It was 31 years, 11 months, 21 days between July 26, 1983 and July 17, 2015.
That’s how long Mary Decker Slaney’s time of 3:57.12 stood as the American record.
Shannon Rowbury, who would be the one to better that record, more than 31 years later, was born nearly 14 months AFTER Decker set that mark.
First, let’s go back to July 26, 1983. Decker (then known just as Mary Decker) was just a week shy of her 25th birthday. At the time, she was the queen of USA track and field. In 1982 she won the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in the US. In 1983 she was the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year and the recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, which is USA Track & Field’s highest honor. At one point in the mid-1980’s she held every American record from 800 meters to 10,000 meters.
July 26, 1983 was day one of a two-day dual meet between the US and a Scandinavian All-Star team. It was a tune-up meet for athletes in preparation for the inaugural Track & Field World Championships that would take place in Helsinki, Finland in August 1983. At those World Championships, Decker won gold in both the 1500 and 3000 meters, a feat that would become known as the “Decker Double” and the reason she won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award that year.
Decker was looking to improve on her own American record of 3:59.43 which she had run in Zurich, Switzerland on August 13, 1980.
There is not a lot of information on Decker’s 1500 meter race but thanks to Mike Fanelli and the extensive track & field archives and memorabilia stored in his garage, I was able to see a newspaper clipping about the race.
She went to the front of the race immediately and came through the first 400 in 62.2. Her 800 meter split of 2:07.0 was still more than one second under American record pace. At 1200 meters her split was 3:08.50, which meant she needed to run the final 300 meters in 50.9 seconds to get the record. Decker kicked and ran the final 300 in 48.7 seconds to establish a new American record of 3:57.12. That time that would stand for more than 31 years. In addition, it still stands as the stadium record at the historic Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
Now we fast forward to July 17, 2015. The place is Monaco. The women’s 1500 meters was paced/rabbited by Chanelle Price to set-up a World record attempt by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.
Price led the first lap in 60.31 seconds. Dibaba came through right behind her, followed by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, a second pace maker (Tamara Tverdostup of the Ukraine), and then the Americans, Jenny Simpson and Shannon in fifth and sixth place. Shannon’s estimated first 400 was 61.7.
At 800 meters it was Price in 2:04.52, followed closely by Dibaba and Hassan. Tverdostup led Simpson and Shannon through the 800 in approximately 2:06. At this point, both pace setters dropped out.
Dibaba surged and Hassan stayed with her. The two of them opened up about a 2.5-3.0 second lead over Simpson and Shannon in third and fourth place. With 400 meters to go Dibaba was at 2:50.28 and needed a 60 second last lap for the World Record. It’s difficult to see on the video because they are not on the screen but I estimate that Simpson and Rowbury were around 2:55 at 1100 meters and needed a 61 second last lap for the American record.
At 1200 meters, Dibaba was at 3:04.61. Again, Shannon is not on the screen when she crosses the 1200 meter mark but I estimate that she came through in the 3:09-3:10 range.
Dibaba ran an incredible race and, cheered on by the crowd, ran the last lap all alone to set a new World record. Her time of 3:50.07 bettered China’s Qu Yunxia’s 3:50.46 from 1993). Hassan fell back a lot in the last lap and Simpson and Shannon were gaining on her. With 100 meters to go, Shannon shifted gears and went by Simpson, putting one second on Simpson in that last 100 and almost catching Hassan (who herself was running a Netherlands national record of 3:56.05). Shannon crossed the finish third in 3:56.29, with Simpson fourth in 3:57.30 (the second fastest time in her career).
Every since Shannon ran 4:00.33 in Paris in her first season as a professional runner in 2008, I knew that setting the American record in the 1500 was not out of the realm of possibility. Over the years, every now and then, I have given in to the temptation and thought about how proud I would feel if she ever broke the American record in the 1500. But on July 17, 2015, I was not thinking about records. I was looking for signs that Shannon was taking a step towards peaking for the World Championships next month in Beijing.
