ALBUQUERQUE (23-Feb) — Mary Cain, Erik Sowinski and Ajee’ Wilson all successfully defended their USA middle distance titles on the third and final day of the USA Indoor Championships at the Albuquerque Convention Center here.
Cain, who won at the one-mile distance here last year when she was only 16, prevailed easily in the 1500m today in a remarkably quick time of 4:07.05 given the high altitude. Heather Kampf set an honest pace, clicking off sub-35-second laps through 1100m. The field lined-up single file behind her, with Cain and her teammate Treniere Moser running comfortably in the second and third positions. Kampf said it was her objective to ensure a fast pace.
“That’s been the plan for a couple of weeks now,” Kampf told Race Results Weekly. “I think we’ve watched enough races now where Mary Cain gets to sit in the pack and do what she wants to do.”
But the pace wasn’t fast enough to knock the wind out of Cain’s sails. With two laps to go, Cain took over the lead and quickly opened up a gap on Moser, her only serious chaser. Cain ran the penultimate lap in 31.05, then closed the race in 30.02, more than two seconds faster than her nearest rival, Moser, who was the runner-up for the second consecutive year in 4:09.93. Kampf rallied from fifth position at the bell to take third (4:13.04).
“That feels great,” said Cain, who only spoke briefly with reporters. “The crowd is amazing. I have a fan base in New Mexico; who would have thought?”
Both Cain and Moser earned provisional spots on the USA team for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, next month.
The two 800m finals played out completely differently here. In the men’s contest, Sowinski dominated the six-man race. Sitting a close third to leader Tyler Mulder at 400 meters (53.68), Sowinski surged to the lead at the 500-meter mark, and won going away in 1:47.86, qualifying for his first national team.
“My plan was to put myself in the mix, and if I felt good with 300 to go just take it over, and at 150 just put it down,” Sowinski said. He added: “I haven’t worn the USA jersey yet, so that was my goal coming in, to be able to rep for the U.S. at the world championships. I’m extremely excited.”
Behind Sowinski, Nick Symmonds –who said he had been sick the last few days– was trying to hold off a charge from Robby Andrews. But was he? Andrews lacked the world championships qualifying standard so Symmonds was instead focused on beating Michael Rutt, who did.
“I was just hanging on for dear life,” Symmonds admitted. “I had a bit of a fever the last couple of nights, just exhausted. I had to kind of do this as a qualification round instead of an attempt at a national title.” He continued: “I just needed to race Rutt today, so that’s what I did.”
Although not eligible for the world championships, Andrews was upbeat about his performance, and said he might compete in one more indoor race this year. He finished second at this event last year, too.
“He [Sowinski] made an incredible move at 300 to go and I just wasn’t ready for it,” Andrews told Race Results Weekly. “I got boxed in a little bit that last 300, and fought as hard as I could that last hundred. To beat Symmonds; I’ll take that.”
In contrast, Wilson only held the lead in the women’s race for a split second, just before she broke the tape. Former Tennessee Lady Volunteer Chanelle Price set a fast pace, hitting 400m in 58.01 and 600m in 1:29.04. Wilson was still about three meters behind coming into the homestretch, and just nipped Price, 2:00.43 to 2:00.48. Both women earned team berths, and Wilson has to be considered a medal contender in Sopot after her sixth place finish at the IAAF World Championships last summer in Moscow.
“My coach just told me to stay close and not let her get too far,” said Wilson. She added: “I just kind of waited for the last minute… and strike.”
In the men’s 1500m, a big group of 15 athletes took to the track (the final was originally split into two sections but, like the women’s, was run in one heat, instead, after several athletes scratched), and the fans saw a surprisingly clean race. Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano led for the first 1000 meters and the pace was steady, if not fast.
But, it was Garrett Heath who upped the tempo just past the 1000-meter mark, and the race started to stretch out. Heath was followed closely by Will Leer, the defending champion, Lopez Lomong and Ryan Hill. The latter two athletes had run the 3000m the day before and were surely more tired. Heath was trying to run the finish out of the kickers.
“The plan was to make a move from a way out and make those guys with a good kick work for it,” Heath said.
With two laps to go, Lomong was in the front and pulling away. His closing lap of 26.49 was only bettered by Will Leer who came from fourth place with a lap to go to get second. Lomong was pleased with his 3:43.09 win, especially after finishing fourth in the 3000m yesterday.
“The race went really well,” Lomong told reporters. “Again, it’s always very hard to run in altitude. It was a very slow time, but I just wanted to put myself in a very good position and punch my ticket to go to Poland.
Like in the Millrose Games last Saturday, Leer shot ahead with 50 meters left, making his second national team for a World Indoor Championships.
“A little bit disappointed with the way that I ran today,” Leer said. “I’m definitely happy to punch my ticket to Poland.”
Unlike yesterday, when Gabe Grunewald was disqualified for interference after winning the women’s 3000m, there were no protests today in the middle distance events. But after the women’s 1500m, several of the athletes held hands in a silent protest against Anderson’s disqualification as they walked off the track.
“Overwhelmed by the support of my fellow athletes today,” Grunewald said via Twitter. “Thank you to those of you who stand up for what is right. I am beyond humbled.”