The TEN Preview: Nico Young Debuts, Alicia Monson Chases AR, & Karissa Schweizer Returns

Top Americans, led by Grant Fisher & Alicia Monson, will chase Olympic 10,000m standards on Saturday

Saturday night’s races at The TEN in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., will play a significant role in determining who gets to represent the United States in the 10,000 meters at this summer’s Olympics in Paris. The 2024 Olympic auto standards are incredibly tough — only three Americans have ever run under the 27:00.00 men’s standard and only five Americans have hit the 30:40.00 women’s standard — and you can count the number of world-class track 10,000-meter races each year on one hand. That’s why Grant FisherNico YoungWoody KincaidJoe Klecker, Abdihamid NurAlicia MonsonKarissa SchweizerEmily InfeldWeini Kelati, and many more will be heading to SoCal Saturday night.

Since its first edition in 2021, The TEN has become the place for Americans to run a fast 10,000. Fisher set the men’s American record here in 2022 while Monson set the women’s American record here in 2023 and will be looking to repeat the feat in 2024.

To watch the main events, you’ll have to stay up late — the top heat of the women’s 10,000 does not start until 11:58 p.m. ET with the men to follow at 12:35 a.m. ET. Before then, we’ll get appetizer with the men’s 1500 (10:05 p.m. ET), which features Olympic medalists Matthew Centrowitz and Evan Jager kicking off their 2024 seasons. Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s races.

What: The TEN
When: Saturday, March 16
Where: JSerra Catholic High School, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
How to watch: Live on FloTrack (requires subscription)

*Schedule/entries *Results

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Before we get into the meat of the preview, a reminder of why the Olympic standard is so important in the 10,000 meters. The 10,000 is a straight final in Paris, which means the field size is small (27) relative to other events. Thus, the auto standard is very tough. In addition, up to eight spots are reserved for athletes who qualify via cross country world ranking. So between those spots and the athletes who hit the auto standard, there will not be many spots in the field available for athletes to qualify via their world ranking.

Depending on how many athletes achieve the standard (and how many federations give up their cross country spots — not all of them were used last year for Budapest), an athlete could still make the Olympics off of their world ranking. That’s how US third-placers Sean McGorty and Natosha Rogers made the Worlds team last year. But getting the standard offers more certainty, which is why Fisher and others bypassed USA/World Indoors in order to run this race and boost his Olympic chances.

Conditions look good for running fast at The TEN. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and minimal wind on Saturday night, and the Wavelight system will be used to set the pace on the rail.

Men’s 1500 (10:05 p.m. ET): Centro begins pursuit of fourth Olympic team

Matthew Centrowitz and Evan Jager have seen it all in running. They both graduated from high school in 2007 and made their first US teams as young guns — Jager as a 20-year-old in 2009, Centro at 21 in 2011. For much of the 2010s, they were among the very best in the world in their events, with Centro bringing home a gold medal from the 2016 Olympics and Jager a silver. Now Centro (34) and Jager (35) are the elder statesmen, trying to fend off a host of younger rivals and make one last Olympic team in Paris.

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Both men will run their 2024 outdoor openers in the 1500 on Saturday (Centro did run a 3:59 indoor mile on January 27 while Jager ran the first 4k of a 5k in Boston on February 16 before dropping out). Which means it’s time for one of our favorite games: how fast (or slow) will Centro run?

Throughout his career, Centrowitz has established himself as one of America’s greatest ever milers by delivering when it counts. He made every US team from 2011 through 2021 and won three outdoor medals as well as the 2016 World Indoor title. Yet in the latter years of his career, Centro thrown out some stinkers to begin his seasons before working his way into shape. In 2021, he opened with a 3:40 1500 on March 6 followed by a 1:50 800 on April 10 but ended the year running a 3:49 mile and making the Olympic team. Last year, he went to Australia and ran 1:56 for 800 on February 11 and 4:06 for the mile on February 23 but was running 3:36 for 1500 by May and eventually made the US final (though he only finished 10th).

So if Centro runs poorly here, it’s not cause for total panic. Heck, the fact that both he and Jager — who missed most of the 2023 campaign with a foot injury — are healthy enough to be racing is a promising sign. But the American 1500 scene is also more competitive than when Centro last made a team in 2021. Tactically, there is no better US racer than Centro, but he’s up against a group of young studs that includes three medalists from this year’s World Indoors (Yared NuguseCole HockerHobbs Kessler) and a trio of NCAA champions from the University of Washington (Luke HouserJoe WaskomNathan Green). Nuguse is the oldest of that group at 24 — a full decade younger than Centro. Centrowitz is facing an uphill battle to make Olympic team #4 but if he can run 3:36 or 3:37 here and stay healthy for the next three months, he could still have a shot.

