EUGENE (28-Jun) -- The USA Outdoor Championships wrapped up four days of competition here today with three thrilling sprint finishes --and a relative runaway-- in the four middle distance finals contested. But in some ways, the meet isn't over because a number of athletes lack the qualifying marks in their events needed to enter the 2009 IAAF World Championships in August in Berlin and will spend much of the next month chasing those standards.
The runaway went to the University of Colorado's Jenny Barringer in the 3000m steeplechase. Leading from gun to tape, Barringer went out at a moderate pace, and led a pack of six athletes, including Olympians Anna Willard and Lindsey Anderson, and NCAA East Regional steeplechase champion Bridget Franek of Penn State. Coming out of the water jump with three laps to go, Barringer pushed off the barrier hard and opened a gap on the field, passing the finish post with a two second advantage. Her lead would grow each lap, and sprinting the final 100m, Barringer finished in 9:29.38. It was her second USA steeplechase title.
"I feel really lucky to come in with the win," said Barringer who also thought about competing in the 1500m instead after running 3:59.90 for that event at the Prefontaine Classic here three weeks ago. "The steeplechase is what I have been training for."
Barringer also confirmed that she will not emerge from the NCAA ranks ahead of schedule, and plans to run the fall cross country season with her Colorado team. "It's not tempting (to turn professional) because I made my decision. I'm a woman of my word. To be able to call them my teammates for another couple of months is worth it."
As expected, Anna Willard made the podium, too, finishing second in 9:35.01. She said she ran cautiously to secure a top-3 finish. "I wasn't swinging for the fences today," she said. "I wasn't trying to win the race today."
On the question of whether she doubles in the 1500m and steeplechase in Berlin Willard said: "I don't know. I've got to see what Terrence (Mahon, her coach) says."
Franek came up big with a third place finish in a personal best 9:36.74. Her mark was under the IAAF "A" standard of 9:40-flat putting her on the team with Barringer and Willard.
"Oh my, I don't even know what to say," said Franek. "It's a dream come true."
CLARK AND SYMMONDS TAKE 800M TITLES
Hazel Clark and Nick Symmonds took their respective 800m titles with strong sprint finishes. Clark led her race out of the final turn and held off a fast-closing Geena Gall, 2:00.79 to 2:01.01. For Clark it was her fifth USA outdoor 800m title.
"It feels great," said Clark who already has the IAAF "A" standard from last year. "I trained through some meets this year. I want to get a medal. I can't sleep until I get a medal."
Gall also got on the team because she has the "B" standard and finished second, but third place Phoebe Wright of the University of Tennessee, who ran a blistering final 50 meters to finish in a personal best 2:01.12, will need to get the "A" standard to get guarantee her spot on the team. She said she's not worried about it.
"That's not a problem," said Wright who, like Hazel Clark, is coached by J.J. Clark. She said that Hazel would pace her to an "A" standard at a yet to be determined meet.
"I'm going to try to rabbit her to get the standard," Clark said.
Maggie Vessey, who ran a sensational 28.37 for the final 200m to finish fourth in 2:01.19, can also get on the team if she achieves the "A" standard and Wright does not. She was in last place at the half-way mark.
As for Symmonds, he summoned the same kick which brought him victory here in the Olympic Trials last year, just holding off a gutsy stretch run by Khadevis Robinson. Symmonds ran 1:45.86 to Robinson's 1:45.97, equaling his season's best time.
"I always go for the win," said Symmonds. "If you're going to go to the line you have to be ready to win."
Third place Ryan Brown ran 1:46.67, and since he ran 1:46.17 earlier this season (under the IAAF "B" standard of 1:46.60) he makes the team for Berlin because both Symmonds and Robinson have the "A" standard.
LOMONG WINS FIRST USA TITLE
The men's 1500m was predictably slow (2:03.88 at halfway), but 900 meters into the race there was an unexpected development. Stephen Pifer shot ahead to break up the pack. Beijing Olympians Lopez Lomong and Leonel Manzano responded, as did Will Leer and Dorian Ulrey.
"Five hundred meters to go was a perfect spot for me," said Pifer who wore a black ribbon on his uniform in honor of former coach Frank Gagliano's daughter-in-law who recently died of cancer. "I gave it everything I had."
Pifer's move launched Lomong and Manzano to battle for the title, and Lomong got it by 14/100ths in 3:41.68. Behind them, Pifer, Ulrey and Leer battled for the final team spot and Ulrey, who faded badly in the final meters of the NCAA championships earlier this month because of illness, got third.
"I had a stomach virus," said Ulrey who clocked 3:42.84.
Lomong only has the "B" standard, but is guaranteed a team spot by virtue of being the winner. Manzano also makes the team as an "A" standard-holder in second place. Ulrey has neither standard, and needs to improve to at least a "B" (3:39.20) to have a chance of making the team. He gets to Berlin with a "B" time if Lomong improves to an "A" by July 31 under USATF rules. Or, if Ulrey improves to an "A" (3:36.20) he also makes the team. He'd have to improve his personal best by about three seconds to do that.
* * * * * *
In the exhibition masters women's 1500m, 1984 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Samuelson, 52, finished fourth in 5:02.34 and was warmly applauded by the Hayward Field crowd as she completed her final lap in 81.9 seconds. She had hoped to run under 4:50.
"That wasn't even close," said a disappointed Samuelson who lives in Freeport, Me. Never at completely at home racing on the track she added: "I'm a duck out of water."
Jenny Barringer after winning her second USA steeplechase title (photo by Jane Monti)