2022 USA Indoors Men’s Preview: Can Cinderella Shane Streich Win the 800? Who Can Break Up Cole Hocker & Cooper Teare in the 1500/3K?
By Jonathan Gault
February 24, 2022
After a one-year absence, the USATF Indoor Championships are back. They’re headed for a new venue — the brand-new Podium in Spokane — and for the first time in four years, there is a World Indoor Championships team to make. The top two finishers in each event (as long as they have the qualifying standard) will qualify for World Indoors, to be held from March 18-20 in Belgrade, Serbia. There’s a lot to be excited about.
While the US didn’t win an individual gold medal on the track at last year’s Olympics, four American men are reigning world outdoor champions on the track, and three of them will be in Spokane this weekend: Christian Coleman, Grant Holloway, and Donavan Brazier (Noah Lyles is the only absence). Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare will also be in action, as will Bryce Hoppel and Craig Engels. There’s some definite star power here.
Notably absent, however, are athletes from the Bowerman Track Club. Only one BTC athlete, reigning 1500 champion Josh Thompson, will compete at USAs, with most of the rest racing a 10,000 next weekend at The TEN in California. Paul Chelimo, a fixture at USA Indoors over the years, won’t be in Spokane either.
Track and field stars like to complain that our sport isn’t popular — well skipping a US and World Championship to run a time trial certainly isn’t helping things. We spent a lot of time ranting about this on this week’s edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast and will rant about it some more below.
After perusing entries, here’s a look at the biggest men’s races and storylines at USAs this weekend. Women’s preview coming soon.
P.S. You may want to check now if you have CNBC. With NBC Sports Network no more, CNBC will be airing the meet this weekend in the USA (you can also stream it on Peacock).
Men’s sprints: Coleman & Holloway should shine, but how will Brazier fare?
There are humongous favorites in two of the three men’s sprint races at USAs. In the 60, world record holder and reigning world champion Christian Coleman has not lost a race at this distance since 2016. He’s only raced one 60 this year, at Millrose on January 29, and though he was hardly dominant (he edged out Trayvon Bromell by .01), he owns the fastest season’s best in the field and only figures to improve as he gets back into the rhythm of racing following his 18-month ban for whereabouts failures. It would be a major surprise if Coleman is beaten on Sunday.
It would be even bigger surprise if Grant Holloway loses the 60 hurdles. Holloway is the world record holder at 7.29 and has been untouchable in this event. After his win on Saturday in Birmingham, Holloway has now won all 45 of his 60m hurdle races since moving up to the 42-inch barriers in 2017, and he has thoroughly dominated his competition during that span: of the 11 fastest times from the last 10 years, Holloway owns all 11. Holloway is already guaranteed a spot at World Indoors after winning the World Athletics Indoor Tour last year, but expect him to run and win in Spokane anyway.
While the 60 and 60 hurdles will see faster times (the world record is always under threat when Holloway races), the 400 should be entertaining in its own way. With its tight turns and two-turn stagger, the indoor 400 can be an absolute crapshoot, with a huge emphasis placed on getting the lead by the bell. That’s why you can see things like Athing Mu getting beaten at NCAAs or Pavel Maslak winning three straight World Indoor titles.
Unlike the other two sprint races, there’s no clear favorite in the 400 at USAs. And you’ve got 800 men Donavan Brazier and Devin Dixon stepping down. This should be fun.
Brazier’s coach Pete Julian told LetsRun Brazier’s aim is to qualify for the 4×400 relay pool at World Indoors, which would likely necessitate a top-6 finish (relay picks are at the discretion of the USATF relay coaches, but they will likely go off the order of finish at USAs). That’s definitely attainable: Brazier actually has the second-fastest season’s best among competing athletes at 46.55 and has the potential to run even faster. And remember, that was Brazier’s first 400 in four years. Now that he has some recent experience racing the event and has had more time to work on his block starts, he could be dangerous at USAs.
Dixon, now with the Brooks Beasts, has even more pure speed than his fellow Texas A&M Aggie. He’s only run 47.77 this year, but he owns a 45.68 indoor pb from 2019. Outdoors, he split 43.93 for Texas A&M’s 4×400 at NCAAs in 2018, remarkable speed for a guy who has run 1:44 for 800. Recently, however, Dixon has not been the same guy as he was in 2018/2019, so it may be best to temper expectations for this weekend.