As far as the man most likely to win here, Sweden’s Samuel Pihlström ran 3:35 in February and just finished 8th at World Indoors.

Women’s 10,000 (11:58 p.m. ET): Alicia Monson tries to become the first US woman under 30:00 as Karissa Schweizer returns

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Unlike almost every other athlete in this meet, Alicia Monson already has the Olympic standard thanks to the 30:03 American record she ran here last year. So why is she back for another crack?

Monson laid it all out in an interview with back in December:

Basically, it was just what can we do that would make me feel the most ready for the Olympics? And I feel like that’s running a sub-30:00 10k. I guess the plan would be to break the American record again, but really it’s how fast can I run to feel the most prepared? Because obviously I’m running against people who can run very fast and [I need to] be prepared to run at a pace that feels easy to them and then kick off of it.

Monson was still with the leaders at the bell at last year’s World Championships and her 5th-place finish was the best of her career in a global final. But she finished nearly four seconds out of the medals and the competition will be fierce in Paris. The last three global 10k champions — Sifan Hassan (29:06 pb), Letesenbet Gidey (29:01 pb), and Gudaf Tsegay (29:29 pb) — occupy three of the top four spots on the all-time 10,000m list. The slowest of them, Tsegay, still has a pb 34 seconds faster than Monson’s.

It would still be a tall task for Monson to win a medal, but she believes her best path is by getting stronger and being able to kick off a fast pace — which is how Elle St. Pierre upset Tsegay in the 3k at World Indoors in Glasgow.

Monson is coming off a career year with American records in the 3k, 5k, and 10k, and she is still just 25 years old. Sub-30:00 is a challenging but realistic goal. And Monson is not just hoping to sneak under 30:00 — the Wavelight will be set at 29:37 pace for her (72.0 per lap through 3000m then 71.0 through 8000m and 70.0 to the finish), with a second Wavelight set at 30:40 pace for the rest of the field.

Taylor Werner (15:03 pb) will pace Monson while Abbe Goldstein (4:10/16:00 pbs) and Taryn Rawlings (15:05 pb) will pace the rest of the field.

Who else gets the standard?

There is probably only one other woman who will try to run with Monson: Ethiopia’s Tsigie Gebreselama. Like Monson, Gebreselama, the world cross country silver medallist last year, already has the standard, and her pb of 30:04 from last year is only one second slower than Monson’s. Plus we know she is fit as she just ran 65:14 to win the RAK Half on February 24. 65:14 converts to a 29:38 according to John Kellogg‘s conversion chart.

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The other contenders will all be focused on the 30:40.00 Olympic standard. Of that group, Great Britain’s Jess Warner-Judd (30:35 pb) and American Karissa Schweizer (30:18 pb) have run the standard before, while Elly Henes (30:48 pb) has come close. US XC champ Weini Kelati (31:04 pb), 2015 Worlds bronze medalist Emily Infeld (31:08 pb), and 2021 5k Olympian Rachel Smith (31:09 pb) should also be in the mix.

Of that group, Warner-Judd, who ran 30:41 on the roads of Valencia on January 14, has the best shot at the standard. Kelati, who ran an American record of 66:25 in the half marathon on the same day and came back six days later to dominate the US XC champs, should also have a very good shot. Kelati was 4th in the 10,000 at USAs last year.

Schweizer and Henes are both injury question marks. Schweizer was 2nd at the Olympic Trials in 2021 and 1st at USAs in 2022, going on to finish 9th at Worlds that year in 30:18. That performance showed that when she’s fit and healthy, Schweizer is capable of running well under 30:40. But Schweizer has been beset by injuries over the past two years. She developed a calf injury in the 5,000 at the 2022 Worlds, which caused her to miss the rest of that year and the first half of 2023. Then in October 2023, Schweizer underwent surgery to repair a Haglund’s deformity on her left heel. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Schweizer is still only 27, and the first time she had Haglund’s surgery on her right heel, in October 2021, she followed it up with a US title and 30:18 pb the next year. This race will offer a good look at Schweizer’s process. Henes, meanwhile, ran an impressive 30:48 at this meet last year but suffered a strange lung issue in the offseason and has not been quite the same runner since her return. The talent is there, though.

Infeld, 33, and Smith, 32, have both made multiple US teams in the past, but each would need to knock nearly 30 seconds off their personal bests to get the Olympic standard. Infeld did run a 5k pb of 14:50 last year though, while Smith, who gave birth in April 2023, just won the US 15K champs on March 4.

