Sunday, July 9, 2023

Resilient Washingtonians Take Center Stage

by Mark Cullen

It was an epic evening for runners raised in the high schools of Washington State.

College Place High School’s (and Brigham Young University’s) Kenneth Rooks took the hard way to victory in the steeplechase. He fell early in the race and seemed a bit disoriented for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to continue.

He asked himself, “Is the race over? Am I done?”

He gradually made up a deficit of 40-50 meters and rejoined the pack.

Rooks unleashed a ferocious kick to win in 8:16.78 which, remarkably, is his personal best. Given the number of precious seconds he spent on the ground, he seems quite clearly to be in sub-8:10 shape.

“I just lost track of the barrier, so I ran just into it and fell over and I rolled,” he said.

“I just reminded myself of Henry Marsh who ran from the back of the race… I wanted to run competitively today, whether I was able to be in the top three or not.”

Paul Merca Photograph

Kenneth Rooks 
Steeplechase Champion

Meanwhile, in the 1500m, Mt. Si High School’s Joe Waskom, the 2022 NCAA 1500m Champion for the University of Washington, powered his way into the mix on the final lap and showed no fear in challenging the likes of winner Jared Naguse and third-placer Cole Hocker.

“I was a little bit further back than I wanted to be at 800m,” he said. But his plan was to be in the top two or three at 300m, and he executed his plan to perfection.

“Coming off that final turn, I knew I had enough speed in my legs to at least get to the finish line and at least maintain pace. Jared (Naguse) went flying by me and I was like ‘just try to go with him’ and crossed (in 2nd) and couldn’t really believe that.”

While it seems likely that Waskom will qualify for Worlds, we'll hold off declaring that here until the official entries are announced by World Athletics on August 2nd.

Paul Merca Photograph

UW's Joe Waskom Second in USATF 1500m

It wasn’t only these two Washington distance stars who were brilliant last night. With Paul Merca’s kind permission, I am linking to his website story about the more than one dozen athletes with current or past ties to Washington who excelled last evening:

*The men’s hammer had a familiar podium of Rudy Winkler, Daniel Haugh, and Alex Young. All three expect to go to Budapest, with Young on the ever-changing Worlds qualifying bubble.

Winkler’s series was impressive as five of his six throws would have won the competition; his second round 79.04/259-4 was the winner.

“My focus has been to try to be as consistent as I can,” said the now 4-time national champion. “My ceiling is much higher than it’s ever been, so it’s really just about connecting the dots now. I feel really confident going into Worlds.”

Connect them he did at the USATF Throws Festival in Tucson at the end of May when Winkler won with the second farthest throw in the world this year, 80.88/265-4.

Haugh was pleased to come back from injury to make the team after resuming training only five weeks ago.

“Overcoming that was a huge challenge for me in every area – mentally, physically,” Haugh said. In only his third meet of the season, he threw over 77 meters and finished 2nd at nationals. Quick comeback, indeed.

“I’ve got more meters in the tank,” he said. “I believe in myself and that never faltered.”

Alex Young had all six throws over his previous season’s best.

Winkler has a meet in Poland next week, home of the #1 nation in men’s hammer. Credit him for going into the lion’s den of men’s hammer throwing; nothing could be better preparation for Worlds.

*Speaking of fast finishes in the steeplechase, Krissy Gear pulled off a big upset win over 2017 World Champion Emma Coburn with a personal best time of 9:12.81.

*The eight finalists in the women’s 100m hurdles all ran 12.70 or faster. With Nia Ali winning in 12.37, only .33 of a second separated 1st from 8th.

* Another silly little centimeter margin, this time in the men’s long jump – twice. That margin separated Marquis Dendy and Jarrion Lawson between first and second, 8.14 – 8.13 (26’ 8 ½” to 26’ 8 ¼”.

But it also separated JuVaughn Harrison from Steffin McCarter – at stake? 3rd from 4th and a trip to Worlds: 8.08-8.07; 26’ 6 ¾” to 26’ 5 ¾”.

*Dominating the women’s shot put was Maggie Ewen; each of her six throws would have won the competition.

*Nikki Hiltz charged down the homestretch to win the women’s 1500; she outkicked the likes of Athing Mu (World and Olympic 800m champion).

*Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the world record holder in the 400m hurdles, lived up to the highest of expectations by winning the 400m in 48.74, making her the 3rd American ever under 49.00.

*Curtis Thompson won the men’s javelin and seems a lock for Worlds. While his winning throw of 80.92(265-6) is well below the automatic entry standard of 85.20, he is currently #6 in the world based on accumulated points.

