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:
Athletics Kenya, the national governing body of track & field in Kenya announced on March 15 that Kenya will hold their men’s 10,000 meter Olympic Trials race in Eugene, Oregon in June 2012. This announcement means that all other Kenyan Olympic Trials races will take place at the Kenyan national championships in Nairobi on June 21-23.
News that Athletics Kenya was considering having the men’s and women’s 5000 and 10,000 meter Olympic Trials races at the Prefontaine Classic first broke in late February. While it was not official, Prefontaine meet director Tom Jordan confirmed that they were considering the possibility.
Many people were immediately opposed to the idea of Kenya holding some of their Olympic Trials races outside of Kenya. Former Kenyan Olympic stars Paul Tergat and Moses Tanui went on record against the trials being in the United States. “The national Olympic team selection should be done by Kenyans, run in Kenya and witnessed by Kenyans,” Tergat said in a press statement. “We have always been doing the selection in Kenya and we must bring the country’s idols to compete at home so as to encourage youngsters,” said Tanui, who also added that, “The youth of this country are being denied a chance to represent the country because they cannot afford to travel there (Eugene),” Tanui also pointed out that the money spent on sending Kenyan runners to the Prefontaine Classic would be better spent developing runners in Kenya.
Another leading former athlete, Martin Keino, son of the famous Kenyan runner Kipchoge “Kip” Keino, wrote an opinion piece in which he pointed out the positives of the Olympic Trials taking place in Kenya both for the Kenyan fans and for the athletes. “It is unique in the sense that it is the convergence of as many as 20 of the world’s top distance athletes fighting for just three spots through a rigorous system of selection,” said Keino, “The men’s 5000m and 10,000m races are generally some of the most exciting races at an Olympic trials here in Kenya. Not to hold these events in such important trials is to deny thousands of fans their only opportunity to watch their stars in person before the Games. As a former athlete who participated in several trials, the pressure cooker environment, high altitude and the toughest competition in the world made for the best preparation for any championship to follow,” he said.
From a financial point of view, it did seem odd. It would be much more expensive for athletes to get to Eugene than to Nairobi. There were suggestions that Nike, the sponsor for the Prefontaine Meet, was paying for the travel expenses for the Kenyan runners to come to the United States. One can’t help but wonder if Nike also promised a payment to Athletics Kenya for holding their Olympic Trials races at Prefontaine. It makes sense that Nike would be willing to spend some money to make this happen because from a marketing point of view having the Kenyan Olympic Trials in Eugene would create more interest in the Prefontaine Meet. The Star, a daily newspaper in Nairobi, quoted Kenyan Commissioner of Sports Gordon Oluoch as saying “You do not hold national trials in another country because you have an all expenses paid trip by Nike.”
Details such as, would there be special races only for Kenyans or would the Kenyans run in the usual 5000 and 10,000 meter races that are open to runners from all countries, were heavily speculated by track fans. United States runners like Chris Solinsky (via twitter) speculated about the situation just like other running fans.
Amid all the controversy, Athletics Kenya stated that the reason for holding their Olympic Trials outside of Kenya was simply for competitive reasons. Athletics Kenya felt that since Kenya has not won an Olympic gold medal ever in the women’s 5000 or 10,000 and the last men’s gold medals were 1988 (5000-John Ngugi) and 1968 (10,000-Naftali Temu), they needed to do something different to get their best possible team on the line at the 2012 London Olympics to go after the gold medals that the country covets. Having the race at sea level (Nairobi’s elevation is 5,600 feet) would simulate the London conditions better. After all, the top finishers in a 10,000 meter race at altitude in the heat may not be the runners who would perform the best in a 10,000 meter race at sea level. Athletics Kenya’s has released a plan to hold a training camp in Eldoret, Kenya beginning on March 12 for runners with the Olympics A and B standards. Then there would be a mini trials on April 17 to determine which athletes would go to Eugene in June for the Olympic Trials. A couple weeks ago the rumor was that Athletics Kenya planned to send five men and five women each for the 5000 and 10,000 meter races at Prefontaine. Thus a total of twenty athletes only would vie for the twelve Olympic spots (three each in each event, both men and women).
