Tuesday, June 23, 2009

US Nationals Preview - Middle Distances

An area where we once could count on medals internationally, in recent years we've come up dry. Bernard Lagat becoming an American citizen provided us with 1500 gold in Osaka in '07, but prior to that we have to go back to the 1999 World Championships to find a World Champs medalist, or even finalist as Jearl Miles Clark was 4th in the 800 and Regina Jacobs won silver in the 1500. And back to 1997 to find a men's finalist or medalist - Rich Kenah, bronze in the 800.

This from the nation that produced Jim Spivey, Mark Everett, Johnny Gray, Steve Scott, Kim Gallagher, and Jim Ryun. Among our current crop of athletes are some up and comers that I think will be able to join with Lagat to give us a strong presence in these events again.

Men's 800

The clear favorite entering the meet is Nick Symmonds. A gutsy runner with a fairly strong kick. NCAA Champion Andrew Wheating backed up his Olympic Trials 2nd place from last year with a gut wrenching, come from behind, diving win, on a bum leg at the NCAA Championships. The man he defeated, Tevan Everett, has proven to be adept at taking out the pace, and could end up in the role of "rabbit" in this meet.

US list leader, Khavedis Robinson (1:45.67), has long been thought to be the next breakthrough 800 meter man, but just keeps missing the mark. With youngsters like Wheating, Everett, and Trials 3rd placer Christian Smith coming into their own, "KD" may find making this team a bit more difficult.

!:43 is the current standard to be a contender on the international level. Symmond's PR sits at 1:44.01. Would be nice to see one or two get close to that mark, or better, this week. My best guess is a replay of the Trials final:

1. Nick Symmonds
2. Andrew Wheating
3. Christian Smith

Watch - Tevan Everett. His form broke down on him as Wheating reeled him in in Fayetteville. If the fast starting Everett can find a way to hold form, he could hold on and make this team.

Men's 1500

Leonel Manzano is the current American list leader at 3:34.14. Bernard Lagat has been our best "competitor" and possesses a PR of 3:26.34 from 2001 (when he was still competing for his native Kenya). Oregon's Matt Centrowitz appeared to be the next great miler from Oregon until he was derailed at the NCAA meet and failed to make the final. A final that was won by the one of the most intriguing competitors in this meet - Oklahoma State freshman German Fernandez, the NCAA Champion.

Fernandez has proven to be a fierce competitor in the mold of Manzano and Lagat. Though is PR is "only" 3:39.00, his mile times (3:55.02i) indicate he is capable of running faster. The other intriguing entry is former "wunderkind" Alan Webb. The American Record Holder in the mile (3:46.91) Webb has just not run well the last couple of seasons. He comes into this meet at 3:40.66 run back at the Pre meet. But in what could end up being a kicker's race, a time in that range could make the team.

This race should give us a view of how the "mile" is going to look in the US for some time to come. My picks:

1. Bernard Lagat
2. German Fernandez
3. Leonel Manzano

Watch - Matt Centrowitz. Centrowitz was looking like a sure member of the Berlin squad prior to the NCAA meet. How well he rebounds from that "failure" will say much about him. In his pre NCAA form he will challenge Fernandez and Manzano for what I see to be close spots behind Lagat.

Women's 800

An event in transition, there is no dominant force in this event. Hazel Clark was supposed to be next in line in the Clark Clan but never really met the heights of sister in law Jearl Miles Clark. She is the fastest entrant on the season as yearly list leader Anna Willard (1:59.29) has opted to run the 1500.

Chief among the challengers for the team should be two time NCAA champ Geena Gall, who won this year's title with a PR 2:00.80. She's an aggressive runner, but will really need to improve to make the team and be a factor at the next level. The really interesting entrant is Maggie Vessey - a journyman who suddenly emerged at the Pre Classic with a stunning stretch run to win and set her PR 2:00.18! A finish of that nature this week could very well net her a spot on the team.

This is an event where flipping a coin is about as good as examining the stats. My coin says:

1. Geena Gall
2. Hazel Clark
3. Maggie Vessey

Watch - Treniere Clement - Clement has the chops to make this team, but has run poorly this year. If there is a time to shake off the cobwebs this is it. If she can find her form, she's on the team.

Women's 1500

This could end up being one of the most exciting events of the entire meet. It lost a bit of luster for me with the scratch's of Jenny Barringer (this years list leader at 3;59.90) from this event to focus on the steeplechase.

There is still a lot of talent here, however, and we still have last year's leader (4:00.33) Shannon Rowbury taking the track. Her main competition should be Anna Willard, this year's leader in the 800 (1:59.29) who was 4:01.44 in the fast Prefontaine race. Christin Wurth Thomas was also in that race and finished in 4:01.72. The rest of the field is a bit back of this group. They should make up our team barring an unseen emergence from someone else. The excitement, however, will be in how close they race each other and whether or not one, or more, can dip below 4:00! After shuffling the deck I come up with:

1. Anna Willard
2. Shannon Rowbury
3. Christin Wurth Thomas

Watch - Jordan Hassay. Hassay is a high school phenom that has dominated at that level. She's not quite ready to challenge these women, But watch her as she is the next phase and could be ready by London 2012.

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