*A mild upset in the men’s 400m as Bryce Deadmon ran a stellar personal best of 44.22 over pre-meet favorite Vernon Norwood who was 2nd in a season’s best 44.39.

*Zach McWhorter, ranked 41st in the world before the pole vault began, set a personal best of 5.86/19-2 ¾” to take second and qualify for Worlds. In such a media friendly and high profile event, when was the last time someone unattached made the US pole vault team?

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Battle of the Brands

by Mark Cullen

You know when someone says, “This is why we run the race,” that something unexpected has happened.

Cravont Charleston won the USATF men’s 100m title by a scant 1/100th in turning back two of the greatest stars of this show, Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles. Collectively, their 9.95-9.96-10.0 finish upset every form chart except, perhaps, those kept by closest relatives and friends.

Charleston was ranked #14 in the world (by World Athletics) coming into the meet.

The madness continued in 4th and 5th places. Brandon Carnes (4th) and JT Commerce (5th) were ranked 17th and 46th, respectively.

Charleston was not completely off the radar screen as he ran a windy 9.87 in April and a 9.90 just three weeks ago. He was coming, but not many saw it, including those he now counts among his rivals.

“I thought I had it,” said Christian Coleman. “Honestly, I really thought I had it.”

A deeply religious man, Charleston, when asked if he sensed his life having changed yet as US 100m champion, said, “I try to stay calm and not let it get to me. I’m still the same person and I always give glory to God. I’m not going to let it change me too much.”

He calmed himself during the day by playing gospel music. In this he finds peace, and it “keeps me grounded and sane.”

In addition to running the open 100m, Charleston is looking forward to relay duty and being part of the camaraderie of that team.

Cravont Charleston, US 100m Champion

Mark Cullen photo

In the women’s 100m, Sha’Carri Richardson completed a nifty three-race triple of 10.71-10.75-10.82 to win her national title.

 Tamari Davis had the start of a lifetime, and while she couldn’t hold her lead over  Richardson, her start surely propelled her onto the World Championships team.

“My semi-final start was great – and this start!” Davis said. “I’ve been working on that, and I know if I have a great start the race will be great for me.”

She is still working on the last 10 meters of her race and “once I really complete everything, I’m ready to see how I do.”

Brittany Brown set a personal best of 10.90 in winning silver. The 2019 World silver medalist at 200m said, “It’s been a whirlwind and I’m glad to be back.”

With coaching changes, a period of time without a contract, and the pandemic – to name a few life changes - since her Doha medal, Brown is delighted to find herself back on the US team.

“I’m glad to be back here in a different event, but it feels good.  It’s been whole different journey,”

She is enjoying the challenge of a new event.

“I feel like it’s just me coming to terms with (the fact) that I can do the 100, the 200, the 300 – I can even do the 400 if you want!”

Her road from silver in Doha to making this World Championship team in a personal best 10.90 has been a rocky one, but her resilience has only served to increase her self-confidence.

“I am multi-faceted and when I put my mind to it, I can do it.”

Friday notes

* Harrison Williams took almost 10 years to achieve a personal best in the decathlon and he won! In the decathlon 1500m, Austin West won the race within the race and set a PB by 4 seconds, but still needs a qualifying mark to make the World Championships team.

*News you can use: Jenna Prandini did not start her 100m semi. Upon further reflection, this is not a complete surprise considering her strength in the 200m this year and her likely membership once again on the sprint relay team.

*Anna Hall won the heptathlon with a score of 6677 - by 358 points over Taliyah Brooks, but this was well shy of her personal record of 6988. Will 7000 be in her future in Budapest?

*In the first men’s 800m semi-final, the top three all broke 1:46.00 in impressive semi-final times of 1:45.26 (Bryce Hoppel), 1:45.67 (Clayton Murphy), and 1:45.92 (Isaiah Harris).

*A similarly impressive first semi of the women’s 800m – Nia Akins 2:00.02, Raevyn Rogers 2:00.44, and Ajee Wilson 2:00.66 led the way.

*Donald Scott, Will Claye, and Chris Benard, made the triple jump team. It’s hard not to wince and hope for his good health when Christian Taylor jumps. He suffered a grievous Achilles rupture in May 2021 and has not, quite understandably, been quite the same since.

 *Vashti Cunningham won her 13th US high jump title. Pause and absorb.

 *In the women’s 400m, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone ran a 49.60 to win her semi-final by .99 of a second, marking her 2nd consecutive day under 50 seconds. Makes you wonder what’s in store for Saturday’s final.

 *Possibly unsettling… the feature on the scoreboard – make that the ‘experience’ board - that counts down how many meters are left in a race.

 Don’t we already know? Is this news for the runners? Did it really help the 10,000m m runners Thursday evening to know they had 6,785 meters to go?