Marathoners Keira D’Amato, 39, and Sara Hall, 40, are also dropping down for this race after failing to make the Olympic marathon team at the Trials last month.

Men’s 10,000 (12:35 a.m. ET): Fisher leads US cavalcade of stars as Young debuts

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Spare a thought for meet director Jesse Williams, who has the unenviable task of sorting out nearly 100 of the best US-based 10k men. Anyone who thinks they even have a chance of making the Olympics wants to be in the top section, and there are a lot of good guys in this race, so where do you draw the line? You could try to opt for two even sections, a la Boston University, but inevitably there will be gripes about that (and we like to see the top stars race each other, even if this is essentially a time trial).

Williams’ solution was to create one monster section of 36 men, which, he hopes, will spread itself out fairly quickly. The Wavelight will be set to 27:00 and the plan is for human pacers Amon Kemboi (13:06 pb) and Ahmed Muhumed (13:16/27:56 pbs) to lead the way through at least 5,000.

Here’s a run through of some of the most notable names in the top section and their current form.

Grant Fisher, USA (26:33 pb): Fisher has been careful not to take the Olympic standard for granted (shoot, is that a bad pun?), but he is clearly in shape to run sub-27:00. Two years ago, he ran 12:53 for 5,000 on February 12 and 26:33 three weeks later. This year, he ran 12:51 on February 16, most of it solo. Not only is Fisher a good bet to run the time, but because he is so fit and determined to get the standard, he could end up serving as a de facto pacer for the other Olympic hopefuls in the final miles (Editor’s note: assuming he doesn’t try to solo the American record which would be a very risky strategy if he blew up).

Woody Kincaid, USA (27:06 pb): Kincaid won this race last year in 27:06 and went on to win his second US title in July. But he did not look good in the 5k at BU in January, only running 13:15 after clocking 12:51 at the same meet a year ago. How much fitness has he gained in seven weeks?

Joe Klecker, USA (27:07 pb): Another fixture on recent US teams, the 2022 US champ ran 27:07 at The TEN last year but his two outings this year have been middling by his standards — 13:06 in Boston, 8:20 for 2 miles at New York.

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Nico Young, USA (debut): Young is making his 10,000 debut and is in the form of his life, having run a 12:57 NCAA 5k record in January and winning two NCAA titles last weekend in Boston. Young’s coach Mike Smith told LetsRun he thinks Young is in close to 27:00 shape — the only concern is the quick turnaround from NCAAs. Should Young hit the standard, he would be the first collegian under 27:00 (Sam Chelanga has the NCAA record at 27:08.39). He’d also be just the fourth American under 27:00 and, at 21, by far the youngest (Chris Solinsky was 25 when he did it, Galen Rupp was 25, and Fisher was 24).

Moh Ahmed, Canada (26:34 pb): One of the biggest names not to abandon the Bowerman Track Club in the offseason, Ahmed ran 26:34 at this race two years ago and was 6th in the 10k at Worlds last year.

Luis Grijalva, Guatemala (27:42 pb): Grijalva only ran 27:42 in this race last year but should be capable of faster given he has run 12:52 and finished 4th at Worlds in the 5k each of the last two years.

Abdihamid Nur, USA (27:42 pb): Grijalva’s training partner and fellow NAU alum has an identical 10k pb. And, like Grijalva, most of Nur’s success at the pro level has come in the 5k, where he won the US title last year. Nur’s last race, at USA indoors, wasn’t all that great as he was only 5th in the 3k. Was it because he was getting ready for this one?

Adrian Wildschutt, South Africa (27:23 pb): Wildschutt, who runs for HOKA NAZ Elite, ran a South African record of 27:23 last year and surprisingly won his section of the BU 5k in January by running 12:56. He’s fit and ready for another pb.

Edwin Kurgat, Kenya (27:58 pb): The 2019 NCAA champ at Iowa State, now with Under Armour Dark Sky Distance, defeated George Mills and Yared Nuguse, among others, to run 12:57 and win his section of the BU 5k in January.

Addisu Yihune, Ethiopia (debut): Yihune, who will turn 21 on Sunday, has never run a 10,000 on the track but he did win the Beach to Beacon 10K on the roads last summer. And with a 12:58 pb that he ran at age 18 in 2021 and the 2022 World U20 title in the 5,000, he is a formidable distance runner

Jack Rayner, Australia (27:15 pb): Set the Aussie record of 27:15 at this race two years ago.

Habtom Samuel, Eritrea (27:20 pb): Samuel ran 27:20 as an 18-year-old in 2022, was the NCAA XC runner-up in 2023, and just finished 4th (5k) and 7th (3k) at NCAAs last weekend for New Mexico.

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