On March 15, Athletics Kenya made an announcement that only the men’s 10,000 meter Olympic Trials race would take place in the United States. The men’s 5000 and the women’s 5000 and 10,000, as well as all other track & field events will take place in Nairobi as in past years. The Kenyan 10,000 meter Olympic Trials race will take place on Friday June 1, the night before the Prefontaine Classic. There will be no charge for admission for this special meet, being billed as “Hollister Night at Hayward” in honor of one of the original Nike employees, Geoff Hollister, who passed away on February 6. The 10,000 meter race will have fifteen Kenyan athletes (selected by Athletics Kenya). There will be no pace maker and the top two finishers will qualify for the Kenyan Olympic team. An Athletics Kenya panel will select the third runner to represent Kenya at the London Olympics. Other events scheduled for the Hollister Night at Hayward are the men’s triple jump and mile and the women’s discus, hammer, 1500 and 800.
There has been much speculation, many announcements, comments, and re-announcements on this event over the last three weeks. The final decision has been announced but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is not the last of this controversy. The best part? No matter what’s decided there are sure to be some exciting races to determine Kenya’s Olympic team followed by more exciting races in London.
I was lucky enough to attend the thirty-sixth annual Prefontaine Classic at Eugene’s Hayward Field on July 3, 2010. For the fifteenth consecutive year the meet played out before a sell-out crowd (12,834). There was one American record (David Oliver, 12.90 in the 110 hurdles), three American soil records, and thirteen Prefontaine Classic and Hayward Field records.
It was an amazing three hour period with non-stop action and almost no time to take a breath (or go to the bathroom). Meet director Tom Jordan said, “I think the fans who came today witnessed certainly the best one-day track meet ever held at Hayward Field, and possibly the greatest we’ll have for who-knows how many years.” There were two reasons for the good marks. First, the meet was one month later in the season than previous years, so the athletes were closer to their peak performances than when the meet was in early June. Second, this year the meet was affiliated with the IAAF Diamond League, which brought international stars to Eugene and raised the level of competition to record-setting levels.
But, what really captured my attention at this year’s Prefontaine Classic, was the mystique of the Bowerman curve. This curve, named for the iconic University of Oregon Coach and Nike Co-Founder Bill Bowerman, is in the northwest corner of Hayward Field, directly in front of the Bowerman Building and Bill Bowerman’s statue. It’s the final turn on the track as athletes approach the straightaway in front of the west grandstand leading to the finish line. Often a University of Oregon athlete or Eugene based runner has found an extraordinary finishing kick as they came around this storied curve. It has happened enough times that I can’t help but wonder if Bill Bowerman himself is reaching down and giving Oregon athletes a little push towards the finish line.
In the men’s 800 meter final at the 2008 Olympic Trials there were three Oregonians hoping to qualify for Beijing. But with 200 meters to go, they were only in fourth, fifth, and eighth place. Nick Symmonds swung wide and kicked past four runners to win the race. Around the final curve Andrew Wheating, then only a University of Oregon sophomore, stormed past the pack to grab an unexpected second place. At the same time in lane one Oregon Track Club runner Christian Smith dove for the finish line to grab the third and final Olympic team spot, completing an Oregon/Eugene sweep.
In the women’s 1500 meter semi-final at the 2008 Olympic Trials the runners were battling to place in the top six to qualify for the final. As the runners came into the Bowerman curve, Jordan Hasay, then only a 16-year old high school junior, found herself in seventh place. But she somehow found another gear over the final 150 meters, passing two runners to qualify for the final in fifth place and set a new high school record of 4:14.50. As Hasay took her picture by the clock showing her new record, the Oregon crowd began to recruit Hasay, chanting “Come to Oregon! Come to Oregon!” Less than seven months later, Hasay would sign a letter of intent to attend the University of Oregon. (Reports that current University of Oregon coach Vin Lananna sent Bowerman a thank you note after this took place are unsubstantiated.)
At the 2009 Pac-10 Championships in the 1500 meters Bowerman waited until the very last second to work his magic. Coming around the Bowerman curve Oregon’s Matthew Centrowitz was in the lead but Stanford’s Garrett Heath was solidly in second place. However as they came down the final homestretch Oregon’s Galen Rupp surged by Heath to get second place and almost out of nowhere one step before the finish line Oregon’s Wheating (now a junior) passed Heath to claim third place. Another Oregon 1-2-3 sweep!
