This day, Friday, June 22, was a glorious day for track and field. The Finish Line Junior Meet had a strong crowd, the weather cleared up, turned sunny and in the evening, was as perfect as perfect could be for ....competition! Incredibly competitive races, with wonderfully diverse set of athletes, who gave us two great 5,000 meters races and two superb 100 meter sprints!
In the afternoon, the steeplechase heats did not disappoint. It was clear that Daniel Lincoln, who is ensconced in medical school, has not forgot how to steeple. He took a commanding lead with 600 meters to go and there was no other story. Steve Slattery ran well, and we should have a torrid race for second and third.
Lincoln is a an exceptional story. A walk on at Arkansas, he developed into one of the most versatile of all the Arkansas distancemen-the steeplechase, and 10,000 were two of his NCAA titles. Last summer, at the Golden Gala, Daniel broke the heralded American record in the steeplechase, with his fine 8:08.52, for fifth place. His next few years are to be focused on medical school, so workouts are a break in the back breaking and soul draining process of developing a medical practitioner.
The men's 1,500 meter heats were also stacked. Alan Webb, looking a little shaky, took his heat, rushing the finishers just before the finish. Bernard Lagat and Gabe Jennings made his heat, as did Rob Myers and Chris Lukesic.
In the 800 meter heat Khadevius Robinson showed he is focused and took the race from start to finish. In the second heat, Nick Symmonds provided some excitement and went from back of the pack to first, to take that heat. Completely a series of just sub par races, David Krummenacker ran like a freshman, and did not advance.
In the 400 meter heats, La Shawn Merritt ran 44.48 to declare war in this one. He dominated the second heat. Andrew Rock, last year's champion, while running his fastest of the year, 45.40, faded with 50 meters to go and did not advance. A tough season for Rock, who just was not coming around this season. After his impending nuptials, this will give him something to concentrate on this year.
The women's 100 meters started off the night of finals. With a head wind of -.9 meters per second, Torri blasted out of the blocks, and did not look back, taking the race in 11.02. In second, Lauryn Williams, the 2005 Helsinki champ, had her best race in one year with a fine mid-race to take second place in 11.16. Carmelita Jeter ran 11.17 for third place with Allyson Felix in fourth in 11.25, Mechelle Lewis in 11.26 and Mikele Barber, Stephanie Durst and Muna Lee all at 11.27!
The next event was the women's 5000 meters. And this event was loaded with talent. Shalane Flanagan, who has set the 3,000 m indoor AR, broke the 5,000 meter AR at Mt. Sac this spring, was on. Shalane has come back to health and races sparingly. She set out to win this race and that was her goal.
Jennifer Rhines is one of the most underrated distance runners in our country. Her versatility shows, from the mile to the marathon, with world class marks. Terrance Mahon, her coach, and husband, and Jenn have agreed to focus her on the 5,000 meters.
Michelle Sikes, the NCAA 5,000 meter champion, is just fun to watch run. She has this great stride and classic distance stance and when she runs fast, she seems to fly just above the track!
Then there is Lauren Fleshman. Newly moved to Eugene, Oregon. Newly engaged, and newly the focus of a strong Nike marketing campaign ( TV and print-Objectify me), probably the best advertising to come out of Nike in a decade, this series speaks to the women runner, or women who want to be runners, asking them to question what it is to be an athlete, to be feminine and of course, to buy Nike products. Lauren ran a 15:38 under hot and humid conditions in New York on June 2 and followed that up with a 4:10 1,500 meters. Before the race, she looked to be quite nervous, almost as if she was trying to catch her breath.
The race was off, with Ariana Lambie of Stanford, Shalane next taking the lead, and Jenn Rhines, Michelle Sikes and Lauren Fleshman in tow. The pace for the first couple of laps was about 15:20 pace, and then Shalane decided to move right after the first kilometer, and the race was on. Lambie dropped to fifth and there she stayed.
Flanagan, with her classic form, pumping her arms like a sprinter, strong stride, pressing ever so much, lap after lap. Jenn Rhines shuffling is such a ironic comparision to Michelle Sikes floating along, Sike's grimace looking almost like a smile ( saying " I know something that you don't?) and Lauren Fleshman running right behind.
The pace quickened, the first kilometer passed right at three minutes, two seconds, and then Flanagan pushed a strong 2;55, where she stayed. Sara Slattery dropped out a six minutes, probably not recovered from her 10,000 race last night.
The two mile was passed by Flanagan in 9;37 and Rhines, Sikes and Fleshman continued to follow Shalane, as she grounded out some serious laps, getting closer and closer to her American record pace.
At 12:33 into the race, Lauren Fleshman let Michelle Sikes and Jennifer Rhines go and looked to be in some distress, and stopped running! About 20 seconds later, she took off again and moved past Ariana Lambie and made a huge charge to regain Sikes and Rhines, but they were too far ahead!
Shalane Flanagan continued to look strong, and finished in a fine 14;51.75! Michelle Sikes tried gamely to go by Jenn Rhines, but Rhines would have none of it. Jenn sprinting over the last 50 meters to hold onto second in a fine 15:08.53 and Michelle Sikes' exceptional effort rewarded with a fine 15:09.28.
