By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission
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. Read more: Abby Steiner blasts to 21.77; Lyles gets the better of Knighton – Super 200m races at USA Championships
“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 finalists 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.”
PHOTO: Emma Coburn winning her tenth USATF steeplechase title (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: Grant Fisher wins the 2022 USATF 5000m title (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: Elise Cranny (left) beats Karissa Schweizer (center) and Emily Infeld for the 2022 USATF 5000m title (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: Bryce Hoppel wins the 2022 USATF 800m title while Jonah Koech and Brandon Miller (diving) take second and third, respectively (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: Athing Mu edges Ajee’ Wilson in the 800m at the 2022 USATF Outdoor Championships (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)