Rough And Tumble 1500's Highlight Day 3 of USA Championships - rrw
ROUGH AND TUMBLE 1500'S HIGHLIGHT DAY 3 OF USA CHAMPIONSHIPS
By David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission
EUGENE, Oregon (25-Jun) -- The racing was rough during both 1500m finals at the USA Outdoor Championships on the campus of the University of Oregon here today, where both the men's and women's races produced heart-pounding finishes.
In the women's contest, Olympian Christin Wurth-Thomas surged to the front right from the gun, running the first 400 meters in a swift 62.34, and building up a five-meter lead. But instead of settling her pace down, as one might expect in a national championships, she continued to press, passing 800 meters in 2:08.33, and widening her lead over key rivals Morgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury. Uceny wasn't surprised by Wurth-Thomas's tactics.
"Christin's always so strong; I know that's how she likes to race," Uceny told reporters after the race.
With a lead of nearly 20 meters at the bell, Wurth-Thomas seem assured of at least a podium finish. But led by Uceny, the chasers began to catch up. Uceny caught Wurth-Thomas out of the penultimate turn, then passed her on the outside of the final bend.
"Knowing where Christin was ahead of me, when I heard the bell lap my legs felt good," Uceny explained. "I knew if I just worked up slowly (I would catch her)."
Uceny got over the finish line first --a clear winner in 4:03.91-- locking up her first-ever USA outdoor title. Behind her, Wurth-Thomas was trying to hold her form to the line and was tying up badly. About 10 meters from the finish, Simpson moved slightly outside to pass Wurth-Thomas, and made contact with the former Arkansas Razorback. Wurth-Thomas stumbled, taking a stutter-step, while Simpson continued forward to cross the finish line in 4:05.66, taking second.
"There was definitely some contact there for sure," Simpson told Race Results Weekly. "It will be interesting to watch the video because I felt like we were close to the finish line and I was just looking at home, I was just trying to get home. Before I knew it, I realized that she had... a little bit of horizontal movement across the track. I feel like we made a little bit of contact, but you've just got to gun for home the last 150 meters in this kind of race."
Meanwhile, Rowbury had been sprinting furiously to catch Wurth-Thomas, and that stutter-step made just enough difference to allow Rowbury, the 2009 World Championships bronze medalist in this discipline, to beat Wurth-Thomas by 1/100th of a second in 4:06.20.
"The last hundred, to be honest, I was thinking of my grandmother who passed away this January," Rowbury told the media. She raced with her grandmother's silver right on her right hand. "I was just imagining her at the finish line, waiting to give me a hug. She was a huge motivation for me to just get through this race and try to make the team."
Wurth-Thomas's coach, Lance Harter, told Race Results Weekly that his athlete was debating whether to file a protest.
CENTROWITZ HOLDS OFF LAGAT FOR MEN'S TITLE
The men's race was even rougher than the women's, and a lot slower. There was pushing and shoving throughout the event, as the field of 13 bunched up right from the starter's gun.
"It was ugly, said the Oregon Track Club Elite's Evan Jager who would finish 12th. "It was really bad."
After a 66-second first 400 led by the University of Oregon's A.J. Acosta, the pace continued to grind through the second lap. The men actually ran nearly four seconds slower than the women through 800m (2:11.94). Then Jordan McNamara, the former Oregon Duck, took to the front and the pace picked up, quickly. McNamara's Oregon Track Club Elite teammate, Andrew Wheating, was having trouble adjusting his stride.
"When we got to the last 200, I was already in my top gear," said Wheating.
Oregon's Matt Centrowitz was following his former teammate McNamara, with two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat perfectly positioned behind him. It looked like Lagat would get his second win of these championships (he won the 5000m last night), and sprint by the much less experienced Centrowitz.
It didn't happen.
Centrowitz, running the race of his life, held off the mighty Lagat in the homestretch to win his first-ever USA open title in the pokey time of 3:47.63 (although not as slow as Lopez Lomong's 3:50.83 from last year). Lagat held his position to get second (3:47.96), but the battle for third was not yet decided. Wheating was having trouble holding his form, while Leo Manzano, who was pumping his arms furiously, shot out of the chase pack. Manzano just nipped Wheating at the line by 3/100ths of a second before Wheating crashed to the track.
"Nobody likes to be fourth, but it has to be somebody," Wheating lamented.
Manzano, who hasn't shown his best form so far this year, said he had to really dig deep at the finish.
"That hurt," he said. "I was coming around the curve... those guys were already kicking and the only thing I could think about in my head was, I'm not staying here. I'm going to Daegu."
For Centrowitz, who received a hug from his mother just after his victory, it was incredible to win in front of the Oregon crowd.
"I don't think it set in yet," he said. He continued, commenting on his final push the line: "It's like your blanking out; you're just running on adrenaline."
Although he finished fourth, Wheating will likely be headed to Daegu, assuming he runs under the IAAF "A" standard of 3:35.00 by August 8. That's because Bernard Lagat said yesterday that he will only contest the 5000m in Daegu.
NELSON WINS STEEPLE
Olympian Billy Nelson, who only recently landed a shoe company deal with New Balance, won the steeplechase in 8:28.46 over defending champion Daniel Huling (8:29.27). In a tight finish, Kyle Alcorn got third (8:29.44). Nelson already has the world championships "A" standard of 8:23.10, so he will be headed to Daegu.
"It means everything," said Nelson of his victory. "I'm back where I know I should be, and I'm comfortable enough to represent the United States on a world level."
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The USA Outdoor Championships conclude here tomorrow; both the men's and women's 800m finals are on the schedule.
PHOTO: Morgan Uceny after winning her first USA 1500m outdoor title (photo by Jane Monti)