At the 2009 USA Championships in the 5,000 meters another Oregon sweep took place. With one lap to go a pack of seven runners were still together. Included in that pack were Oregon Track Club teammates Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky, and Evan Jager as well as Bolota Asmeron and German Fernandez. I remember watching this race unfold and thinking, “Here comes another one of those Oregon sweeps!” Deep inside I was hoping that Asmeron (a local runner from McAteer High School and Cal-Berkeley) could place in the top three to qualify for the World Championships and break up the sweep. Asmeron tried to hold off the Oregon trio but one by one they passed him. As the runners came off the Bowerman curve Asmeron had fallen off the pack. It was an Oregon Track Club sweep: 1. Tegenkamp, 13:20.57, 2. Solinsky, 13:20.82, 3. Jager, 13:22.18.
At the 2010 NCAA Championships there was a dramatic moment in the men’s 1500 meters. The University of Oregon had dreams of sweeping the 1500 not just at the conference meet, like they did in 2009, but also at the national championships. This time the threesome was Wheating (now a senior), Centrowitz and A. J. Acosta. Runners like Lee Emanuel from New Mexico, Jack Bolas from Wisconsin, and Jeff See from Ohio State were certainly going to try to prevent history from being made. As I watched this race unfold online, I kept waiting to see something that told me the sweep would not happen – one of the Oregon trio dropping too far off the back or a non-Oregon runner looking strong. Acosta led the race for about two laps and the pace was slow. Everyone was still in it. With a lap and a half to go the pace picked up as Emanuel surged. With one lap to go Centrowitz challenged for the lead while Wheating and Acosta sat back in fourth and fifth place. With 200 meters to go there was still a large pack of runners together and it was anyone’s race. Then they hit the Bowerman curve. When the runners came off the curve, almost magically, there were three Oregon runners out in front. They would cross the finish line running three abreast: 1. Wheating, 3:47.94, 2. Acosta, 3:48.01, 3. Centrowitz, 3:48.08. The three Oregon runners were almost at a loss for words to describe what happened.
At 12:18 P.M. in the 2010 Prefontaine Classic International Mile the field had thirteen runners including Oregon’s Acosta. I remember Acosta from his high school days and DyeStatCal message board posts so I kept my eye on him even though he was holding down thirteenth place for the first two laps. It wasn’t until 1000 meters into the race that Acosta moved up to second to last place. With 300 meters to go Acosta surged by three runners and I said, “Look at A.J.! If he can close the gap on the main pack maybe he’ll get a wave of energy around the Bowerman curve.” And he did! In the last 150 meters Acosta moved from seventh to second. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed. His time was 3:53.76, a five second PR. For the moment it was the second fastest time in Oregon history, better than Steve Prefontaine’s 3:54.6 and trailing only Joaquim Cruz’s 3:53.00.
At 2:47 P.M. in the 2010 Prefontaine Classic Bowerman Mile perhaps the greatest collection of men’s milers ever assembled on US soil toed the line. This was the big finale of the meet, the Bowerman Mile – everything is named for that man in these parts! Wheating received the loudest applause when he was introduced: “In lane one, wearing the Oregon Ducks uniform for the final time, let’s give a Hayward Field welcome to Andrew Wheating!” But most eyes were on the others in the field which included many of the top milers in the world: Asbel Kiprop, Haron Keitany, Nicholas Kemboi, and Daniel Komen of Kenya, Youssef Kamel of Bahrain, Mohammed Moustaoui and Amine Laalou of Morocco, and Bernard Lagat of the USA. Like Acosta earlier in the meet, Wheating stayed in the back of the pack; just like Acosta he started moving up in the final lap. Again I thought out loud, “Wheating has a great kick. If he can get close the crowd will go nuts and he may do something!” And he did. With a final surge around the Bowerman curve, Wheating moved into fifth place where he would finish the race in 3:51.74, a seven second PR, first American in the race, and a new University of Oregon school record.
Seemingly impossible finishing kicks have taken place by Oregon athletes as they round the Bowerman curve. Four Oregon 1-2-3 sweeps, a race that led to the recruitment of a high school record holder, a five second PR in the mile, and a seven second PR in the mile. As Wheating said after his 3:51 mile; “Unbelievable!”