Instead, we were all treated to a race for the ages. In a matter of seconds a 21 year old World record went down and then the oldest American record in the books, 31 years, 11 months, and 26 days, became history! Congratulations, Shannon!
|Mary Decker||Shannon Rowbury|
When Shannon Rowbury graduated from high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral in 2002, she already had an impressive resume. She had won two state championships (800 and 1600), one national title (800), four consecutive Central Coast Section (CCS) championships in the 800 and seven total CCS individual championships (800-4, 1600-1, cross country-2).
From 2002-2007, she achieved more success as a collegiate runner at Duke. She won an NCAA championship in the Indoor Mile and she was a 6-time All-American.
Since 2007, Shannon has been a professional athlete, sponsored by Nike. 2014 is her seventh year of competing at the highest levels of national and international track and field competition. She is a two-time Olympian, three-time Outdoor World Championships qualifier, and two-time Indoor World Championship qualifier. She has placed 7th and 6th at the Olympics in the 1500 and earned a bronze medal at the 2009 World Championships in the 1500. She is a 4-time USA Champion (1500-2, indoor 3000-1, road mile-1).
Quite a resume! But on May 31, 2014, almost twelve years to the day after winning the state championship in her final high school race, , Shannon added something new to her resume. She is now an American Record holder!
At the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, she ran the two mile race in 9:20.25 to better Amy Rudolph’s previous American record of 9:21.35 set in 1998. Rudolph placed second when she set the record in Cork, Ireland on June 27, 1998, trailing Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland who ran a then world record of 9:18.56.
The morning before the Prefontaine race Shannon and I exchanged some text messages where I teased her that in high school, when I put her in the two mile (or 3200 meters) it was almost considered punishment. And now she was going to race that distance and go for a record!
I watched Shannon’s race on the NBC Sports live stream on my iPhone at Sports Basement. It took me awhile to get the app going and to get logged in with the proper password. By the time I got it going, the race had begun. The coverage was on the men’s shot put but it quickly went back to the women’s two mile. The race was about four minutes in. There was a lead pack of three (Mercy Cherono, Viola Kibiwott, Mimi Belete), with Sally Kipyego back a ways in fourth. It took a moment before Shannon was on the screen. She was in a pack that included Jordan Hasay, in about eighth place.
I knew an American record was a possibility and strained my neck to see Shannon and try to get an idea of what pace she was on. With around three laps to go, Shannon came through at 5:55. She would need to run the last three laps in 3:26 to get the record. Shannon started to pull away from the pack she had been running with and was moving up. I started seeing Shannon behind the leaders and with two laps to go. I estimated her split at 7:05. She needed a 2:16 last 800 to get the record. Even as the camera stayed on the front three, I could see that Shannon was moving up. It reminded me of some 3200 meter races she ran in high school when she closed amazingly fast. She went by Kipyego and now it was a race against the clock. My best guess was she split 8:14 or 8:15 with a lap to go. She needed a 66-67 last lap. As the top three finished, I started counting in my head 9:14, 9:15, 9:16, …I could see Shannon approaching the finish line…9:17, 9:18, 9:19, 9:20…as she crossed the line, ….or was it 9:21? The announcers said it was going to be close. I could hear a big cheer from the crowd. I was pretty sure she had it but I wanted to wait for confirmation before getting too excited. I looked around Sports Basement. Despite me banging my hand on the table and talking into my phone, no one seemed to be paying me any attention. I looked back at my phone and suddenly they were interviewing Shannon and congratulating her on the record. I started taking screen shots.
The next few minutes were a blur. I was posting to my social media and responding to some messages that had already come in to me (one from Galen Rupp’s high school head coach). I called Malinda to give her the great news!
Shannon’s running resume just got another addition. Her first American record. I am proud of Shannon for lots of things (both running and non-running related things). But I must say, American record holder does have a real nice ring to it. Congratulations!
You can watch the NBC coverage of her race (with a few minutes of men’s shot put re-cap in the middle) on usatf TV here:
Pre-race interview with LetsRun:
Post-race interview with LetsRun:
Saturday, February 16, 2013 was a record-setting night at the Armory for the 2013 Millrose Games.