 *Though on second thought… that self-same scoreboard shows how many meters a runner is from the winner. It certainly gave fresh perspective to the women’s 10,000m when Elise Cranny finished 108 meters ahead of Natosha Rogers, who was 3rd. That certainly does add meaningful perspective to understanding the margin of Cranny’s win. Rogers was at the 100m start when Cranny was crossing the finish line.

 Let’s make a deal: we’ll keep the scoreboard but we’ll drop the ‘experience’ board. All in favor?!

*Meanwhile, in the battle of the brands… while the women’s top five 100m sprinters included two athletes representing Nike and three representing adidas, the men’s top five looked like this:

1. Tracksmith

2. Nike

3. Adidas

4. unattached

5. Texas A&M Commerce

Take a screenshot of that!

Friday, July 7, 2023

Giving It the College Try

 by Mark Cullen

Hayward Field has been doing just fine without me, thank you.

But it’s good to be back.


Well, there’s been this interlude.

Two weeks short of a year.

On July 24, 2022, a day track fans know as the last day - the epic two world record day - of the Eugene World Championships, I got Covid. Had a wicked bout for 19 days, and by fall, it was clear I was suffering from its aftereffects – the dreaded long Covid, more precisely named ‘post-Covid fatigue.’

‘Fatigue’ sounds a bit genteel and doesn’t do this condition justice. It’s disruptive, and when the fatigue approaches, it's like a tidal wave. You’re in its thrall and not it in yours. Surrender - sleep - is a good idea, no matter the time of day. 

But for watching two nighttime 10,000 meter runs at Hayward earlier this spring, this is my first track meet in almost a year. An experiment, to be, sure – can I manage all 4 days?

The return welcome from peers has been heartening, as a year away likely seems much longer to me than to them.

I’m sitting in the media tent surrounded by the current and next generations of track writers in the United States. It goes without saying that three of them are connected to class of the University of Oregon’s ground breaking sports journalism professor, Lori Shontz.

Behind me is a world class miler who is now a world class writer.

As I take my seat, a young man to my left says, “Hey, aren’t you the guy with the shoes?”

Guess I haven’t been away as long as I think.

Meanwhile, back at the meet…

Mark Cullen photo

*Olympic and World silver medalist Courtney Frerichs took a nasty fall early in the steeplechase qualifier but bounced back to qualify on time. “This year is about doing really well but also keeping an eye on next year,” she said. The stadium held its collective breath while, for a moment, that seemed in doubt. “The body is healthy,” she said, but for a scrape on her hand.

*Nothing says close like a silly little centimeter. Tori Franklin and Kenturah Orji continued their epic triple jump rivalry as Franklin won by a centimeter, 14.44 to 14.43 (47’-4.5 to 47’-4.25).

*Athing Mu 4:10.33 finished 3rd in her qualifying heat of the women’s 1500m.

The World and Olympic 800m champion is the focus of much intense discussion and speculation. As defending World Champion, she has a bye to Worlds. If she qualifies in the 1500m as well, will she run both?

*Maddie Harris (60.73/199-3) won the javelin, and after years of ascendency through Kara Winger’s memorable World Championships silver, the US is resetting in this event. Ariana Ince, however, has the only World Championships qualifier to date. Let the chasing of marks begin.

*Sam Mattis won the discus and has a Worlds qualifier.

*There are few things I’d rather do that watch a 10,000m race at Hayward Field.

How about two? Yesterday Elise Cranny and Woody Kincaid demonstrated their preternatural abilities to apply speed just when it’s needed most. When you think of speed demons, do you think of 10,000m runners?

Elise Cranny polished off her national title with her 62.16 closer to outdistance Alicia Monson by over 5 seconds on the final lap.

And Woody Kincaid relentlessly turned the screws on a distinguished field by closing over his last three laps in 60.59 – 60.40 and a withering 54.76.

“In a lot of ways I feel really, really strong,” said Kincaid. And, at the same time, he acknowledged feeling tired as well from increased training volume. He seems to be striking the right balance and it’s paying off.

It will be fascinating to see how he comes back in the 5,000m on Sunday evening.

“I think it’s more mental preparation than physical,” Kincaid said of the interval between the races. He reminds himself of when he’s had two hard workouts in a week. “You have to get as much rest as you can,” he said, “but you have to mentally re-engage for the 5k.”

*It’s not every day that the speed of the distance runners gets more press that the speed of the sprinters.

But the speed of sprinters did not go unnoticed. Sha’Carri Richardson blasted down the 100m straightaway in a personal best 10.71, which ties the meet record, is the world leader, and is an epic way to spend a Thursday evening in Eugene.