Sunday, July 10, 2016. Hayward Field. University of Oregon. Eugene, Oregon. Track Town USA.
It’s 3:00 P.M. Malinda and I have settled into our seats in Section C, Row 28. It’s the last day of the 2016 Olympic Trials. The race we’ve been waiting all week for, the Women’s 1500 meter Final is at 5:00 P.M. T-minus two hours to go. 120 minutes. How will we pass the time?
We’ve come to watch and cheer for Shannon Rowbury. Shannon arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral as a freshman in the fall of 1998. It was also my first year as the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Eighteen years and hundreds of memories later, here we are.
You would think that after multiple USA Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games and this, our third Olympic Trials, we wouldn’t get nervous anymore. We do.
I decide to take a selfie and post the picture to social media. That will eat up some time. It should be noted that the sign Malinda is holding in the selfie was made earlier in the Fan Fest as a means of eating up time and alleviating nervousness.
It’s now 3:09 P.M. Down to 111 minutes.
I busy myself watching the pole vault and high jump. I spend some time looking up the heptathlon scores heading into the final event on my smartphone. I make some small talk but at times like this, I prefer to be just left alone – me and the thoughts screaming silently in my head. The women’s 5000 race starts and it’s pretty exciting. That distracts me for about fifteen minutes and five seconds.
Suddenly it dawns on me. Very few people among the 22,000 spectators in the stadium have such an emotional investment in the outcome of an event. For most, if your favorite athlete makes the Olympic team it’s, “woo-hoo” and high five the person sitting next to you. If they miss out on an Olympic spot it’s, “darn it, that’s too bad,” and on to the next event. I’m one of the lucky ones. I REALLY care if Shannon finishes in the top three or not. It’s that mystery of not knowing if it will be the thrill of victory of agony of defeat that makes sports so riveting. It’s why they run the race. This revelation, that I am blessed to be in my current stressful situation reminds me of a quote I often share with the Sacred Heart Cathedral teams, “pressure is a privilege.” If there’s no pressure, you either have no chance or you are such a sure thing that it isn’t challenging and thus not as much fun. You actually should want there to be pressure.
I decide this deserved another social media post.
Now it’s 4:49 P.M.
I look over and notice that Shannon’s friend Aysha is putting lipstick on Malinda. This hot pink or red lipstick has become Shannon’s signature look, an homage to her grandmother Nonie, who passed away five years ago. Aysha asks me if I want lipstick. I look at her questioningly. But then Shannon’s mom, Paula, says “Oh come on, Andy.” Hey, an Olympic spot is on the line. If I need to “lipstick up” to help get the job done, then I better pucker my lips. The timestamp on my phone says that by 4:53 P.M. I had done my part to get to Rio. Now it was all on Shannon.
Shannon and Jenny Simpson were the clear favorites in the race. Brenda Martinez, doubling back in the 1500 after a heartbreaking fall 150 meters from the finish line in last week’s 800 meters, was also someone to contend with. Morgan Uceny, the 2012 Olympic Trials champion, has been looking strong and should not be counted out. The field was deep and there could easily be a couple other runners from the pack who could make this challenging.
The first two laps were typically on the slow side with lots of bumping and pushing. All the contenders were bunched together and in position to make their run for Rio. With about 450 meters to go, right behind Shannon, Alexa Efraimson and Lauren Johnson made contact, with Johnson being bumped off-balance.
With 400 meters to go, Uceny passed and cut-off Shannon, causing Shannon to fall back to fifth place. Shannon was boxed in with Uceny in front of her and Efraimson to her right. There was nowhere to go. I remember hearing Malinda screaming in a very panicked voice. I kept thinking, “there’s still 45 seconds of running left. She’ll get out of the box and then she’ll kick.”
With 250 meters to go, Shannon passed Sara Vaughn to move into fourth place. But with 200 meters to go, there still wasn’t a whole lot of room for Shannon to start her kick. “Still 30 seconds of running. There’s time,” I said to myself, this time my rhetorical voice sounding a little more panicked. Shannon would tell me later at dinner that she stayed patient and she knew there would eventually be an opening and when it came, she’d take it and go.
