The women’s and men’s 1,500 meters finals were two of the best finals in the Olympic Trials past history. They were fast and furious, two very honest races, per Dick Patrick. In this column, Dick speaks about two very satisfying middle distance races.
By Dick Patrick
July 1, 2011
The Big Three got through Sunday in the women’s 1,500 meters. Same for the guys in the 1,500 at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
It’s a rare double that could lead to an even more rare event – a U.S. medal in the 1,500. Jim Ryun’s silver in 1968 is the last one by a U.S. male. No U.S. woman has ever medalled in the event.
Thanks to two honest races – no sit-and-kick affairs where crowded conditions can lead to physical racing and upsets — the U.S. is sending its best representatives. Start with the women and Morgan Uceny, ranked No.1 in the world for 2011 at the 1,500. She had back luck at the 2011 World Championships when she fell after being tripped, ruining her medal chances.
She controlled Sunday’s final just as she controlled the first-round and semifinal heats. She departed from her recent international style of running from behind and went back to her collegiate style at Cornell, running from the front.
Uceny defended her national title in 4:04:59, trailed by Shannon Rowbury (4:05.11), the bronze medalist at the ’09 world championships, and third-place Jenny Simpson (4:05.17), who last year won the event at the world championships.
The trio shared a common feeling beyond the finish line. “Relief would have to be the most dominant emotion,” Rowbury said. “All three of us kept saying how we wanted to visualize August, visualize the Olympics. I think all three of us have been gunning for that for years. You have to make the team first. The U.S. team, as it says on (the advertising) posters, is the hardest team to make.”
Not that it will be easy in London, especially with strong runners from Ethiopia and Russia. But there will be less pressure in comparison to the Trials.
“Everything beyond the U.S. Championships is an opportunity,” Simpson said. “Really anything can happen. I was the poster child for that last year. You have to keep your head. In the 1,500, the margin of error is so small somebody can be in it that didn’t necessarily know they would be there.”
Uceny sounds like she’s expecting to be in the hunt: “I think the rest of this season can be great. I’ve never been in better condition this early. I’m going to take advantage of that and do the best I can to get a medal for the U.S.”
The U.S. men’s delegation has similar aspirations. Matthew Centrowitz earned a bronze medal at last year’s worlds in Daegu, South Korea. In the Trials final, the ex-University of Oregon runner lost a stretch duel to Leonel Manzano, who took the lead with about 25 meters left, finishing in 3:35.75, .09 ahead of Centrowitz. Andrew Wheating, another Oregon runner, went from seventh to third (3:36.58) in the final lap with a dramatic stretch run.
“I just gritted my teeth and pounded to the finish,” said Wheating of the final 400. “I blacked out the last 50 meters so I can’t tell you how that felt. There was this loud erupt roar. Then the race was over.”
Manzano was one of the rare athletes to overcome a University of Oregon product, virtually all of whom felt buoyed by the 20,000-plus crowds at Hayward cheering them louder than anyone else.
“I know how it feels,” said Manzano, a former NCAA 1,500 champion at Texas. “At the Texas Relays, it’s the same thing. You step on the track and you’re the hometown favorite. It gives you extra strength or a vibe. It gives you something to hit everybody pretty hard with.”
Manzano hit the field with a last lap of 53.08 to maintain his lead after he swung wide to avoid traffic and a potential box just before the bell. “I kind of whipped around everybody somehow ; I don’t know how,” Manzano said. “I got on Matthew’s back. I knew not to waste too much energy on the curve. Matthew started kicking and I knew to stay right on him. We had a little bit of an elbow battle the last 50 meters. It kind of caught me off guard. I kept pulling through. The next thing you know, I won.”
It was his first national title after being in the top three at nationals the previous six years. Manzano rated his conditioning as “good as it’s ever been.” Both Centrowitz (knee) and Wheating (left hamstring, left foot) have been dealing with problems that hampered training this season.
They’ve got about six weeks until London. “I think I have a great chance to medal,” Manzano said. “Matt’s medal last year definitely opened up a lot of eyes. It goes to show Kenyans can be beat. It’s always possible to win or do well.”
We’ll see if the 1,500 medal drought ends.