Des Moines, Iowa
As the Day Three battles raged on for the coveted spots on the team that will represent the US at the World Championships in Moscow, the only thing hotter than Drake's broiling big blue oval might have been the sizzling performances of the athletes themselves. Outstanding marks were posted throughout the day, but the pinnacle achievements during Day Three of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships were the three - no, make that four - American record-shattering performances by women in the 100 hurdles, the shot put, and the hammer throw.
The day's competition concluded with the women's 100 hurdles. Just before the final, hurdle veteran Dawn Harper - '08 Olympic gold medalist and '12 Olympic silver medalist - withdrew. As last year's DL champion, Harper nonetheless gains automatic entry into the world championships. Plenty of fire power remained for the final as Brianna Rollins [12.30w] and Lolo Jones [12.44w] ran superb times in their respective semi-finals. The throng at Drake Stadium anticipated a possible American record as the annoying wind which had swirled throughout the day lightened. Rocketing out of the blocks, Rollins snapped over the hurdles with precision to notch a convincing victory over Queen Harrison [12.42] and Nia Ali [12.48]. Jones finished 5th. Rollins' winning time of 12.26 established a new stadium and American record and is tantalizingly close to '88 world record of 12.21 set by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova. Later, Rollins explained how she did it. "I completely just zoned myself out. I was just so overwhelmed," admitted the new American record holder. "It was so amazing. I just thank God." Asked about her PR coming into 2013, Rollins smiled, "I think it was like 12.70. But training and being dedicated to the sport has definitely helped a lot. I never think about times. I just come out here and do what I have to do."
Earlier in the day, veteran shot putter Michelle Carter initiated the record parade when she dropped a 5th round bomb of 20.42m [66'5"] - a heave not only good enough to win the competition by nearly 5 feet, but also far enough to take down Ramona Pagel's American record. Pagel's old standard - which would have celebrated its 25th anniversary on June 25th - was 20.18m [66'2½"]. NCAA champion Tia Brooks [18.83m / 61'9½"] and Alyssa Hasslen [18.10m / 59'4¾"] finished 2-3.
In the women's hammer, all of Amanda Bingson's legal throws exceeded the "A" standard of 72 meters. But she'll likely never forget the two most important ones. Bingson's second round hurl of 74.92m [245'9½"] bettered the American record of 74.19m [243'4¾"] set just over a year ago by fellow competitor Jessica Cosby. But Bingson was not done. Moments later - on her third round attempt - Bingson uncorked yet another American record-setting throw - a prodigious heave of 75.73m [ 248'5"]. Afterward, the upbeat champion reflected upon her record- setting performance. "I was a little nervous.," laughed Bingson. "I went over to my coach and I told him that I was really freaking out. I was shaking a lot. He told me to breathe, relax, and get into that ring and just let everything go and trust your body to do what you can do. And I did it." Can she earn a place on the Moscow podium? "It will take consistency - probably around 74 or 75 meters," forecasts Bingson. "As we all know, anything can happen on that day - whoever's on, whoever's off. So really it's just about consistency." Joining Bingson on the plane to Moscow will be Jeneva McCall [74.00m / 242'9"] and Amber Campbell [73.03m / 239'7"]. Jessica Cosby Toruga - who witnessed her American record mark exceeded twice - finished 4th.
Adhering to his pre-meet game plan of being cautious with the slight tendonitis in his left leg and playing it safe, world record holder Ashton Eaton put up 8291 points to cruise to a 93 point win over runner-up Gunnar Nixon. Beginning the final day behind Nixon, Eaton grabbed the lead after the 7th event - the discus - and never looked back. "I feel pretty good about that. I have quite a bit of confidence," Eaton explained. "Obviously the high jump was very subpar, as were the hurdles and the pole vault. I think a lot of that stuff was very much safety. So I think if I can score 8200+ with those marks, I think at a 100%, I'd be OK." Nonetheless qualified to compete in the world championship, the second-place Nixon tallied 8198 points - just 2 points shy of an "A" standard mark. "Officials advised me that they will be reviewing the meet video and other data to determine if more precise timing might produce a few more points for my total," stated Nixon. Jeremy Taiwo - who threw up an "A" standard mark in his NCAA deca win - finished 3rd with 7925 points to edge Gray Horn by 7 points and round out the multi trio for Moscow.
A new era could be dawning in the women's 400 as Natasha Hastings [49.94], Francena McCorory [50.01], and Ashley Spencer [50.58] went 1-2-3 to earn spots on the US team. Olympic champion Sanya Richards Ross - running the final in her training flats to accommodate her still-painful surgically-repaired right big toe - struggled home 6th in 51.92. Gracious despite her obvious disappointment, SRR - who cited Spencer as "the future of the 400" - plans to continue racing as the 2013 season unfolds.
