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EUGENE, Ore. — In a memorable final day of the 2016 USA Olympic Trials at Historic Hayward Field, three of the most dominant Americans won in the distance disciplines, putting a firm stamp of success on their quest for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Matthew Centrowitz sprinted his way to an Olympic Trials record 3:34.09 in the 1500m; Jenny Simpson powered down the stretch to win the women’s 1500m in 4:04.74; and Molly Huddle became the first woman ever to successfully sweep the 10,000m and 5000m at an Olympic Trials, winning the shorter event today in 15:05.01.
Huddle Too Much to Handle in the 5,000m Final
Like she did in the 10,000m on the second day of competition, Molly Huddle took the lead at the gun and didn’t let go in the 5000m. Working with Olympic 10,000m teammate Emily Infeld lap after lap, the pair fronted the charge with the rest of the 14 challengers following close behind. They’d pass 3000m in 9:14.30.
With a kilometer left Huddle finally began to squeeze down the pace, separating from Infeld and causing the field to string out. Shelby Houlihan, Kim Conley, and Abbey D’Agostino did their best to maintain contact.
The ringing of the bell was Huddle’s cue to make the winning move, pumping her arms as the lead went from two to five steps. She’d run a fierce 63.23-second final lap to secure the win, pulling off the first successful women’s 10,000m/5000m double in Trials history.
“It was definitely a wind up. My legs were a little tired from all of the racing this week, so I just wanted to take the kick out of the 1500m girls,” Huddle said. “I just knew I had to make it hurt the last K. As long as I could keep it 70’s and under the last K I knew that would hurt and take the kick out of those girls.”
With Huddle having previously said she’s 99-percent sure she’ll only run the 10,000m at the Olympics, the race was not only for the next three spots, but also a fourth: there was the possibility that Infeld would also give up her 5000m spot in favor of the longer distance.
Nike Bowerman Track Club’s Houlihan was next across the line in 15:06.14, followed by Conley. After losing a shoe and dropping out of the 10,000m –her favored event– Conley rebounded with a strong performance to lock up an appearance at her second straight Olympics.
“I did not want it to come down to a 400 meter race,” Conley said. “It feels great. I feel relieved and triumphant that I was able to pull through for third. It’s been a long eight days.”
Down the stretch, Infeld out-leaned Abbey D’Agostino at the line for fourth, 15:13.87 to 15:14.04. For the second straight Olympic Trials, D’Agostino found herself on the outside looking in by the smallest of margins.
“Just patience. It’s so funny, this is exactly where we were in 2012. A lot of the same players but I was four years younger and a lot more naive. It was such a shock then,” said D’Agostino. “I’m so thankful to have been in the mix given a lot of cross training.” D’Agostino has battled with many injuries over the past two years, though has a knack for performing well in championship races.
Later today came word that Nike Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher and Infeld decided to forego the Olympic double, opting just for the 10,000m. The news was first broken by Letsrun.com, and meant that D’Agostino was officially an Olympian.
“It’s outside of my hands, whatever ends up happening,” D’Agostino had said earlier in the day. “I would be so honored to represent the U.S. But if that’s not the case there’s something better in store. I’m just very thankful.”
Defending 5000m national champion Nicole Tully was involved in a fall mid-race and dropped out after 2,600 meters.
The United States athletics team for the Rio Olympics will be announced Monday.
Centrowitz Storms to Victory
Matthew Centrowitz had his father—Matt Centrowitz—in mind going into today’s 1500m. The elder Centrowitz made two Olympic teams back in 1976 and 1980, and the younger Centrowitz wanted to match that accomplishment. But Matthew wanted to go one step further and break Steve Scott’s 3:35.15 Olympic Trials record, too. That’s a time his dad had never eclipsed under any circumstances (his PB was 3:36.70).
“I don’t like to just get the bare minimum,” Centrowitz said. He sports a ‘Like Father, Like Son’ tattoo on his chest. “That [record] was the first thing I thought about… I knew what the Trials record was.”
When Eric Avila and Izaic Yorks took the pace out quick, splitting 700m in 1:42.54, Centrowitz was right where he wanted to be, tucked into fourth. The calm and collected 26-year-old kept an eye on the four other men with the Olympic Qualifying standard in the race. Yet his main purpose was to move into the top three with a lap left.
At the bell, Centrowitz moved up and with 250m remaining opened up his stride to take the lead, as he’s done countless times here at Hayward Field. Around the bend and into the stretch, Centrowitz cemented his cushion and crossed the line with 3:34.09 reading on the clock.
Celebrating the record, he stomped his foot and turned back to the look toward the Hayward Field west grandstand, arms crossed as if proving a point.
