PORTLAND, ORE, (11-Mar) -- Competing on the new emerald green 200 meter oval at the Oregon Convention Center here, Ryan Hill and Shannon Rowbury successfully defended their 3000m national titles in convincing fashion on the first day of the USA Indoor Championships.
Hill, 26, and a member of the Nike Bowerman Track Club based here, was pulled along by teammates Andy Bayer, Lopez Lomong, and Evan Jager through the first 1000m in a snappy 2:31.9. Running in fourth place, the club's race plan was working perfectly, especially for Hill.
"The other guys wanted to make sure that it was a 7:30-honest race," Hill told reporters. "We didn't want it to be an eight-minute race and finish four through eight, or something, and go home disappointed."
Lomong took the lead from Bayer after the first kilometer, and kept the pace high. He made it to 2000m in 5:06.7 before dropping out, leaving Jager to take over for the next three laps, trailed by Garrett Heath of the Brooks Beasts. Hill held his position, until there were about 300 meters to go, and he made his bid for victory a little ahead of schedule.
"It looked like Evan was struggling a bit, so I decided to take the lead a little earlier," Hill said. "If he looked good, I would probably had waited for 250 to go."
But behind him, the U.S. Army's Paul Chelimo had moved up from the splintered chase group and was closing fast on Hill, nearly catching him off guard. Hill didn't realize Chelimo had moved up to pass Heath until he looked up at one of the big-screen monitors mounted at either end of the arena.
"Not until I looked up at the board one last time, and Garrett was gone, and it was a new guy," Hill said of Chelimo. "I had no idea he was even there."
Showing the formidable closing speed which also gave him the 3K title at the NYRR Millrose Games last month, Hill responded to Chelimo's challenge by covering the final 200-meter circuit in 27.25, winning in 7:38.60, the second-fastest time in the world this year. Chelimo took second in 7:39.00, a personal best by almost six seconds, and like Hill, clinched a spot on the USA team for next weekend's IAAF World Indoor Championships here.
Galen Rupp, who won the USA Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles four weeks ago, finished eighth. Still feeling the fatigue of his marathon debut, he was never a factor in the race.
"Obviously, I'm a little tired from it," Rupp said of his marathon effort. "It's been interesting coming back. Obviously, they're two very different events. I have no regrets. I'm glad I came back and at least gave it a shot."
For Rowbury, 31, who lives and trains in the Portland area with the Nike Oregon Project, the last three laps offered far less drama. Rowbury spent most of the 15-lap race tucked in fifth place while the Bowerman Track Club's Emily Infeld, last summer's IAAF World Championships 10,000m bronze medalist, led the race for the first 2000 meters.
"I was grateful for Emily taking it out," said Rowbury wearing her trademark bright pink lipstick. "I thought I might be dealing with something super, super slow. So it's great. I felt really relaxed, really comfortable tucked in."
Rowbury didn't react when Marielle Hall took the lead from Infeld --who was clipped from behind, stepped into the infield and went out of contention-- but decided to wait until there there were two laps to go. Swinging wide in the homestretch, she powered past the field with 400 meters to go, and opened up a 10-meter gap in just a few seconds.
"So I was trying to wait for an opportunity to get to the front without going too wide, but by 400 meters to go I was like, aah, screw it. Went out to lane three and then just took off."
Clocking 61.61 seconds for the final 400 meters, Rowbury ran unchallenged to the finish tape in 8:55.65, capping off the race with a 2:52 kilometer. Former NCAA champion Abbey D'Agostino of New Balance finished second in 8:57.31, also clinching a team berth for the IAAF World Indoor Championships, her first for those championships.
"I really wanted to keep my eyes fixed on Shannon," said D'Agostino who struggled with injuries most of last year. "I felt like I may have closed the gap a little bit. I knew she was going to have a strong kick."
Olympic steeplechaser Shalaya Kipp finished third in 8:59.85.
In women's 800m qualifying, the two athletes in possession of the world championships qualifying marks, Laura Roesler and Ajee' Wilson, each won their heats. Roesler had to endure three botched starts where the electronic timing system failed and emitted false gun sounds before actually beginning her race.
"I don't have any words for that," Roesler told the media after running 2:03.77, the fastest time here today. "Obviously, that starting situation was a little messy. We were hearing an echo. Disclaimer: we're not stupid; we know what a gun sounds like. We were hearing two sounds."
In a tangle of arms, Phoebe Wright (2:03.81) and Mckayla Fricker (2:03.82) finished a close second and third behind Roesler, and both women qualified for the final on time.
Wilson strode easily through her heat and was never seriously challenged. She registered a pedestrian 2:05.96 winning time, and hardly seemed winded after the race.
"It felt comfortable," said Wilson. "I'm excited for the final. I'm really happy with where I'm at right now. I'm coming off a PR in my last race at Millrose. Training's been going really well."
On the men's side, the only athlete with the world championships 800m standard, Boris Berian, easily won the last of four heats by pulling away from early leader Mark Wieczorek on the final lap. Berian, who trains with the Big Bear Track Club under coach Carlos Handler, was the fastest American last year at 800m (1:43.34), but failed to make the national team for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing when he didn't advance out of the semi-finals at the USA Trials. He clearly appreciates the opportunity he has this year to potentially make both the IAAF World Indoor Championships and the Olympic Games.
"It would be amazing," said Berian. "It was a big disappointment last year not making that. So, I was getting started, having more experience, more training. Go out and make an indoor world team, that would definitely be great. I'm definitely in a lot better shape this time then I was last year."
Erik Sowinski --who was the fastest here on the day, winning the third heat in 1:47.58-- pointed out that it was still possible for another American man to make it to the world championships if the IAAF failed to fill the field, and decided to invite more athletes based on their best marks achieved during the qualifying period which ended on March 7.
"I know they started inviting people," Sowinski said of the IAAF. "As far as I know they're going to fill the field with 18. How they do that is up to them. We'll see what happens."