The thrilling race wasn’t decided until the final few meters.
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SACRAMENTO — With two laps remaining in the women’s 5,000m final at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hornet Stadium on Friday night, Molly Huddle was nervous. The American record holder for the distance was leading Shannon Rowbury by only half a step, and knew that Rowbury—a two-time national 1500m champion—had the edge on her in closing speed.
“I just tried to make sure like I had enough for a hard kick because I knew Shannon is a great closer, and I’m going to have to pull it off in the last 200,” Huddle told reporters.
The two Olympians had already dispatched NCAA champion Marielle Hall of the University of Texas by turning laps of 71.4, 70.9 and 69.9 seconds before hearing the bell. At that point, Huddle increased the pace again, but Rowbury stayed right behind her, waiting for the right time to strike. As the duo began to enter the turn at the end of the backstretch, Rowbury moved outside and shot past Huddle who seemed to hesitate before giving chase.
“I tried to change, measure my kick a little better in these scenarios,” Huddle explained. “I used to go all out at the bell. I tried to go, like, 80% at the bell because I knew the move would come at 200. It’s happened to me before that I wasted it all in the first 200.”
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As Rowbury came out of the final turn into the homestretch, she was striding smoothly and gaining speed. It looked like she had Huddle beaten and, to make sure, she slightly angled to the inside to prevent Huddle from shooting past.
“We were kind of weaving all around, so I was like, be ready for a lean. I know it’s going to be close, and I went until my legs went numb, basically.”
Inside of the last 50 meters, Huddle stutter-stepped, found a new line on the outside and gave her all to pass Rowbury. She only managed to get by her rival in the final 10 meters to take the win, 15:01.56 to 15:01.71. She closed with a 62.5 second final lap.
“I knew she was going to put her strength to good use,” Rowbury told reporters. “I hoped I would be able to kick by and get her, but she’s a tough girl and she fought back, and that’s why we go out there and race. It’s disappointing, but she’s a great competitor. If I’m going to lose to someone, she’s someone I definitely respect.”
Hall, who just turned pro, held on for third, clocking a 6-second personal best of 15:12.79.
“Third is what I had today,” said Hall. “I’m not sure what my time is but hopefully a PR.”
For Huddle, 29, tonight’s victory represented her second U.S. 5000m title (she also won in 2011), and continued a successful streak of races this year, including her national 10K record for an all-women’s race at the Oakley New York Mini 10K two weeks ago (31:37) and a fast 5,000m at the Golden Gala in Rome (14:55.90). Huddle said she is now at home running on either surface.
“I used to be more comfortable on the track, but I definitely feel more comfortable on the road now,” said Huddle. “It’s kind of growing on me. I’ve always loved road races but now I feel like I can go between.”
Favorites Advance In Women’s 1,500 Semis
In women’s qualifying action, all the favorites—Jenny Simpson, Morgan Uceny, Mary Cain, Kate Grace, Katie Mackey, and Gabe Grunewald—advanced to the final of the 1500m. Both Simpson (4:08.36) and Uceny (4:09.74) won their heats. Despite having two World Championships medals, Simpson has never won a U.S. title.
“I’m taking this very seriously, and as we were talking before, I’ve never won a 1500m title before,” Simpson said, almost looking embarrassed. “So, I’d really like to compete for that.”
High school sensation Alexa Efraimson was unable to advance, finishing seventh in the second heat. She ran aggressively, and was in fourth position with about 250 meters to go, but wilted in the homestretch. She was assisted off of the track by medical personnel and did not speak with the media.
The biggest surprise in the women’s 800m was that 2014 world indoor champion Chanelle Price failed to start her semifinal. That provided a boost for the other favorites—Ajee’ Wilson, Molly Beckwith, Laura Roesler, and Brenda Martinez—who all advanced to Sunday’s final.
“I’m strong, so I’m pretty confident,” said Martinez, last summer’s world championships bronze medalist. “I want to do my best, so I’m going to do whatever I can to recover and just get ready for the final. The semis are always stressful, so I’m kind of glad they’re over with.”