- 1. Chris O’Hare of Tulsa set a new collegiate indoor mile record with a time of 3:52.98 in the Wannamaker Mile race. O’Hare, who placed fourth in the race behind winner Lopez Lomong was the 2012 NCAA Indoor mile champion. The previous record was set by BYU’s Miles Batty at the 2012 Millrose Games (3:54.54).
- 2. Mary Cain bettered her own high school indoor mile record, running 4:28.25, which bettered her mark from the New Balance Games (4:32.78). Cain came in second in the race behind Sheila Reid and ahead of several professional runners and All-American college runners. With Cain’s achievement the high school girls indoor mile record has dropped over ten seconds in 2013. Debbie Heald held the record with a 4:38.5 for over forty years, from 1972 until January 26, 2013.
- 3. Edward Cheserek, who just this week announced he would be attending the University of Oregon next year set a new high school boys indoor two mile record, running 8:39.15 to better Gerry Lindgren’s old record (8:40.0) from 1964.
- 4. Bernard Lagat (in the same race as Cheserek) ran 8:09.49 to re-claim the American record for the men’s indoor two mile from Galen Rupp (8:09.72 in 2012).
- 5. Alysia Montano, in the seldom run women’s indoor 600 meters, shattered the American record, running 1:23.59. The previous record was 1:26.56 by Delisa Walton-Floyd in 1981. Ajee Wilson, who recently decided to skip collegiate competition and signed a pro contract with Adidas, came in second and also bettered the previous American record time with a 1:26.45.
- 6. Erik Sowinski, not Olympians Nick Symmonds or Duane Solomon, set a new American record in the men’s indoor 600 meters with a time of 1:15.61. Solomon was the previous American record holder with a mark of 1:15.70 at a meet in Glasgow in January.
Upon reading about these record performances, one stood out as a little more shocking than any of the others. Wasn’t this 600 meter race supposed to be a battle between Solomon and Symmonds, who placed fourth and fifth respectively in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics?
Who is Erik Sowinski and how did he set an American record over Solomon and Symmonds? Perhaps Symmonds said it best in a post-race interview, “…that’s what’s great about track. You can fly right in, step on the track and get an American record.”
Even more amazing is that Sowinski was not even scheduled to be in the race. Three days before the meet, Kevin Borlee scratched so meet director Ray Flynn called Sowinski. Two days before the meet an excited Sowinski tweeted, “It’s official! I will be running the 600m at Millrose Games this Saturday!”
So who is this man who was a last minute addition to the race, who then went out and set an American Record?
Sowinski attended West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin where he was on the cross country, basketball, and track & field teams. In his senior year he set personal records (PR’s) and school records in the 400 meters (49.46) and 800 meters (1:54.29). He was state champion in the 800, anchored West to the state championship in the 4X800 relay, and also ran a leg on the fifth place 4X400 relay team.
From West, Sowinski moved on to the University of Iowa where he steadily improved each season.
|800 indoor||800 outdoor|
Freshman year he set a school record in the 600 meters indoors and advanced to the NCAA Midwest Regional as a member of the Iowa 4X400 relay team. Sophomore year he set a school record in the 800 meters indoors and earned All-American honors in the 4X400 relay (Iowa ran 3:05.61 to place seventh at the NCAA Championships). Junior year he earned All-American honors indoors in both the 800 (4th) and 4X400 relay (4th) and outdoors he qualified for the NCAA Championships in both the 800 (15th) and 4X400 relay (10th). Senior year he was the Big-10 Indoor champion for the 800 and placed third at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Outdoors as a senior he bettered the Iowa school record in the 800 meters three times. The previously school record was a 1:47.64 set by Bill Frazier in 1962. In front of a hometown crowd at the 2012 NCAA Championships, Sowinski ran his current PR of 1:45.90. Sowinski capped his 2012 season by running at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. He advanced to the semi-finals but was unable to qualify for the final.
