By Jonathan Gault
July 24, 2019
It’s been a long time coming, but the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships are finally here (Editor’s note: Although honestly, we think they should be held next month if the US wants to field the best team for Worlds), and there are World Championship spots on the line in every event. LetsRun.com will be on-site in Des Moines once the meet begins on Thursday, and to get you ready for the big meet, we’re previewing all the distance events in detail. Who will be the odd woman out in the 1500 meters? Will Clayton Murphy or Donavan Brazier prevail in the battle of the Oregon Project? Who steps up in Evan Jager‘s absence? The beauty of USAs is that no one can definitively answer any of those questions — though we’ll do our best to try.
One reminder before we conclude our previews with a look at the women’s 5,000 and 10,000: unlike in previous World Championship years, USATF is not allowing athletes to chase the IAAF standard in 2019. That means that if an athlete in the top three doesn’t have the standard by the end of USAs, their spot on Team USA will pass to the next-highest finisher with the standard.
Also be sure to enter our $200,019 LRC Running Warehouse Prediction Contest. It’s totally free to enter and our friends at Running Warehouse are giving away three pairs of HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 6 and two $100 gift certificates to the top finishers. Enter here.
Women’s 10,000: The Sisson & Huddle show
Final: Thursday, July 25, 9:50 p.m. ET
Athletes with IAAF standard (31:50.00): Emily Sisson, Molly Huddle, Marielle Hall
This may be the most anti-climactic event at USAs. Recent stalwarts in the event such as Shalane Flanagan and Emily Infeld are injured and not running. Only three women — Emily Sisson, Molly Huddle, and Marielle Hall* — have the standard, and IAAF won’t take anyone to Worlds without the standard. So unless someone else breaks 31:50 on Thursday night in Des Moines, that will be your team to Doha.
*Hall, as the reigning NACAC champion, is considered to have achieved the standard as long as she gains approval from the IAAF’s Technical Delegates, “based on the athlete’s level.” What exactly that requires is unclear, but I assume she’ll be okay.
And I wouldn’t bet on someone else breaking 31:50. For one thing, only one woman in the field (Kellyn Taylor) has ever done that, running 31:40 back in 2016. For another, the woman who usually drives the pace at USAs — Huddle — has no incentive to do so in 2019. In fact, she has an incentive for the race to go as slowly as possible, because if no one else breaks 31:50, she’s guaranteed to go to Worlds.
Some women have come close to the mark in 2019. Sarah Pagano and Elaina Tabb ran 31:51 and 31:55, respectively, at Payton Jordan. NAZ Elite teammates Taylor and Stephanie Bruce, marathoners who wouldn’t be favored in a kick, may try to get the pace going. Conditions shouldn’t be too bad at race time — 73 and partly cloudy — so there’s an outside shot someone gets the time. But even if they did, they’d still need to beat either Sisson, Huddle, or Hall. That probably isn’t happening.
Huddle has won this race four years in a row and has already run 30:58 this year during marathon training. Now that she’s focusing specifically on the track, she’ll be even tougher to beat. Sisson was only 4th in this race last year, but she made the team in 2019 and has been sensational in 2019, running 30:49 on the track (smoking Huddle over the final two laps), 67:30 in the half, and 2:23:08 in the marathon. She’s not finishing 4th again.
That leaves Hall, who was second behind Huddle last year (but nine seconds up on Bruce in third). Hall has run 15:07 and 15:02 this year, times that women like Pagano, Bruce, and Taylor can’t touch. If this were a half marathon, or even cross country or a road race, Hall might be vulnerable. But this is a championship track race, and Hall has a history of success in that sort of race. The talent deficit between the top three simply looks too big to overcome.
One thing I do wonder about: Molly Huddle is a badass. Even though a fast winning time gives more people an opportunity to make the team, part of me thinks Huddle could say, Screw it, I’m a front-runner, I’m gonna make it fast anyway and grind everyone into submission like I always do. I don’t think Huddle misses the team in a fast or slow race, so it’s an interesting wrinkle to ponder. Though Sisson seemed to surpass her this spring, winning both of their head-to-head matchups, Huddle owns seven national titles on the track and Sisson owns none. She won’t want to give up the crown without a fight.
Finally, for those wondering why the fourth and final American with the IAAF standard, 36-year-old Princeton alum Carrie Dimoff, isn’t running this race, it’s because she’s already been named to the US World Championship team in the marathon.
JG prediction: The three women with the standard will finish as the top three anyway. Sisson, Huddle, Hall, in that order.
Women’s 5,000: With several high-profile women double-entered, fifth place could still make it to Doha
Final: Sunday, July 28, 7:42 p.m. ET
Athletes with IAAF standard (15:22.00): Karissa Schweizer, Marielle Hall, Kim Conley, Rachel Schneider, Vanessa Fraser, Elle Purrier, Katrina Coogan, Lauren Paquette, Stephanie Bruce, Kellyn Taylor, Jenny Simpson, Abbey Cooper, Shannon Rowbury
We’ll know more about the state of this event after the 10k and 1500 finals, but it’s fairly safe to say that Hall, Shelby Houlihan, and Jenny Simpson will all make the team in those events. Simpson told LetsRun that she plans on running both events at USAs (though she’s planning on doing the 1500 only in Doha, should she make that team), and Houlihan has doubled up frequently at USAs in the past. As long as their bodies hold up, expect both Houlihan and Simpson on the start line on Sunday, but don’t expect either to run this event in Doha (the IAAF stupidly scheduled the 1500 and 5,000 finals half an hour apart).
Houlihan and Simpson will be favored to go 1-2 in this event, meaning that fifth place will still likely be good enough to make the team (maybe even sixth, depending on what Hall does). So who will grab those spots?
Bowerman TC’s Karissa Schweizer (15:01), a five-time NCAA champion at Missouri, has the fastest time by an American this year and has finished 4th and 3rd at USAs the last two years. Rachel Schneider was 2nd last year and can definitely kick; she just ran 4:20 for the mile in Monaco two weeks ago (she came through 1500 in 4:02 in that race). Elle Purrier boasts similar credentials to Schneider. Purrier, the 2018 NCAA mile champ, has run 4:02 this year for 1500. She had never raced the 5,000 prior to 2019, but must be feeling pretty good about her chances considering she chose not to enter the 1500 and focus only on the 5,000 at USAs.
Then there’s the old guard, Kim Conley and Shannon Rowbury. Conley, 33, bounced back from a rough 2018 to notch a 5,000 pb of 15:05 in June. She has made two Olympic teams at 5,000, but the event is significantly deeper now. Three Americans broke 15:10 in 2012 when Conley made her first Olympic team; four did it in 2016 when she made her second. Six have done it already in 2019, and that doesn’t include Houlihan (the American record holder) or Simpson.
Rowbury, 34, gave birth a year ago and suffered a stress fracture this winter. She has almost everyone in this race beat on pure talent (she used to own the American record at 14:38), but only got the IAAF standard of 15:22 last week, and even then it was close (15:19). The combination of baby + stress fracture may be too much to overcome against this field.
Abbey Cooper doesn’t quite qualify for the “old guard” at 27, but she has made two US teams in the past. The problem is she went almost three years between races on the track due to a series of injuries following the 2016 Olympics. It was good to see her running well again at the Adrian Martinez Classic, but given the quality up front, she doesn’t look like a serious contender to make this team.
JG prediction: Houlihan beats Simpson (assuming both run) for the win, but neither will be running this event at Worlds. Your US 5k team in Doha: Schweizer, Schneider, and Purrier.