Gabriela DeBues-Stafford (14:31) & Elise Cranny (14:33) Blitz National 5K Records in Boston
By Jonathan Gault
February 11, 2022
BOSTON — With two kilometers to go in the women’s 5,000 meters at tonight’s David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University, there looked to be a very real possibility that Shalane Flanagan‘s North American record might endure one more night. Monday marked the 13th anniversary of Flanagan’s record of 14:47.62 — a mark set so long ago that Flanagan said until recently she forgot she still owned the record. And when US champion Elise Cranny passed 3,000 meters in 8:57.41 (five seconds slower than the record-pace split of 8:52) it seemed quite unlikely that Cranny would break the record by more than 14 seconds — and not even win the race.
Yet, through a combination of a super track, super spikes, and no small amount of talent and hard work, Cranny and her Canadian Bowerman Track Club teammate Gabriela DeBues-Stafford blitzed the last 10 laps and wound up smashing Flanagan’s continental and national records, DeBues-Stafford overtaking Cranny on the last lap to win in 14:31.38 as Cranny settled for second in a huge American record of 14:33.17.
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The closing splits were scarcely believable. A week ago at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, DeBues-Stafford ran 8:33.92 to take 12+ seconds off the Canadian indoor 3,000-meter record. Tonight, she ran her final 3k in 8:30.83 — almost as fast as the open personal bests of Jenny Simpson (8:29.58) and Shannon Rowbury (8:29.93), two recent American superstars. Included in that 8:30.83 was a final 1600 of 4:25.72 and last lap of 30.81, which was enough to drop Cranny, who had opened up a 10-meter gap on DeBues-Stafford with 800 to go but had no answer for the Canadian’s kick. Cranny’s American record was well-deserved, as she was the one who started dropping 33-second laps after a string of 35’s and 36’s in the earlygoing, and her closing splits (8:32.43 last 3k, 4:27.81 last 1600) were almost as fast as DeBues-Stafford’s.
Behind the record-breakers, there were a slew of personal bests, as is tradition at Boston University. Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs was third in 14:48.75, moving to #4 on the all-time US indoor list, with Providence alum Millie Paladino, now running for New Balance Boston, clocking a 12-second pb of 15:02.63 for fourth. NCAA outdoor 5,000 champion Elly Henes lowered her pb from 15:18 to 15:03.27 in fifth as the top five all easily surpassed the outdoor World Championship standard of 15:10.00.
Quick takes and interviews from Boston below.
Results/splits courtesy Lancer Timing
Quick Take: This record was overdue to fall
When Shalane Flanagan, now a Bowerman TC assistant, ran her American/North American record of 14:47 back in 2009, it was a very impressive run, as it broke the previous record by 20 seconds and was less than three seconds slower than her American outdoor record. But in the years since, the American record outdoors has dropped from 14:44 to 14:23. In an age of supershoes, Flanagan’s record (which was run across town at the Reggie Lewis Center) was destined to fall once a big-time talent like Cranny took a crack at it on a fast track like BU.
“I knew it was gonna go, I just didn’t know by how much,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan had held the record for so long that she had to be reminded recently by Bowerman TC head coach Jerry Schumacher that it was her record that DeBues-Stafford and Cranny were trying to break.
“It was so long ago, 2009, I had to go back and look up an article and read about it because it was fuzzy details,” Flanagan said. (You should read about it too: it was a great race, with Flanagan finishing second behind Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Ejigu as both women were credited with the same time).
Quick Take: GDS amazes once again
We already knew Gabriela DeBues-Stafford was a world-class miler, as she finished 6th in the 1500 at Worlds in 2019 and 5th at the Olympics in 2021. She had run well at longer distances under previous coach Andy Young (she ran a Canadian record of 14:44 and almost won a Diamond League in 2019) but Schumacher places a greater emphasis on strength work and DeBues-Stafford believes that’s not only why she is running fast, but also why she is closing so quickly (she ran her final 200 at NBIGP last week in 29.04).
“This is definitely the strongest I’ve ever been,” DeBues-Stafford said. “And Jerry always says, strength is speed…the biggest thing is being as strong as possible so at the end, you have more of your kick to access.”
GDS’s kick is now among the best in the world, and her plan is to focus in on World Indoors, where she will have a serious shot at winning her first global medal in the 3,000.
“A medal is never guaranteed, but it’s definitely not out of the question,” DeBues-Stafford said. “People come out of the woodwork, some people don’t run fast right until March, so it’s always a bit of you never know what you’re going to get at World Indoors. But that’s the plan, that’s the dream.”
She has one believer: Shalane Flanagan said she thinks the chances of a GDS medal in Belgrade next month are “great.”