Sowinski, who was a five-time All-American while at Iowa, owns or shares seven school records including the indoor 600, indoor 800, and outdoor 800. He was the 2012 Big-10 conference champion in the indoor 800 meters and in 2011 helped Iowa to their first Big-10 conference championship since 1967. In addition he graduated with a degree in integrative physiology and was an academic All-American. In 2012 Sowinski was the recipient of a Big-10 Medal of Honor that recognizes student athletes who have “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.”
He had a very solid collegiate track career with some nice academic achievements to go along with his athletic achievements. I think most impressive is his steady improvement every season, both in terms of improving his 800 meter time (see chart above) and doing better each year at the NCAA Championships (not qualifying as a freshman, qualifying in the 4X4 but not the 800 as a sophomore, 15th as a junior, and 2nd as a senior).
Although his college career is now complete, Sowinski’s running career may be just taking off. He is now an American Record holder. He has now beaten Solomon and Symmonds, the two best 800 meter runners in the country. Only time will tell what stories will be added to Erik Sowinski’s storybook career.
At the Lausitzer International Athletics Meeting in Cottbus, Germany on May 30, 2010, Chaunte Lowe (nee Howard) broke the American record in the high jump, leaping 2.04 meters, which is 6 feet, 8.25 inches. Lowe made her first jump of the competition at 1.81 meters (5 feet 11.25 inches) and jumped at every height in the progression. It was on her third and final attempt at 2.04 meters that Lowe cleared the bar to set the American record. That jump bettered the previous American record held by Louise Ritter. Ritter jumped 2.03 meters (which is 6 feet, 8 inches) two times in 1988. The American high jump record was one of the oldest in the record books (twenty one years and 10 months old when Lowe broke it). The only standard event American women’s records that are older are the shot put (Ramona Pagel, June 1988) and the 1500 meters (Mary Slaney, July 1983).
It should come as no surprise that Lowe has claimed the American record. Her resume of accomplishments is outstanding:
– Two-time National Scholastic champion while in high school (2001, 2002)
– 2003 Pan American Junior Championships bronze medalist
– Three-time NCAA Champion (2004 indoors, 2004 outdoors, 2005 indoors) while at Georgia Tech
– Five-time USA Champion (2006 indoors, 2006 outdoors, 2008 outdoors, 2009 outdoors, 2010 indoors)
– 2004 and 2008 Olympian. In 2004 she did not qualify for the final. In 2008, she placed sixth with a jump of 1.99 meters.
– 2005 Outdoor World Championship silver medalist
– 2010 Indoor World Championship bronze medalist
Other than taking a year off in 2007 to give birth to her daughter, Jasmine, she has been a dominant force in American high jumping since she first burst on the scene in high school in 2001.
I remember Lowe when she was in high school because she was garnering similar attention as Shannon Rowbury (they’re the same year in high school). At the 2001 California State Meet, Rowbury won the 800 meters and Lowe won the high jump. At the 2002 California State Meet, Rowbury won the 1600 meters and Lowe, although she didn’t win an individual championship, placed second in three events (high jump, long jump, and triple jump), scoring twenty-four of her team’s fifty-seven points to help her team win the state championship. Interestingly the three athletes who beat Lowe at that 2002 state meet have also had their share of success beyond high school.
– High Jump-Sharon Day: both Day and Lowe jumped 5-11. Day won on misses. Day was Lowe’s Olympic high jump teammate in 2008.
– Long jump-Lena Bettis: 19-8.25 for Bettis to 19-5 for Lowe. Bettis was Lowe’s teammate at JW North. Bettis is still competing and placed fourteenth at the 2009 USA Championships in the triple jump.
– Triple Jump-Michelle Sanford: 41-5.25 for Sanford to 40-4.25 for Lowe. Sanford competed in the long jump and triple jump at the University of Southern California.
I have never met or talked to Lowe. But I enjoyed watching her compete in the high jump at the Beijing Olympics. After she was eliminated in the high jump, she stayed in the competition area and cheered for the remaining competitors. When the eventual gold medal winner Tia Hellebaut set a new personal record by clearing 2.05, Lowe jumped up and down and ran over to Hellebaut and hugged her. You would have thought it was Lowe that won the gold medal based on the smile and joy on her face.
