The 5000 meters today were supposed to be hot and humid. Instead, they were overcast, cooler than the last several days, and yes, humid.
HILL, TULLY TAKE USA 5000M TITLES
By David Monti (@d9monti) and Chris Lotsbom (@chrislotsbom)
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.
EUGENE, Ore. (28-Jun) — Clouds moved in, temperatures fell, and even a little rain fell this morning at historic Hayward Field making for perfect racing conditions for the men’s and women’s 5000m on the last day at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The athletes didn’t squander the opportunity, especially Ryan Hill and Nicole Tully, who won their first ever national outdoor titles with fast sprint finishes.
HILL “FELT AMAZING”
Ryan Hill, a member of the Portland-based Nike Bowerman Track Club, came into today’s race with high hopes. At this year’s USA Indoor Championships in Boston, he won the two-mile with a blazing 25.77 final 200m, a time he could barely believe he was capable of. He would need a similar finishing kick today to beat a strong field here that included 7-time national 5000m champion Bernard Lagat, 2012 Olympic Trials champion Galen Rupp, and USA 5-K road racing record holder Ben True.
Taking a cautious approach to today’s contest, Hill stayed tucked in the main pack which went through the 3000m mark in a pokey 8:44. That was just fine with Hill, who said he that waiting for a fast final kilometer would play to his strength.
“Some days you just really feel amazing,” Hill said in earnest. “This was one of those. I’m just so happy that it fell on the right day.”
With three laps to go, Galen Rupp went to the lead and the real running began. Rupp took the pace down 62 seconds through 4200m, then a very fast 58.8 seconds for the penultimate circuit. Hall, Heath, Lomong, True, and David Torrence were able to handle that pace but Lagat, who had recently been sick, simply couldn’t.
“When Galen started moving with three laps to go, I just felt immediately that I was already, like, I’m kicking already, which is unusual. It normally happens with 300 to go,” Lagat lamented. He continued: “When it came to two laps to go I was feeling like I was already, you know, at the max.”
Lagat would fade to tenth at the finish, but Hill was most definitely still in the race. He locked in on the sprinting Rupp, stayed up on the leaders, and saved his final blast for the homestretch. With 90 meters to go, he was running fourth behind Rupp, Heath and Torrence, and didn’t take the lead until a few strides from the finish.
“I knew I felt really good,” Hill recounted. “I knew in the last lap that things were coming really naturally. I had a good feeling I would be top three. I didn’t think I would win until I came off the final turn; it looked like Galen didn’t have a response to me.”
Nor did anyone else. With a light rain falling, Hill broke the tape with his arms fully outstretched in 13:50.69. His last lap of 54.6 seconds secured the win.
“Really it was the perfect race for me right now,” Hill marveled.
Behind him, True had also mounted a mighty final sprint. He powered past Torrence, Heath and Rupp to finish second in 13:51.09. With his second-place finish in the 10,000m last Thursday, True has secured two spots on the USA team for the IAAF World Championships, although he said he only plans to run the 5000m, assuming he achieves the qualifying standard of 13:23.00 by early August. He said he greatly prefers the 5-K.
“The focus the whole year has been on the 5-K,” True told reporters. “The 10-K I do not like. That was almost a Plan B situation.” He continued: “I need the standard still, but hopefully that won’t be an issue.”
Rupp, who won the 10,000m for a record seventh time last Thursday, had to settle for third in 13:51.54.
“It was tough out there, that’s one of the hardest 5-K’s I’ve had to run just ’cause it was very tactical,” Rupp told the media. “I tried to push it from a little far out and try something different, but it’s just a testament to what great shape those guys are in.” He added: “It’s going to be fun going to Beijing with such a great group of guys who I think can all be very competitive.”
TULLY HANDLES HOT PACE AND SPRINTS TO VICTORY
With a lap to go in the women’s 5000m, Nicole Tully’s mind went numb. The 28-year-old was in a lead group of six, all vying for three valuable qualifying spots for August’s IAAF World Championships. Having never before sported the USA vest at such a meet, Tully willed herself to get to the finish line before anyone else.