Finally, with about 150 meters left, Shannon got past Efraimson and had a clear path to chase Uceny and Simpson. Martinez was closing hard as well and Amanda Eccleston was right there in the hunt, too. But Shannon shifted gears and easily pulled into second place where she safely remained until the finish line.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. We waited for Shannon to come around on her victory lap to give her hugs. She seemed thrilled to see me wearing the lipstick and we of course took a picture together. From there we went out to the Fan Fest where we danced to the live music, drank a few beverages, and cheered wildly when they presented the awards for the women’s 1500 meters. As we left Hayward Field, we noticed they hadn’t added Shannon’s name to the “Who Made the Team” board. Taking out my Sharpie, I decided to help them out.
First there was Beijing. Then there was London.
And Rio makes it a Trio.
Somewhere in Bahrain, Maryam Jamal’s high school coach may be writing a blog about how Jamal deserves the gold medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500. But I was not Jamal’s high school coach. I was Shannon Rowbury’s; and therefore this blog is from the point of view that Shannon deserves the silver medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500.
First, I want to go back to August 2012 in London. On August 9, the day before the women’s 1500 final, I wrote a blog entitled, “Keep Calm and Kick.” I was both nervous and excited to be watching Shannon run in an Olympic Final for the second time.
Immediately after the race, these were the results:
|1||Asli CAKIR ALPTEKIN||TUR||4:10.23|
|3||Maryam yusuf JAMAL||BRN||4:10.74|
|12||Hellen Onsando OBIRI||KEN||4:16.57|
|Morgan UCENY||USA||Did not finish|
Shannon’s sixth place finish gave me mixed emotions. Of course sixth at the Olympics is pretty amazing and it was one place higher than in 2008 in Beijing. But there was also a feeling of frustration that maybe not all the women in the race were playing on a level playing field.
The top two runners from Turkey, Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut, had come out of nowhere. Cakir had served a two-year ban from 2004-06 for a drug infraction while she was a junior athlete. Tatyana Tomasheva of Russia who placed fourth served a two year suspension from 2008-10 for “fraudulent substitution of urine” – she basically tried to cheat on a drug urine test.
It was also suspicious that these two runners from Turkey and Russia, did not compete at the 2011 World Championships and were not regular competitors in the Diamond League meets, meets where there would likely be drug testing. Cakir, a former steeplechaser, had never made an international championship final before 2012 and had improved her 1500 meter time 7 seconds that summer. In 2011, Bulut’s best time in the 1500 was 4:18. In 2012 she suddenly ran 4:01 and qualified for an international championship meet for what would be her first and only time. Tomasheva competed almost exclusively at home in Russia.
But thinking like this, felt like sour grapes. So instead we went for dinner in the mall by the Olympic Stadium and waited to meet up with Shannon and her family. In a recent Unscriptd interview, Shannon revealed that she was in tears on the practice track during her cool-down because she felt robbed by these dopers. She worked hard to put on a brave face for her family.
Usually dinner with Shannon after her finals race is a fun dinner with lots of laughs and toasts. Thinking back to that night now, that was by far the least celebratory after the meet dinner we’ve all experienced. In the group picture we took that night, we may all be smiling but deep inside we were all pretty upset at the circumstances. I didn’t even blog about this race because I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound accusatory and controversial.
In late 2013 I saw a picture of the 2012 London Olympic 1500 Final. It was a nice head on shot of the runners as they approached the finish line. Almost every runner’s face was clearly visible. I decided to make a scan of the picture and I saved the file on my computer with the filename “2012 London 1500 Final_x out the druggies as they get caught.”
For a year and a half, that jpg just sat there untouched. But in August 2015, Cakir failed a drug test. She is currently serving an eight year ban and her Olympic gold was striped. I got to make my first X on the picture.
