Friday, September 10, 2010

US Getting Back in the Game Above 400 Meters

BERLIN - AUGUST 23:  (L-R) Joseph Ebuya of Kenya, Vincent Kiprop Chepkok of Kenya, Chris Solinsky of United States and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia compete in the men's 800 Metres Final during day nine of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on August 23, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

The season is winding down quickly, with the Commonwealth Games the biggest competition remaining – and it’s restricted to a select few nations. For all intents and purposes US athletes are done, with a bit of rest on the docket before resuming training for the upcoming World Championships season.

Lots of ups and downs this year, and I will spend some time talking about them as we head into the Fall training / road racing season. But the one area that I want to give a shout out to right away is to the athletes on the track above 400 meters. One of the things that I will have to do fairly soon is update my “Thirty Watch List”. When I first put it together it was dominated by the sprints and hurdles. Watching this season play out, I think that there may be some action above the sprints this next time around!

I have to start with Chris Solinsky. He lead the world over 10000 meters for almost the entire year, as it was only two weeks ago that Kenya’s Josephat Menjo surpassed Solinsky’s AR of 26:59.60! Granted it moved him to “only” #30 all time, but when was the last time an American was in the top spot on a yearly list in the 10000? If I’m not mistaken you’d have to go back to 1986 when Mark Nenow lead the world with his AR 27:20.56 – twenty four years ago! Solinsky also gave us three races under 13:00 in the 5000 meters – with a 12:55.53 PR that would have been an AR if it weren’t for Bernard Lagat.

Ah, Bernard Lagat. I keep worrying about his age, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. At 35 years old he ran an AR 12:54.12 over 5000, a 3:54.36 mile, 3:32.12 over 1500 and won a 3000/5000 double in the Continental Cup. Lagat is STILL a factor, and he and Solinsky should make quite a pair over 5000 next year. And that’s not saying anything about Dathen Ritzenhein or Matt Tegenkamp who had their own breakthroughs under 13:00 last season.

And while Lagat looks like he will have help in the longer distance, we saw some improvement from others in the shorter distance too. Specifically from Andrew Wheating and Leonel Manzano. Wheating had multiple event duty for the University of Oregon as they gave game chase for an NCAA title coming up a bit short in their battle with the University of Florida and eventual champion Texas A&M. But Wheating did his part taking an 800/1500 double before heading to Europe and taking on the big boys. All he did after a lengthy collegiate season was run bests of 1:44.56, 3:30.90 and 3:51.74 – making me wonder whether he is a half miler or a miler! Similar improvement was made by the diminutive Manzano. The gutsy Manzano kept staying with the pace in Europe and was rewarded with PRs of 1:44.56, 3:32.37 and 3:50.64. Lagat is still our best competitor on the international stage, but Wheating and Manzano are the future, and have the potential to make some noise next year with a bit of improvement – especially in the metric mile which is in the 3:30 to 3:32 zone right now.

Our women continue to make great strides in the middle distances as well. Last year it was Christin Wurth Thomas, Anna Pierce, and Jenny Barringer that make big moves. Barringer was quiet this year, but Pierce and Wurth Thomas continued to shine with Wurth Thomas improving her 1500 down to 3:59.59 – her second year in a row under 4:00. This year we can add the names Alysia Johnson, Phoebe Wright, and Morgan Uceny to the mix as they had major improvements of their own this year. Johnson was twice under 1:58 and lead the world at 1:57.34. After winning this year’s NCAA championship Wright went to Europe and ran very well dropping her PR down to 1:58.22. And Morgan Uceny was double trouble running 1:58.57 in the 800 and 4:02.40 in the 1500. All three are hard charging, front runners who are not afraid to try and stay with the pace – any pace. Together with Wurth Thomas, Pierce, Barringer and Shannon Rowbury – who began to blossom in ‘08 and has continued to run well – we look well poised to battle the rest of the world in the women’s middle distances next year!

All in all I have to say that we look to have improved much in the past couple of seasons in the non sprints on the track. I’m looking forward to some success stories in Daegu and beyond. It’s been a while coming, but I think this group is truly capable.

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