of them move up to the 1500 next year?

“It’s not really up to us,” Wilson said. “It’s my coach and his vision and what he sees best for each of us so he’s going to make that right decision. And so right now it looks we’re all just going to stay focused on the 800 and do that until one of us gets moved up.”

If they all want to get on the team next year, the best bet is for all of them to run the 800. Shelby Houlihan and Jenny Simpson will have two spots locked up in the 1500, and with Kate Grace (plus Shannon Rowbury returning from pregnancy?), the third spot will be tough to get as well.

Of course, if Houlihan or Simpson can win the DL final — definitely a possibility — the U.S. will get four spots in that event.

QT: Training by herself pays off for Raevyn Rogers

Raevyn Rogers may be coached by Derek Thompson like Lipsey and Rogers, but this year she’s still been living in Eugene, Oregon, training by herself, as she was taking classes at the University of Oregon (she’s an art major with a Spanish minor, and has two online classes to go to get her degree). Rogers said when she first started training by herself, she would have someone time her, but recently has been doing the workouts completely solo, timing herself. The dedication paid off today. It will be interesting to see what happens to Rogers once she moves to New Jersey later this summer and starts training with Lipsey and Wilson in person. Up next is a stint of races in Europe.

We asked Rogers what she thought about the East Grandstand teardown and she joked it was a good thing she wasn’t in town when it happened as she’s the type who would have laid down in front of the bulldozer.

Quick take: Big PB for Kaela Edwards

Kaela Edwards After Going Sub 2:00 (photo by Phil Bond) Kaela Edwards After Going Sub 2:00 (photo by Phil Bond)

Edwards skipped the 2:01s entirely, but she said she knew she was ready for a sub 2:00. “I just didn’t know when it was going to happen,” she said.

Edwards’ coach is Joe Bosshard, and his group is having great results this year. Last year Coburn was paving the way with her gold medal at Worlds, but this year Aisha Praught ran well indoors and then won Commonwealth gold in the steeple. Now Edwards had a big PB at 800.

Training with longer distance runners Praught, Coburn, and Dom Scott, Edwards is the speedster in the group, but knows when it comes to the 800, “I used the strength to my advantage.” In terms of running the 800 or the 1500 Edwards said, “I want to be good at both, I’m really working on my strength because running the 1500 at this level is no joke.”

Quick Take: How do you break out in the 800? Double your mileage

Last year, we saw Lipsey go from 2:00.65 to 1:57.38 and the World Championship final after she began running more miles under new coach Derek Thompson. This year, Ce’Aira Brown has gone from 2:00.84 to 1:58.57. Brown credited her NJ*NY teammates for her improvement, but she has also built up her endurance: she’s gone from running 30 miles a week to 60.

Charlene Lipsey Interview

Men’s 800: Murphy Back on Top

Another day, another Nike Oregon Project athlete regaining his national title. Just like Matthew Centrowitz in the 1500, Clayton Murphy won a national title in the 800 in 2016. Just like Centrowitz, Murphy endured a rocky last 12 months with injuries contributing to some disappointing results. And just like Centrowitz, Murphy went to Des Moines and reclaimed the title he won in 2016, sprinting away from Isaiah Harris to win the 800 in 1:46.50.

Murphy ran a strong tactical race to hold off a game effort from Harris. He went to the front early but chose to keep the pace slow, hitting halfway in 54.53. Harris was third at the bell with BYU’s Abraham Alvarado second.

Clayton Murphy Back on Top in 2018 Clayton Murphy Back on Top in 2018 (photo by Phil Bond)

Harris moved into position to strike on the backstretch as Murphy continued to lead. As they entered the final turn, Harris tried to get around his rival into the lead, but Murphy countered the move. Things could have got ugly, as Harris had edged slightly in front of Murphy but was running on his outside on the turn and did not have quite enough room to cut in. Harris did drift slightly inwards, and Murphy threw up his arm in frustration as he sensed Harris was about to cut him off.

Murphy shows his frustration when Harris briefly tried to cut in Murphy shows his frustration when Harris briefly tried to cut in

But Harris also sensed that, and not wanting to DQ himself or cause a collision, he backed off and chose to redouble his efforts on the home straight rather than try to pass while running extra distance on the turn.

