US indoor in Portland

Robby Andrews Gives Him a Run for His Money, But Matthew Centrowitz Remains King of the 150


March 12, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — At the start of the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships, Matthew Centrowitz was America’s top 1500-meter runner. And at the end of the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships, Centrowitz is still America’s top 1500-meter runner. Barely.

In a scintillating final-lap showdown, Robby Andrews almost earned that honor, and in an ordinary year, his 1:50.17 final 800 likely would have been enough to earn the national title. But nothing about Centrowitz’s 2016 season has been ordinary, and he prevailed once again tonight to defend his U.S. title. Centrowitz’s final 800 of 1:50.34 wasn’t too shabby either and was far more impressive than the 3:44.33 winning time.

Andrews actually passed Centrowitz on the final lap — no one else has come close to doing so this year late in a race — but Centrowitz had enough in the tank to overhaul Andrews in the home straight. After a day of largely uneventful distance races, with the favorites coming through in dominant fashion, Centrowitz and Andrews’ action-packed duel provided some much-needed excitement for the 5,244 fans on hand.

With Andrews and Centrowitz both in terrific form, the U.S. has two medal contenders in the men’s 1500 at next week’s World Indoor Championships on this same Oregon Convention Center track.

Race recap, results, interviews and analysis below.

The Race

The race began slowly but things picked up earlier than usual when Centrowitz went to the lead just after the halfway point, covering 700 to 900 in 28.95 seconds. The race was on. Centrowitz began to grind down the pace, stringing out the field, after running 54.50 for his next 400, he was at the head of a four-man pack at the bell, with 2015 runner-up Ben Blankenship, 2015 U.S. 1k champ Robby Andrews and Cory Leslie close behind him. It was Centro, Blankenship and Andrews in that order on the backstretch when Andrews launched into his kick, moving past Blankenship just before the final turn and drawing level with Centrowitz as they entered the home stretch. The two men were shoulder-to-shoulder for a few strides, with Andrews even eking ahead for a couple of steps, but Centrowitz had one final move to make and was able to barely hold off his rival for a repeat title. Centro crossed first in 3:44.33, .07 ahead of Andrews, while Blankenship finished a distant third in 3:45.40.

This one provided drama all the way to the finish line

March 11, 2016 to March 12, 2016

Portland, OR

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Young US Field Phenoms: High Schooler Vashti Cunningham Jumps a World Leader in the High Jump, Sandi Morris Joines the 16-Foot Club and Ashley Spencer is on Her Way Back

March 12, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — There were fireworks in the women’s field events Saturday at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships as high school senior Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of football great Randall Cunningham, jumped a world-leading 1.99m and showed she will be a force on the world scene this yeare while pole vaulter Sandi Morrisbecame the third person over 16’0″ in the indoor pole vault, winning an exciting competition over world record holder Jenn Suhr and Demi Payne.

Women’s High Jump: Cunningham Gets the Win and the World Leader

Cunningham had the highest mark in the field coming in, but how would the 18-year-old react under the pressure of competing at her first senior U.S. Championships? Flawlessly.

Cunningham showed the poise her dad used to show on the football field, going perfectly through the competition and equalling her PR of 1.96 to win the competition with no misses. Then she began her quest to raise her PR. She cleared a world-leading 1.99 on her second attempt and then attempted to clear 2.00m for the first time, taking one attempt at 2.01 and missing before calling it a day.

In her short career, Cunningham has shown a knack of jumping her best when it matters most. Her previous PR of 1.96 was for the Pan Am junior gold last year. She’ll enter Worlds next week as a serious gold medal threat.

Interview with her below. She said her dad even got excited tonight, “He was very happy for me. He and I never really show our happiness or our emotions, but we both did a little bit today.”

During her interview, Cunningham was remarkably poised and calm for an athlete of her age. Next week’s World Championships will be her biggest stage yet, but she appears ready to handle it.

Women’s High Jump

March 11, 2016 to March 12, 2016

Portland, OR


Women’s Pole Vault: Sandi Morris Joins the 16′ Club, Demi Payne Doesn’t Make the Team Despite Vaulting a Top 10 All-Time Mark

Sandi Morris was only the third best pole vaulter in the US this winter coming into the US champs. Jenn Suhr had set the world record (5.03) and Demi Payne had joined the 16’0″ club vaulting 4.90 (16′ 3/4″). Morris’ best was 4.80.