I now realize that there were a few bans in 2014 of runners who finished behind Shannon. The initial ninth place finisher Ekaterina Kostetskaya of Russia was given a two-year ban for a drug violation from a test at the 2011 World Championships. Her ninth place finish has been nullified by the IAAF. The initial seventh place finisher Natallia Kareiva of Belarus had her finish nullified and received a two-year ban for doping after her biological passport showed abnormalities.
Going back to the runners who finished ahead of Shannon, with the Cakir suspension and voiding of her results, the feeling most of us had was that Shannon was rightfully fifth. In the summer of 2015, all hell broke out regarding Russian athletes. First it was rumored that many, Tomashova included, would be named as dopers and have their results expunged. Next, came news that Russia’s anti-doping agency lacked adequate and proper drug testing and would be suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for non-compliance. Russia’s infractions are severe enough that it is still unclear if any of athletes from the Russian Federation will be allowed to compete in Rio at the 2016 Olympics. This obviously shrouds Tomashova and her fourth place finish in London even more.
On February 29, 2016, it was announced that fifth place finisher Abeba Aregawi of Sweden by way of Ethiopia had tested positive for meldonium. A week later on March 7, 2016, after a drug test showed irregularities in her biological passport, Bulut was suspended pending further investigation.
In many ways, this is vindication for Shannon. What we were all feeling that night in London was not sour grapes but justified. It remains unclear what will happen with the official results and medals from the 2012 London Ollympic 1500 race. To date five of the first eight finishers have been busted for drugs. If you believe that they should not be in the results, then the final results should now stand as:
Gold – Maryam Yusuf Jamal, BRN
Silver – Shannon Rowbury, USA
Bronze – Lucia Klocova, SVK
Shannon may or may not ever get a medal from the London Olympic Games. She and her fans will never have the moment back in the Olympic Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, taking a victory lap and being on the podium to receive a medal. That’s what makes me mad and frustrated.
Maybe the best thing to come of this is in Shannon’s mindset. You couldn’t help but wonder back in 2012 if Shannon’s best as a clean athlete would always leave her around sixth place and the dopers would continue to win the medals. But thanks to increased testing, the cheaters are getting caught. What’s left, hopefully, are only clean athletes.
Shannon’s best is good enough to compete against the other clean athletes.
Congratulations are in order for Cory McGee, who by running under the IAAF B standard for the 1500 meters with a time of 4:06.67, stamped her ticket to the World Championships in Moscow later this summer. McGee’s time was well under the 4:09.00 that she needed and was more than a three second PR.
McGee’s previous best time of 4:09.85 came on July 6. On July 13, running at the KBC Night of Athletics meet in Heusden, Belgium, McGee shattered the 4:09 mark. She went out hard and was right behind the rabbit, coming through the 400 and 800 meter marks in 63 and 2:08. She hit the bell at 2:59 and the 1200 mark at 3:16 and was in second place. She faded somewhat over the last half lap to finish in seventh, but what was important was the time, which was easily under the B standard. She now joins Treniere Moser, Mary Cain, and Jenny Simpson as the US representatives in the 1500.
McGee’s 4:06.67 ties her for third fastest collegian in history, with some pretty illustrious company. The three women with her on the chart have all won medals at international championships. Two of them are foreigners who attended US colleges, so out of American collegians, McGee is number two behind only her 1500 meter Moscow teammate, Jenny (Barringer) Simpson.
|Jenny (Barringer) Simpson||Colorado||3:59.90||2009||2011 World Championship Gold in the 1500|
|Hannah England||Florida St||4:06.19||2008||2011 World Championship Silver in the 1500 for the UK|
|Sally Kipyego||Texas Tech||4:06.67||2008||2011 World Championship Silver and 2012 Olympic Silver in the 10,000 for Kenya|
I have been paying particular attention to McGee’s pursuit of the B standard because whether or not she got the time would have a direct effect on Shannon Rowbury. If McGee didn’t get the time by the July 20 deadline, Shannon would have been the final USA qualifier in the 1500. Having also qualified in the 5000 meters (and having been training for the 5000 for the last several weeks), Shannon would have had a tough decision to make. But now that decision has been made. The 5000 it is for Shannon!
