Sam Kendricks Goes Really High to Get American Record, Fred Kerley Defeats Norman, Dennis Mitchell Is Coaching Justin Gatlin

July 27, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa — On Saturday Sam Kendricks stole the show by vaulting 6.06m, a height only Sergey Bubka has beaten outdoors. Fred Kerley upset Michael Norman in the 400, Rai Benjamin got USA title #1, Keni Harrison cruised, it was revealed Dennis Mitchell is coaching Justin Gatlin again, a guy with no legs will be in the relay pool, as will Allyson Felix. Plus an American record in the hammer by DeAnna Price. We recap all the non-distance action below.

In the distances, Shelby Houlihan picked up her second straight USATF title in the 1,500 and Hillary Bor got his first USATF title in the steeple. We recap the distance action here.

*Full results

Men’s Pole Vault: Sam Kendricks vaults 6.06 to break American record and become #2 all-time outdoors

Sam Kendricks already was the reigning world champion in the pole vault. After Saturday’s competition at the Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, he’s now the American record holder as he cleared 6.06m (19’ 10.5”) on his second attempt to break Armand Duplantis’ controversial American record of 6.05 from last year (and Brad Walker’s previous American record of 6.04 from 2008). Only one man has ever vaulted higher outdoors, world record holder Sergey Bubka (6.14).

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Kendricks sailed through the competition. The anticipated matchup with World #3 and NCAA champ Chris Nilsen never materialized when Nilsen bombed out of the competition early, only clearing 5.46.

Kendricks, using the same 4.90-meter pole and grip for the entire competition, didn’t miss on his first eight heights. Kendricks was the only man to clear 5.81 (19 0 3/4″). He won the competition when the final remaining competitor, Cole Walsh, failed to clear 5.86. Kendricks then cleared 5.91 for kicks before setting his sights much, much higher at 6.06, one centimeter higher than Duplantis’ American record, and a height only Bubka had bettered outdoors.

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He missed on his first attempt, but cleared it on his second attempt (after brushing it on the way down) and the American record was his. Kendricks called it a day, leaving the 20-foot barrier for another day.

Technical Note: While Duplantis is an American citizen, he competes for Sweden. Until a recent rule change, an American record was the top mark achieved by an American citizen, not the top mark set by someone competing for America.

QT: Rare Company for Kendricks

Kendricks is one of the best vaulters in the world, being the reigning world champion, and one of 21 men over 6.00m outdoors. But he had only cleared 6.00 m once in his life, and never been higher. Now he’s the #2 all time.

Winning Worlds will not be a sure thing. Below is a chart of the vaulters who have been over 6 meters outdoors multiple times. Four are currently competing, and Piotr Lisek has done it twice this year.

Person NAT # of times over 6 m Best mark
Sergey Bubka UKR 28 6.14
Maxim Tarasov RUS 6 6.05
Jeff Hartwig USA 5 6.03
Maxim Tarasov RUS 5 6.02
Renaud Lavillenie FRA 4 6.05
Brad Walker USA 3 6.04
Okkert Brits RSA 3 6.03
Rodion Gataullin RUS 3 6.00
Sam Kendricks USA 2 6.06
Armand Duplantis SWE 2 6.05
Dmitri Markov AUS 2 6.05
Piotr Lisek POL 2 6.02
9 Guys 1 6.00

Men’s 400: Fred Kerley upsets Michael Norman

Maybe it’s not time to hand Michael Norman the gold medal in Doha. Norman opened the season in 43.45 in April. He was undefeated since then, even though he hadn’t broken 44 seconds since.

Today he went sub 44 seconds again but had to settle for second place as he was upset by Fred Kerley, who ran 43.64 to get the win over Norman’s 43.79. Kerley was ecstatic at the finish as he let out a yell and thrust his hands in the air.

For Kerley, it wasn’t just about setting a PR (his PR was 43.70 from 2017) — his first in over two years. It was about proving to the world that he remains a threat for gold at Worlds.