At the 2009 World Championships I again noticed what a people person she is. She could be seen interacting with her fellow high jumpers during the preliminaries. During introductions before the high jump final, all the other jumpers waved to the crowd when introduced and then went back to their warm-ups. After Lowe’s name was called she stayed in the area and clapped for everyone that was introduced after her. Throughout the competition, Lowe was cheering people on. She led the rhythmic clapping when Amy Acuff cleared 1.92 and Lowe was on her feet cheering and trying to use some vicarious body language of her own to help Acuff clear 1.95. Acuff has been competing since long before Lowe was even in high school. I am sure Lowe looks up to Acuff; she showed tremendous respect for Acuff in what was probably Acuff’s last international championship meet. Later in the meet, when US runner Marshevet Hooker pulled up in the 200 meters with an apparent hamstring injury, Lowe immediately ran over to see if she was OK.
I am just very impressed at the positive sportsmanship and friendly personality that Lowe displays. It’s refreshing to see and she certainly makes a fantastic role model for young athletes. I feel proud that she was a product of the California high school track & field system. I think she represents the United States and California very well. For those reasons, I have become a fan of hers and I am excited and happy for her this week. It is nice to see a class act like Chaunte Lowe become the American record holder.
Saturday’s Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University featured a lot of great action. You can find results and race coverage online. I write about the two races that stood out the most to me. In both these races the race winner was wearing compression socks.
A group of nine Pamakids sat together in the stands with Shannon Rowbury’s parents, Gary and Paula, and other assorted Rowbury supporters. We took over a whole section in the stands just off the finish line at Angell Field. The Women’s 5000 meters was expected to be a great race, featuring the American record holder and World Championship 10,000 meter bronze medalist (Shalane Flanagan), the World Championship 1500 meter medalist (Shannon Rowbury), two other World Championship qualifiers (Amy Begley and Julie Culley), the reigning USATF Indoor 3000 meter champion (Renee Baillie), the 2009 NCAA 5000 meter and cross country champion (Angela Bizzarri), and the collegiate 10,000 meter record holder (Lisa Koll).
Flanagan and Baillie, sitting behind the rabbit Megan Metcalfe, took off at American record pace (14:44). Even after the rabbit dropped out and Baillie dropped back, Flanagan, running alone, looked determined to run a record time. I didn’t think this pace made sense since I presumed that Flanagan was in training for longer road races (an upcoming marathon is rumored), so was she really in 5000 meter PR form? But, who am I to know or question Flanagan’s tactics? I was more focused on the two women in second and third place who were taking turns leading into the wind – Shannon, wearing black compression socks, and Begley. I don’t know if they agreed to work together before the race or if it just happened when they found themselves together six to nine seconds behind Flanagan, but it worked. I knew for sure they were working together when, at one point, Shannon moved out to lane two to let Begley pass on the inside.
Flanagan’s chances of bettering her own record time were done when she fell off pace around mile two. At this point she was still leading Shannon and Begley by nine seconds, but I also knew that Shannon planned to run 72 second laps until this point and then was going to try to pick it up. With one mile to go, it appeared to me that Shannon had a lot left, but she still trailed Flanagan by seven seconds. With three laps to go Shannon and Begley still had a six second deficit but Flanagan had slowed down so much that she was now on pace to run only 15:00. That told me that Shannon still had a chance to win the race. With two laps to go Shannon and Begley were still six seconds behind. Amid a chorus of cheers from our section I yelled to Shannon to “compete.” There was no point in pacing or holding back anymore. It was time to race. Shannon probably didn’t hear me but she was probably thinking the same thing herself anyway. After three laps at 73, Shannon ran a 71 with two laps to go. The deficit was down to four seconds. This was still a lot of ground to make up, but I’ve seen Shannon come from a long way behind on the last lap and something inside told me she would do it again. With 300 meters to go she was gaining. By 200 meters to go Shannon’s turnover was much faster than Flanagan’s and I knew it was game over. Shannon accelerated past Flanagan with about 120 meters to go, running her last lap in 67.4 and her last 200 in 32.7, to win the race in 15:00.51.
