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?

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