American Track League #2 Recap: Bryce Hoppel Runs 1:44.37; Ryan Crouser Unleashes Another Monster Series 

Hoppel Moves To #2 On US Indoor List

January 31, 2021

Bryce Hoppel gave the American record a scare in the men’s 800 to close out the second meet in the 2021 American Track League series in Fayetteville, Ark. The 23-year-old turned the most competitive race of the day into a blowout, using a 25.80 last lap to win in 1:44.37, just .15 off Donavan Brazier’s American record. Other top performances included Ryan Crouser unleashing the third-best throw ever indoors (22.66m) to win the shot put, Shaunae Miller-Uibo ripping a 22.40 to win the women’s 200, and Heather MacLean dusting Dani Jones over the final lap to win the women’s mile in 4:27.54.

Unfortunately, two of the meet’s biggest stars, Donavan Brazier and Raevyn Rogers, were both late scratches after being exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Full meet recap and analysis below. Full Results.

Men’s 800: Bryce Hoppel looks incredible, moves to #2 all-time US

The men’s 800 was, on paper, the race of the day, and though reigning US indoor champ Bryce Hoppel turned it into a blowout, it still ended up being the race of the day as Hoppel’s time was sensational. Hoppel took over a second off his indoor pb to win in 1:44.37, #2 on the all-time US list behind only Donavan Brazier’s 1:44.22 American record from last year (Hoppel’s previous pb was 1:45.70, run in the same race). Behind him, the times were very fast, with the next three men all running indoor pbs. Great Britain’s 3:30 1500 man Charlie Grice was second in 1:45.62, just off his outdoor pb of 1:45.53. 31-year-old American Erik Sowinski was third in 1:45.69, taking almost a full second off his indoor pb, while 2019 US 1500 champ Craig Engels was fourth in 1:46.10.

The Race

The veteran Sowinski, as is his custom, took it out quickly behind the rabbit, hitting halfway as the first racer at 52.15. But Hoppel was right on his shoulder, just itching to go by, and he made the pass early in lap three, hitting the bell in 1:18.57, just ahead of Sowinski. Hoppel still had another gear left, and with 100 to go, he utilized it, pulling away to win in dominant fashion.

The only man who won’t be happy today is Rio Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy. Play-by-play man Paul Swangard mentioned Murphy dealt with some injuries last year, and his left leg was heavily taped during today’s race. He certainly didn’t seem 100%, as the 25-year-old had nothing left on the last lap. His final 200 was over two seconds slower than the rest of the field and he finished last in 1:48.40.

Quick Take: What an opener by Hoppel. We need Hoppel vs. Brazier ASAP.

Bryce Hoppel certainly knows how to make an entrance. Last year, after not racing for six months, he flew to Europe and ripped over a second off his pb to run 1:43.23 in Monaco. Today, he did the same thing indoors in his 2021 opener to become just the second American under 1:45 indoors all-time (he’s also #6 on the all-time world list).

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The scariest thing is that Hoppel, 23, still has room for improvement. He ran a slight negative split today (52.23-52.14) and his last lap was his fastest (25.80) of the race. In 2019, Hoppel ran 1:46.46 indoors and wound up 4th at Worlds. Last year, he ran 1:45.70 indoors and ran 1:43.23 outdoors. If he’s running 1:44.37 indoors in January, what can he do this summer?

One more thing: we need to see Hoppel vs. Brazier at least once this indoor season. Both are fit and racing this season, yet they weren’t scheduled to race each other today. There is an 800 at both the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (Feb. 13) and ATL #4 (Feb. 14). Agent Mark Wetmore represents both athletes.There’s no USA Indoors so we need as many big-time matchups as possible this indoor season. Let’s make it happen.

Quick Take: Before you write off Clayton Murphy…..

The race was barely over before someone had taken to the messageboard to write off Clayton Murphy: Clayton Murphy is…. DONE.

(And we’ll admit that our thread on the race even mentioned Murphy: Bryce Hoppel DESTROYS field (and Murphy) – 1:44.36 – #2 all time in US!! )

Yes, it was jarring to see him so far back. But people need to realize the date — it’s January 31. The Olympics are a LONG way off.

Perspective is key. Let’s hop in the time machine and go back five years and a day. On January 30, 2016, Clayton Murphy ran an indoor collegiate 800 at Penn State. He got smoked and only finished 6th. His time? 1:48.67 — so .27 slower than today. He lost to Brannon Kidder, Ryan Mahan, Joseph White, Dylan Capwell, and Craig Engels. 7.5 months later, not only was Murphy an Olympian, he also was an Olympic bronze medallist.