“She pretty much notoriously closes in 30 off of like, any race,” Flanagan said. “And I said, how do you do that? How do you find that ability? Because I watch her and it’s phenomenal. Her top-end speed is really great. She goes, ‘It’s a lot of self-hatred.’ She can go to a deep, dark place in the last 200.”
Quick Take: Elise Cranny, American record holder
America churns out a lot of female teenage phenoms in middle distance running, but sustaining that momentum and continuing to flourish in college and as a professional is difficult. Cranny was a star in high school, running 4:10 and finishing 4th at World Juniors in the 1500, and while she had a successful collegiate career at Stanford, she never won an NCAA title. Cranny continued to run the 1500 after graduating from Stanford in 2018, but as recently as two years ago, there was no indication that she’d wind up as an American record holder, much less in the 5,000 meters.
At this time in 2020, Cranny was coming off a 9th-place finish in the 1500 at USAs and owned a 5k personal best of 15:24. But after three years under Schumacher, she has built up her endurance significantly and is now the US champion outdoors and American record holder indoors in the 5k — and is still only 25 years old.
Cranny deserves the majority of the credit for making this race, as she was the one who really pushed it after they fell behind pace early. For a while, it even looked as if she had dropped GDS and would get the North American record as well, but Cranny knew better than to underestimate her teammate.
“I always know, you can’t count her out,” Cranny said. “I knew she’d be coming and I knew I really had to push that last 400.”
When I asked Cranny if she was surprised to have broken Flanagan’s AR by 14 seconds, she nodded her head yes, but Courtney Frerichs, changing shoes nearby, quickly interjected.
“No!” Frerichs said. “Not at all, she’s been crushing the training.”
Cranny also said that it was special for her to keep the American record in the BTC family and to have Flanagan rooting for her to take the record down tonight.
“It’s so special just her advice and guidance and her being there,” Cranny said.
Cranny said she’d like to run USA Indoors and it seems like there’s a good chance that happens. Should she qualify for World Indoors, however, she would need to consult with Schumacher before deciding whether to take her spot.
Quick Take: Bowerman TC owns the 5k in North America
The four fastest North American women of all time in the 5,000 meters (indoors and out combined) all ran their personal bests while representing the Bowerman Track Club:
1. 14:23.92 Shelby Houlihan, 2020
2. 14:26.34 Karissa Schweizer, 2020
3. 14:31.38i Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, 2022
4. 14:33.17i Elise Cranny, 2022
Current/former BTC athletes also occupy the top five spots on the US indoor list:
1. 14:33.17 Elise Cranny, 2022
2. 14:47.62 Shalane Flanagan, 2009
3. 14:48.51 Vanessa Fraser, 2020
4. 14:48.75 Courtney Frerichs, 2022
5. 14:51.91 Emily Infeld, 2020
Quick Take: Shelby Houlihan has been training in Flagstaff, but not with her Bowerman Track Club teammates
It was hard to watch tonight’s races and not think of Shelby Houlihan, the American record holder in the outdoor 5,000 who is serving a four-year ban from the sport after testing positive for nandrolone in 2020. Houlihan’s absence has cast a shadow on Bowerman TC ever since her ban was announced in June 2021, and Cranny said that Houlihan has been training in Flagstaff (where Bowerman has been for altitude training recently) but not with the team, per the conditions of her ban.
Despite the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to ban Houlihan for four years, Cranny is sticking by her former teammate and said that even though she can no longer train with Houlihan, she is constantly in her thoughts.
“I don’t think for me personally, I don’t think I can ever put it behind me,” Cranny said. “I’m really good friends with Shelby and just seeing her life be ripped out from under her is super upsetting. Seeing her do things on her own in Flagstaff and just not having her there every single day is just a reminder that someone was completely robbed of her career. And I don’t think for our team or any of us, I don’t think that goes away. I think that’s there, I think there’s a heaviness among the team and I think there’s a desire to want to run for her.”
Houlihan is appealing the CAS decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, and while the chances that her ban is overturned are very slim, Flanagan said that for now, Houlihan is continuing to train as she normally would.
“It’s a very tough situation for her and she’s just trying to make the best of it, and so she’s going to put herself in the best possible position to, if she does get it overturned, then she can resume competing,” Flanagan said.
Is Schumacher continuing to coach Houlihan? Flanagan did not get into specifics, directing questions to Houlihan’s lawyer, but there is no specific rule in the WADA Code preventing a banned athlete from working with a coach.
“Her lawyer has contacted the AIU and all the proper entities and we have specific guidelines that she abides by,” Flanagan said.
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