As expected, LaShawn Merritt captured the crown in the men's 400. His sterling winning time of 44.21 is #2 on the WL list [Kirani James, 44.2]. Tony McQuay [44.74] and Florida frosh sensation Arman Hall [45.01] - who came up big for third - fill out the US men's one-lap entrants for Moscow.
Respect and apprehension - or was it fear? - for both the suffocating weather and the top flight competition converged to produce a truly turgid pace at the start of the women's 1500. With start time temperatures in the low 90's, a field of anxious world championship aspirants nervously eyed one another as they completed the first circuit in 84 seconds. The warm-up jog continued until 600 meters remained, the pace quickened, and the players positioned for what all knew would be a furious final lap. At the bell, Mary Cain - "I was feeling good and decided to go for it" - swept into the lead. In full flight down the backstretch, Cain was trailed by training partner Treniere Moser. Moser's superior leg speed helped her chip away at the high schooler's lead. Cain began to show the strain down the homestretch as Moser eased by her in the final 15 meters for the win. Moser [4:28.62] - capturing her 4th outdoor 1500 crown and her first in 6 years - covered the final lap in under 58 seconds. Cain [4:28.76] did so as well as the duo threw down a closing salvo that none of the others could match. Florida's Cory McGee [4:29.70] - heat trained in Gainesville's tropical steam bath - also closed well to gain a surprise third-place finish. Shannon Rowbury - 4th with an earlier-achieved "A" standard - will go to Moscow unless currently standard-less McGee can ring up a "B" standard mark [4:09.00] by July 20th. How tactical was the final? The winning time in the junior women's 1500 was quicker than Moser's winning mark
The men's 1500 final was another sit-and-kick affair. With the weather's misery index still high, the middle distance hopefuls - with no one willing to make the first move - strode around the track. A short-lived lead by Andrew Wheating provoked little response until the mob reached the final 600. Matthew Centrowitz - the master of race space management - who studiously had stayed out of harm's way - rushed to the front just before the bell to take control. For those caught back in the mob, the final circuit was a mad and jostled experience. But Centro, with a clear track before him, threw down a sub-53 second final 400 which was strong enough to turn back Leo Manzano's expected final straightaway burst and stop the clock at 3:45.17 for the victory.
Track & field can be a cruel and unforgiving sport, and the final of the men's 400H showed why. Johnny Dutch - who started the day as the event's world leader - picked the wrong time to have a bad day of the office. Michael Tinsley ran a brilliant race to capture the title in a new world-leading time of 47.96. Kerron Clement - the '07 and '09 world champion - took second in 48.06. That left Dutch and Bershawn "Batman" Jackson - 4th coming off the final turn - to battle for the final World berth. Jackson got the bat-signal - a recollection of the pain he felt missing last year's Oly squad - and dug deep to close hard on the run in. Batman's effort paid off as he just grabbed the third spot to squeeze Dutch off the podium - and off the Worlds team.
Nicole Bush [9:44.53], Ashley Higginson [9:46.25], and Shalaya Kipp [9:46.83] were little refreshed by the briefest of dips through the water jump, but nonetheless survived a 3000 meter steam bath to capture the top three spots in the steeplechase. Olympic finalist Bridget Franek - gamely near the front throughout - had a painful meltdown over the final 600 to finish 12th. 4th place finisher Jamie Cheever - with an "A" - will take the final World spot unless Kipp can achieve the "A" standard [9:43.00] by July 20th.
"Wild card" automatic entries into the world championships are wonderful to have, but are pretty much essential if you end up fouling your first three attempts in the long jump. That's what happened to Oly champ and two-time defending world champion Brittney Reese. She nonethess will be able to go for the three-peat in Moscow. Jenay Deloach Soukup - who confided she was able to make the wind adjustment in warm-ups - stepped up for the victory with a leap of 6.89m [22'7¼"]; Tori Polk and Funmi Jimoh grab 2-3.
As the day was winding down, high jumper Brigetta Barrett was taking the bar higher on her way to an easy high jump title. Jumping clean through 2.00m [6'6¾ "] and with her second national title assured, Barrett had the bar raised to 2.04 [6'8¼"] - a PR height. After a first attempt miss, Barrett cleared on her second try. After a passionate pit dance, Barrett shunned the imploring fans urging her to go higher. Instead, she obeyed the instructions of her coach who congratulated her on her lifetime best and directed her to call it a day. She likely made a wise choice.