While Centrowitz’s win was powerful (his fourth 1500m national title since 2011, and his second at an Olympic Trials), the battle for the final two Olympic spots was pure drama. Ben Blankenship began to fade as Robby Andrews whipped himself into second around the turn. Following Andrews’s lead, Leo Manzano drew even with Blankenship and fought valiantly for the final spot.
A pure 100 meter sprint for glory, it was Blankenship managing to snag third .44 of a second ahead of Manzano, 3:36.18 to 3:36.62. Andrews was a clear second in 3:34.88.
For a good 45 minutes following the race, however, results were unofficial. Multiple yellow flags were raised by officials during the race, and Blankenship appeared to be one of the more aggressive racers from gun to tape. On video he could be seen exchanging elbows with other racers.
While officials looked at the video, Manzano ran cooldown lap after lap alone on the track, joined only by workers taking down the Olympic Trials signage along the stadium’s perimeter. At the same time, Centrowitz, Andrews, and Blankenship sat at a press conference.
“Yeah, it was a bit stressful. But I’m pretty happy to be sitting here,” said a blunt Blankenship
When all was said and done, the results were confirmed with Centrowitz first, Andrews second, and Blankenship third. Manzano, the Olympic silver medalist in London in 2012, will not be competing in his third Games. His streak of finishing in the top-3 at every USA National Championships since 2006 broken.
Centrowitz said he is motivated to improve upon his fourth place finish at the 2012 Olympics.
“God, I feel old saying this but it just seems like yesterday that it was London,” said Centrowitz. “These four years kind of flew by. I wouldn’t say it’s redemption going back trying to get a medal. It’s a different year, different competition, I’m a different athlete than I was four years ago, but I’ll definitely have that fourth place in the back of my mind going into Rio.”
Simpson Looks Smooth in Defense of 1500m Title
Moving into the lead two laps from the tape, Jenny Simpson was poised to make her third consecutive Olympic team. Not wanting to cause a wreck or dash her own hopes for Rio, the 2011 IAAF World Champion pressed the pace and took the bell with two challengers—Morgan Uceny and Shannon Rowbury—off her shoulder.
“In the mind of a competitor, I feel like I went through every possible emotion in this race,” said Simpson. “I was confident, nervous… Once I take the lead I knew I can’t give it up. This is too important, making this team is too important. Getting to the lead was all about if someone wants to make this team they are going to have to take it from me.”
So many podiums this week have been decided in the last 200 meters, and that was just what happened in the women’s 1500m. While Simpson maintained her lead, Uceny surged to second with Alexa Efraimson moving to third in her wake. For a moment it appeared Rowbury and Brenda Martinez had left their kicks too late.
Uceny rounded the final bend in second was fading. Overtaken by a focused Rowbury with 80 meters left, the top two spots were then decided: Simpson ran on to finish first (4:04.74) and Rowbury was a step behind in second (4:05.39).
That left the third and final team spot up for grabs. Brenda Martinez dashed to the inside and took over third place, but had to deal with a fast approaching Amanda Eccleston on the far outside. Martinez ran in lane one, Eccleston in lane three, and both dove for the line at the same instant.
Flat on the ground, neither knew who was third. “I didn’t look up at the board at all. I heard the crowd and they were super, super loud. I had a feeling [a photo-finish] happened,” said Martinez.
It turned out to be Martinez by 3/100ths in third, 4:06.16 to 4:06.19. After getting tripped up in the 800m six days earlier, Martinez had come back for redemption and succeeded.
“I was able to bounce back because of the people, the fans that I have. The nice messages they sent me put me in a good mood instantly and I appreciate all of them,” Martinez said. “Honestly it was just everyone… That fall in the 800 had to happen. To come back and do that, that’s my story.”
Though she was fourth, Eccleston was elated. This is the highest finish of her career at an outdoor championships. She’s gone from a 5:13 high school miler to fourth at the Olympic Trials.
“I gave it everything I had at the end. Every time I had a surge Brenda had another one to match it. I honestly don’t think anyone else other than Brenda had the heart out there at that place to be battling with. After her 800m, I’m happy she made it,” said Eccleston. “Obviously I’m upset not to be going myself but physically I couldn’t have done anything else.”
Simpson will celebrate for one day then focus on leading the charge to Rio. She failed to make it out of the semi-finals at the last Olympics, and now wants her own redemption.
“I’m so excited that I felt so strong through the finish line and then about three steps later I thought another month of hard training,” she told RRW with a laugh. “When you make the Games, what it really means is that this is the first three of six rounds. I’m going to have fun tonight, be excited and celebrate, but I’m going to train tomorrow.”