Morris looked like the third best vaulter in the US early on tonight. It took her 3 attempts to clear 15’7″ (4.75). Then Payne and Suhr both cleared 4.85 on their first attempts and Morris missed, so Morris passed to 4.90 and missed on her first attempt which left her with one attempt to clear 16′ for the first time and to stay in the competition.

Morris did it and then cleared 4.95 on her first attempt to win the competition. That left her full of confidence and talking about possibly breaking the world record. She said afterwards, “Sixteen feet has always been this number that I’ve been chasing since I first started pole vaulting. Once I made 4.90 today the pressure was just lifted off of my chest.”

4.95 makes Morris the third highest vaulter ever indoors (only Yelena Isinbayeva and Suhr have gone higher and only Isinbayeva has gone higher outdoors). Demi Payne’s 4.85 today is a mark only 5 other women have ever been over yet it wasn’t good enough to get her on Team USA for Worlds next week.

As for next week, it may take something special to win, “I’m gonna take some shots at the world record, that’d be freaking awesome,” said Morris.

Women’s 400m: Ashley Spencer Is Back and Makes World Team

Ashley Spencer in 2012 was atop the junior ranks like Vashti Cunningham. Spencer bypassed a shot at the 2012 Olympics to be world junior champion at 400m. She then improved in 2013 but has regressed since then with some injury problems in 2013 and 2014.

Spencer was only second in her heat Friday night in 52.68, but she turned that around on Saturday nearly equaling her indoor pr, running 51.29 (pr 51.27 from 2013). Quanera Hayes got the win and Spencer will be joining her on the world team.

Spencer afterwards said the struggles in 2014 and 2015 make her never take anything for granted and she thinks they will help her long term.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Saturday was a good day to be a favorite at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships at the Oregon Convention Center. The four mid-distance finals produced four predictable champions, and while Matthew Centrowitz had to give everything he had to hold of fRobby Andrews in the men’s 1500, the other three races (men’s and women’s 800, women’s 1500) contained considerably less drama. In each case, the favorite won with considerable ease; 800 studs Ajee Wilson and Boris Berian cruised to wire-to-wire victories whileBrenda Martinez used a devastating 30.44-second final lap to destroy the women’s 1500 field.

We recapped the epic men’s 1500 in its own article here; below, we recap and analyze the other three mid-d races.

Women’s 800: Ajee Wilson Prevails in Trouble-Free Fashion

In her past two U.S. finals, tragedy has struck Ajee Wilson. In last year’s indoor 600 final, she hit the ground hard midway through the race and wound up last. In the outdoor 800 final four months later, she lost a shoe and came .04 from missing out on Team USA (adding injury to insult, she eventually withdrew from Worlds anyway). So tonight Wilson made it her mission to get to the front early and stay out of trouble. She accomplished that, leading the field through 200 meters in 29.91 seconds. Wilson has looked great all year and cruised through yesterday’s prelim, and given that evidence, plus the ease with which she assumed the lead today, the outcome felt predetermined even with 600 meters to go. Wilson led for the next two laps but had a ton left to give at the bell, and her final lap also happened to be her fastest of the race (29.50) as she negative-splitted her way to a 2:00.87 victory (61.47-59.40).

The more interesting battle was for second place. Even though Laura Roesler was assured of a spot to Worlds as the only other woman with the IAAF standard, she had her work cut out for her tonight. She was in fourth at the halfway mark and moved up to third just before the bell, sitting behind 2011 U.S. indoor champ Phoebe Wright. But Wright would not go down without a fight, and it took all Roesler had to barely nip Wright for second, 2:02.44 to 2:02.51.

Race video * Lap-by-lap splits

Prior to this year, Wilson had broken 2:01 indoors just once in her career. Now she’s done it twice in two meets, running a PR 2:00.09 at Millrose and following it up with a 2:00.87 tonight. And the way she ran that 2:00.87, running a big negative split, suggests that she’s capable of going well under 2:00 right now. Whether she actually will at Worlds is another thing, but on current form, Wilson, the 2016 world leader, has a great chance to give the U.S. two straight World Indoor champions in the women’s 8 U.S. senior team

Roesler said that she wasn’t pleased with her race.