I must admit that prior to June 22 of this year, I did not know who Cory McGee was. But on June 22, at the USA Championships, possibly acclimated to the hot and humid conditions from growing up in Mississippi and attending school in Florida, McGee placed third in the 1500 meters in a slow tactical race. Ahead of her were Moser and Cain. One place and less than half a second behind her was Shannon. It was a great accomplishment for the twenty-one year old from Florida University, who came into the USA Championships as the twelfth seed and out of the finalists had only the eighth fastest PR. Her third place finish did not ensure a birth on Team USA for Moscow, however. First she had to chase the B standard, which she successfully did.
Prior to all of this, McGee has had a very solid career that, in lieu of her recent 4:06, deserves some attention. Her dad, Jim, played football in the mid-70’s at Florida. Jim took a job as FBI security liaison for the 2004 Athens Olympics so the family moved to Greece temporarily. While there, as a sixth grader, she ran cross country for an American school and her first meet was in Egypt. Shortly after her family returned to the US, Hurricane Katrina devastated her town of Pass Christian, Mississippi (a beach town along the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Mobile). The McGee’s temporarily lived in New Mexico with Cory’s great grandmother.
When they returned to Pass Christian, McGee’s running career really took off. This is all the more amazing when you consider that Pass Christian High School, with an enrollment of four hundred, did not have a cross country team when McGee first started there. In 2006, at the age of thirteen, McGee set a new world record in the indoor mile for her age (4:49.32). During her high school career she won 22 state championships (17 in track and five in cross country). She was the Gatorade Mississippi Runner of the Year three times in cross country and three times in track. She holds Mississippi state records in cross country and on the track in the 800, 1600, and 3200. In 2007, in cross country, she qualified for Foot Locker Nationals where she was 27thplace. Also running at the same 2007 Foot Locker Nationals meet were her future Moscow teammates Jordan Hasay, Chris Derrick, and Ryan Hill.
An interesting comparison is the high school PR’s by McGee and Shannon.
|Cory McGee ‘10||Shannon Rowbury ‘02|
Currently a junior in college, McGee has accumulated numerous accolades at the NCAA level. She has earned All-American status seven times in her first three years at Florida. In 2011 she was the Southeast Conference (SEC) Freshman Indoor Runner of the Year. In her primary event, the 1500 meters, she has steadily improved each year, tenth as a freshman in 2011, sixth as a sophomore in 2012, and second as a junior this past June 2013.
Given her impressive past, it probably should come as no surprise that the latest addition to McGee’s running resume is Team USA for the 2013 World Championships. Good luck, Cory!
Keep calm and carry on. You hear that a lot here in London. I believe the track & field distance race equivalent is “Keep Calm and Kick”.
The women’s 1500 meter final will take place Friday at 8:55pm London time (12:55pm on the west coast). Shannon Rowbury will be running in her second Olympic final and she’ll be looking to improve on her seventh place finish from Beijing (which as of now is the highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history).
Shannon gave us some anxious moments during the qualifying races. On Monday in the first round she finished seventh and we had to sit through the next two heats to see if her time would qualify to the next round. As the Brits like to say, Shannon’s 4:06.03 was the “fastest loser” and she moved on to the semi-final. On Wednesday, Shannon was well positioned throughout the race and inspired by her teammate Leo Manzano’s patient race tactics (more on that in a later post) hung out patiently around seventh place for most of the race. Only the top five would automatically qualify for the final and with 100 meters to go Shannon still had some work to do to move into the top five. She surged down the final homestretch passing two runners to secure the fifth and final automatic qualifying spot by one tenth of a second (4:05.47 to 4:05.57). The times in the second semi-final heat were much faster and it turns out that that one tenth of a second was huge because it was the difference between making the final and being eliminated (as all the time qualifiers came from the second heat).
In many ways, the stress is off. The goal in these first two races was simply to qualify on and Shannon has done that. She’s in the final along with eleven other women – the best female 1500 meter runners in the world. Previous championship meet credentials, PR’s, and season bests are immaterial. Everyone will line up even at the starting line and attempt to run three and three quarter laps around the track and get to the finish line first.