Clayton Murphy’s SBs

2016: 1:42.93
2017: 1:43.60
2018: 1:43.12
2019: 1:43.94
2020: DNC due to COVID

In the last couple of years, given how well Bryce Hoppel and Donavan Brazier have been running, it’s been easy to forget Murphy. Yes, he hasn’t been at the same level that he was in 2016, but he’s been pretty darn close. Up until COVID-19 wiped out last year’s outdoor campaign, Murphy had run under 1:44 for four straight years. If he’s healthy in 2021, it would be foolish to write him off as only 19 Americans have ever broken 1:44.00.

Quick Take: Erik Sowinski is still PRing at age 31

Speaking about forgetting about people…can we give huge props to Erik Sowinski for running an indoor personal best of 1:45.69? (This was also his fastest time, indoors or out, since August 2018).

Sowinski, the 2016 World Indoor bronze medalist, was with Nike from 2013-19 and signed last year with the Brooks Beasts but never really got to train with them since COVID hit almost immediately after he signed with Brooks. Now unsponsored and back training under his longtime coach Joey Woody, Sowinski took almost a second off his previous indoor best of 1:46.57 set in 2018.

Clearly, he’s still got something left in the tank, but the US 800 team will be one of the toughest to make in any event this year as Brazier and Hoppel would seem to have two of the spots locked up.

Ben Blankenship women’s mile: Heather MacLean makes a statement

New Balance Boston’s Heather MacLean kicked off her 2021 campaign with a dominant win, using a strong 30.72 last lap to pull away from three-time NCAA champion Dani Jones of Team Boss/New Balance, winning in 4:27.54 to Jones’ 4:30.56. Australia’s MacKenzie Andrews, the former Akron NCAA steeplechaser who earlier this month ran a 4:19.92 1500 pb outdoors in Florida, lowered her pb from 4:35.63 to 4:33.39 to place third.

As the only women with sub-4:30 personal bests indoors, MacLean and Jones were in a league of their own on paper, and that’s how the race played out as those two were the only ones to go with pacer Carina Viljoen and were well clear of the rest of the field by 809m (2:15.25). MacLean did all of the leading the rest of the way with Jones staying close until Maclean destroyed her on the final lap.

Quick Take: A nice win for MacLean, whose name you should get used to hearing

Three years ago, MacLean failed to make the NCAA 800 final as a senior at UMass. Despite solid PBs of 2:03 and 4:19, her path forward in the sport was uncertain. But she also had untapped potential as she battled pneumonia for much of her final year of college.

She latched on with New Balance Boston in 2019, and in her first year as a pro lowered her pbs to 2:01.86 and 4:05.27, finishing 7th at USAs. And during the limited 2020 season, she ran three more pbs in the 800 (2:00.29), 1500 (4:05.29 indoors), and mile (4:25.98 at Millrose).

The problem for MacLean is that in the last two years six American women have run under 4:02 for 1500 (Shelby Houlihan 3:54.99, Elle Purrier 4:00.20, Karissa Schweizer 4:00.02, Jenny Simpson 3:58.42, Nikki Hiltz 4:01.52, Shannon Oskiia 4:01.80). The good news for MacLean is that several of those women may not attempt to run the 1500 at the Olympics — the question is how many.

Quick Take: A lesson for Dani Jones in her pro debut

Anyone who is used to seeing Dani Jones race knows how strong her kick is, and as she locked on to MacLean, it seemed inevitable this race would only end one way, with Jones kickinng to victory. But when it came time to kick, it was MacLean who had the extra gear, and Jones was never a factor over the final 200.

Jones didn’t really do anything wrong in this race — she got into good position and was simply beaten by a superior athlete on the day. But it was a lesson for Jones, entering her first full year as a pro, that the step up in quality from the collegiate to professional ranks is significant.

Quick Take: Kudos to Ben Blankenhip for stepping up and sponsoring this race

After learning that last week’s ATL meet took place with no sponsors, 2016 US Olympian Ben Blankenship decided to do something about it, paying out of his own pocket to sponsor the women’s mile today (meet director Paul Doyle said he could not disclose how much Blankenship paid). Many athletes talk about making the sport better, and while it should not be an expectation moving forward that athletes have to sponsor events, it is admirable that Blankenship put his money where his mouth is.

Women’s 600: Sammy Watson wins a thriller

With no Raevyn Rogers, this race was up for grabs, and it came down to a battle between Colorado alum Gabby Scott (2nd at 2019 NCAAs in the 400 hurdles) and 2018 NCAA 800 champ Sammy Watson.

