The second day was a long one, 4 pm to 9 pm, covering the 400m, 800m, 1,500m and 5000m. In this version of deep thoughts, we will delve into the men’s events on Saturday. I must say, I love this Festival. I love the spirit, the presentation, the geekiness and the bespoke nature of the meet.
Tracklandia, I am worshipping at your altar!
1. Donavan Brazier let them go after him, and they missed the chance…
Donavan Brazier is the World Champion at 800m from Doha 2019 and he knows it. He also runs like a world champion. Allow me to explain. Since Donavan Brazier took the big move at 500m in Doha where he ran like a man possessed, and put some serious real estate between his gold medal and AR time and second place, he has remained in the first position in the 800m.
In Portland, Donavan, back from a muscle issue, held off Mexico’s Tonatiou Lopez’s 1:45.19 with Brazier’s 1:45.09. In Eugene, Brazier will be dealing with Bryce Hoppel, and that should take the 800m to a whole new level in the U.S.
Speaking of wheels, do not discount Drew Windle, 2018 World Indoor bronze medalist at 800m in a see-saw battle that showed that Windle could compete at WWF and Roller Derby if he gets bored with athletics. Drew ran 1:47.11 in the second heat. If he can put it together, he should make the 800m squad.
2. Matthew Centrowitz fans: your 2016 Olympic champion is fit, and more importantly, he looks ready for Eugene.
In Portland, Matthew Centrowitz looked tough, running 1:46.23, just under the 1:46.25 required for the US Olympic Trials 800m.
In 2016, I was sitting in the Engenhao Stadium in the top, top row, screaming my Vocal cords out as Centrowitz made history and used that 50.5 last laps to become the first American since 1908 to win the Olympic 1,500m. Nick Willis in the bronze was also a huge sprint, giving him two Olympic medals and ensuring that people who love the 1,500m know that Willis is a 1,500m deity.
Back to Centrowitz. Now under the watchful eyes of Jerry Schumacher, Matthew is coming around. He is a championship athlete, who knows how to move when to move, and how to play with the field. Schumacher gets that and knows that he must have Centrowitz prepared for everything.
3. Craig Engels fans, the race in Eugene will deliver, Engels just showed you how fit he is!
The elite 1,500m was fast, real fast. Engels used a 55.3 to cover the last 400m to take down Charlie Grice (3:33.80), Jake Heywood (3:33.98 NR), and leading eight others under 3:37.05 and seven others under 3:35.88!
Engels has been racing into shape for two months now, and he looks confident, fast, and fearless as we come to 2 weeks prior to the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials.
In a recent interview with Engels coach Pete Julian just told me how much Craig makes him smile. Well, Pete Julian had lots to smile about on Saturday!
The Men’s 1,500m will have one of the fastest fields in many a moon. But here’s the issue. Who knows how to race? Not only in Eugene but to get through the rounds in Tokyo.
Craig Engels knows how to race, so does Matthew Centrowitz. Third place is completely open in the Men’s 1,500m.
4. Hobbs Kessler should make US fans of the 1,500m happy through 2032!
So, last January, we heard Nick Willis, 2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist at the 1,500m tell us that if Hobbs actually listened to Coach Ron Warhurst and Nick, he could be a pretty darn good athlete.
Well, on May 30, 2021, Hobbs Kessler finished 5th in the Men’s elite 1,500m, running a screamingly fast at 3:34.35, going from 10th to 5th in the final lap in 55.3!
What makes Hobbs special? Well, a work ethic and a father who knew his son needed a father more than he needed a coach. So Dad spoke to Coach Ron Warhurst, the Rodney Dangerfield of middle-distance coaches in the US, a man who puts out sub-4-minute milers like some people prepare pizza slices. Warhurst athletes love the man, and I have not found an athlete who ran under Ron, who does not just love the guy.
Hobbs trains with Nick Willis, one of the finest milers in the world, and Mason Ferlic, one of the top 3 steeplechasers in the U.S.
Hobbs Kessler has talent. He also seems to take it all in stride. He listens to Warhurst and Willis. If he continues that, the young miler will be around, taking medals for 4 more Olympics. Now that he has Jim Ryun’s 1,500 U20 record, what will he do next?
Watch Eugene, June 18-27, 2021.
5. Lopez Lomong, I want you to win an Olympic medal.
Lopez Lomong is one of the most thoughtful athletes that I have ever met. He is a man with a finely tuned sense of humor, the ability to withstand years of Jerry Schumacher workouts, and also one of the scariest kicks in the universe.
For example, the guy has gone 1:45.48 at 800m (2008), 3:32.20 (2010) at 1,500m, 3:51.21 at mile (indoors 2013), mile outdoors 3:51.45 (2013), 12:58.78 (2020) and 27:04.19 (2019).
Last weekend, Lopez Lomong kept his cool until 50m to go and took David Ribich apart in those last unforgiving meters, as Lomong took heat 1 in 13:26.11 to 13:26.54.
Lopez Lomong is a prizefighter. His ability to take blows to the belly should not be discounted. His pain threshold is astounding, and so, in the insane world that is the 10,000m at the World and Olympic championships, if Lopez can hold onto his stomach, he can be there at the last 50 meters, where races are truly won or lost.
Years ago, I asked Bernard Lagat for his secret. He smiled, then laughed, then said, “If I can hold onto the last 50 meters, I can make a move and be in the medal hunt.”
I see Lopez Lomong as our gutty, focused friend, putting it all on the line in Tokyo or Eugene, and taking a medal with 20 meters to go.
It is not a visual thing.
It is an emotional thing.
Lopez Lomong wins the 5000m, in Portland Track Festival, May 30, 2021, photo by How Lao Photography