“As soon as I could see the finish line it was just a complete blur and I was just trying to get there,” said Tully, who’d win the grind-it-out contest in a fast 15:06.44 by the slimmest of margins. In the closest 5000m contest at this meeting since at least 2002, Tully used a potent kick to thrust herself in front of Marielle Hall, Abbey D’Agostino, Emily Infeld, and Shalane Flanagan, winning her first nationa
l crown by 1/100th of a second.
“I feel amazing, I’m so pleased and I’m so proud to be a part of a group of such elite women who were in that race to the very last lap,” Tully said. “I’m so pleased that I had it in the last lap and was able to come home strong and hold on for the last three meters for a little bit. But I made it!”
Bowerman Track Club teammates Flanagan and Infeld dictated the pace up front through 3000 meters in 9:07.53, while Hall sat on the pair’s shoulders for every step. Tully and D’Agostino followed a meter behind, never letting the leaders get more than two strides ahead. Brooks Beast member Katie Mackey had started off the race well behind, though worked her way into the mix and stood there until disaster nearly struck 700 meters from the finish.
Running down the backstretch, Mackey’s heels clipped those of another competitor, throwing her off kilter and off the back of the pack. Behind by ten or so meters, Mackey did everything she could to claw her way back to the group. She’d start her sprint then and there, carrying her all the way back to the group as the bell signaled one lap to go.
The race was then off between Flanagan, Infeld, Hall, D’Agostino, Tully, and Mackey, the last of whom turned on the jets with a full circuit to go. After gaining four steps on the group, Mackey ran out of steam right where she tripped a lap earlier, and was spit off the back instantaneously.
Now it was down to five woman for three slots. D’Agostino took a turn leading around the final bend, then Infeld went to the pole followed by Hall. Yet it was Tully whose late charge was timed best, hitting her top speed coming in front of Hayward Field’s grandstand with the fans on their feet. At the line, Tully had out leaned Hall by one-one hundredth of a second, 15:06.44 to 15:06.45 (a personal best). D’Agostino took the third and final ticket to Beijing in a lifetime best of 15:06.59, out-sprinting Infeld (15:07.18, also a PB) and Flanagan (15:10.02).
“[With 600 to go] I was thinking to myself ‘This is it; 90 seconds and you are done with this race,'” recalled an exuberant Tully. “With 400 to go it was all a blur because everyone was just trying to protect themselves, everyone was trying to cover the move, and everyone was trying to go into that last turn and come out of the turn with a spot to the finish line… You were just trying to stay on your feet.”
With a sprinter’s lean, the title was hers. “I just tried to keep it coming, lean a little bit and pretend I’m a sprinter and it worked out OK! You don’t really lean that much in distance events but it turned out OK.”
Tully said her 1500m background came in handy today, and she wouldn’t be heading to Beijing without the help and guidance of her coach Frank “Gags” Gagliano.
“Gags is the greatest,” she began. “In this country, there’s a lot of amazing coaches and a lot of legendary coaches that everyone talks about and they coach tremendous athletes. But I think where Gags sets himself apart is that Gags coaches tremendous people, and he tries to develop you as an athlete, but also as a person, developing your character and just giving back to the sport of track and field. I am just so proud that I can make a team for him.
Along with Tully, runner-up Hall and third-placer D’Agostino both qualified for their first IAAF World Championships team. The podium finish was extra special for D’Agostino, who has battled injuries since graduating from Dartmouth College and finished a devastating fifth place at the 2012 Olympic Trials, .19 of a second outside of the final qualifying position.
“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s so great to come together. So many things had to come together to do well today. I’m incredibly grateful,” D’Agostino told Race Results Weekly. “The timing was right, so I feel like it was a big gift to go and represent the U.S. It’s something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. It’s really special.”
Flanagan, who placed second in Thursday’s 10,000m and will represent the U.S. in Beijing in that discipline, said her legs felt fresh today. She simply could not match the foot speed of the top three.
“It’s just hard to, like, almost run a full 4-K just leading,” she said. “I just felt like I had to grind it to take a little bit of the kick out. I feel like I hung in there, but it wasn’t enough, obviously, to be in the top-three.”
The day however, belonged to Tully, who wore her gold medal with pride in the mixed zone.
“I’m beyond ecstatic. I’m like, is this real life right now? I don’t know. I’m super happy and just really proud that I can represent my coach and my family, my team and my sponsors as well,” she said.