The 600 is a tweener distance, and the athletes’ different approach to the race was immediately apparent, with Scott and fellow 400 hurdler Sparkle McKnight, the former Arkansas Razorback who was 400h Olympian in 2016 for Trinidad and Tobago, taking the first lap out quickly in 26.98 and Watson, the 800 specialist, taking a more deliberate approach, coming through over a second back in 28.16.

Watson was merely biding her time, however, making a strong move to seize the lead just before the bell. She would hold that position all the way to the line, holding off a hard-charging Scott by the narrowest of margins, 1:28.29 to 1:28.30. Scott had far more left in the tank at the end of the race, but was too far back when she launched into her kick rounding the final turn, having to pass both McKnight and Watson. 

Quick Take: A win is nice, but Watson has work to do to put herself in the Olympic conversation

Watson was sixth at her last USAs in 2019, and is still only 21 years old. Now working with noted 800 guru Derek Thompson, 2021 will be a big year to show if she can join the ranks of the top 800 women in the US such as Rogers, Ajee’ Wilson, and Hanna Green.

Today’s run wasn’t bad — a win is a win, and Watson described it afterwards as an opportunity to shake off the rust in her first race since September. But 1:28.29 with a 30.90 last lap won’t turn many heads — just last week, Texas A&M freshman Athing Mu ran 1:25.80. According to stats guru John Kellogg, 1:28.29 converts to a 2:04.48 for 800.

Watson ran 1:27.13 for 600 in HS. And on Saturday, two US high schoolers ran 1:27.02 and 1:27.20.

The biggest positive for Watson? Her tactics. The 600 can be a tricky distance to navigate, but Watson ran like a savvy vet, coming in with a good plan and executing it for the win.

Men’s 600m: Nicholas Hilson edges it

The men’s 600m was a near carbon copy of the women’s race. Nicholas Hilson, a 49.92 400 hurdler, had a big lead with 50 meters left, but on the final straight James Gilreath, the 31-year-old 1:46.70 800 runner, made a big move from third to nearly first. In the end, however, Hilson held on to win by .01 in 1:19.14. 

1:19.14 is equivalent to 1:51.58 for 800.

Men’s shot put: Ryan Crouser unleashes the greatest indoor series ever

Ryan Crouser has so consistently dominated the shot put over the past year that it has almost become routine. But we shouldn’t lose track of his greatness, because what Crouser is accomplishing right now is unprecedented in the history of the sport. Last week, it was his indoor world record of 22.82m on his very first throw of 2021. Today, it was his entire series — five throws at 22.19 or better, highlighted by his winning 22.66m in round two (which would have tied the previous WR before Crouser broke it last week).

Before today, no man had thrown 22+ more than three times in a single series indoors (Crouser owned two of the three such series). Crouser blew that out of the water, going 21.40-22.66-22.19-22.26-22.65-22.43. There’s no shot put at the third ATL meet, so Crouser will have next weekend off to watch the Super Bowl. But his world record could easily go down again at the final ATL meet on February 14.

Women’s 200: Shaunae Miller-Uibo moves to #9 all-time

Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, running her first indoor 200 since she was a freshman at the University of Georgia in 2013, took almost a second off her indoor personal best to run 22.40 and win a match race against 400 hurdler Shamier Little. Running in her 2021 opener, Miller-Uibo quickly made up the stagger on Little and powered home over the final 50, looking totally in control to tie Bianca Knight at #9 on the all-time indoor list.

Men’s 200: Jereem Richards wins

2017 200 world championship bronze medallist (and 4 x 400 gold medallist) Jereem Richards of Trinidad & Tobago, who said post-race he got stuck in Trinidad for eight months during COVID-19, won the men’s 200 in 20.75 as countryman Deon Lendore, the 44.36 400 man, was second in 20.89.

Women’s 60: Mikiah Brisco wins

Mikiah Brisco, the 2017 NCAA 100 champ and 2020 US champ in the 60, got the win here in 7.17 over NCAA record holder Hannah Cunliffe in second (7.26). Candace Hill, the former teen prodigy who is now 21, ran a pb of 7.22 in the prelims but stumbled in the final and only ran 7.52 for 4th. 

Men’s 60: Maurice Eaddy runs 6.63

NC A&T alum Maurice Eaddy, who was 5th at US indoors last year, got the lead early and held everyone off to win in 6.63 over 2016 Olympian Marvin Bracy, who was second in 6.66. 6.63 equals Eaddy’s non-altitude pb. 

Men’s 60 hurdles: DII Runner takes it

Trevor Bassitt, the 2019 NCAA DII 400h champ (and 110h runner-up) for Ashland, destroyed the competition in the men’s 60 hurdles in 7.71 seconds. World championship semifinalist at 110h Jason Joseph of Switzerland (13.29 110h pb) was second in 7.92.

Full Results.

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