The final is simple and straightforward. You go for it. You leave it all out there. In most of the other distance finals that I’ve seen at these Olympic Games, the top finishers have been very patient early in the race, letting others set the pace and deal with the pushing and shoving that occurs in the middle of the pack of races of this nature. Then at some point later in the race, there comes a moment when it’s time to make your play for the medal. A moment when it is time to put four years of training and dreaming to work.
It is an honor and a privilege to be in London sitting in my hotel room and preparing to watch someone I know and care about run in an Olympic final in less than twenty-four hours time. What a wild journey cheering on Shannon Rowbury has been.
For Shannon, it’s time to Keep Calm and KICK!
For me, it’s time to Keep Calm and wave my banner!
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!
One one hundredth of a second. That’s faster than you can blink. That’s faster than the time it takes to read the word “fast.” That can also mean the difference between qualifying for the USA team for the World Championships in Daegu and staying home.
Ten years ago in 2001, at the end of her junior year, in the middle of a rainstorm at the Adidas Outdoor National Championships, Shannon Rowbury edged out Adrienne Anderson by one one-hundredth of a second to win the 800 meter national championship, 2:12.00 to 2:12.01. That day, just like at the 2011 USA Championships today, I would be cheering on Shannon at the 200 meter to go mark and would be unable to see the finish, relying on the video scoreboard and public address announcer to find out the result.
After battling injuries this past off-season and then running two races that by her own definition were “mediocre,” Shannon arrived at the 2011 USA Championships in a different position than she has been. For the first time in the last three years, she was not one of the favorites for a top three finish.
The USA system for selecting its team for the World Championships is very objective. In a nutshell, the top three finishers in each event get to represent the USA. Having a bad race two weeks before the USA Championships doesn’t matter. You just have to get it together and be in the top three at the USA Championships. Having the fastest time so far this season does not guarantee anything. You still have to be in the top three. Having the fastest lifetime PR does not guarantee anything. You still have to be in the top three. Having the potential to improve over the next two months to be the fastest runner in the country come the week of the World Championships does not matter. It’s what you do at this meet. You have to be in the top three. Two-time USA champion? World Championship bronze medalist? Highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history? That looks good on the resume but to stamp your passport to Daegu, you still have to be in the top three.
Those were the circumstances facing Shannon and the third place spot would come down to one one-hundredth of a second.
Christin Wurth-Thomas set a blistering early pace, running 62.1 for the first lap. She built up a lead of up to thirty meters. With 300 meters to go Shannon, Morgan Uceny, and Jennifer Barringer Simpson started to go after Wurth-Thomas. Uceny would take the lead at the top of the final straightaway. Simpson would move into second place with about twenty-five meters to go. Shannon was closing ground on Wurth-Thomas. Wurth-Thomas’s form was really tying up. The question was, would Shannon run out of real estate or would she pass Wurth-Thomas to claim the third and final ticket to Daegu? From my vantage point at the 200 meters to go mark, I had no idea. I could hear the crowd gasp and the announcer say that it was too close to call. It took maybe 1500 one one-hundredths of a second (15 seconds) for the result to flash up on the scoreboard.
4:06.20 to 4:06.21. Third place and a ticket to the World Championships in Daegu….by one one-hundredth of a second. Congratulations, Shannon!
Day one of the 2011 USA Championships are done. Whew! Trials meets are very nerve-raking! As a coach and fan of the sport, I know that trials are part of the sport. But that doesn’t mean they are easy to stomach. My feeling is that nothing great can happen at trials. If you are seeded high and expected to qualify for the finals, then if you qualify it’s no big deal. If you don’t qualify, it’s pretty much a disaster. The higher one is seeded, the worse the disaster. My favorite mantra at trials meets is, “live to run again.” Championships are not won on trials day, but they can be lost.
