High temperatures didn’t slow the field much in a variety of races in Eagle Rock, Calif.
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A phenomenal evening of competition played out at the USATF High Performance Distance Classic Thursday night at Occidental College, with many of the best distance runners in the nation and the world toeing the line aiming for fast times and personal bests. Temperatures hovering in the 90-degree range would only serve to heat up the action as the sun set in Eagle Rock, Calif.
In what was perhaps the biggest surprise of the meeting, 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp was defeated by Australian Collis Birmingham in a thrilling men’s 5000m, 13:18.57 to 13:19.59.
Through 3,000 meters in 8:09.84, a pack of roughly 12 athletes was strung out in a straight line, all still maintaining contact with the front-running Aaron Braun. Sitting in third and fourth together were Rupp and Birmingham, a precursor of things to come.
Appearing hesitant to take the lead, Rupp keyed off of Braun lap after lap, while the tall, clean shaven Birmingham sat a step behind. The lead pack of seven slimmed as Rupp made a move 600 meters out from the finish, taking the front with gusto. Opening up his stride, Rupp, Birmingham and Bashir Abdi were able to separate from Braun and mile specialists Nick Willis and Will Leer.
As Rupp went to his arms, pumping with hopes of breaking the two-time Olympian, Birmingham got a second wind. Propelled around Rupp’s outside shoulder with 150 to go, the Nic Bideau-coached Birmingham charged home with purpose, stopping the clock in 13:18.57. Realizing he didn’t have the speed last night to match Birmingham, Rupp eased up slightly before the line, crossing in 13:19.59.
“I normally go a little bit too early and die in the homestretch. It’s good to do something different and get the win,” Birmingham told Carrie Tollefson and Paul Swangard of USATF.tv. “Obviously Galen has had loads of great races, so any race where you can match up with him means you had a great race so I’m pleased with that and I’m sure Galen will come along and do even better in the coming weeks.”
Coming off a 10K personal best of 28:22 set last Saturday at the humid and hilly UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in New York City, Birmingham looks to be in prime position going forward. His eyes are set on the Commonwealth Games 5000m and 10,000m in Glasgow, where a podium finish is a definite possibility.
RELATED: Rupp Runs 3:50 Mile
Willis was able to pass Abdi for third, 13:20.33 to 13:20.61, with Leer rounding out the top five in 13:23.94. Willis and Abdi both recorded personal bests. Friday morning, Willis tweeted a quote from his long-time coach, Ron Warhurst: “Running the 5000m is like a toothache. It’s a nagging pain that never ceases, and all you want to do is pull out.”
According to Chris Nickinson of Runnerspace.com, Rupp and Nike Oregon Project teammate Cam Levins (who ran 3:38.46 for 1500m) were seen doing a track workout following the meet’s conclusion “in near darkness.”
The women’s 5000m strung out single file from the get go, as Kim Conley pushed the pace just as she had done in the 1500m earlier in the meet. A lap into the contest, it was a three-woman race for the win: Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba and Nike Oregon Project teammates Shannon Rowbury and Jordan Hasay were the only ones tailing Conley, designated as the pace setter.
After Conley’s job was done, Diriba led the Alberto Salazar-coached tandem until the 12:30 mark, when Hasay inserted a charge. Exchanging the lead over the final 600 meters were Hasay and Rowbury, while Diriba hung on comfortably in third.
The race would be decided with 300 meters remaining, when Rowbury turned to her four-flat 1500m speed and began to edge away. Diriba clutched to second around the final bend as Rowbury cruised to a 15:20.91 victory down the homestretch.
“I knew it was going to be hot so I just took it for what it was and just tried my best to compete at the end,” said Rowbury. “I want to say thank you to everyone in the stands. I was surrounded by people cheering and that really kept me honest.”
Diriba was second in 15:22.75, while Hasay completed the top three in a new personal best of 15:29.63. In much cooler conditions, Hasay had run a 31:39.67 10,000m personal best at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., 11 days earlier.
IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Brenda Martinez had to turn to another gear down the homestretch of the women’s 800m to beat Maggie Vessey by the smallest of margins—five one-hundredths of a second. Through 400 meters in 1:00.72, it was Vessey charging down the backstretch, with Martinez moving into second with half a lap remaining.
Digging deep, Martinez timed her kick perfectly, taking the lead only a step from the finish.