As for Brazier, he absolutely has the ability to make the relay pool. Finishing in the top two isn’t totally out of the question, but that seems unlikely given Brazier will be at a disadvantage getting to the front at the break (he struggled with that at Millrose). He also has a long stride that takes up a lot of space, which could leave him more susceptible to contact and a fall.
So what will happen this weekend? Who the hell knows. Noah Williams, the NCAA indoor champ last year for LSU, has the fastest pb, but he was last in his only 400 of the year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (47.08). Trevor Stewart, the fourth-placer at last year’s Olympic Trials, is running but hasn’t run a 400 all year.
One final note: Brazier is entered in both the 400 and 800 at USAs. And while Julian says they’re focusing on the 400 for now, they have yet to make a final decision. It’s even possible Brazier attempts the double. The turnaround between races is quick (just 40 minutes between the prelims of the 400 and 800 on Saturday), but if Brazier bombs out in the 400 (or even if he doesn’t), he may line up for the 800 as well.
“We’re still considering it, to be honest,” Julian told LetsRun. “It certainly serves as a good backup…It’s enough time, I think, for an 800 guy, especially a guy like Donavan, to come back.”
Men’s 800 (prelims Saturday, 6:04 p.m. ET, final Sunday 5:31 p.m. ET): Harris, Hoppel, Streich, and…Brazier?
World Indoor standard: 1:46.70
Athletes entered with standard: Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, Erik Sowinski, Shane Streich, Craig Engels, Kameron Jones, Isaiah Harris
Every two years, the USA seems to churn out an unlikely star in the indoor 800. Unsponsored Chanelle Price won World Indoors in 2014, followed by Boris Berian (remember him?) winning World Indoors in 2016 and Drew Windle, another former DII star, taking silver at World Indoors in 2018. There was no World Indoors in 2020, but now in 2022 we have another rags-to-riches story in Shane Streich.
A middling 800 runner during his five years at the University of Minnesota (he never made NCAAs and departed with a 1:48.83 pb), Streich had a sixth year of eligibility in 2020-21 and used it at Lipscomb University, where he made huge strides, getting down to 1:45.85 and narrowly missing the Olympic Trials final. Now a pro with the Atlanta Track Club, Streich has been even better in 2022, running 1:46.07 at the Dr. Sander Invite (just .02 off Bryce Hoppel‘s US leader) and breaking Hoppel’s American record in the 1000 with his 2:16.16 at the American Track League Eastern Indoors a week later.
But if Streich is to join the likes of Price, Berian, and Windle as a World Indoor medallist, he’ll have to make it past some grueling competition at USAs. Reigning champ Hoppel is back, and while he was handed a bad beating by Spain’s Mariano Garcia his last time out, Hoppel still ran pretty fast in that race (1:46.08). Furthermore, he’s a fantastic racer and knows how to make teams. Hoppel is your favorite.
Isaiah Harris, now with the Brooks Beasts, is another huge talent who just happens to be competing in a super deep time for American 800 running. Harris ran 1:44.51 last year and won a Diamond League, and though he did make the US Worlds team back in 2017 as a 20-year-old, he was only 4th at USAs in 2019 and 2021 because he happened to go up against studs like Brazier, Hoppel, and Clayton Murphy. Hoppel handed Harris a defeat when they raced at Millrose in January, but Harris looked good in that race. Extra motivation? Harris has never won a US title.
The guess here is that this race comes down to a three-way battle between Streich, Hoppel, and Harris. But there are several potential wild cards. Craig Engels is entered and with a 1:44.68 outdoor pb, certainly has the 800 chops to be a factor. Erik Sowinski is 32 years old and is better known now as a pacemaker — he’s rabbitted eight races already in 2022 — but he ran 1:46.26 at Dr. Sander (just .19 back of Streich) and is the best tactician in the field (remember, he’s a three-time US champ indoors and 2016 World Indoor bronze medalist).
Looming over all of this is Brazier. He has unquestionably the highest ceiling in the field, but if he runs, he’ll likely be doubling back from a 400 just 40 minutes earlier and it would be his first 800 since last June. Would he even make the final?
Make sure to check the heat sheets before this event begins. USATF usually has three heats with only the heat winner guaranteed a spot in the six-person final, which makes for cutthroat racing. Plus Brazier doesn’t have a seed time because he hasn’t run an 800 this year, so who knows where he’ll wind up.
JG prediction: Streich is an amazing story and he could definitely make this team, but Hoppel and Harris are both proven championship performers and have been running well this year. Hoppel FTW, followed by Harris in second and Streich third.