This year alone I’ve anxiously lived through our league (WCAL) and secion (CCS) trial meets. Both those days were pretty successful with the bulk of the athletes that I coach qualifying for the next round. No one that I expected to qualify “stubbed their toe” and failed to move on.
On day one of the 2011 USA Championships, I sat in the stands nervously awaiting the women’s 1500 trials. Unlike the WCAL and CCS trials, I wasn’t on the track talking to the athletes. I was up in the stands with nothing to do but be nervous for Shannon Rowbury’s race. How many times have I told her, “All you want to do is live to run again.”?
With one lap to go, Shannon was boxed in. At about fifth place she fought her way out of the box and started moving up around the curve. With 300 meters to go she was pressing Jennifer Simpson for the lead. Then she passed Simpson and took the lead with 200 meters to go. She held the lead down the homestretch until a couple athletes inched by her. It was a blanket finish:
1 Jennifer Simpson 4:14.20
2 Gabriele Anderson 4:14.25
3 Anna Pierce 4:14.32
4 Shannon Rowbury 4:14.40
5 Treniere Moser 4:14.41
6 Jackie Areson 4:14.42
The top four were automatic qualifiers so by virtue of beating Moser and Areson by 0.01 and 0.02 seconds respectively, Shannon was automatically qualified for the final (with Simpson, Anderson, and Pierce). Moser and Areson would have to await the results of heat two to see if they qualified for the final based on time. I felt that up to eight runners in heat two could potentially break 4:14 so I would have been unbelievably nervous if Shannon were in Moser and Areson’s position. As it turned out heat two went:
1 Christin Wurth 4:08.32
2 Morgan Uceny 4:08.68
3 Katherine Follett 4:09.94
4 Brie Felnagle 4:09.95
5 Emily Infeld 4:10.02
6 Jordan Hasay 4:14.85
Wurth, Uceny, Follett, and Felnagle were automatic qualifiers from heat two with Infeld, Moser, Areson, and Hasay the four qualifiers for the final on time. Hasay beat out Lauren Hagans from heat one by one hundereth of a second, 4:14.85 to 4:14.86. That is why coaches always train athletes to run through the finish line, those hundedths of seconds can make a big difference.
Today is Friday, June 24, 2011. The 1500 meter final is tomorrow. That means the nervousness from yesterday’s trials is behind us and the sweaty palms for the final are still a day away. Today is a day to just enjoy some track & field action. But tomorrow? With a trip to the 2011 World Championships on the line and only the top three earning a spot on the team, tomorrow is bound to be filled with heartpounding excitement. Go Shannon!
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.
Our summer vacation in 2008 included a trip to Eugene for the Olympic Trials and a trip to Beijing, China for the Olympics. In 2009 we went to Eugene for the USA Championships and to Berlin, Germany for the World Championships. This summer’s trip is a 4,500 mile road trip from San Francisco to Des Moines to Eugene, and then back home to San Francisco. Along the way we will see the 2010 USA Championships in Des Moines and the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. For Malinda and me, summer vacations like these combine three of our passions: 1) travel, 2) track & field, and 3) cheering for Shannon Rowbury.
Our latest journey began last week. We have stayed in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and are now in the heart of the heartland, Iowa! Along the way we have had a great time. In Reno, Nevada we met up with 1984 Olympian Ruth Wysocki and went for a thirty minute run with her (shake out run after a long drive…although Malinda said it was more like a tempo run for her). In Boulder, Colorado we stayed with our friend, and running and triathlon enthusiast, Jim Moriarity. Jim drove us up to 8,300 feet so we could run on the road made famous by the University of Colorado and Chris Lear’s book, Running with the Buffaloes – Magnolia Road. Also in Boulder we met two elite athletes who were staying with Jim, Fiona Docherty (who competed in the 2009 World Championships Marathon) and Alice Mason.
