5 Takeaways From Pan Ams: NCAA Stars Bounce Back (But Hoppel Struggles), Remember the Name Justin Robinson, & Why Did So Many Americans No-Show?

By LetsRun.com
August 12, 2019

The 2019 Pan American Games wrapped up on Sunday in Lima, Peru. While the event is not of the same quality as a World Championships, there were several standout performances that caught our eye — Marco Arop’s 1:44.25 to win the men’s 800 was particularly impressive — and a few big names such as Elaine Thompson (11.18 in the women’s 100) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (22.43 in the women’s 200) showed up and won gold medals.

We’re still six days away from the return of the Diamond League in Birmingham on Sunday. So until then, here are five takeaways from the action in Lima.

1) Marco Arop & Carlos Villarreal bounce back from NCAA disappointment to win Pan Am titles; NCAA superstar Bryce Hoppel struggles

It’s interesting to note that two collegiate mid-d runners who saw their collegiate seasons in disappointment ran incredibly at Pan Ams whereas one NCAA champ struggled. 

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Neither Arop, a Canadian who just finished up his sophomore year at Mississippi State, nor Villarreal, a Mexican coming off his redshirt junior year at Arizona, advanced to the final of their respective events at the NCAA outdoor championships in June. Yet both men responded to become Pan American Games champions, Arop improving his personal best by exactly one second to win the 800 in 1:44.25 and Villarreal kicking away from American Johnny Gregorek to win the 1500 in 3:39.93.

Arop took down three 1:44 guys in Puerto Ricans Wesley Vazquez, Ryan Sanchez, and American Hoppel to win one of the deepest events at Pan Ams. Looking back, it seems impossible that he didn’t even qualify for the NCAA meet outdoors, finishing just 5th in his heat at the East prelims. 

After all, he was second at NCAA outdoors last year and indoors this year and was the Canadian champ outdoors last year and runner-up this year. Perhaps he wasn’t 100% at the end of the NCAA season? After his race at East prelims on May 24, he didn’t race again for over two months.

Arop is just the third Canadian ever under 1:45, behind only Brandon McBride (1:43.20) and Gary Reed (1:43.68). Since he and McBride are the only Canadians under the World Championship standard this year, he looks to be a lock for Doha.

Villarreal, who was born in Mexico but moved to Arizona when he was six, was only 4th at the Pac-12 meet (after finishing 4th at NCAAs in the mile indoors) and totally bombed at NCAAs, finishing 11th in his prelim in Austin. But he avenged those defeats, taking down Gregorek and Pac-12 champ William Paulson of Arizona State/Canada to win in Lima. 

He did it thanks to a terrific kick (Villarreal was also 3rd in the 800 at Pac-12s). With 200 meters to go, Villarreal had been gapped in 4th place and looked to be run out of it. But he closed like a demon — we had him in 25.9 for his final 200 — to blow by Paulson and Gregorek for the gold.

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On the other hand, Hoppel, the NCAA indoor/outdoor 800 champ, did not look good in Lima. Though he has run 1:44.41 this year, Hoppel looked tired after the sub-50 opening lap by Vazquez and simply could not hang on as the three medalists pulled away on the back stretch. He finished fourth in 1:47.48, over two seconds out of the medals.

Hoppel’s struggles are understandable — the 21-year-old has been racing since the middle of January — but a bit worrying for Worlds. Will Hoppel have anything left by the time the 800 begins on September 28? Or was he simply not recovered in Lima after three rounds of racing at USAs two weeks earlier?

MB: Wow: Guy who didn’t even make NCAA finals – Carlos Villareal of Arizona/Mexico – just won the Pan Am 1500 gold in 3:39

2) Remember the name Justin Robinson

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Normally we wouldn’t praise an American for taking third in the 400 meters at the Pan American Games. But normally that American isn’t a 17-year-old who just finished his junior year of high school.

