Track is my field: Mark Cullen's international track and field website featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships. I'll be writing from the 2018 European Championships in Berlin in August. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter: @trackerati.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Des Moines - Day 1


2018 US National T+F Championships
Thursday, June 21

With little at stake in the realm of World or Olympics qualifying, this first day of the US National Track and Field Championships was not quite the day at the office many expected it to be.

Emma Coburn got things started with an easy win in her steeple heat, a reminder of the greatness she achieved as 2017 World Champion. Winning the second heat was none other than Courtney Frerichs, silver medalist to Coburn’s gold. This sets up a terrific rematch in Saturday’s final.

Stanford’s Valarie Allman capped an unusual sequence: 2nd at Pac-12, 3rd in NCAA, and 1st here as she captured the national title in 208-6/63.55, a comfortable margin of 8-2/2.42 over recent Arizona State graduate Maggie Ewen. Iowa graduate Laulaga Tausaga-Collins threw a personal best on her final throw to win the third spot on the podium and earn excited cheers from the hometown fans.

The women’s 800m qualifying rounds offered no surprises as Ce’Aira Brown led all qualifiers in 2:01.38. The men’s 800m, however, brought the biggest surprise of the day when Drew Windle failed to show for the start of the race. Suffering from fatigue (and not an injury), as he was not 100% today, he decided to focus on his European tour this summer instead.

Erik Sowinski ran a particularly impressive wire-to-wire race to win in 1:46.37, while Clayton Murphy announced his return to form with a strong finish to win his heat. Alas, Boris Berian found the way back to be a cruel one as the 2016 World Indoor Champion had the fastest non-qualifying time.

Bershawn “Batman” Jackson showed he just can’t stay away. His attempts to retire were furthered derailed with his heat win in 50.07. This always deep US event is sorely missing recent NCAA champion Rai Benjamin, whose spectacular 47.02 at the former Hayward Field is tied for #2 all-time with none other than Edwin Moses.

It’s never a surprise when Jenny Simpson dominates a race, and she led all 1500m qualifiers in 4:07.67. Prefontaine Classic winner Shelby Houlihan won her heat to set up what will be one of the most anticipated finals of this meet. Having her say will be Brenda Martinez, who won her heat in 4:10.51.

The men’s 1500m qualifying casualties would make up a strong heat of their own. Hassan Mead and Robby Andrews both failed to advance; Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, David Ribich, and Blake Haney will join them on the sidelines this weekend. Matt Centrowitz looked like the Centrowitz of old – well, that would be the Centrowitz of two years ago when he struck gold in Rio – as he led wire to wire in a slowish 3:46.05. A heat win slower than the other heat winners by over 6 seconds could translate, in terms of rest, into a substantial advantage in Saturday’s final.

Vancouver, Washington’s Kara Winger won her 8th national javelin championship. On a rainy and blustery day, Winger led out of the gate and was never headed. However, for good measure, she nailed her final throw at 206’3”/62.88 to turn what would have been a modest margin of victory – just over a meter – into an overwhelming one of 20-9/6.34.


Kara Winger
photo credit: USATF and Errol Anderson
The women’s triple jump final looks, on paper, like the expected duel between Kenturah Orji and Tori Franklin took place; each has set the American record this year. However, it was more tepid than that. Orji, the former record holder prevailed. With only three fair jumps, her 3rd round 47-10.5/14.59 barely withstood Franklin’s final round 47 ¾-14.52.

Courtney Okolo led all 400m qualifiers in 51.39, and veteran Jessica Beard ran a strong 51.97 behind her in the last heat. An intriguing race is in the works in a field peppered by young talent. Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize the names of several of the finalists, but we need to get there first; semis are early Friday evening. Similarly, the men’s 400m has notable newcomers: Division 2 Ashland University strikes again on the national scene as Myles Pringle was 4th fastest qualifier in 45.82.

Ashleigh Henderson, Aleia Hobbs, Dezerea Bryant, and Jenna Prandini all broke 11.00 in 100m qualifying. Mike Rodgers tied the field record of 9.89 in the men’s heats, and Noah Lyles, Isiah Young, and Cameron Burrell joined him under 10 flat. World leader Ronnie Baker advanced in 10.00.

An unusual set of splits for Molly Huddle in the women’s 10k: how often do you see a 10K splits with “1” next to each and every lap? That’s right, she led every lap of 25 from start to finish. Marielle Hall ran a gutsy race in second but could not withstand Huddle’s remarkable close of 64.52.

Lopez Lamong returned to the top of the podium for the first time since 2010. What’s notable about this? Eight years ago it was for winning the 1500m; tonight it was for winning a race 8500m longer. It will be interesting to compare his 54.16 close to the last lap of the 1500m final on Saturday.

The night finished with an on-the-track men’s 20k racewalk won by Nick Christie in 1:24:53.57. Not to be outdone by Molly Huddle, Christie led every single lap 50 laps in a row.


Nick Christie
photo credit: USATF and Errol Anderson




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