It’s been an exciting week for a sports enthusiast. Before starting our drive on Wednesday we were riveted in front of the television set like many others just hoping the USA could score a goal against Algeria…and Landon Donovan delivered in extra time! I just read about the Wimbledon match that lasted eleven hours and five minutes, spread out over three days. 70-68 in the fifth
set! That is crazy! The final day’s drive to Des Moines brought us through Omaha, Nebraska and it just so happens to be the week of the College World Series. So of course we made a quick stop to see Rosenblatt Stadium, which has hosted the College World Series since 1950. It turns out this is the last
College World Series in the famous stadium as a new downtown stadium will be completed in time for the 2011 event. Perhaps even more memorable than the stadium was the street outside the stadium, jam packed with vendors selling College World Series merchandise.
Anyway, back to track & field. You never know what’s going to happen at a USA Championship in a year like 2010 when there is no international championship later in the summer (like it was in 2007, 2008, and 2009). There is less pressure on the athletes to place in the top three to qualify for the Olympics or the World Championships. Some of the top athletes are not even here; they are skipping this meet in favor of the Prefontaine Classic next week or for meets later this summer in Europe. Some other athletes are competing in their “off” event.
Shannon ran a very controlled race in the 1500 trials on Thursday evening. It was a very slow pace early on (2:22 at the 800 meter mark) and she just stayed with the pack. When the pace picked up (63 for lap three) she smoothly put herself in the top three. In the last lap she looked effortless, covering the lap in 60.8 seconds to win her heat easily and qualify for the final at 2:26 P.M. central time on Saturday.
It’s fun to look back at what I was thinking over the last four years.
Four years ago – 2006
Shannon placed 6th at the 2006 USA Championships in Indianapolis:
1. Treniere Clement, 4:10.44
2. Lindsay Gallo, 4:10.72
3. Sarah Schwald, 4:11.60
4. Carrie Tollefson, 4:12.23
5. Christin Wurth, 4:12.82
6. Shannon Rowbury, 4:12.86
At the time, I remember the feeling was, “she needs to move up three places in the next two years to be an Olympian.” Easier said than done….or was it?!
Three years ago – 2007
Shannon was injured and Malinda and I spent the summer focused on our wedding.
Two years ago – 2008
Shannon was the favorite in the 1500 at the 2008 Olympic Trials after her breakthrough 4:01.61 at a meet in May. She would win the Olympic Trials and go on to place seventh at the Olympics, but boy was it nerve-racking at the Olympic Trials.
One year ago – 2009
Suddenly the competition in the women’s 1500 jumped up a level. Jenny Barringer broke four minutes at Prefontaine. Christin Wurth-Thomas and Anna Willard were on top of their game. Running four minutes low in the 1500 was no big feat anymore. With this backdrop Shannon stepped up when it counted, and even though Wurth-Thomas had built up a big lead, Shannon made up a lot of ground on the last lap to win her second straight USA 1500 championship.
Just three weeks ago Shannon was at Kezar posing for a compression sock photo with the Pamakids.
Now it’s the day before the 1500 final and this more or less marks the halfway point between Beijing and London. Shannon will go after her third straight USA championship. Wurth-Thomas, Willard (now Anna Pierce), and others will do everything they can to beat her. What better way to spend your summer vacation!
The date May 18 holds special meaning to me. On that date in 2008, in some ways, the world changed.
When I woke up that morning Shannon Rowbury was one of many promising US middle distance runners. She was scheduled to race at the Adidas Track Classic, it was her second attempt of the season to run the 1500 meter Olympic “A” standard of 4:07.00. While running under 4:07 would not guarantee her a spot on the Olympic team, it would make the road to the Beijing Olympics quite a bit easier. Two weeks earlier at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford she had just missed the standard, running 4:07.59.
By the time I went to sleep that night I had a new “claim to fame.” I was now the high school coach of the fifth fastest American woman 1500 meter runner in history… and the owner of two tickets to watch the women’s 1500 meter semi-final at the 2008 Olympics.
But my story really begins the day before.
