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With mid-afternoon temperatures hovering at about 100°F inside of Hornet Stadium, Robby Andrews kept his cool in the men’s 1500-meter final at the USATF National Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif. Timing his final sprint to perfection, the 26-year-old Olympian picked up his first national outdoor title and locked in a provisional team berth for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in London in August.
“It feels really good to (finally) win a race,” a smiling Andrews told the media.
Andrews, who represents adidas, finished second at last year’s Olympic Trials in the same discipline, behind eventual Olympic champion, Matthew Centrowitz of the Nike Oregon Project. But Centrowitz had been struggling recently to overcome several health problems before these championships and revealed that after a period of light cross-training he had only been running for ten days.
Nonetheless, Centrowitz was the race leader as the 13-athlete field ran through the finish line for the first time, but the pace was predictably slow. Clayton Murphy of Nike, the 2016 Olympic 800m bronze medalist, was tucked into the pack while Andrews was at the back with another podium contender, Ben Blankenship of Nike Oregon Track Club Elite, who would make the most important move of the race, surging hard at the bell.
“I really thought with the heat and everything I would be able to close well,” Blankenship told the media.
Centrowitz immediately followed, and the two Oregon-based athletes charged down the backstretch while the rest of the field scrambled to catch up. Andrews, who was in fifth position at the bell, thought about the conversations he had with his coach, Jason Vigilante, prior to the race and knew what to do.
“I was expecting Matt, Cristian (Soratos) or someone else to take it pretty far out, and they did that. I just tucked in, stayed as patient as I could.”
Blankenship would struggle in the final 200 meters, and eventually faded to 12th at the line. Murphy, who was later seen limping off the track then driven away in a golf cart, also faltered and finished last (he has the 800m final tomorrow). But Andrews got stronger as the last lap wore on, and was charging hard. He had no idea if he could win it, but he was all-in.
“Matthew’s the Olympic champion; I’m not going to take anything for granted,” Andrews said. “At one point I was racing for third, and then I was like, ‘Oh, I can get ’em, I’ll go for second.’ And then I’m, like, I can win this thing!”
Barreling down lane two, Andrews got to the tape a step ahead of Centrowitz on the strength of a 52.23-second final lap, 3:43.29 to 3:43.41. Behind the two Olympians, Johnny Gregorek out-leaned recent Ole Miss grad Craig Engels, by 2/100ths of a second in 3:43.99, making his first world team. Soratos finished fifth.
“Today, third is as good as first,” said Centrowitz who was happy to make his sixth consecutive national team for an outdoor global championships. “But, also disappointed that I couldn’t win it.”
Centrowitz and Gregorek both have the relevant IAAF qualifying standard of 3:36.00 (or 3:53.40 for the mile), while Andrews doesn’t. He has until midnight, July 21, to get it.
“I’m going to try to get the standard as quick as I can, and represent the country at London,” said Andrews.