Our section in the stands went crazy! Shannon’s mom, Paula, is pretty well known in the track world for her loud screaming for Shannon. I think Malinda may have earned number two billing as the next loudest in the stands on Saturday. I thought she was going to fall off the stands the way she was jumping up and down and screaming in those last 100 meters.
The next big race was the Men’s 10,000 meters. All week long there was scuttle from Galen Rupp’s camp that he would make an attempt at Meb Keflezighi’s American record of 27:13.98 (set at the 2001 Payton Jordan Invitational). First Rupp said he’d race at the Oregon Relays on Friday. But if it was too windy, he would fly down to Stanford for the record attempt. Then Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar said that the pollen count in Palo Alto was too high and that maybe they would instead stage a 10,000 meter race in Eugene on Saturday instead of Friday. Finally on Friday at noon they said Rupp would be racing at Stanford on Saturday night. The Nike PR department was so confident that Rupp would set the record that they made plans for Rupp to appear at the Nike Store in Palo Alto Sunday morning should he set the record.
That was the backdrop to what turned out to be an epic race. And what a race it was. Not a time trial record attempt with the outcome of the race a foregone conclusion; not the only drama about the time on the clock. I had made a print out so I could monitor if they were on record pace or not. If I were more of a businessman I would have printed extras, because I could have sold them in the stands. Instead everyone was peering over my shoulder to check my paper. Finally I just started announcing if the pace was on or not to the people sitting around me.
The rabbits were a little slow in the first mile and Rupp was already a few seconds down. I immediately started looking around for his coach Salazar to see what he would tell Rupp. Salazar was on the high jump apron just after the start line so he had an easy time yelling instructions to Rupp after every lap. After the first mile the rabbits, Rupp, and a pack of eight others started hitting the 65.3 pace needed for the American record. I assumed that the plan was to just run that pace and not to try to make up the two or three seconds they lost in the early laps until later in the race. Rupp ran some 64’s during the second mile and when he ran a couple 63’s around lap ten, he was actually ahead of record pace. The split at halfway was 13:34, 27:08 pace.
Once the second rabbit dropped out after sixteen laps, Rupp assumed the lead. However, he was not alone. This was, after all, a race and: the Oregon Track Club’s Chris Solinsky (making his 10,000 meter race debut) and Simon Bairu (hoping to better the Canadian record of 27:36), Liberty University’s Sam Chelanga (the collegiate 10,000 meter record holder at 27:28), and Kenya’s Daniel Salel, were not going to just step aside and let Rupp run into the record books. With five or so laps to go many of us in the stands started to comment on how smooth Solinsky, in his white compression socks, looked. I thought to myself, maybe it’s Solinsky’s day…and wouldn’t that be funny to sort of crash Rupp’s American record party! Based on seeing Rupp run in the past, I felt confident that he could run 2:00 for the final two laps. So even though the pace had slowed to 66 and the lead pack went from three seconds ahead of pace to only right on pace with three laps to go, I felt the record was going to be broken. The question was, by who?
With just over two laps to go Solinsky bolted to the front. Rupp, Chelanga, and Salel chased after him so he didn’t build a huge lead, but Solinsky had definitely thrown down the gauntlet, challenging the others to stay with him. Solinsky’s penultimate lap was a 60. Meb’s record would stand for less than one minute longer. Solinsky, “Socks” as I have been known to call him over the years, wasn’t close to being done. He pulled away from the other three as he lapped runners on this twenty fifth lap. The crowd was incredibly loud cheering him on for a 56 second last lap (1:56 for his final 800) and a new American Record of 26:59.60. Salel would grab second, Chelanga would set a new collegiate record with a 27:08 for third, and Rupp would finish fourth in 27:10, three seconds faster than Meb’s old mark and a twenty-three second PR. Further back in the pack people were still running incredibly fast. Bairu in fifth set a new Canadian record of 27:23. In seventh and eighth place Tim Nelson and Bobby Curtis became the tenth and eleventh fastest Americans over 10,000 meters in history.
But, the main story was at the front of the race. Rupp did what he came to do, he ran faster than 27:13, but “Socks” stole the show.