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Morgan Uceny, Leo Manzano Win Olympic Trials 1,500m Finals

Shannon Rowbury, Jenny Simpson complete women's team; Matt Centrowitz, Andrew Wheating round out men's squad.

Shannon Rowbury, Jenny Simpson complete women’s team; Matt Centrowitz, Andrew Wheating round out men’s squad. 

EUGENE, Ore. — Beginning her finishing kick with a little more than a lap to go, Morgan Uceny seized the lead at the bell and held it all the way to the finish line, holding off eventual second and third-place finishers Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson to win the women’s 1,500-meter final here at Hayward Field in 4 minutes, 4.59 seconds.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Uceny said in the post-race press conference. “The whole time I knew that I had these extra gears and that I felt really good and so I was being really aware of who was around me and behind me and what was coming up. On that last lap I knew that as long as I kept my nerves and kept calm and pressed a little bit that I would be OK.”

Rowbury was the runner-up, running 4:05.11 to qualify for her second-straight Olympic team, while Simpson, the reigning world champion, was third in 4:05.17.

The first lap went out in a fair 66 seconds, led by Treniere Moser (11th, 4:15.84) with Uceny sitting directly behind her right shoulder. The pack bunched up as the pace slowed to 68 seconds over the second lap, which left Simpson stuck in a box alongside the rail.

“I remember at one point, I think 600 meters in or 500 meters in that I was in a very compromising position,” Simpson revealed. “I was in on the rail and I was kind of boxed in and I saw that people had kind of stretched out a bit ahead of me. And that’s the most crucial point in the race not to get emotional. I told myself, ‘it’s windy and you’re on the inside, take it for what it is’ and find a way out.”

Brenda Martinez, who needed to run under the Olympic “A” standard of 4:06 and finish in the top-3 if she wanted a spot on the team, took over the lead after 800 meters and began to stretch things out as Rowbury, Uceny and Simpson all found some running room and and covered the move.

“Going into this race I knew with three rounds it would be a lot different than world championship trials where there’s only two” Rowbury said. “It really separates out that third, fourth lap. So I was prepared for that but I was prepared for a lot of carnage.”

Uceny grabbed the lead heading into the bell lap and was followed closely by Rowbury and Simpson, who were running just ahead of eventual fourth-place finisher Gabriele Anderson (4:07.38). Nothing changed along the back stretch before Uceny stepped on the gas with 200 meters to go. Rowbury and Simpson followed suit, but couldn’t make up any more ground on the 2011 world leader from Mammoth Lakes, California, who tripped and fell in last summer’s world championship final.

“You can’t overlook something as big and important as the Olympic trials,” said Uceny. “I had to go through each round and now that I have and they are over I can’t wait to go to London and fight to get a gold for the USA.”

Manzano Kicks To Victory In Men’s Race

In the men’s race, reigning national champion and world championship bronze medalist Matthew Centrowitz had the lead coming off the final turn, but was run down over the final 60 meters by Leo Manzano, who broke the tape in 3:35.75 to make his second-straight Olympic team.

“It was really tough out there,” Manzano said. “I didn’t know exactly what to expect but I just knew that I had to be ready to kick.

Centrowitz, who ran collegiately at the University of Oregon, held on for second in 3:35.84. Andrew Wheating, another Oregon alum who represented the United States in the 800 meters at the 2008 Olympic Games, ran 3:36.68 for third place.

The pace was quick from the gun, as Jordan McNamara (7th, 3:3.79) shot to the front and towed the field through the opening 400 meters in 57.6 seconds. Behind him, the pack strung out in a straight line with Centrowitz positioned near the front, Manzano sitting mid-pack and Wheating stuck near the back.

“I just wanted to put myself in a good position,” Centrowitz said of his early position. “I knew I was fit and I wanted to come out with top 3.”

The pace slowed over the second lap with a large group led by Will Leer (12th, 3:46.75) coming through 800 meters in 1:57.6. John Mickowski took a brief turn at the front after the second full lap and led the pack into the final straightaway before Centrowitz, the reigning national champion and world championship bronze medalist, made his bid. At the bell it was Centrowitz followed by David Torrence (6th, 3:37.70) and Manzano, with Wheating sitting back in seventh place.

“Quite honestly I’m happy to be done,” Wheating admitted. “I was scared.”

Robby Andrews (5th, 3:37.45), the 2011 NCAA champion at 800 meters who recently turned pro, along with Indiana University’s Andrew Bayer (4th, 3:37.24) started moving on the back stretch as Centrowitz and Manzano continued to lead up front followed by Torrence. Coming off the Bowerman curve into the final straightaway it was Centrowitz and Manzano with a hard-charging Wheating finding some running room in the final 100 meters to put himself into third place. Manzano made one last hard surge with 60 meters to go to edge past Centrowitz and win his first Olympic Trials title.

“I kind of whipped around everybody somehow, don’t know how, and just got back on Matthew’s back and just tried to be patient, especially around that curve not to waste too much energy,” Manzano said regarding his final lap. “Matthew started kicking and I knew I just needed to stay right on him. I think we had a little bit of an elbow battle the last 50 meters or something, it kind of caught me off guard, but I just kept pulling through and next thing you know I won.”