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MU HOLDS OFF WILSON TO RETAIN USATF 800M TITLE


By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE (26-Jun) -- In one of the most anticipated match-ups at these USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships here at Hayward Field, two-time Olympic gold medalist Athing Mu just held off reigning world indoor champion Ajee' Wilson today to retain her national title.  Mu, 20, who led the race through 400 meters in a fast 57.25, came out of the final bend with a one-step lead over Wilson.  With the track-side thermometer reading 93F/34C, Wilson drew even with Mu with less than 20 meters to go, then Mu made one last push to get the win 1:57.16 to 1:57.23.

"It kind of went the way I thought it would go," Mu told the media after the race.  "I personally ran the race the same way I've been running since rounds.  I'm always going to go out (fast); that's just how I run."

Wilson, who has won four USA outdoor titles, was proud of how she raced.

"The way the race went is exactly what I wanted to do," said Wilson.  She continued: "The only part I messed up was that I kicked a little too early.  You know, I could have waited for the last 30, 40 meters."

With Raevyn Rogers taking third in 1:57.96, the same USA team will compete in next month's World Athletics Championships here as did in the Tokyo Olympics last August where Mu won the gold medal and Rogers the bronze (Wilson did not advance out of the semi-finals).

Such was the depth of today's race that all eight finalist broke two minutes, and seven out of eight got under the World Championships qualifying mark of 1:59.50.  Among those was the Atlanta Track Club Elite's Olivia Baker who ran in second place through 600m before fading to fifth in 1:58.63.  She's broken two minutes in four of her last seven races.

"I put myself in a position to do well," said Baker, who plans to be a doctor.  "I put everything out there."

In the women's steeplechase Emma Coburn won her tenth national title, and her eighth in a row, in 9:10.63.  Coburn, 31, patiently followed the pace set by recently crowned NCAA champion Courtney Wayment and was part of a four-woman breakaway with three laps to go which also included Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs and first-year pro Gabbi Jennings.  Coburn tried to remain patient and was content to have Wayment lead.

"I was not going to fight her for that position," Coburn told reporters.  "I was happy, and I think Courtney Frerichs was happy too."

Actually, Frerichs was struggling.  Within the first 100 meters of the 3000-meter race she had her right spike stepped on severely ripping the fabric of the upper.  She was afraid with every water jump that it would come off.

"I got stepped on 100 meters into the race and spent the whole race terrified my spike was going to come off," Frerichs said showing her shoe to a group of reporters.  "I think it actually forced me into a self-preservation mode to just get on the team."

With two laps to go, Jennings lost contact leaving Coburn, Frerichs and Wayment to fight for the win.  On the backstretch of the penultimate lap, Coburn surged to the lead, and by the time she took the bell she had a two-second lead on Frerichs and Wayment.  She ran unchallenged to the finish, spreading her fingers as she raised her hands to signify her ten national titles.

"With, like, 700 to go I went hard," Coburn said.  "I could see on the Jumbotron I had a big gap with, like, 300 to go and I spent the next phase making sure I had good water (jump) and good hurdles, uneventful."

Coburn won her first steeplechase title in 2011, and she had a moment to reflect on what it means to have been so consistent for so long.

"I'm really proud of that," Coburn told reporters.  "Being a ten-time U.S. champion in the same event, it's hard to show up to ten championships healthy.  In 2013 I didn't race because I had a stress fracture, but every time I've shown up I've won."

Wayment got second in a personal best 9:12.10, and Frerichs had to settle for third in 9:16.18.  She felt fortunate that with the ripped shoe her race didn't end in disaster.

"I made the team," said Frerichs after taking a deep breath.  "I got the job done."

The men's and women's 5000m finals played out completely differently.  The women's race was slow and tactical, while the men's went fast.

The women took to the track first when the temperature was "only" 84F/29C.  Nobody was in a hurry to get the pace moving, and Weini Kelati led the field of 23 women through the first lap in just 89.44 seconds, on pace for an 18:38 finish. Although things picked up a little, the pace stayed slow through 3000m (10:08.35) when recently-crowned national 10,000m champion Karissa Schweizer put in a 74.73-second lap through 3400m to stretch out the field.  Schweizer was closely followed by her Nike Bowerman Track Club teammate Elise Cranny, the event's defending champion, Kelati, Elly Henes, and Eleanor Fulton.  Emily Infeld, the 2015 World Championships 10,000m bronze medalist, was further back.

