Thoughts and Comments on the 2009 USA Track & Field Championships, Part 3
More thoughts…from Friday.
Friday – Women’s 5000
The competition in this event is certainly down in the US right now. Shalane Flanagan chose to focus on the 10,000. Shannon Rowbury and Jennifer Barringer have both run fast times in the 5000 but their focus is on the 1500 and Steeplechase. Kara Goucher was in the race but she announced beforehand that she would be running the race to work on her kick and that she would not be running the 5000 at the World Championships (Worlds) in Berlin (she is running the marathon instead). That left Jen Rhines as the only athlete with an A standard.
I figured the race would be won by Goucher, with Rhines second and a good battle for 3rd and 4th place, which, with Goucher dropping the 5000, was actually 2nd and 3rd place. Some relative unknowns were going to have a shot at Berlin. Goucher’s comment about her coach Alberto Salazar wanting her to work on her kick reminded me of Salazar’s other big name athlete, Galen Rupp, and his finishes at the NCAA Championships (NCAAs) in the 5000 (4:00 last 1600 – 64.9, 60.9, 57.1, 57.3) and in the 10,000 (1:58 last 800). I figured Goucher would be looking to do something similar. She did. For much of the last two miles Goucher and Rhines were running around 76-77 pace. But with four laps to go, Goucher started to pick it up with a 73. Rhines was not able to keep up. Goucher then dropped it some more, closing with 68, 69, and 65 for a 4:36 last mile and 2:14 last 800. I assume that’s exactly what her coach was looking for.
Rhines hung on to get 2nd place easily. She may be the only American in the women’s 5000 in Berlin. With 600 meters to go, there were still five people battling for the final spots: Julie Culley, Rebecca Donaghue, Angela Bizzarri, Rachael Marchand, and Nicole Blood. Something in my gut told me that Bizzarri, the reigning NCAA Champion from Illinois was going to pull it out (that whole theory about college athletes being peaked now), and sure enough she did. Bizzarri got 3rd with Culley 4th. Neither one has the A (15:10) or B (15:25) standard so they will need to chase some marks in Europe before July 31 if they want to compete in Berlin. I’ve heard talk that who the USA sends to Worlds could be interesting if neither one gets the B standard, because people much farther down the results list may get to go.
On a sad note, two people I’ve followed for quite a few years ran disappointing races in the 5000. Sara Slattery was 11th in 15:54 and Sara Hall (wife of Ryan) was last in 16:54. It was painful to watch Hall running her final laps. Slattery is the person that may qualify for Worlds if Bizzarri and Culley do not get a B standard, because Slattery was the highest finisher with the B standard. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad day for her after all?
Friday – Men’s 5000
As this race unfolded, the first thing you couldn’t help but notice was the large presence of the bright green uniform of the Oregon Track Club (OTC). Most of these guys are transplants from Wisconsin, having moved to Portland when their coach Jerry Schumacher left the University of Wisconsin to coach Nike elite athletes in Portland. There was Matt Tegenkamp (Teg), Chris Solinsky, Jonathan Riley, Ryan Bak, and the kid Evan Jager (in a somewhat controversial move, the 20 year old left Wisconsin after one year and followed Schumacher to Portland to train). Also in the 5000 mix was Anthony Famiglietti, an Olympian in the steeplechase who also had the fourth fastest seed time in the 10,000 but decided to put all his eggs in one basket and run just the 5000 at the USA Championships (USAs). That’s Fam for you…he keeps it interesting (read a blog entry from Fam from after this race, in which he pushed the pace early but faded and did not make the team for Berlin: http://www.flotrack.org/blogs/blogger/anthonyfamiglietti/7819-win-win). From Northern California there was former McAteer High School and Cal runner Bolota Asmeron, and doubling back from the 10,000 the night before (although he was a DNF in the 10,000) was former Chico State runner, Scott Bauhs. The last main player in the mix was the young phenom, German Fernandez, who just completed his freshman year at Oklahoma State. The rumor was that Fernandez had his sights set on the American Junior Record set just over a month ago by his rival Chris Derrick of Stanford (13:29.98). As expected, Bernard Lagat, with a free pass to the 5000 in Berlin as defending World Champion, and Galen Rupp, already qualified in the 10,000, were scratches.
With the men running 63-64 seconds per lap, the race unfolded fast. Before you knew it, it was less than a mile to go and with a sea of OTC uniforms. It dawned on me that it would be annoying to hear the Oregon crowd go nuts for an OTC sweep so we started cheering for Bolota (plus we know and like Bolota). It was a pack of eight still together with two laps to go. Malinda asked me who had the best kick and I thought that it might be Bolota or Tegenkamp but I wasn’t sure. Bolota surged hard with 500 to go and we screamed for him as he hit the bell lap with the lead (there were still seven runners within one second of each other at this point). But with 300 to go, Teg and Solinsky went past him. “Oh no,” was all I could think. Teg and Solinsky had a nice battle all the way to the finish line with Teg narrowing winning out over his teammate. With about 150 to go, Jager passed Bolota and the OTC sweep became a reality. The crowd wasn’t as obnoxious about it as I thought they would be. Teg (53.5 last lap) and Solinsky (53.9 last lap) were clearly happy for their younger teammate, Jager (54.9 last lap), and you had to be happy for him. Malinda commented to me how sad Bolota (57.2 last lap)looked and that made me sad, too. He was so close and last year he was 4th at the Olympic Trials, too. At these meets 4th place is really the worst place, so close but still so far from qualifying! Back in 5th place, almost unnoticed in all the commotion, was Fernandez who came across the line and collapsed. His time of 13:25.46 set a new American Junior Record.
There’s an interesting side bar about Teg and Solinsky from last year’s Olympic Trials. The two teammates were in the 5000 last year and both were considered contenders to make the Olympic team. They made tentative plans for Solinsky to lead from 1200 to 800 to go and then for Teg to take over and lead from 800 to 400 to go. Then it would be every man for himself. They and Coach Schumacher thought this would give both of them the best chance to make the team. Solinsky took the lead when he was supposed to and ran a 58 lap. But Teg didn’t come to the front to take over and Solinsky was forced to keep the lead, which he did with a 59. But with 200 meters to go, Solinsky was too tired to respond when Bernard Lagat went by. Teg, who said he had to abandon the plan because he was really hurting – he did nearly fall with 400 to go – also sprinted by Solinsky as did Ian Dobson. Solinsky ended up a pretty upset guy and a non-Olympic qualifying 5th place. Fast forward one year to this race and I guess that Solinsky and Teg must have patched up any hurt feelings or lost friendship over that incident.
We stuck around after the race to get Teg to sign our runners’ cookbook. Then, as we sat around at Track Town Plaza, I got a text message from Tomas, commenting on a great men’s 5000 and the fact that German ran great. I had to text back to Tomas that German was sitting at the table next to us with his coach, some family and teammates trying to recover enough to go do a cool-down. That’s Eugene for you. The very same people you see on the track, can be standing right next to you minutes later.