Men’s 3000 (final Saturday 6:45 p.m. ET): Can anyone challenge Hocker?
World Indoor standard: 7:50.00
Athletes entered with standard: Cole Hocker, Conner Mantz, Drew Hunter, Willy Fink, Brian Barraza, Emmanuel Bor, Kasey Knevelbaard, James Randon
Let’s talk about this event before the 1500 since it’s chronologically first and the biggest player — Cole Hocker — is entered in both events. Before we get to who is running, it’s notable to mention who isn’t.
Cooper Teare, who was the top American in the stacked Millrose 3000? No.
Paul Chelimo, who has won this event in three of the last four championships? No.
Grant Fisher, who just ran an American record of 12:53 in the 5000? No.
Heck, anyone from Bowerman Track Club? No, no, no.
Teare is entered in the 1500 at USAs, so he gets a pass. Chelimo famously called out Bowerman for skipping USAs in 2020, so he has earned some gentle ribbing here. But he’s also been training in Kenya and hasn’t run any track races in 2021, so if he’s fully-focused on outdoors, that’s understandable.
While we here at LetsRun.com would love to see more athletes race at USA and World Indoors (more big-time championship races = good for the sport), World Athletics has not made it easy on themselves this year. World Indoors is the latest it’s ever been (March 18-20), while World Outdoors is the earliest it’s ever been (July 15-24) in order to avoid conflicts with the Commonwealth Games and European Championships. With such a quick turnaround, you can’t totally blame athletes and coaches for punting on World Indoors to focus on World Outdoors. But if our sport is going to grow in popularity, we think it would be better to have more than one “major” event a year where the win really means something. Tennis and golf have four majors. Not blowing off USAs/World Indoors would get us halfway there.
But until everyone, particularly the shoe execs, gets on board, the fact of the matter is the importance of World Outdoors dwarfs everything else. Reigning US 800 champ Clayton Murphy summarized the situation for many athletes in this tweet:
I can’t speak for every athlete, but the turnaround from the season we had last year was shorter than most of us could have used. Plus this indoor season was an extremely tight window, if you aren’t 100% your eyes are on outdoor and Euegene this summer
— Clayton Murphy (@Clayton_Murph) February 24, 2022
However, that’s not what is happening here. Fisher and Kincaid just ripped super fast times at BU, and both are currently entered in The TEN, a track 10,000 in California hosted by Sound Running next weekend (at the behest of their coach Jerry Schumacher, who for the most part decides his athletes’ racing schedules). So we know they’re fit. They’re willing to race. And yet they’re running a 10,000 — an event in which both men already have this year’s World Championship standard — instead of running the national championships? Why? Wouldn’t it be way, way more fun to see Fisher and Kincaid face Cole Hocker with a national title on the line? (And yes, you can use a 5,000 time to qualify for USAs, so both men would be able to enter).
Now, if Fisher is going for the American 10,000 record, that’s another story. But you need to announce that now to get people excited for it.
If you’re someone like Lopez Lomong or Shadrack Kipchirchir, neither of whom has the World Championship 10,000 standard, it makes sense to run The TEN. Fisher and Kincaid? No. Evan Jager and Sean McGorty, who won’t be running the 10k at USAs? No. There are precious few meets on the US track schedule that actually mean something. USA Indoors is one of them, but it means less when America’s top distance group doesn’t show up.
Rant over. Looking at who will actually be running in Spokane, Cole Hocker stands out as the heavy favorite. Last year indoors, Hocker ran a 3:50.55 mile and won the NCAA 3000m final in 7:46 while closing in 25.49. This year, Hocker has run a 3:50.35 mile and run 7:39 for 3000m while closing in 26.58 for his last lap. He’s still in great shape, and as the US 1500 champ, no one in this field is going to outkick him.
The only way Hocker realistically loses is if Emmanuel Bor, coming off a 13:00 5k pb in Boston, can somehow run in the low-7:30s and drop him. I wouldn’t totally put it past him. Bor is not afraid to chase big targets: last year, he ran 13:05 in an American record attempt at 5000, and Bor was with Fisher until 800 to go when Fisher ran his 12:53 two weeks ago.
But if he is to drop Hocker, Bor will have to pace things out absolutely perfectly because he is not a guy who can magically summon a kick off of any pace. When he ran his 13:05 last year, he closed in 64.20 for his last 400. In his 13:00 in Boston, it was 63.97. Few in the US are better at sustaining a hard pace, but when he’s done, he’s done.