But on the next circuit, Schweizer dropped the hammer and turned a 66.96-second lap, followed by a 66.38.  That quickly whittled down the field to just four: Schweizer, Cranny, Infeld and Kelati.  The race was playing right into Cranny's hands.

"I felt pretty good," Cranny told Race Results Weekly.  "You know, it was tough in the heat, but it was nice to have a slower pace with the heat, like to stay relaxed in the beginning."  She added: "Karissa did all the work today."

With a lap remaining, the four were still together, but on the backstretch Kelati was dropped and had to settle for fourth.  Cranny, Infeld and Schweizer rounded the final bend together and sprinted three-across for the line.  Cranny won in 15:49.15 to Schweizer's 15:49.32 and Infeld's 15:49.42.  Cranny's was the slowest winning time since 1994.  All three women have the World Athletics entry standard of 15:10.00 and will represent the United States at next month's World Athletics Championships here.

"I'm very excited to represent the U.S. on U.S. soil," Cranny said holding a small American flag.  "Very excited."

In contrast the men's 5000m went fast from the gun.  The field ran 63-second laps through 2000 meters, and the athletes were immediately running single file.  Grant Fisher, the reigning USA 10,000m champion, was at or near the front for most of those laps until he got some help from his Nike Bowerman Track Club teammate, Evan Jager, who took over the lead at about 2600 meters.  Jager, who finished second in the steeplechase yesterday, was running for both himself and to help his teammate.

"He finished up his race yesterday and said if there's anything I can do tomorrow, let me know," Fisher told reporters.  "I said, 'if the pace slows get in there and make it fast.'  He did a great job."

Jager held the lead through 3000m (7:56.59), then dropped out a lap later.  Fisher loved the fast pace and was feeling confident.

"I had a feeling it was going to be fast," Fisher said.  He continued: "It turned into a real 5-K; we ran fast."

Fisher put in a 59.71-second lap through 4200 meters.  Northern Arizona University's Abdihamid Nur was able to stay close, but Emmanuel Bor --who ran at the front earlier in the race-- struggled to keep up.  Fisher's Bowerman teammate, Woody Kincaid, was five seconds back and seemingly out of contention.

Fisher ran the last two laps in 58.10 and 60.71 seconds, respectively, to put the race away in a championships record 13:03.86.  Behind him, Kincaid had begun a furious last-lap drive to get on the podium.  A distant fourth at the bell, Kincaid ran the last lap in 54.24, passing both Bor and Nur to take second in 13:06.70.  Nur held on for third in 13:08.63 making his first USA national team.

"With 500 to go I was just like, I'm going to catch as many people as I can," said Kincaid who DNF'd at last month's USA 10,000m championships with a side stitch.  He said he had his doubts, but was determined to get on the podium.  "That's the hard thing about the 5-K," he said.  "You have doubts ever few minutes, every few seconds.  You've just got to talk yourself through it and keep running."

The men's 800m had a dramatic finish.  Bryce Hoppel led at the 600 meter mark just ahead of Brandon Miller and Jonah Koech.  Rounding the final bend, Hoppel still had the lead and just held off the fast-closing Koech in the homestretch.  Miller, who was the leader at halfway, thrust his chest forward at the line to beat Clayton Murphy and crashed face-first to the track.  Hoppel was timed in 1:44.60, Koech in 1:44.74 (getting the World Championships standard of 1:45.20), and Miller clocked 1:45.19.  Murphy was fourth in 1:45.23.

"I was confident," said Hoppel who finished third in the 2021 Olympic Trials here last year.  "Went out there (and) knew what the race plan was.  My coach was like, yes, you executed perfectly, so I'm happy with the result."

Koech made his first national team, and was clearly moved to be representing the USA at the World Championships and have Hoppel as a teammate.

"The main thing was to make the team," said Koech who competed for Texas Tech during his NCAA career but now represents the U.S. Army. "We are teammates now.  I feel good about it and we're going to work hard to make the finals at the World Champs."
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE (25-Jun) -- Sinclaire Johnson, who won the 2019 NCAA 1500m title for Oklahoma State, added the open USA Track & Field title to her résumé here today, beating reigning champion Elle St. Pierre (née Purrier) with a strong sprint over the last 100 meters.  Johnson, 24, who represents the Nike Union Athletics Club, clocked 4:03.29 to not only clinch her first national title but to also earn her first senior national team berth.  St. Pierre finished third in 4:05.14, with Cory McGee finishing second in 4:04.52.  All three women have the World Athletics Championships entry standard and booked their places on Team USATF for next month's World Championships which will also be held here at Hayward Field.

