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Olympian Solomon Paces Fast 800m Field At U.S. Nationals

Men's, women's 800m winners triumph in quick fashion on the final day of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Men’s, women’s 800m winners triumph in quick fashion on the final day of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

DES MOINES, IOWA — In a race that harkened back to the glory days of American 800-meter running, Olympian Duane Solomon smoked the track at Drake Stadium in a world-leading 1:43.27 on Sunday, winning his first outdoor national title on the final day of competition at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. His was the fastest winning time at these championships since his coach Johnny Gray ran 1:42.80 in 1992, while Solomon broke Nick Symmonds’ streak of national titles at five.

“I felt really good coming into today, so I knew I could do it,” said an elated Solomon. “I knew that in order to make the team I needed to bring my ‘A’ game. If I came with anything less than my ‘B’ game I felt I wouldn’t make the team.”

Solomon, who won the USA indoor title in both 2011 and 2012, shot to the lead from the gun, clipping through 400 meters in 50.10 with a visible gap on the field. Pumping his arms furiously with his trademark upright style, his lead was never seriously threatened.

“I’m just happy to get the win,” the former USC Trojan continued. “This is my first one and I beat a really, really tough field. I’m just excited.”

Symmonds, who appeared to be in trouble at the bell when he was in last place, began his long sprint for home about 300 meters from the finish. Sliding out to lane 2, he quickly moved into fourth place in the middle of the backstretch and was making up ground on the leaders. He later said that he was a little nervous that he may have started his move too late.

“Normally, I like to move up one or two spots on the homestretch,” Symmonds explained. “I just couldn’t move when I wanted to move today. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Coming out of the final bend, Symmonds passed Brandon Johnson — who would hold on for third — and his Oregon Track Club teammate Tyler Mulder to take second. Symmonds looked relieved that he had made it up to second place.

“I feel like I made some real big tactical errors and still ran 1:43.7 in only my second 800m final of the year,” Symmonds said. “I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.”

Symmonds official time was 1:43.70 to Johnson’s 1:43.97. The race invited comparisons to the 1992 USA Olympic Trials in New Orleans where three men also broke 1:44: Gray, 1:42.80; Mark Everett, 1:43.67 and José Parilla 1:43.97.

Fast Women’s 800, Too

It would take a sub-2:00 performance to make the podium in the women’s two-lap contest. Alysia Montano, Brenda Martinez, and Ajee’ Wilson did just that, all earning spots on the podium and berths on the USA team for Moscow.

As she had in her first round and preliminary races, Montano took the lead from the gun, reaching the 100-meter break point first. By then her strategy was clear: run the wheels off everyone else and bag her fifth USA 800m title.

“Just like the past five years,” said Montano with a laugh.

Sticking tough behind was Heather Kampf and Martinez, some 2.73 seconds back at the bell. Playing to her usual strength, Martinez simply wanted to stay close and chip away at Montano’s lead in the final push for the tape.

“I can’t see what’s happening behind me, I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. But I knew it was going to be a race,” said Montano, sensing the pack was closing her down.

Coming down the homestretch, Montano’s lead began to dissolve, but there was too much ground for Martinez to make up. With her traditional flower tucked in her hair, Montano broke the tape in 1:58.67, the third fastest time run in the world this year. Second came Martinez in 1:58.78.

“I think I could’ve kicked a little bit earlier but she might have still kicked,” said Martinez, who made her first IAAF World Outdoor Championships team. “Never doubt anyone, they might still have something at the end. She’s tough.”

Rounding out the top three was the 19-year-old Wilson, breaking two minutes for the first time. Her time of 1:59.55 was just 4/100ths short of Mary Cain’s USA junior record set at the Prefontaine Classic earlier this month.

“It felt like when I ran two (minutes),” she said with a chuckle. “I’m just happy the time showed it and I felt that strong running it.”

Lagat Wins Slow Men’s 5000m

The men’s 5,000m began as a walk around Drake Stadium, with the nine-man field strolling around the blue track at a speed of a typical IAAF Diamond League race for women. Instead of taking advantage of the coolest temperatures of the weekend, the athletes decided to make it a true tactical race in every sense of the word, waiting until someone made the bold decision to go

The sacrificial lamb ended up being Ben True, who surged with just under a mile remaining.

“I didn’t want it to come down to a hard sprint ’cause I had the 10,000m in my legs,” said True, who finished fourth in the 10,000m final three days ago. “I thought I could grind it out the last three laps or so and I just fell short.”

True’s surge signaled the beginning of what turned out to be a mile race between London Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp, and five-time national 5000m champion Bernard Lagat, with Andrew Bumbalough and Ryan Hill joining in.

