Chanman's Blog

Olympic Trials Women’s 1500 meters

Four years ago today, Shannon Rowbury qualified for her first Olympic Team by winning the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And yet here we are again. Same place (Eugene, Oregon). Same butterflies.

Yes, I’ve got some butterflies flying around in my stomach this morning but not nearly the swarm that Shannon probably has. Her first round race last Thursday and her semi-final race last Friday both went very well. She has looked smooth, in control, and FAST in both races. She won her heat on Thursday in 4:16.17 and won her heat on Friday in 4:09.96. I’m not surprised that she looked good in those races but it was still nice to see.

There has been some controversy in the women’s 1500 over the last two days. None of it has involved Shannon. After Friday’s semi-final the twelve women who qualified for the final were announced. However, late Friday night we read on a message board that Gabrielle Anderson, who took second place in Shannon’s heat, had been disqualified for illegal contact with another runner. It was rumored that the disqualification was due to a protest by Amy Mortimer. By Saturday morning the list of entrants for the 1500 final had been changed. Anderson was out and as a result Alice Schmidt moved into the final qualifying spot. Mortimer was not added to the field.

There was also a lot of energy on social media suggesting that Anderson would protest her disqualification and sure enough she did. By mid-day on Saturday, Anderson had been reinstated into the Friday results and back into the entry list for the final (“un-disqualified” if you will). Schmidt was back to being a “did not qualify.” However this changed again a few hours later. When we got to the track a friend informed us that Schmidt was back in the final and that there would be thirteen women in the final instead of twelve.

This is all very bizarre but hopefully will not affect the outcome of the 1500 final. Schmidt’s status is of particular interest because she is already qualified for the Olympics in the 800 meters and she is one of five runners with the Olympic A standard of 4:06.00 or better. The others are Shannon, Morgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson, and Anna Pierce. If history is any indicator, the race will go out slow on Sunday and few if any runners will be under the 4:06 mark. If that’s the case, then the London-bound athletes will be the top three finishers who already have the A standard. You can see how Schmidt’s presence or lack of presence is significant. If Schmidt is out of the race there will only be four runners with the A standard and the battle for three spots will likely be between those four. With Schmidt in the mix there would be another legitimate contender for one of the three spots.

Those are the circumstances leading up to this afternoon’s race. It really is an honor and privilege to be so emotionally invested in such a high level race. I’m just a high school track & field coach with some great timing. I never imagined when I started my first season at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the summer of 1998 that I was about to meet a young girl who would change how closely I follow elite distance running and that fourteen years later I would have butterflies in my stomach all day in anticipation of watching her race. Go get’em Shannon!

Handicapping the 2011 USA Championship Women’s 1500 Meters

Action from the 2010 USA Championship women's 1500 meter final.

In order to qualify to represent the USA at the IAAF World Championships later this summer in Daegu, South Korea athletes must place in the top three at the upcoming USA Championships (June 23-26) in Eugene. One of the most intriguing events will be the women’s 1500 meters (trials on Thursday, June 23, finals on Saturday, June 25). I have a rooting interest in this event, having been Shannon Rowbury’s high school coach.

The competition in Eugene in the women’s 1500 meters will bring together possibly the best USA field in history. The third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth fastest women in US history in the 1500 are all scheduled to compete. The USA Champions from the last six years (2005-2010) will all be there. Team USA’s 1500 meter runners from the 2005, 2007, and 2009 World Championships and 2008 Olympics are all competing for a spot on the 2011 World Championship team.

In alphabetical order here are the leading contenders.

Gabrielle Anderson (PR-4:12.06)

The former University of Minnesota runner has made an amazing comeback from cancer and now runs for Team USA Minnesota. She was seventh at the 2010 USA Championships and ran her PR of 4:12.06 last summer in Europe. In 2011 she has placed third at both the USA Indoor Championships (mile) and at the USA Road Mile Championship.

Erin Donohue (PR-4:05.50)

After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 2005, Donohue has been a presence in the 1500 for the USA. She qualified for the USA team for the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics. Her PR of 4:05.55 was the fastest time by an American in 2007. She has placed third (2007), second (2008), fourth (2009), and second (2010) at the last four USA Championships. She is currently coached by Frank Gagliano.

