Shannon Rowbury reclaims the title of America’s best female miler.
The weather was hot – about 85 degrees at 3 PM – but the competition was hotter Saturday at Hayward field in Eugene, Ore. There were few distance events on day three of the 2009 USA Track and Field Championships, but there was one very good one – the final of the women’s 1500m. Most 1500m races follow one of a few familiar scripts, but in this race Christin Wurth-Thomas improvised in a gutsy way that the 10,000-plus spectators present greatly appreciated.
The first two laps were run conservatively, with the University of Tennessee’s Sarah Bowman leading the pack through 800m in 2:14. But just then Wurth-Thomas, who represented the U.S. at 1500m in Beijing, rocketed into the lead and established a huge gap. No one else dared cover such a risky move made so early in the race. Wurth-Thomas stretched her lead out to 30 meters and held it entering the bell lap. It was then that a patient Shannon Rowbury, winner of last year’s Olympic Trials 1500, began chasing in earnest. The gap closed slowly as Wurth-Thomas continued to stave off the implosion that many watchers probably expected. Early in the homestretch Rowbury shot by Wurth-Thomas and took the win in 4:05.07. A very deserving Worth-Thomas (4:06.00) held off Anna Willard (4:07.70) for third.
“She got quite a jump on us,” Rowbury said of Wurth-Thomas’ startling move at 800m. “I just tried to take it easy and ease into [the chase].”
It was still hot when the men’s 3000m steeplechase final started at 5:40 PM. Locally based Billy Nelson, a 2008 Olympian, took the early pace, which was unsurprisingly slow given the air temperature. Indeed, the water jump splashdowns may have been downright refreshing for the 14 sweaty runners in the field. Daniel Huling established a post just off Nelson’s shoulder and stayed there until three laps remained, when he snatched the lead and accelerated, disintegrating the pack.
Nelson faded as only Josh McAdams was able to cover Huling’s strong move. McAdams passed Huling with 500m to go and opened an ever-widening gap. He broke the tape at 8:29.91, claiming his second national championship title in the last three years. Huling followed in second and Arizona State graduate Kyle Alcorn, having moved into third place with a lap and a half left in the race, held on to the spot in 8:34.65.
“I thought the race was going to go out a little faster,” said McAdams. “It really played into my hands, this race. I was kind of surprised.”
In junior distance action, high school running legend and soon-to-be Oregon Duck Jordan Hasay made a surprising decision to enter the junior women’s 1500m after performing poorly in the senior 1500. Against women and girls her age she won her heat easily and advanced to Sunday’s final.
A number of big-name sprint and hurdle athletes also competed on Saturday. Defending world champion LaShawn Merritt tied his own mark for the fastest 400m time in the world in 2009, running 44.50 to win the national title. Lashinda Demus set a new Hayward Field record time of 53.78 in winning the women’s 400m hurdles. Lolo Jones had a rough outing in the preliminary heats of the women’s 100m hurdles, just squeezing through to the semifinals with a third-place finish in her heat. “I just kept hitting hurdles,” said the 2008 indoor world champion. Athens Olympics 200m gold medalist Shawn Crawford recorded the fastest time of the day, a wind-aided 20.19, in the men’s 200 prelims.
Quote of the day:
“Well, that was worth a thousand-mile drive” – spoken without sarcasm by the father of Nicholas Ekel of Vassar, Mich., to his mother after Ekel finished third in the junior men’s 10,000 and promptly threw up his lunch.