LOS ANGELES (18-May) -- As the warm Southern California sun set over the Bill Henry Track at Jack Kemp Stadium at Occidental College here, action on the track heated up at the USATF Distance Classic, led by USA-leading and meet record marks by global medalists Matthew Centrowitz in the 1500m (3:33.41) and Brenda Martinez in the 800m (1:58.78).
Martinez, the 2013 IAAF World Championships silver medalist at 800m, glided through the first 400-meters behind the pacemaker in a swift 57.23, then bolted to the lead with 300 meters to go. Pumping her arms furiously as she ran down the backstretch, the 29 year-old Californian did not let up in the final meters and was the only woman to break two minutes here tonight. She was clearly pleased with her effort and saved something for the Prefontaine Classic 1500m one week from Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
"We're smart about training," Martinez told reporters. "I trust what coach (Joe) Vigil's doing. I think we're going to peak at the right time."
Behind Martinez, three more athletes broke the IAAF World Championships qualifying standard of 2:01.00: Britain's Adelle Tracey (2:00.35), New Zealand's Angie Petty (2:00.44), and the Hoka NJ-NY Track Club's Cecilia Barowski (2:00.90). Jenny Simpson, last summer's Olympic 1500m bronze medalist, has the 8th best time on the night of 2:02.32, and said the race was a good early-season effort.
"I wanted to commit to running hard," Simpson told Race Results Weekly. She added: "It's a different kind of hard the last hundred of an eight hundred, so it's tough. It's a strange feeling when you're used to accelerating the last hundred and suddenly, like, you're legs are gone."
Centrowitz, last summer's Olympic 1500m champion, had to beat back credible challenges from four-time Olympic Gold medalist Mo Farah, and two-time European championships bronze medalist Chris O'Hare to get the win tonight. Pacemakers Edward Kemboi and David Torrence, took the field through the first 400 meters in 56.4, and 800 meters in 1:55.1. Just after Torrence stepped off the track at 1200 meters, O'Hare took off down the backstretch, taking Centrowitz and Farah with him. Centrowitz stuck to his two rivals, then powered past them entering the homestretch.
"Coming in I really didn't know what to expect," Centrowitz told reporters after signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans. "I was just, like, hang on for dear life kind of thing. I was happy, obviously, with the time."
Farah dug deep in the final 50 meters, passing O'Hare to take second in 3:34.19 to O'Hare's 3:34.35, both comfortably under the IAAF World Championships qualifying standard of 3:36.00. Eric Jenkins, this year's NYRR Wanamaker Mile Champion, had the fourth-fastest time out of the second section of 3:36.51.
In the men's two-lap race, Australia's Luke Mathews was the fastest of three men who broke 1:47 tonight, clocking 1:46.44 over Britain's Kyle Langford (1:46.77) and Britain's Andrew Osagie (1:46.93). He was slightly disappointed that he didn't make the World Championships qualifying mark of 1:45.90.
"I didn't get out as well as I would have liked," Mathews explained. "I waited and waited and waited until the final hundred and that was it."
The women's 1500m went to the Oregon Track Club Elite's Sheila Reid who missed last summer's Olympics because of a series of injuries to her right leg, including bursitis in her knee and a stress reaction in her tibia. Tonight the Canadian from Newmarket, Ontario, showed some of her old form, out-sprinting USA 1500m record holder Shannon Rowbury on the homestretch to claim the win in 4:07.07 to Rowbury's 4:07.17. Both women got under the IAAF World Championships qualifying standard of 4:07.50.
"Four-oh-seven is still five seconds off of my personal best, but if two months ago if you told me that I would be in a position to run a world standard I would have laughed at you," Reid told reporters. "I was so out of shape, and really dejected. I just kind of found my fitness, and found my groove again."
There were also sold runs in the two 5000m races, especially on the women's side where Britain's Laura Weightman made her debut at the distance in an excellent 15:08.24. She was pushed right to the line by USA half-marathon champion Natosha Rogers, who ran a 20-second personal best of 15:08.29. Three more women got under the IAAF World Championships qualifying time of 15:22.00: Canada's Jessica O'Connell (15:16.79), Boston Athletic Association's Sarah Pagano (15:18.57), and Brooks's Lauren Paquette (15:19.73).
"That was the hardest race of my life," said Weightman sprawled on her back in the infield while coach Steve Cram looked on with a smile. "I'm really happy with that."
The U.S. Army's Shadrack Kipchirchir won the men's 5000m in 13:23.74, just off the World Championships qualifying time of 13:22.60.
Three women representing Oiselle --Mel Lawrence, Marisa Howard and Alexina Wilson-- went 1-2-3 in the women's steeplechase in 9:40.20, 9:40.40 and 9:40.90, respectively. They were the only three athletes to get under the World Championships qualifying mark of 9:42-flat.
Unfortunately, in the men's steeplechase not all of the barriers were set at the correct height after the women's heat was concluded. As such, all of the marks --including Hilary Bor's winning time of 8:23.08-- cannot count as qualifying times for the World Championships.