Ultimately, however, he was unsuccessful, as Murphy was sensational over the last 100, pulling away to win thanks to a dazzling 51.97 final lap. Harris, competing in his first race as a professional (he signed with Nike before the final), was second in 1:47.11 with Erik Sowinski, who went to Iowa and still trains in the state, third in 1:47.76.

Section  1 Finals
  1 Clayton Murphy               NIKE                   1:46.50  
  2 Isaiah Harris                NIKE                   1:47.11  
  3 Erik Sowinski                NIKE                   1:47.76  
  4 Brandon Lasater              Atlanta TC             1:48.27  
  5 Drew Piazza                  Unattached             1:48.36  
  6 Robert Ford                  Southern Cal           1:48.44  
  7 Jesse Garn                   HOKA NJNYTC            1:48.45  
 -- Abraham Alvarado             BYU                         DQ

QT: Clayton Murphy is getting back to his 2016 Form

2016 was a magical year for Clayton Murphy, capped by his 1:42.93 pb for Olympic bronze in Rio.

Last year started off great with Clayton running 1:43.60 in April but then getting injured while attempting the double at USAs.

This year, he started off slow but he said that’s because he was coming off injuries. Now he’s rounding into form and Clayton felt for the first time this year he had his edge today.

“Before the race I told a couple people ‘I can’t sit still, I can’t sit still.’ That’s the first kind of edge I’ve had in a while. It was fun be out there and compete. It’s all about having fun today and getting that competitive drive back,” he said.

As for the bumping with Harris on the turn, Murphy said, “He tried to come in and I just fought him off. I didn’t give up my spot. Bumping is racing. I just wasn’t giving up my spot to him.”

Now Murphy is off to Europe where he will race in Budapest and London before taking the European Championship break. “I really want to run fast in the 8 this year,” he said.

Clayton was able to relish his win today saying it was about “getting back to where I was in 2016, trying to get back to that form, that focus I had. This is a really good step in that direction. This really sets me up well for the rest of summer, to get over in Europe and run fast and compete.”

Quick Take: The time was right for Isaiah Harris to go pro

Harris’ big goal at Penn State was to win an NCAA title, and he did that in Eugene two weeks ago. Considering Harris has now finished second at USAs two straight years, it made sense for him to turn pro if he got a good offer and evidently he secured one that he liked from Nike (he’ll stay at Penn State next year to finish his degree and train under John Gondak).

Harris also pointed out that since the 2019 World Champs don’t begin until September 28, he’ll be much better positioned approaching that season as a pro.

“Preparing for the world champs, which is a lot later next year, versus running 30-something races in a collegiate season, [it made sense to turn pro],” Harris said. “I mean that was the biggest deciding factor for me. I think I’m ready for it.”

Quick Take: Erik Sowinski is Mr. Consistent, but he’s had trouble breaking through

800 rounds can be notoriously brutal, and the 800 itself is a young man’s event. But over the past six years, there’s been one constant, and that’s Erik Sowinski. Though he’s only 28, Sowinski was the old man in today’s final (no one else is older than 25), and over the past 12 U.S. championships, he’s made every final and only finished lower than fifth once (6th outdoors in 2013).

Sowinski has always been terrific indoors, with three indoor titles and a World Indoor bronze in 2016, and while he’s been very good at reaching his potential outdoors — he very rarely runs a bad race — his potential just isn’t as high as the young talents that seemingly emerge on an annual basis: Murphy, Harris, Donavan Brazier, Drew Windle.

Sowinski was going for the win, saying that “2nd was as good as 8th” today, and tried to change his approach for this race. It didn’t work, but that’s more a testament to the brilliance of Murphy and Harris rather than any failing on Sowinski’s part.

“You put yourself out there as hard as you can as hard as you can every single time,” Sowinski said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Clayton closed in 51-high. That’s a heck of a run and I don’t have those wheels at the end of an 800 right now.”

(The audio is poor on the interview, so approach with caution)

Brandon Lasater 4th in 1st Final

Lasater had another late charge to snag fourth in his first final. He said occasionally Atlant Track Club head Rich Kenah (bronze for US at 1997 Worlds at 800) will give his coaches, the Begleys (Amy and Andrew), some advice on his training.

Talk about the race on our fan forum / messageboard: MB: Clayton MF Murphy is back baby!!! He wins USAs as Isaiah Harris goes pro!! 

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