Drew Hunter (who won this event out of the slow heat two years ago) and Conner Mantz both ran fast at Millrose (7:42 for Hunter, 7:41 for Mantz) but both were beaten badly by Hocker and that seems unlikely to change here (though both could be factors to make the team, especially if Hocker declines his spot). Willy Fink (7:44/13:16) and Dillon Maggard (7:47/13:13) have also been running well this year. And then there’s Ben Blankenship. He may be 33 years old now (MB: The mysterious age of Ben Blankenship), but he’s had plenty of success at this meet in the past and his 7:45 in Seattle in January was a welcome sign after injuries derailed his 2021 season. If he’s made progress in the month since that race, watch out.
JG prediction: It’s in Bor’s best interest to make this race fast and that’s what I expect him to do, trying to run sub-7:40. If he can manage that, he just might make his first World Championship team on the track. No matter how this race is run, however, Hocker is the favorite. Hocker FTW, Bor 2nd, Blankenship 3rd.
Men’s 1500 (final Sunday 6:13 p.m. ET): Can Hocker & Teare go from 1-2 at NCAAs in 2021 to 1-2 at USAs in 2022?
World Indoor standard: 3:39.00
Athletes entered with standard: Cole Hocker, Cooper Teare, Colby Alexander, Sam Prakel, Craig Engels, Johnny Gregorek, Josh Thompson, Vincent Ciattei, Casey Comber
It’s not a surprise to see Cole Hocker double-entered in the 1500 and 3000. He doubled up practically every chance he got last year at Oregon and never showed ill effects in race #2. He’s the reigning US champion in the 1500 and has looked great so far this year. It would be a shock if he doesn’t finish in the top two.
The more interesting entry is Cooper Teare. As the reigning NCAA 5000 champ and fourth-placer in that event at last year’s Olympic Trials, the 3000 would seem the more logical option, but Teare is a fantastic miler as well. His 3:50.17 two weeks ago in Chicago was #3 all-time by an American. And, perhaps more importantly with regards to this race, it gave him his fourth straight 1500/mile win against training partner Hocker. That’s right. Even though Hocker is the reigning NCAA and US 1500 champ, he’s never beaten Cooper Teare in that event.
That may explain why Teare is running the 1500 here. Or maybe it’s because he’s not planning on running World Indoors and wants to see how he stacks up in championship 1500. Or maybe because it’s only 7.5 laps instead of 15. Whatever the reason, he’s here, and he’s going to be a factor.
Given Teare and Hocker just ran the #3 and #4 times in US history — over two seconds faster than anyone else in the field this year — one would think their best bet would be to work together to drop the rest of the field. At Millrose four weeks ago, Ollie Hoare basically employed this exact strategy (with the help of pacemaker Erik Sowinski). He won in 3:50.83, and none of the Americans in the field (Colby Alexander, Sam Prakel, Johnny Gregorek, Craig Engels, Henry Wynne, all of whom are running USAs) were even close to him (Alexander hung on for a while but still finished 2+ seconds behind). If Teare and Hocker can go out and run 3:33-3:34, no one is touching them.
That strategy obviously carries the risk of blowing up (the American indoor record is 3:33.34), but so does leaving it to a kick, because then you’re bringing guys like Josh Thompson (the reigning US indoor champ), Engels, and Gregorek into the mix.
JG prediction: A Teare-Hocker 1-2 isn’t a slam dunk here. Alexander has been in great form. Engels had a disastrous Millrose but looked way better his next time out, running 1:46.77 for 800 to narrowly lose to Josh Kerr in Spokane two weeks ago (though if he makes the 800 final at USAs, he won’t have any impact in this race). Thompson is always dangerous in a slow race. But at the moment, Teare and Hocker look like the two fittest guys in the field, and if they turn this into a time-trial style race, they’ll be favored to go 1-2.
So who wins out of those two? If it’s a fast race, history suggests Teare (all of their 1500/mile encounters have been when they’ve been chasing times), and Teare already outkicked Hocker in the 3000 at Millrose this year. But I just can’t get that image of Hocker in a championship race out of my head. When a title’s on the line, Hocker’s form grows wild and unruly, but the dude just wins. I’ll take Hocker FTW, Teare 2nd, and Alexander 3rd.
Talk about 2022 USA Indoors in our messageboard: MB: Official 2022 USA Indoor Discussion Thread – BTC goes AWOL, Teare goes for the double and more.