“It was a good opener. Today was just more about relying on my strength more than my speed,” said Martinez, whose winning time was 1:59.91 to Vessey’s 1:59.96. “It was a really hard effort. To go under 2:00 for an opener, I really can’t complain. I just know there’s a whole lot of season ahead of me and I just have to get ready for the summer.”
Vessey’s performance was noteworthy. She had a poor season in 2013 (she didn’t make it out of the semifinals at last June’s USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships) and her sponsor, New Balance, had dropped her. She now has the sixth best time in the world for the nascent 2014 season.
Rounding out the top three in section 1 was Canada’s Melissa Bishop, the only other athlete to dip under 2:01. In total, nine women finished in under 2:02 between the three sections. Oiselle’s Kate Grace was fourth fastest overall in 2:01.57, winning the second heat.
Sporting his green Nike Oregon Track Club Elite kit, Elijah Greer won the men’s 800m in a solid 1:45.86. After crossing 400 meters in eighth place, Greer gradually moved up before taking the lead in the final straight, fending off hard challenges by Felix Kitur (1:46.09) and Robby Andrews (1:46.37).
Greer confirmed that transitioning from the collegiate ranks—where he won the NCAA 800m title for Oregon last year—has gone very smooth under coach Mark Rowland.
In the top section of the men’s 1500m, Mathew Centrowitz appeared to be quickly rounding into his excellent 2012 and 2013 form, running with confidence. From the get-go, the Nike Oregon Project athlete set himself directly behind pacesetter Mike Rutt, who had already run 1:47.21 for 800m earlier in the meet. When Rutt stepped off with 600 meters to go, Centrowitz was in the pole position primed for a fast charge home.
Although Nike Oregon Track Club Elite’s Pat Casey and Melbourne Track Club’s Ryan Gregson gave him a slight challenge in the final 200 meters, Centrowitz appeared as comfortable as could be kicking down the stretch and finishing in 3:35.44. It was Centrowitz’s second 1500m win of the season.
“I’m definitely pleased,” said Centrowitz. “I wanted to be aggressive, go out with the rabbit and not let it lag … Came in here with a mission to run fast and get the ‘W’ so I got both of the pieces together.”
RELATED: Centrowitz Collects Worlds Silver
Nike Oregon Track Club Elite’s Jordan McNamara won the second heat in 3:37.39, narrowly defeating Ireland’s Paul Robinson (3:37.81).
Canada’s Kate Van Buskirk continued to ride a wave of confidence, winning the women’s 1500m. Racing on the Occidental College track—which she said was one of her favorites—Van Buskirk sat back in the pack awaiting her time to go. Judging from her runner-up performance at the Payton Jordan Invitational on May 4, the Ontario-native knew a personal best could be in the cards.
While Kim Conley led at the bell, Van Buskirk found herself in fourth place. A swift move with 200 to go brought the former Duke Blue Devil to the lead, a position she wouldn’t relinquish. Clocking a personal best of 4:06.97, Van Buskirk finished a tenth of a second up on New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin; in addition to Hamblin, six other women would all finish within a second of Van Buskirk.
When the temperatures were at their hottest, Dan Huling and Courtney Frerichs claimed the 3000m steeplechase titles.
Huling was paced through a majority of his race by Bowerman Athletic Club teammate and American record holder Evan Jager, also coached by Jerry Schumacher (Huling had paced for Jager at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational). Wearing identical neon yellow kits, Jager and Huling broke away from the field early.
By the time Jager stepped off the track, it was clear Huling was bound for a victory and a fast time. He would cross the line in 8:17.00, a new meet record and his fastest 3000m steeplechase since July of 2010 (8:13.29).
Huling noted that his goals this year are to break his personal best of 8:13.29 and race in as many Diamond League meetings as possible. By breaking the meet record of 8:19.14, he picked up $1,000.
In the women’s race, Frerichs, 21, made a strong move in the latter stages of her race, leading four athletes under 10:00. The University of Missouri-Kansas City alum’s winning time was 9:53.61, followed by Adams State’s Alicia Nelson (9:54.45), Great Britain’s Lennie Waite (9:56.08) and Central Park Track Club-New Balance’s Rolanda Bell (a native of Panama, 9:57.83). Frerichs and Nelson dipped under the USA National Championships qualifying standard of 9:55.00.