Brie Felnagle (PR-4:08.54; 2011 best-4:10.12)

Felnage had a storied high school career at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Washington that included eight state championships (two in cross country, six in track & field). In college at the University of North Carolina she excelled in the 1500, winning the 2007 NCAA Championship and setting the school record (4:08.54). After college she has returned to Tacoma and is being coached by her former high school coach, Matt Ellis. She is sponsored by Adidas.

Katie Follett (PR-4:07.44, 2011 best-4:07.44)

Follett graduated from the University of Washington in 2010. During that 2010 season she ran a school record 4:10.66 at Mt Sac. She is now sponsored by Brooks and still coached by Greg Metcalf, her college coach. So far in 2011 she lowered her PR twice, winning two races against strong competition, the Payton Jordan Invitational (4:08.95) and the Oxy High Performance Meet (4:07.44).

Jordan Hasay (PR-4:10.28; 2011 best-4:10.28)

The sophomore from Oregon drew national attention when as a high school junior she qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials Final in the 1500. She set a US high school record of 4:14.50 in the semi-finals at those Olympic Trials, which got the crowd at Hayward Field to chant “Come to Oregon! Come to Oregon!” Three years later she did come to Oregon. She’s coming off the NCAA Championships where she placed fourth in the 5000 and eight in the 1500. She set her PR earlier in the 2011 season, running 4:10.28 at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford.

Amy Mortimer (PR-4:06.55)

Mortimer has quietly been the most consistent American woman in the 1500 over the last decade. Although she’s never qualified for the Olympics or World Championships she has placed in the top 10 of the USA Championships 1500 every year since 2003, when she was eighth as a senior from Kansas State. Her highest finish was third in 2005 but she failed to achieve the “A” standard and thus did not compete at the World Championships in Helsinki. Note: Mortimer has scratched from the race.

Treniere (Clement) Moser (PR-4:03.32; 2011 best-4:07.57)

The three-time USA Champion from 2005-2007 (when she went by her maiden name, Treniere Clement), Moser is making a return to the scene after some injury-plagued seasons. She is now coached by John Cook and has run 4:07.57 (1500) this year and ran an 800 best of 2:00.51 to place fourth at the 2010 USA Championships.  She represented the USA at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships in the 1500 and her 4:03.32 PR is from the 2006 season.

Anna (Willard) Pierce (PR-3:59.38; 2011 best-4:10.38)

She qualified for the 2008 Olympics in the steeplechase and for a time held the American record in the steeplechase with her 9:27.59 at the 2008 Olympic Trials. In 2009 she started running more 800’s and 1500’s and qualified for the 2009 World Championships in both the steeplechase and the 1500 (she ran the 1500 only and placed sixth). She was the 2010 USA Champion in the 1500 and her PR of 3:59.38 (run in 2009) ranks her as the third fastest American of all-time.

Shannon Rowbury (PR-4:00.33; 2011 best-4:11.67)

Rowbury was the USA Champion in 2008 and 2009. She represented the USA at the 2008 Olympics (where she was seventh) and the 2009 World Championships (where she earned a bronze medal). She was third at the 2010 USA Championships. Her PR of 4:00.33 set in Paris in 2008 makes her the seventh fastest woman in US history. Rowbury is featured in the July/August edition of Running Times, where she discusses missing some training time in the most recent off-season due to injury, and her prospects for the upcoming USA Championships and 2012 London Olympics.

Jenny (Barringer) Simpson (PR-3:59.90; 2011 best-4:09.56)

While still a college runner at Colorado coached by Mark Wetmore, she qualified for the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships in the steeplechase. She’s the current American record holder in that event with a 9:12.50 in placing fifth at the 2009 World Championships. She is now sponsored by New Balance and coached by Julie Henner. She has not run the steeplechase the last two years, instead competing in the 1500 and 5000. Her 3:59.90 in 2009 makes her the fifth fastest American of all-time. She missed most of the 2010 season due to an injury but returned to compete well during the 2011 indoor season.

Moran Uceny (PR-4:02.40; 2011 best-4:06.32)

Uceny was primarily an 800 runner in college at Cornell. She’s placed in the top six at the USA Championships in the 800 the last four years. In 2008, after finishing sixth in the 800 at the Olympic Trials she doubled back and was a surprise fourth place finisher in the 1500. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that she has fully committed to racing the 1500. Coached by Terrence Mahon as part of the Mammoth Track Club she became the tenth fastest American of all-time in 2010 by running a 4:02.40.