“I just feel like I ran really scared…I just haven’t felt like I’ve had my legs the last couple days,” Roesler said.

However, there were several things Roesler can be proud of, chief among them qualifying for her first senior World Championships, which she said was “really cool.” And despite being unhappy with the way she ran, she was also proud to take second. Even though Roesler could have finished last and still made the team, she wanted to feel as if she earned her spot and to do that, she had to finish in the top two.

Roesler said she’s felt flat the entire weekend but is optimistic that with some rest, she’ll be in a better spot a week from now.

“I’m kind of hoping that’s my body’s way of saving energy for next week,” Roesler said. “It has a plan.”

Berian has been crushing it for almost a year now, running 1:43.34 last summer and 1:46.00 and 1:15.51 (for 600) indoors this season. One thing he had yet to accomplish was win a national title, but he accomplished that in fine fashion today, taking the lead just before the 200-meter mark and never looking back. His strategy was as simple as they come — run away from everyone else — and though Harun Abda was close behind him at 400 (which Berian passed in 51.90) and the bell (Abda was just .12 back), Berian had speed to burn over the final lap, closing in 27.50 to ice a 1:47.19 victory. Erik Sowinski managed to move past Abda to take second and will now hope that he’s done enough to earn an at-large spot to Worlds. The IAAF said it will take 18 runners and Sowinski is currently #18 on the world list for 2016 (200-meter tracks).

Race video * Lap-by-lap splits

Quick Take #1: Boris Berian earns U.S. title #1; now will somebody sponsor the guy?

Berian was on the fringes of the sport a year ago. Now he’s the US champ but unsponsored. That should change soon.

It was always going to be tough to beat Berian, but Sowinski did himself no favors tonight. His plan was to be in the top two when the runners broke from their lanes, but Abda and Cas Loxsom beat him to the punch; Sowinski was in fourth at the 200-meter mark. He managed to work himself into third by the bell, but was in horrible position to move as Berian was in the lead on the inside of lane 1 with Abda on his shoulder on the outside of lane 1. As a result, Sowinski had to run much of the final lap in lane 2. Sowinski couldn’t get around Abda on the backstretch, and by the time he finally passed him on the turn, Berian was gone. Sowinski managed to close the gap slightly over the final 50 meters, but it was never going to be enough.

Sowinski said ideally he would have been in position to attack with 300 to go, but his tactics were poor, leaving him too much work to do to catch a fine runner in Berian.

Sowinski mentioned yesterday how he’s hoping the IAAF grants him an at-large spot to Worlds as they fill the field and said he’s going to reach out to USATF to see if they’ve heard anything on the matter.

“I ran really well two days in a row,” Sowinski said. “I’ve run six races between 1:47.11 and 1:47.6, so you can’t be too upset with that. I’ve been consistent, I feel good so I’d like to give it a go next week if they let me.”

Sowinski said it was frustrating because he didn’t know where he stood heading into the meet or what criteria the IAAF would use to select additional runners — did he need to time-trial a 1:46 or would they value place over time? Sowinski ultimately decided to approach it as he would a normal championship, focusing solely on the win. Hopefully he did enough this weekend to earn his place.

Women’s 1500: Brenda Martinez dominates; Cory McGee grabs second spot on World Indoor team

After pre-race favorite Shannon Rowbury scratched (she wanted to rest up for the 3k at Worlds), the women’s 1500 became the most wide-open distance race of the meet. Perhaps not for first, where Martinez was likely to win, but you could make a case that of the remaining nine runners, seven had a legitimate case for the second spot (and all seven had the IAAF standard).

For several laps, not much changed in this one as from 500 to 1100 meters, the order remained the same up front: 2014 World Indoor finalist Heather Kampf, followed by Katie Mackey, Amanda Eccleston and Brenda Martinez.

After a string of 33- and 34-second laps, the pace dropped to 32 for the penultimate lap as Martinez grabbed the lead and made a hard move just before the bell. That really shook things up as what had been a close race strung out quickly. Martinez pulled away up front, creating a gap on second-place Cory McGee, who in turn built a gap on third. With Martinez’s win assured, the only drama was for second, where Eccleston fought back to narrow the deficit to McGee. But McGee’s early burst at the start of the final lap had provided her with a cushion too large to overcome, and she would hold onto second at the line, crossing with a fist pump as a megawatt smile broke out on her lips.