It would take a sub-four minute final mile to make the podium. Lagat, who had the freshest legs because he was running his first race of the weekend, would prevail down the stretch with a 3:55.05 closing 1,600m, topping Rupp by less than a second in 14:54.16, the slowest winning time at these championships in 61 years.

“You know, I knew it was going to come down to something like this,” said the 38-year-old Lagat. “I was evaluating the strategies with my coach. We knew it was going to be slow, but nobody was willing to take it even slow in the beginning!”

Added Lagat’s coach, James Li, “I never envisioned that it would go out this slow for that long.”

Lagat had confidence in his finishing speed, and knew there was a fast mile left in his legs.

“You know, I ran 3:54 at Penn Relays and I have had faster training times that I have done with my coach. That time was not surprising,” he said.

Silver medalist Rupp crossed the line in 14:54.91.

“It’s almost expected a little bit,” said the Oregon alum. “But not to that extreme. It’s fine by me, you know. Everybody thinks they have a great kick in this race.”

Third would come down to a hard charge from Hill, who just completed his collegiate career at N.C. State. Without a gear remaining, True could not respond to the unsponsored Hill.

“Can I just confirm that I just finished third?” asked a bewildered Hill in the media area. Hill only has a provisional spot on the team because he has not achieved at least the IAAF “B” standard of 13:20. He has until July 20th to run that fast.

With such a slow race, eighth place finisher Chris Solinsky, once the American 10,000m record holder, could only describe it in one way: “Fugly,” he told reporters.

Simpson Takes Tactical Women’s 5000m

Reigning world 1,500m champion Jenny Simpson won a tactical women’s 5000m with a long sprint for home in 15:33.77, but will not be going to Moscow in this event. The 26-year-old, who trains in Boulder, Colo., under her former college coach Mark Wetmore, ran the event as a personal challenge. As reigning world 1,500m champion she is assured a spot on the USA team for Moscow in that discipline under IAAF rules.

“I have no intention of running the 5K at the World Championships,” Simpson told reporters. “Among other types of preparation I would have to get the standard in the first place. The fifteen is what I’m focusing on, it’s what I’m best at, and that’s definitely what I want to run at the World Championships.”

American 5000m record holder Molly Huddle led most of the race. She kept the pace moderate, working with 2012 Olympian Amy Hastings at the front, and controlling the race. She didn’t want it to go too slow because there were strong kickers in the field.

“With Shannon, and Jenny and Katie Mackey and a few other 1500 runners in there, Chelsea Reilly, people with a good kick, I didn’t want it to be too slow and turn into a 1,500 because it doesn’t favor me,” Huddle said. “Amy and I were supposed to keep it going at sort of five-minute-ish pace.”

Hastings would drop out before four laps to go, leaving Huddle at the front with Simpson, Reilly, NCAA champion Abbey D’Agostino, 2012 Olympian Kim Conley, and 2009 world 1500m bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury. This suited Simpson perfectly.

“My strategy was just to sit around and wait to pounce once the race go going, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Simpson.

Simpson’s 62.52 final circuit put the race out of reach for the others, with Huddle getting second in 15:35.45, Rowbury third in 15:37.27 and Conley fourth in 15:37.27. Because Simpson has abdicated her team spot in this discipline, Huddle (who has the “A” standard of 15:18.00), Rowbury (who has the “B” standard of 15:24) and Conley (A) will make up the team.

Favorite Jager Retains Steeplechase Title

It was a sea of light blue at the front of the 3000m steeplechase, with Evan Jager and Daniel Huling sporting Nike’s 2013 uniform. Both Jerry Schumacher-coached athletes would go on to finish as expected, first and second, securing spots on the starting line at the IAAF World Championships.

After veteran steeplechaser Ben Bruce led early on — as he did in the preliminary round — Jager decided to move with less than a mile remaining. He would never look back.

“I wasn’t supposed to take the lead anytime before a ‘K’ to go,” said Jager, explaining his pre-race strategy. “With three laps to go just over the water jump, I [knew I] just had a real good one because I just shot out right in front of everyone. I just kind of found myself in the lead. Once I was there, I just tried to slowly squeeze it down the rest of the time.”

The American record holder did just that, going on to win in a stadium record of 8:20.67.

“I felt really good and I was able to hold everyone off,” he said.

Huling gave a big pump of the fist with his 8:22.62 timing, moments before former Indiana University standout De’Sean Turner crossed in third. Turner’s time of 8:25.56 was better than the IAAF World Championships “A” standard of 8:26.00, thus putting him on the team with Jager and Huling.

“I stuck with the guys who I thought were going to be on the team and it paid off,” said Turner.

Donn Cabral, who made the Olympic final last year in this event, finished a disappointing sixth.

“I realized I was out of contention and it’s hard not to slack off a little bit,” said the 2012 Olympian, talking of his race. “I just tried to finish strong and hold my head high in doing it.”