I ask that question on the assumption that the women CAN medal. After all, we went to Daegu and won gold AFTER our favored athlete was tripped and failed to finish the race! US women milers have made huge strides in the last few years. Three have gone under 4:00, and two others are knocking hard at the door. We had two finalists in Daegu and won gold with our #2. So the women are doing well enough that it would not surprise me to see three American women in the final in London. Nor would it be a surprise to hear the Star Spangled Banner being played during the awards ceremony.
On the flip side however, I was shocked to see Mathew Centrowitz on the podium in Daegu – pleased but shocked. So as I start to look ahead to the Trials and Games, I have go ask myself if we have a realistic shot at a medal in the men’s 1500 in London? I mean if in being honest, Kenya owns this event time wise and dominates the annual lists. With other African nations like Morocco and Ethiopia filling out most of the gaps near the top of the list. After that, we end up around milers from Spain, France, and Australia in the grand scheme of things – world class, but not quite on par with the Africans on the clock.
Of course when it comes to distance racing, its tactics that rule the Majors, not times – otherwise Hicham El Guerrouj would have won three Olympic titles instead of just one. Look no further than last year’s World Championships where a relatively tactical race allowed Centrowitz to medal at 3:36.08 in Daegu in spite of being some 3 to 4 seconds slower on the clock on the year than several finalists. So, will US competitors get another "favorable " pace in London? The odds say no, because while the World Championships tend to hand out gold medals around 3:35 / 3:36,, the pace trends a bit faster at recent Olympics with Sydney (3:32.07, OR), Beijing (3:32.94, #3 winning mark), and Athens (3:34.14, #4 winning mark) among the fastest ever Olympic finals. So I would suggest that Olympic milers need to be prepared for a fairly quick pace.
That begs the question: Which Americans would best fit the bill in a 3:32/3:33 race? I think most would agree that the best man for the job would be Bernard Lagat. As Lagat is easily the best tactician; has the best kick; and can run off of any pace. Unfortunately he’s focused on the 5000 in recent Majors and is doubtful to be doing double duty in London. After Lagat my pick for being best suited to a fast Olympic pace would be Andrew Wheating. Unfortunately the follow up to his 3:30.90 breakout in 2010 was last year’s injury riddled season – yet he still managed to run 3:34.39. Healthy he’s capable of some outstanding running as he proved in 2010, following a strenuous collegiate season.
Next on my list would be Leo Manzano – more similar to Lagat, in my opinion, than the larger, more powerful Wheating. He doesn’t have the long strides of Wheating, but he has the gutsy, determination of Lagat – and the ability to get into position to use his rather potent kick. Throw in a PR 3:32.37, and Manzano has podium potential. As does Lopez Lamong who competitively is a near mirror image of Manzano – even down to his PR 3:32.20. The primary difference between the two being Manzano generally gets better position in races.
These are the men I feel are best suited to an Olympic, 3:32 type pace. The kind of pace we’re almost sure to get with the likes of Silas Kiplagat (KEN), Asbel Kiprop (KEN), Mekonnen Gebremedhin (ETH), and Ilham Ozbilen (TUR) almost certain to populate the race – and all capable of racing easily at that pace. A slightly slower pace opens things up a bit as Centrowitz proved in Daegu. If things come back to 3:35/3:36 Centrowitz, Russell Brown, and possibly even a David Torrence could get into the mix. If everyone shows up to Eugene healthy however, I’m not sure that this group gets a shot at the Africans in London.
And what of Alan Webb – the man that was supposed to ride in and save the day for American milers? Well, first he’s got to get back to form. For me that means a consistent 3:34 and season’s best around 3:32 – territory he hasn’t seen since 2007. Even if he achieves this I’m not sold on Webb as the “savior” that many once thought he would be. Those with long memories will remember that Webb didn’t get out of his heat in Athens (‘04) in spite of season’s bests of 3:50.73 / 3:32.73. He was 9th in the Helsinki final with season’s bests of 3:48.92 / 3:32.52. And after scorching the track for bests of 1:43.84 / 3:46.91 / 3:30.54 in 2007, he managed only 8th in the Osaka final. My point is that even at his best Webb has been more of a “time trial” runner than a “racing” competitor – the miling equivalent of sprinter Asafa Powell. Proving that “it ain’t how fast you run, it’s when you run fast”!
That said, I would love to see Webb make the team and get the monkey off his back – I’m just not placing any bets on it. And for the record, I would love to see Centrowitz make the team again and prove that Daegu was no fluke. But as little as it’s talked about making this team will be tough, because we have a pretty good crop of milers right now – they’ve just been hurt a lot over the past couple of seasons. And at the end of the day that’s really going to determine how well we do in London – health. If we can get our best athletes to the line in London in good health, then we have a shot at medaling regardless of the pace. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.