The middle distance events have become very exciting over the last couple of seasons as we’ve had an emergence of talent over both 800 and 1500 meters. This influx of youth has brought us back to being competitive on the world stage on the women’s side and back to respectability on the men’s side.
It also makes for exciting races come championships/Trials time. This year’s races should present an interesting mix of young and old. Especially on the men’s side where suddenly the colleges are brimming with 1:44 half milers. So here’s how I see it playing out.
We need someone to step up and get into the low 1:43’s. Given the rate of improvement this spring with some of our young half milers, that could be on the horizon this summer. I think the road to 1:43 will begin here with a classic race between front runners and kickers.
The front runners should be lead by Charles Jock and Andrew Wheating – Jock playing the role of the rabbit, with Wheating staying close and keeping in reach. The role of the kickers will be played by Robbie Andrews and Nick Symmonds – Symmonds being somewhere near the back of the pack; Andrews defining the back of the pack.
Jock took the NCAA final through the first lap under 50.00. If he wants to make this team he will have to do the same to try to take the sting out of the kickers – something I expect he will do. Wheating, however, will move much sooner than traditional kickers, and won’t let Jock get too far away. The final 200 meters will have more action than the final lap of the Indianapolis 500, as Jock does his best to hold off the rush of first Wheating then Symmonds, then Andrews.
Wheating should get to the line first to take the title. Symmonds should draw close, but look for Andrews to go by both Jock and Symmonds with 10 meters left as they lean at the finish with Jock getting the final Daegu spot with his height advantage on the lean!
This is actually the tougher of the two races for me to predict, because so many of our top women excel in BOTH the 800 & 1500. So the question is will they double here at nationals and give themselves two shots at the team, or will they focus on a single event, putting all of their Daegu eggs in one basket? Doubling would require running both the 800 (first) and 1500 three hours apart on Thursday. 800 semi on Friday. 1500 final on Saturday. 800 final on Sunday. So the double is doable. Who makes the attempt? We’ll find out next week. But here is my best guess.
This has become one of my favorite events because we have some gutsy women who love to attack the race. I’m expecting Phoebe Wright and Alysia Montano (nee Johnson) to do just that. Wright has been competing well since Penn while Montano just ran her first race of the year at Pre. My gut says Wright is a bit sharper and stronger at this point and so she gets my nod as the winner of this race.
My gut also says that there will be some doubling going on and that the 1500 strength of Anna Pierce combined with her heart will put her in between Wright and Montano for the #2 spot on the team with Montano coming in at #3. That won’t be easy, however, as Morgan Uceny is another with heart and my gut says that she too will be doubling. So if Montano fades late, as she typically does, not only could Pierce get ahead of her but so could Uceny.
The one woman that could throw a monkey wrench into the whole process is Maggie Vessey. Vessey has the talent to run 1:57, but her race tactics too often leave her in poor position to do much damage. If she is near the leaders with 200 to go she could change things dramatically. But my gut says she finishes just outside 2:00 here.
Once in Daegu I’m expecting mixed results. The men will be hard pressed to have a presence in the final unless they can get into the 1:43’s or at least the low 1:44’s. David Rudisha is unbeatable unless hurt. Medals could depend on the status of Abubaker Kaki who was injured in New York. If he is out that opens up two medal possibilities. If he is healthy then a great deal of the world could be fighting for one medal.
The women could fair a bit better. A solid 1:59 run could get into the final. A 1:57 run should garner a medal. We have women capable of doing both. More importantly those that make the team will have the guts and heart to run with the pace and be in the hunt come the final stretch run. The summer should tell a lot about both squads heading into Daegu.