Johnson took a deliberate approach to today's race which was held in sunny, hot and windy conditions.  Through the first 400 meters, she was in second position behind St. Pierre and the pace was slow, just 72.9 seconds.  She stayed near the front through the bell where St. Pierre, Karissa Schweizer, McGee, Helen Schlachtenhaufen, and Heather MacLean were all still in contention.  On the backstretch of the final lap, McGee surged to the lead and Johnson gave chase.  The two women rounded the final bend together, then Johnson turned on the jets.

"From the beginning I was just going to try to hold that top-three position and not let myself fall back from that," Johnson explained.  She continued: "I felt like the last lap was just waiting patient to unleash my last gear."

It was a huge win for Sinclaire who only placed 12th at the USA Olympic Trials here one year ago.  She felt like she has really grown in the last year and is ready for the World Championships, especially after finishing fourth at the Prefontaine Classic here last month where she ran a personal best 3:58.85.

"I feel like I'm pretty confident," she said.  "Pre a month ago it showed me that not only am I going to be able to compete the the best in the U.S., but I'm going to be able to compete with the best in the world.  That race... really boosted my confidence going into this week."

St. Pierre, who ran a championships record of 3:58.03 at the Trials a year ago, nearly finished off the podium.  She only passed Schweizer --who won the USATF 10,000m title last month-- inside of the last 40 meters.

"I was digging," admitted St. Pierre.  "My hamstrings feel it for sure."

McGee finished in the same position as she did at the Olympic Trials last year, and like St. Pierre made her second consecutive national team.  Heather MacLean, who was third at last year's Trials, only finished fifth here and will not be in the World Championships.

In the men's 1500m, former Oregon Duck Cooper Teare ended up on top after a wild sprint finish in which none of the three leaders coming out of the final bend --Sam Prakel, Eric Holt and Johnny Gregorek-- got on the podium.  Teare, and the University of Illinois's Jonathan Davis, came from the pack in the last 50 meters to finish one-two with Josh Thompson, sixth at last year's Olympic Trials, getting third.  It was Teare's first national title.  Their times were modest --3:45.86, 3:46.01, and 3:46.07, respectively-- and partially as a result of that Davis will not be able to claim his spot on the national team.  That's because he doesn't have the World Athletics Championships qualifying standard of 3:35.00 and is too low in the World Athletics point rankings to be allowed in the competition.  As a result, the USA team will be Teare (has the standard), Thompson (is high enough in the points ranking) and Gregorek (who finished sixth but has the standard).  Holt and Reed Brown, who finished fourth and fifth respectively, have neither the standard nor enough points.

"It was a warm day and I knew if I was just patient and within the mix I could just rely on my kick and get me to the team the last 50 meters," Teare told reporters.  "That's kind of what happened today."

Teare is entered for tomorrow morning's 5000m final, but wasn't sure yet if he would start.

"Not sure yet," he said when a reporter asked him about tomorrow's race.  "Signed up for it.  Going to see how we recover from this and take it from there."

Davis, who finishes sixth in the NCAA Championships earlier this month, was thrilled to get on the podium in his first USATF Championships.

"I'm ecstatic," Davis said.  "I don't think I could have expected anything better."

In the men's steeplechase final, Hillary Bor won his third straight national title, taking control at the bell and finishing comfortably ahead of seven-time national champion Evan Jager, 8:15.76 to 8:17.29.  Third place went to Benard Keter (8:19.16) who made his second straight national team.  Duncan Hamilton of the University of Montana-Bozeman finished fourth in 8:20.23 after leading for three laps in the middle of the race.

For Bor, today's victory was particularly special.  He had never beaten Jager head-to-head in a national championships.

"This feels good, especially having Jager," Bor told Race Results Weekly.  "I've never won when Jager's there.  I know he's not fit; I know he's not one hundred percent, but it's good to have him on the field."

For Jager, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist who hasn't competed at a high level since 2018 because of injuries, today's runner-up finish meant a lot.  He not only finished second, but also achieved the World Athletics Championships qualifying standard of 8:22.00 which assured his selection on Team USATF.  After so much time away from the top level, he was grateful to be back at the highest level again at 33 years-old.

"I felt like me making my first Olympic team, honestly," Jager told more than a dozen reporters gathered around him in the mixed zone.  "Making my first Olympic team, winning silver in Rio, and this.  Same kind of emotion.  I couldn't really even keep it together until the finish line.  The emotions came pouring out of me."