Men’s 400m final @jaybendlinphoto

“If you look at last year, I had a successful season,” Kerley said. “I was still #1 in the world (as ranked by Track & Field News), [but] the media count me out, but that’s what the media is for, to put some stuff against people’s name. I was #1 in the world last year and y’all still have other people above me.”

Kerley may have been ranked #1 by Track & Field News and won the Diamond League final, but a lot of people (including us), would argue that Michael Norman was the world’s best 400 runner last year. Not only did Norman break the indoor world record, but he ran 43.61 to finish as the 2018 world leader (Kerley was only #8 in the world, at 44.33).

And on paper, there was no reason to favor Kerley over Norman coming into this meet. Norman entered as the world leader at 43.45 and beat Kerley head-to-head at Prefontaine on June 30 despite being under the weather.

But Kerley was brilliant in Des Moines, running a season’s best of 44.09 to almost beat Norman in the semi-finals, and following it up with that 43.64 today to move ahead of LaShawn Merritt into #7 on the world all-time list. He also brought an end to Norman’s unbeaten streak in the 400 meters, which had stretched over two years. Ironically, Kerley was also the last man to beat him, in the 2017 USA final.

Norman also dipped back into the 43s today, but he didn’t look like his usual smooth, powerful self over the final 100 meters. Afterwards, Norman revealed why.

“I had a little setback in practice,” Norman said. “Couldn’t run for about 10 days.”

Norman was hesitant to reveal exactly what the issue was — he initially thought it was a strain, but said that wasn’t the case — but said that he was seriously considering scratching from the meet. It was only after he warmed up for his prelim on Thursday that he decided he would try to make the team. He said the issue is behind him now.

“Originally I wasn’t supposed to run, but I felt good enough to run,” Norman said. “…I warmed up and said I could do it.”

Despite his struggles, Norman did not want to make any excuses for his performance or take away from Kerley’s victory.

“I lost,” he said simply.

Kenny Bednarek says Dennis Mitchell is coaching Justin Gatlin again

Kenny Bednarek had an interesting day today. In his very first race at a USATF championships in the 200-meter prelims, Bednarek thought he heard the gun sound twice, signaling a false start. In response, he began to slow down, only to realize that it was only an echo. Ultimately, it didn’t prove a problem, as Bednarek easily won the heat in 20.85, but he also looked out of sorts at the end of the race, as he tried to stop too fast before the line. A learning experience, for sure.

Bednarek wasn’t the only one who learned some things today. After winning juco national titles in the 200 and 400 for Indian Hills Community College in Iowa this season, Bednarek signed with Nike and is now based in Florida. His coach? Dennis Mitchell.

Mitchell, in case you forgot, was handed a two-year ban by the IAAF during his professional career for elevated levels of testosterone (which he famously blamed on five bottles of beer and sex with his wife at least four times). Then, as a coach, Mitchell offered to supply an undercover newspaper reporter with HGH and testosterone in 2017.

Yet Bednarek said that when he was looking for a coach to guide his professional career, Nike reps still steered him toward Mitchell.

“It kind of wasn’t my decision,” Bednarek said. “Nike wanted to send me somewhere so I just kind of listened.”

Bednarek said he had no clue who Mitchell was when Nike steered him toward his group, but after doing his research, he’s okay with it.

“People make mistakes,” Bednarek said. “But that’s all in the past. But I know that he’s going to get me right for this year and the rest of my career.”

The most interesting thing, Bednarek said, however, was that Mitchell is currently coaching Justin Gatlin. Gatlin said he fired Mitchell in 2017 after the story about Mitchell offering to supply a reporter with PEDs broke. We sent an email to Gatlin’s agent Renaldo Nehemiah to confirm that Mitchell is coaching Gatlin; he did not immediately respond.

