February 14, 2020
While the two favorites in the 800 at the 2020 USATF Indoor Championships — Ajee’ Wilson on the women’s side, Bryce Hoppel on the men’s — qualified easily, there was some drama and a few surprises in a cutthroat qualifying round that saw only the winner of each heat (four men’s, four women’s) advance to Saturday’s six-person finals.
Some of the news was made before a gun was even fired as 2019 Worlds silver medalist Raevyn Rogers and 2018 World Indoor silver medalist Drew Windle both scratched from the event. Rogers had won both of her races this indoor season, including one just six days ago at Camel City. Windle did win his most recent race on February 1 in Albuquerque, but had not broken 1:50 in either of his races this year.
Among the athletes who did line up to race, the biggest surprise was 17-year-old Athing Mu. Last year as a high school junior, Mu showed up to this meet and stunned the running world by defeating Rogers to set an American record in the 600 meters. Tonight was the opposite, as after running near the front of heat 3 for the first 500 meters, she faded badly, clocking just 38.79 for her final lap, ending up with the slowest time of the night (2:14.18).
With just one auto Q spot in each heat, there were some good duels down the home straight. Thirty-year-old Erik Sowinski, the three-time US indoor champ, used his experience to get the best of 20-year-old Josh Hoey in heat 2, getting to the lead early and holding Hoey off on the final lap, 1:48.15 to 1:48.18. Kaela Edwards did the same thing to Hanna Green in heat 4; Green (2:02.82) tried to pass multiple times on the final lap, but could never get around Edwards (2:02.50), who finished 3rd at this meet in 2018.
In both those cases, the final positions didn’t end up mattering as both Hoey and Green wound up advancing on time (Sowinski and Edwards’ times were the fastest of the night). Sabrina Southerland wasn’t as fortunate in heat 2. Though Southerland, the 2018 NCAA indoor champion, caught a break before the race (Rogers was supposed to be in her heat) and seized the lead at the bell, she gave it up to 2018 NCAA outdoor champ, Sammy Watson just before the final turn. Though Southerland tried to pass her back on the home straight, she couldn’t get there, running 2:04.26 to Watson’s 2:03.94, and wound up missing out on the final after the final heat went fast.
Quick Take: Wilson and Hoppel remain the favorites
When there’s only one auto qualifier per heat, you can’t afford to mess around, and both Wilson and Hoppel got straight down to business, grabbing the lead early and going wire-to-wire in their heats. Hoppel, in particular, looked incredibly comfortable in heat 1, which stood in contrast to his chief rival, Isaiah Harris, who had horrible position early on in heat 4 (he was last at 200) and had to work at the start of the home straight on the bell lap to fight off Harun Abda before finally easing up just before the line.
Quick Take: Kaela Edwards looked very good today
Edwards, the 2016 NCAA mile champ for Dave Smith at Oklahom State, put together a strong 2018 campaign, taking 3rd at USA Indoors and 4th at USA outdoors in the 800 and knocking more than 2 seconds off her pb, breaking 2:00 in the process (2:01.97 to 1:59.68). She took a step backward in 2019, as her SB was just 2:03 and she bombed out of USAs in the first round, but she looked back to her 2018 form today in winning heat 4 wire-to-wire. Holding off Hanna Green, who ran 1:58 and won a Diamond League in 2019, is no mean feat. Beating Wilson, who set the American record last week, in tomorrow’s final is a whole new level of challenge, but second place is well within Edwards’ reach if she runs like she did today.
Quick Take: Don’t sleep on Abraham Alvarado
Alvarado, now running for the Atlanta Track Club, made the US outdoor final three years ago while at BYU, and he’s been running well so far in 2020, running 2:18 for 1k and 3:37 for 1500 (his previous pb was 3:41 outdoors in 2018). He was totally unchallenged in winning heat 3; it will be interesting to see how he does against the big boys in Saturday’s final.