Women’s 5K: Another Bowerman 1-2 as Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer Hammer the Final Mile

By Karl Winter
June 21, 2021

For the second time during these Olympic Trials, the Bowerman Track Club went 1-2 in a distance event, and for the second time during the Trials, all of the people who made the team became first-time Olympians. Mirroring Friday’s men’s 10k final in which Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher were the champ and runner-up, the Bowerman Babes continued to reverse the club’s fortunes after a tumultuous week in which two of their top athletes could not compete in the Trials (Evan Jager due to injury and Shelby Houlihan due to a positive drug test). The classic women’s 5k final capped off Magic Monday at Hayward Field, a warm evening which also featured surprises in the women’s 1500 and men’s 800.

BTC teammates Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer pushed the pace from a mile out in the heat in Eugene, and only HOKA ONE ONE’s Rachel Schneider could hang on until the final 200. Cranny got the final word, kicking past Schweizer on the inside in the final 50 meters to win in 15:27.81 and getting her first US title and first Worlds/Olympics appearance in the process. Schweizer (second in 15:28.11) and Schneider (third in 15:29.56) both made Worlds in the 5k in 2019 and are now Olympians.

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Cranny and Schweizer said their effort felt like a BTC practice.

Your 2021 women’s 5k Olympians Adam Eberhardt for TrackTown USA

“To have someone that you train with every day and being able to [make the Olympics] together … feed off each other, even Rachel too; having her make her first team,” Cranny said. “All of us having competed in college together… It’s just a great group.”

The temperature in Eugene has been unseasonably warm for the duration of the Trials thus far, and with 93-degree weather at the 5:40 p.m. PDT start time, this race was destined to start slow. That it did, with laps slowing from 75 seconds down to 78 and 79 seconds in the first two miles. PUMA’s Taylor Werner was the sacrificial lamb, leading the first eight laps with no one joining her shoulder. The field went through 3k at 9:35, which is just 15:58 pace.

At 3300 meters, the BTC women made their move. Cranny and Schweizer went to the front and picked up the pace dramatically, with Schweizer dropping a 71.25 on the fourth-to-last lap. Only four women could cover the move: Schneider, New Balance’s Abbey Cooper (who ran a gutsy race three days earlier to get the Olympic standard), Brooks Beast Allie Buchalski and Reebok Boston’s Josette Norris

“With a mile to go we were going to make it hurt,” Schweizer said after the race.

Schweizer dropped a 70.05 on the third-to-last lap, and Buchalski was gone. When the lead pack reached 600 to go, Norris, the biggest 2021 breakout athlete in the event, was gone.

Schweizer continued turning the screw, dropping a 67.91 on the penultimate lap. Cooper and Schneider tried to hang on for dear life, but Cooper was seven meters back with 200 to go. The team was decided, but who would take the win? With 100 to go, the BTC women broke Schneider, who was able to hold off Cooper for third. Schweizer was still at the front, but she drifted to the outside coming off the final turn, and Cranny took advantage. Cranny passed on the inside, unlike her narrow victory over Schweizer at The TEN in February, where she passed on the outside. Today Cranny ran her final 400 in 63.73 and final 1600 in 4:33.21.

Norris faded hard to eighth place in 15:48.70, behind Buchalski, NCAA champ Elly Henes, and HOKA NAZ Elite’s Lauren Paquette. Down the results list, BTC’s Vanessa Fraser, who entered with the third-best pb in the field (14:48), finished 13th in 16:02.92. Fraser has had a slow recovery from Achilles surgery on both heels in May 2020.

Check out the final 200 meters below:

Top 10 results *Full results with splits

Quick Take: Cranny’s 2020 and 2021 seasons have been a revelation

Cranny was a good runner at Stanford, finishing third in the 2018 NCAA 1500 final and sixth at NCAA XC in 2018. Now, BTC coach Jerry Schumacher has developed the 25-year-old into the next big thing in American women’s distance running. Schweizer’s breakout season was 2019, and she has shown great range since, and now Cranny is right there with her, or better, in all events 1500 up to 10k.

Cranny entered the Trials as the top-ranked woman in the country in the 10,000 and No. 3 in the 1500, so it shouldn’t be surprising that she could contend in the 5k, but the Trials semifinals was her first 5k of the year. She scratched the 1500 at the Trials, but her 4:02 on May 28 is great speed for a 5k/10k runner.

Her 14:48 5k at the first Bowerman TC Intrasquad meet in June 2020 was a 37-second pb, but Schweizer ran 14:26 ten days later and then 4:00 in the 1500 in the next intrasquad meet. Now Cranny has outkicked Schweizer in their most important race of the year, and the two may also be the favorites in the 10k on Saturday. Both said they will attempt the double.

At the end of 2019, Cranny’s PRs were 4:05/8:58/15:25 and she had never run a 10k. Now she’s gone 4:02/8:40/14:48/30:47 and is a US champion.

Quick Take: Cranny and Schweizer say they ran for Houlihan

The American record holder in this event, BTC’s Shelby Houlihan, could not race today because she announced one week ago that she is banned from the sport for four years after testing positive for nandrolone.

Since then, Houlihan’s teammates have been steadfast in their proclamation of her innocence and used it as motivation.

Cranny said that doing workouts with Houlihan and Schweizer elevated her to a new level.

“She’s the reason I’m here … and has elevated the team to a whole new level,” Cranny said. “… [We are] running with her and using it as motivation instead of letting it bring us down.”

Schweizer concurred: “We’ve navigated [the media and press regarding Houlihan] really well, knowing she wanted us to go out and make the team. I knew what Shelby would’ve wanted.”

Quick Take: Did Schneider’s last-minute sponsor change make a difference?

Schneider dropped Under Armour, her sponsor of six years, just three days before this 5k final. She is having the best season of her career, so why would she drop her sponsor before the biggest meet of her career?

Women’s Running reported that Under Armour was slow in developing their version of a super spike prototype, and Schneider did not want to run at a competitive disadvantage. Instead she signed with HOKA ONE ONE, which released its Cielo LD and Cielo MD spikes recently, which include responsive midsole foam materials and a rigid carbon plate.

The last-minute switch represents athletes’ beliefs that the new spike technology makes a big difference in distance events.

Schneider said it herself after the race: “There’s been some big shifts in spike technology this last year. There’s definitely something to the super spike.”

Quick Take: Saturday 10k may be very toasty

Cranny, Schweizer, and Schneider will attempt the double on Saturday, but the Eugene summer heat will be even more of a factor in that race. The forecast calls for a high of 100 degrees, and the race begins at 6:44 p.m., two hours before sunset. The logical move for USATF would be to move it to the morning, but that decision remains to be seen.

Quick Take: Despite recent progress, the US women are still overmatched in this event

If Schweizer was in mid-14:20s shape like in 2020, or if Houlihan were racing, the US women may have a chance to be in the mix on the last lap in the Tokyo 5,000 final. Given that Houlihan is certainly not racing and that Schweizer has not flashed her 2020 form yet in 2021, it seems very unlikely that these women will be anywhere near the front in Tokyo.

When women with PRs in the 14:40s (Cranny) and 14:50s (Schneider) are in the top three at US, the United States is not going to get a medal against women with PRs of 14:06 (Letensebet Gidey) and 14:13 (Gudaf Tsegay), plus the current mile/former 10k world record holder (Sifan Hassan). The top-ranked American in the world in this event by 2021 times is Norris in 10th, but Gidey has yet to race a 5k this year and Hassan has only run one solo effort.

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