May 17, 2008
Shannon was to be inducted into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame, but she was unable to attend the induction banquet because of the meet in Carson, CA. She asked me to accept on her behalf and I was honored to do so. It made for a hectic day because I was coaching two Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory athletes, Jocelyn Rodriguez and Reilly Hall, at the Central Coast Section (CCS) track & field trials in Gilroy, CA; it was worth it to be able to accept on Shannon’s behalf. Jocelyn ran well and qualified for CCS finals in the 3200 meters and then had to rush back, too, because she was receiving a scholarship from the SF Prep Hall of Fame. So after the meet, we all headed back towards the city trying to make it in time for the dinner.
As fate would have it, as assistant coach Christine Jegan and I were driving up the 101 towards San Francisco, my Ford Explorer started making a weird sound. The car lost power as I pulled off the highway at an exit in Sunnyvale. Now we were really going to be late! I later learned that the car had a blown head gasket, and it was the end for my Explorer. After 14 years and 182,000 miles the Explorer died doing what it did for me for so many years, rushing me to and from a track meet.
Fortunately assistant coach Tomas Palermo, who was already at the banquet with my wife Malinda, drove all the way down to Sunnyvale to get us. Christine and I changed out of our coaching clothes and into our dress clothes in the car while Tomas sped us up the 280 to the banquet. I walked in just as Jocelyn was thanking me, and a few minutes later I was at the podium receiving the award for Shannon. As part of my speech I mentioned that the reason Shannon wasn’t there to receive the honor was that she had an important race the next day.
May 18, 2008
Malinda and I got up in the morning cable-TV-less as usual. We knew we would have to go somewhere to watch Shannon’s race on ESPN, but now were also car-less. We spent too long deciding what to do. Upon realizing we had just 40 minutes until Shannon’s race we ran to the BART station at 24th Street and Mission, rode BART to Balboa Park, and then started running down Ocean Avenue towards my parents’ house. I spotted a K-line street car and we started sprinting to the next stop to get on. I was ahead of Malinda by half a block and it wasn’t certain she would get to the bus stop in time. “Go without me if you have to,” she yelled, “I’ll meet you at your parents.” Fortunately the light turned red so the bus had to wait and Malinda was able to get on to the K with me. As we neared our stop, I called my mom on my cell phone and asked her to turn on the television and open the front door because we were almost there. We got off at Fairfield Way and ran up the hill to my parents’ house. We arrived in my parents’ living room sweating, breathing hard, with less than a minute to spare before Shannon’s race began.
Our big race to my parents’ house was over, Shannon’s big race was just beginning. Shannon ran 4:01.61, not only under the Olympic A standard but also the fifth fastest time by an American woman in history. Like it or not, she was no longer the underdog trying to sneak onto the Olympic team. She was now the favorite to win the Olympic Trials 1500. The subsequent talk on running message boards was of “Rowbury’s medal chances in Beijing.” Our Olympic effort to get to the television to watch the race live was definitely worth it.
We had previously purchased tickets for the women’s 1500 meter preliminaries and final just in case Shannon made it. At home that night, we decided – now that Shannon had run 4:01 – we needed to get our hands on the 1500 semi-final tickets, too. We had to pay scalper’s prices to get these tickets because the men’s 110 hurdles final would be run on the same night and China’s Liu Xiang was hoping to win a gold medal in front of the home fans.
It was really Malinda’s idea to spend the money. She was really into the Olympic excitement by this point. She mentioned that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity presenting itself and that we wouldn’t want to go all the way to China and miss this race because we were worried about spending too much money.
That night, a tagline that I would become known for was born. The people at Visa (the only credit card accepted at the Olympic Games) might not be happy that this tagline uses their competitor’s theme:
Hotel in Beijing – 10,875 CNY.
Tickets to Olympic Track Meet – $520.
Watching the kid you coached in high school run in the Olympics – priceless!
That’s the story of why May 18 is a significant anniversary to me. Shannon’s status as an athlete changed with that 4:01.61. She would never come from off the radar again. While I have always been proud of Shannon, this accomplishment truly ranked ahead of her previous successes. In the weeks that followed there was a bit of a media blitz as people in the running world tried to find out who this “new girl on the scene” was. I was lucky to be part of all the excitement leading up to it.