The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Nationals Recap – Middle/Long Distances

Jun 29th, 2011
12:21 pm PST

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The pickings have been very slim in our medal hunt in events above 400 meters. While the relative drought goes back even further, since the start of the New Millennium we’ve only had four individuals pick up hardware in a Major – Goucher (‘07, 10,000), Flanagan (‘08, 10,000), Rowbury (‘09, 1500), and Lagat (‘09, 1500/5000).  It’s been a rough ride when we’ve had to go more than one lap around the track.

On the bright side, two of those individuals picked up medals in the last Major – Berlin – and I do believe that that may have been the start of some serious improvement in our middle and long distance hopes.

Before I get started, the competition remains the same from 800 meters through 10,000 meters – Africa. Most specifically Kenya and Ethiopia, who dominate these events stronger than any other nations dominate any other events on the track or the field. The real powers on the track are not the U.S., Jamaica, Russia or any of the countries that get the traditional headlines. The powers on the track are Kenya and Ethiopia. And if they ever put together any semblance of field event strength, they would become the overall powers of the sport. So in everything above 400 meters we are trying to make inroads into THEIR territory. So how well will we do?

Our men’s 800 meter team is experienced with Nick Symmonds and Khadevis Robinson. And young Charles Jock has a TON of potential. What I really love about Jock is that he is not afraid to go out and run with the leaders, or even be the leader. Not too coincidently he is very much reminiscent of our last great half miler – AR holder Johnny Gray. The problem for Jock, and Symmonds and Robinson, is that this event requires being able to run 1:43.xx on demand, and none of our guys is in that position. Symmonds has the guts to be in the hunt, but will the pace allow him to be close enough to kick and be effective? We know Jock will be in the hunt, but is he strong enough yet to hold on? That’s really where we sit with this event.

In the 1500, we actually have a couple of men that have run toe to toe with our African foes and fared quite well last year – Leo Manzano and Andrew Wheating. Wheating ran 3:30.90 last year, Manzano 3:32.37, both well within range of the top 1500 men in the world as they proved with some very strong races and top 3 finishes in Europe last summer. The key will be how race sharp they are come Daegu. Third man, Matthew Centrowitz, has improved a lot this year and defeated both men to become the national champion. But he’s unlikely to find a pace as dawdling as the one he was served in Eugene and could be a couple of years away from really being in this company.

Moving up to the men’s 5000, we find our best hope for a male distance medal in Bernard Lagat. Lagat is the defending World champion in both the 1500 and 5000, though he will apparently only run the 5000 in Daegu. The AR holder (12:54.12) is perhaps the best tactical runner in the world, and is still one of the top kickers. He can run off any pace, has the heart of a lion and is always looking for that finish line. He will be flanked by Chris Solisky (#2 all time American at 12:55.53) and Galen Rupp. Solinsky proved last summer that he can run with this crowd, as three times in Europe he ran under 12:57 and finished top three in Zurich! Rupp is still growing in this event and on the cusp of being truly competitive at 13:07.35. But what was exciting about him in Eugene is that he showed the ability to kick – finishing off his 10,000 meter win (he’ll be in both events) with a 54.43 final lap!

Speaking of the 10,000, Rupp did win that event with that blistering last lap – ahead of Matt Tegenkamp and Scott Bauhs. The 10K actually seems to be Rupp’s better event with a PR of 27:10.74 – which puts him in range of most big race type 10Ks. Same for Tegenkamp who has a best of 27:34.98 – a bit outside of range, but close enough if he can excel in a tactical race. With a best of 27:48.06, Bauhs has a lot of work ahead of him.

So, with that all said what are our prospects? I’ll have to say zero in the 800, maybe one in the 1500, one in the 5000, and maybe, maybe one in the 10000. I’m hoping that we can someone in the final of the 800 (Symmonds or Jock) but either will have to have a big improvement to get on that podium. In the 1500 if Manzano and/or Wheating get to the final, I really think they can get close to that podium, close enough to perhaps upset someone. Lagat is a near certainty to medal in the 5000 – he just knows how to compete. And if Rupp can go through real race pace and kick anywhere near 54 seconds – even in the 56 second range – I think he could have a shot. If we can pull one of these “maybe”’s off it is an improvement on the recent past.

The women’s side of ledger looks even more promising.

In the 800 Alysia Montano and Maggie Vessey have run in the 1:57’s – an area that traditionally either medals or is just outside of the medals. Both certainly have the ability to do so – the issue will be race tactics. Montano is a front runner – will she be able to hold on to a bit faster pace than the one at Nationals? Vessey is a kicker – will she stay close enough, a la Eugene, to have it be effective? This is all new territory for Schmidt, and more than likely will be her “experience” meet.

The women’s 1500 is potentially our strongest event over 400 meters! Simpson is sub4, Rowbury oh so close, and Uceny has improved each season for the past couple and looks ready to improve on her 4:02.40 PR. More importantly Rowbury has already shown that she can get it done on the big stage with her bronze in Berlin – and Simpson and Uceny are as competitive and driven as Rowbury!

The 5000 is a bit more of a question mark. Molly Huddle is the AR holder, and looked really good in Eugene – very much under control. Teammates, Amy Hastings and Angela Bizzari are up and coming, but their finishes in Eugene were PR’s for both of them, which means they will have to PR once again to even think about being in the hunt.

The 10000 boasts some of our most experienced female distance runners – Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher and Jen Rhines. And right now Flanagan and Goucher are among the season’s eight fastest in the event and Flanagan was the Beijing bronze medalist. This trio may be the most experienced trio we are sending to Daegu in any event outside of the men’s shot put!

So, what are our prospects? I’m going to stick my neck out and saying one’s across the board – maybe one in the 800, one in the 1500, one in the 5000, and one in the 10000! Montano and Vessey will both have to run like veterans and get the most out of their abilities. Neither can afford a mental lapse. Any of our three entrants in the 1500 is capable of pulling off a medal. Huddle is certainly capable in the 5000, but it’s going to be a battle. Shalane and Kara have what it takes, they just have to be ready on the day – and Shalane usually is.

That’s my story and I’m stickin to it. I see improvement in our middle and long distance crew, I just hope they prove me right! I’m going to finish this up with a recap on the field, because we’re heading back to action with Lausanne – so it’s time to start keeping an eye on everyone’s progress as the countdown to Daegu begins. 

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