Lauren Fleshman pulled it together and took fourth in 15:24.60 with Ariana Lambie in fifth in 15:38.83.
Later that evening, I met Michelle Sikes and what a positive young runner! She did not have any problem with the heat ( she trains in tougher conditions), but she is quite excited about her run and her chance to go to Osaka! Best wishes to Michelle Sikes. Many will remember Michelle as the exciting runner in the NCAA 5k, who charged back to the front 14 times before she took her unexpected 5,000 m championship.
What can we say about Shalane Flanagan? I believe we can say this. Shalane has learnt the fine art of keeping healthy and running at an elite level. She limits her racing, she is focused and she is making her dreams reality. Her race on Friday night was a race to behold, the race of an athlete who has the talent to challenge the best in the world.
Jen Rhines continues to show that a truly talented athlete who has raced from the mile to the marathon can focus on an event such as the 5,000 m and turn some heads. Her finish held off the NCAA 5k champion and her pace is like a metronome!
Michelle Sikes? Full of energy and that positive spirit that comes with just graduating, Sikes will be around for a long time to come.
Lauren Fleshman? Lauren showed us today that she is truly a competitor, and while today was a tough race, Fleshman will have her highs as well.
The men's 5,000 meters was a chess game. It pitted some tough distance runners, Matt Tegankamp, the new two mile record holder, Chris Solinsky, two time NCAA champ, Jonathan Riley, former Stanford standout and 5,000 m specialist, Dan Browne, always a threat, Adam Goucher, who was having an up and down spring, and Bernard Lagat.
Bernard Lagat is a handsome runner to watch. His stride is efficient, his speed is blinding and his drive is unquestionable. Alas, Bernard is human. The 1,500 m heats, 90 minutes before, were fast and clean, and he ran 3:39. Bernard got off his feet for a while and took about ten minutes warming up.
As a former coach, and sitting with coaches at our designated spot on the backstretch, it always pains me when runners do not use their racing skills. If you have a kid who can not break 60 for a 400 meters, you do not have him wait and kick against Bernard Lagat. If you
can not break 52, then you better go with 2k to go, 1.6k to go, but you better put as much
junk into a kickers legs so that with 600 to go, they just want to find a nice job making frieds at a fast food joint.
This race needed some music, and my pick would be Stranglehold, by Ted Nugent. Early on,
Ian Dobson and friends were up front, making it a reasonable pace, then a young runner from Cal took over.
But the players stayed still. Matt Tegankamp sat in sixth, with Lagat nearby and Solinsky in tow. The race went from 13:50 pace to 13:20 pace to 13:40 pace. No one but a kicker could stay with this one.
I love watching Jonathan Riley run. He does not get into trouble. He can kick from just about anywhere and he understands the 5,000 meters.
With 1,600 meters to go, I expected Chris Solinsky to move. He did not. His patented four minute hurting mile would have changed the direction of this race a bit, but it was his former teammate, Matt Tegankamp who took off at the 4k mark. When Tegankamp is in full flight, he looks like a hawk coming down to grab its prey. He runs hard, and his form is great. The first lap in his charge was a 58, and this woke up the crowd. There were only six guys who could even have a chance. The second 58-so a 1:56 800 meters, put some junk in everyones legs.
With 200 meters to go, Riley was moving and Lagat was hesitating. But behind him, at about 300 meters, Adam Goucher was executing a perfect charge from the pack. Goucher is a 5k runner extraordinaire, and his sub four speed was moving him through the pack of wannabees to the final three. As they hit the turn, Goucher was on the outside, Riley was beginning to erupt, Lagat was starting to awaken and Teegs was in first!
Coming off the straightaway, Goucher, arms flying, as he tore at the air around him, and dug into the track with all of the neurons he possessed and willed himself into third place, as Jonathan Riley was also in full flight.
Bernard Lagat was in full sprint, and he caught a collapsing Matt Tegankamp who had pulled the perfect Murray Halberg ( New Zealand, 1960, 5000 m, won with 3/4 mile out surprise lap), impersonation! Lagat got Teegs about ten meters out and a closing Goucher just about grabbed him as well. Solinsky finished well, but while the race belonged to the challenger, Teegankamp and the victor, Lagat, Adam Goucher gets the ATF performance of the race for showing so much guts and moving throught the crowd. Winning time: 13:30.
As the stands were coming down from the 5,000 meters, in the best programming of the weekend, the men's 100 meters was about to start.
How many supurlatives can one say about Tyson Gay? I have seen him run 9.79 this season and 9.76 this season, both wind aided. So the guy gets an okay start and just hammers the last 50 meters to run a legal 9.84! The fastest time in the world this year. No one else under 10 seconds! Walter Dix in third!
The junior 10,000 meters was to be a pacing effort for Kenny Klotz. Kenny, an Oregon freshman, and former Central Catholic, Portland, Oregon runner, had taken a close second the night before in the junior 5,000 meters. His dad had told us that he was just hoping his boy would get a championship, after having run so many tough and close races. Well, the dream came true as Kenny found himself winning and ran a smart 30:51 to take his first USATF title!
This was going on as the stands were clearing out, and Jenn Stuczysnki, the pole vaulter, was warming up for an evening workout. She competes on Sunday!