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Robinson, who attends Hazlewood West High School outside of St. Louis, ran 45.07 to claim bronze behind Anthony Zambrano of Colombia and Demish Gaye of Jamaica. It was the latest accomplishment in what has been a remarkable 2019 season. In June, he ran 44.84 at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque — a junior class record and #2 on the all-time US high school list. Then in July, he split 43.7 on the world U20 record-setting US 4×400 relay squad at the Pan Am U20 champs, becoming the first high schooler ever to split under 44 seconds, according to Track & Field News.

Robinson still has some work to do if he is to contend for a spot on the Olympic team next year — his PR ranks him 13th on the 2019 US list — but we can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

And to think, he wouldn’t have been on the team had it not been for arbitration.

3) Lots of American no-shows

With the weird date of USAs this year, USATF had to name its Pan Am roster before the USA meet. Unfortunately a number of athletes ended up skipping out on their Team USA Pan Am duties once they made the World Championship team at USAs.

We can’t believe that USATF didn’t insist that any athlete named to the team commit to going even if they also made Worlds (or move USAs until after Pan Ams). Lima did an incredible job of hosting the event in a wonderful stadium and it would have been incredibly rude if the entire Team USA had skipped out on their national team duty.

Here are the 12 US athletes who failed to compete in their individual events at Pan Ams.

Team USA Women’s DNC (Did Not Compete) List
100m Teahna Daniels DNC – US Champ
200m Anglerne Annelus DNC – 3rd at USAs
800m Hanna Green DNC – 2nd at USAs
400m hurdles Kori Carter DNC – Reigning world champ
3000mSC Allie Ostrander DNC – (went to Peru but got sick) 4th at USAs (On WC team)
High JumpMorgan SmallsThe HSer did not compete
Correction: Morgan did compete

Team US Men’s DNC List
200m Kenny Bednarek DNC — but pulled up injured in USA final
800m Donavan Brazier DNC — US champ
1500m Craig Engels DNC — US champ
Long jump Jeff Henderson DNC — 5th at USAs (but going to Worlds)
20k RW Nick Christie DNC (did compete in 50k)
Decathlon Daniel Golubovic DNC

UPDATE: USATF told LetsRun.com in a statement that the “athletes withdrew after the entries had been accepted and replacements were not allowed.”

One athlete who withdrew, Lynna Irby in the 400, was replaced by Jaide Stepter, but Stepter was already in Lima as part of the 4×400 relay pool.

But how about some big praise for the Americans who did make the World Championship team and still showed up in Lima to compete, including women’s 1500 gold medalist Nikki Hiltz, women’s pole vault silver medalist Katie Nageotte, and men’s 400m hurdle silver medalist Amere Lattin?

4) 10 athletes medalled after USATF was forced to put them on the team

We covered USATF’s botched selection process extensively in the lead-up to Pan Ams. After multiple mistakes, USATF was ultimately ordered to re-pick its team following two arbitration cases — one brought forward by American Distance Project coach Scott Simmons and one by lawyer David Greifinger (funded by LetsRun.com).

Over a third of the roster changed as a result, and 10 of the athletes who were added to the team ended up bringing home medals. Here is the complete list:

Athlete Event Medal
Anna Cockrell W 400 hurdles Silver
Marisa Howard W 3000 steeple Silver
Brooke Anderson W hammer Silver
Justin Robinson M 400 Bronze
Lawi Lalang M 10,000 Bronze
Amere Lattin M 400 hurdles Silver
Clatyon Fritsch M pole vault Bronze
Bryce Robinson M 4×100 relay Bronze
Michael Cherry M 4×400 relay Silver
Mar’yea Harris M 4×400 relay Silver

5) Nikki Hiltz’ hot streak continues

Hiltz showed up to Pan Ams and did what she has done for most of 2019: win. Hiltz earned gold in the 1500 meters in 4:07.14 to lead an American-born sweep of the podium (Aisha Praught-Leer of Jamaica was second in 4:08.25, Alexa Efraimson third in 4:08.63). The three medalists were closely-packed coming off the final turn, but Hiltz pulled away down the home straight for her eighth win in her last 10 races.

More: MB:2019 Pan Am Games Official Thread *Pan Ams Results

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