Nothing about this feels good. It’s not a good sign that Nike, the most powerful shoe company in the game (they sponsored every single men’s 100-meter finalist at this meet), is still funneling a star athlete to a coach with a history of doping problems. And for those skeptical of Gatlin — a convicted doper who ran 9.87 this year, the fastest ever by a 37-year-old — a reported return to Mitchell will not instill confidence.

Rest of meet recap: Harrison delivers, Price sets AR in hammer, Lyles dyes his hair, Felix, Leeper in relay pools

There were six track finals in all today. We covered the 400 above, and the distance finals (men’s steeple, women’s 1500) get their own recaps here: LRC Shelby Houlihan Repeats over Jenny Simpson, Hillary Bor Gets USA Title #1. Quickly, let’s hit everything else that happened on Saturday.

Women’s 100 hurdles: Harrison cruises

In 2016 and 2017, Keni Harrison developed a reputation as someone who did not respond well to pressure. She failed to make the Olympic team in 2016 despite breaking the world record later that summer. In 2017, she failed to medal at Worlds despite entering having run the top three times of the year.

That reputation may be starting to change. Last year, Harrison was defeated at USA Indoors but bounced back to win World Indoors and USA Outdoors. Today, she repeated as US champion in 12.44. Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali, who missed the 2018 season to give birth to her second child, finished second in 12.55, with Olympic champ Brianna McNeal third in 12.61. 

“The more I run against these girls, the more confident I get,” Harrison said. “You just have to control your nerves and I’m able to do that a lot better (now) than in the past.”

Women’s 400: Shakima Wimbley repeats, Felix finishes 6th and will be in relay pool

Wimbley won USAs for the second year in a row, running 50.21 to give her the two fastest times in the US this year (she also ran 50.20 in yesterday’s semis). Kendall Ellis (50.38) and NCAA champ Wadeline Jonathas (50.44) will be joining her on Team USA (plus reigning world champ Phyllis Francis) as Allyson Felix finished 6th in 51.94. Felix said that she viewed this week as a positive step toward her ultimate goal, returning to the top at the 2020 Olympics.

“I knew that it was a less than ideal situation for me, but I think just being in this environment and being back in a final just kind of gets the juices flowing and it’s going to be a lot easier going into next year getting a full year of training,” Felix said.

Felix didn’t commit to running Worlds if offered a spot on the relay team.

“If I feel like I’m in you know good form to be able to help the team, yes,” Felix said. “If I’m not, I’ll be a cheerleader.”

Men’s 400 hurdles: Birthday boy Benjamin dominates; Olympic champ Clement finishes last

Rai Benjamin dominated in his first US final, running 47.23 — his fourth sub-48 of 2019 — to win by over a second. Benjamin wasn’t totally happy with his race, but is pleased to be heading to Worlds for a showdown with Karsten Warholm and Abderrahman Samba.

“Of course I want to run faster, but it’s okay,” said Benjamin, who celebrated his 22nd birthday today. “I mean, the conditions were really good out there, it was hot out there, I’m just happy to make that team and just be able to represent the USA.”

TJ Holmes (48.58) and Amere Lattin (48.66) also made the team.

Women’s hammer: DeAnna Price breaks American record

For the second year in a row, DeAnna Price broke the American record at USAs, going 78.24 meters in round six to add 12 centimeters to the mark she set last year. She also extended her own world lead of 77.43.

Best of the mixed zone

There were also prelims in the women’s 400 hurdles and men’s and women’s 200 today. We interviewed several of the key performers below.

Noah Lyles, who explained why he dyed his hair silver today

Sha’Carri Richardson, who is tired but isn’t losing faith after failing to make it out of the 200m prelims

Sydney McLaughlin, who explained why she is a Kawhi Leonard fan

400 hurdles world champ Kori Carter, on why she only ran 28.01 in the 200 meters

We also spoke with double amputee Blake Leeper, who was 5th in the 400 and hopes to be cleared by the IAAF to run the 4×400 at Worlds

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