Christin Wurth-Thomas (PR-3:59.59; 2011 best-4:03.72)

Wurth-Thomas is the fourth fastest American in history with her 3:59.59 in 2010. She represented the USA at the 2008 Olympics, and the 2007 and 2009 World Championships (fifth in the 1500 final in 2009). She has placed second (2007), third (2008), second (2009), and fourth (2010) at the last four USA Championships. She is the only American 1500 contender to have raced in Europe already in 2011, where she ran a USA season best of 4:03.72 in Rome in May.

Tune in on Saturday, June 25 (live television coverage on NBC) at 2:33 P.M. west coast time and see which three women emerge from this dogfight to represent the USA at the World Championships.

Action from the 2009 USA Championship women's 1500 meter final.

Gabrielle Anderson – She is that tough!

Gabrielle Anderson (photo courtesy of Gary Wilson)

Gabrielle Anderson was a Minnesota state champion in the 800 meters and earned all-state honors four times in cross country while attending Perham High School. She earned scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where she qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships three times, the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships two times, and earned All-Big Ten Conference honors five times.

Gabrielle, or “Gabe” as her friends call her, developed a reputation for having a tough look on her face at the end of races when it was time to dig deep and keep fighting despite the pain. This was dubbed “Gabe Face” by her Minnesota teammates.

Gabe’s story about exceptional toughness begins in the spring of 2009. She was in the early weeks of what was supposed to be her fifth year (senior season) at Minnesota. She had noticed a small lump under her ear at the top of her jaw and in March doctors performed a fine needle aspiration to sample the tumor. After the test, Gabe flew with her teammates to Tempe, Arizona for the Sun Angel Invitational, where she was slated to run the 1500 meters. On April 10, 2009, the day before the meet, she got a call from the doctor – she had adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer of the salivary gland. Her coach Gary Wilson gave her the option to pull out of the meet because of the shocking news. But Gabe decided to race. Not knowing what the future had in store, it very well could have been her last race. Under these incredibly stressful conditions she ran a PR of 4:22.87. Five days later she had surgery to remove the tumor.

The surgery and battle with cancer put an end to her season, and meant that she would miss the Drake Relays, one of the highlights of the season for Minnesota. At previous Drake Relays Gabe had run on three winning relay squads, including 2007 when Minnesota set the meet record for the 4X800 meter relay. Gabe would not be at the 2009 Drake Relays, but her Minnesota teammates were thinking about her. They made “Gabe” patches to put on their uniforms. Also, her teammates made shirts to honor her toughness. The shirt had a picture of Gabe in one of her aforementioned “Gabe Face” moments, with the words, “Are you this tough?” above it.  

The front of the shirt (photo courtesy of Gary Wilson)

The back of the shirt (photo courtesy of Gary Wilson)

Gabe would need to keep being tough. Even after the surgery, Gabe’s battle with cancer continued. Over the summer she underwent radiation treatment five times a week for six weeks. Adenoid cystic carcinoma has a high rate of late metastasis, which means that Gabe will need to get frequent checks for the rest of her life to see if the cancer has come back.

In August the twenty-three year old began running again, slowly at first, eventually building back to a higher level of training during the fall. She also decided to petition the NCAA for a medical hardship so she could compete for Minnesota in the spring of 2010 – it would be her fourth (senior) season but her sixth year in college. In December she got approval from the NCAA, she would be eligible to compete in the outdoor track & field season in 2010. Her collegiate career would not end with the 1500 PR earned under trying circumstances at the Sun Angel meet. She would get a full senior season to train hard, race fast, and be with her teammates.

Hugs after a win at the Drake Relays (photo courtesy of Gary Wilson)

On the one year anniversary of her diagnosis, she was back at Sun Angel running in the 1500. She PR’ed in 4:20.56! Then at the 2010 Drake Relays she anchored Minnesota to first place in the 4X800 meter relay and the 4X1600 meter relay. It was Minnesota’s fourth straight 4X800 meter relay win and they set the 4X1600 meter relay meet record.

The photos taken after the race suggest that if you have “Gabe Face” and are tough when you compete, you will be rewarded with a race that puts a big smile on both your and your teammates’ faces.

Smiles all around (photo courtesy of Gary Wilson)

Down the Backstretch (May 2009) –

Flotrack (Apr 2010) – (Apr 2010) –