DES MOINES (25-Jul) -- With lethal last-lap speed, both Molly Huddle and Lopez Lomong successfully defended their national 10,000m titles at the Toyota USATF Outdoor Track & Fiend Championships at Drake Stadium here by comfortable margins, and both athletes secured their spots on Team USATF for the IAAF World Championships in September. They were clocked in 31:58.47 and 27:30.06, respectively.
For Huddle, 34, tonight's title was particularly sweet. It was her fifth consecutive title at this discipline, making her the only American woman in history to win the national 10,000m crown five times in a row. She is now tied with Deena Kastor for the second-most number of national 10,000m titles, and is only behind the legendary Lynn Jennings who has seven. Tonight's victory was also Huddle's 29th national title overall in both road racing and track.
"That's pretty special," Huddle said when reminded of how many national titles she has won. "Track titles are hard, so those are really special. I definitely don't take anything for granted at this point in my career."
Huddle used the same race plan as last year. She stayed with the big lead pack for the first half of the race at the slow pace of 16:38 through the first half. She waited for the first significant move by her training partner, Emily Sisson, who took the per-lap time from the dawdling 79 to 80 seconds in the first half to sub-75 seconds in the second. That dwindled the pack to just six at 6000m: Huddle, Sisson, Kellyn Taylor, Stephanie Bruce, Marielle Hall, and Sara Pagano. Huddle, who likes to lead, tried to stay patient.
"I definitely didn't feel comfortable leading earlier, and we wanted the time to be slow, anyway," said Huddle, who didn't want to help other women to achieve the IAAF World Championships qualifying standard of 31:50.00. "I wasn't sure if I would be able to wind it up at the end, but I started and see where it took me."
Like last year, Huddle used the last four laps to put away her rivals. Taking the lead with four laps to go, she steadily increased the pace shaking everyone from her tail. Her last four laps were 74.6, 71.9, 69.3 and 66.8. She ran the last 1600m (just nine meters short of a mile) in 4:42, and stopped the clock at 31:58.47. Sisson held off a homestretch charge by Taylor to get second in 32:02.19; Taylor was timed in 32:02.74. Bruce was fourth (32:09.99) and Hall was fifth (32:14.41).
"I was really glad to have a kick at the end," said Huddle, looking relieved.
Sisson, who also has the qualifying standard, will join Huddle on team USATF in Doha, but Taylor will not. She doesn't have the qualifying standard and is also planning to run a fall marathon, she said. As such, Marielle Hall will get the third team spot; she has the qualifying standard by virtue of winning the NACAC Championships 10,000m title last year.
For the 34 year-old Lomong --who later joked that he is called "grandpa" by his Nike Bowerman Track Club teammates-- the pace was fast right from the gun. Reigning USA cross country champion, Shadrack Kipchirchir, decided that he needed to run 27:30 tonight in order to insure victory, and went hard almost from the gun.
"I was like, whoever wins has to run it (fast)," said Kipchirchir. "So, I went straight away and pushed as soon as I can."
In pouring ran (which the women avoided) Kipchirchir cranked out laps in the 66-second range through 4000m, then dropped the pace to consistent 64's and 65's in the middle of the race. Lomong matched his every stride, staying just behind his slightly smaller rival.
With three laps to go, Lomong finally took the lead. He ran 64.1 and 64.4 seconds, respectively, for the two laps through 9600m before bolting at the bell. Lomong, a 3:32 1500m runner, showed that he hasn't lost much speed as he has moved up in distance, smashing the final circuit in 55.6 seconds to the exhausted Kipchirchir's 72.6 seconds. Remarkably, he nearly made the 2020 Olympic Games qualifying standard of 27:28.00 by running a huge personal best 27:30.06, the second-fastest winning time in the history of these championships.
"I'm really happy I came back here with the 'W,'" a smiling Lomong told the media. "Those guys really pushed a really good pace. It was a great championship." He continued: "It's a good day for distance running."
Kipchirchir, who already had the IAAF World Championships qualifying time, finished second in 27:47.71, and like Lomong secured his place on the national team for Doha. Leonard Korir was a distant third in 28:01.43, but he also had the qualifying standard already, so he will fill out the team.
Lomong is also entered in the 1500m and the 5000m here. He said he planned to start in the first round of the 1500m tomorrow, but it wasn't clear if he was serious.
In women's 1500m qualifying, the two big favorites, Shelby Houlihan and Jenny Simpson, both advanced to the final. Houlihan, the defending champion who ran in the third and last heat, stayed tucked in the pack in the early stages of the race, before getting by Nikki Hiltz and Karisa Nelson in the homestretch to win in 4:07.35, the fastest time of the day. Hiltz (4:07.40) and Nelson (4:07.66) also advanced.
"It was actually the plan," said Houlihan of her conservative approach to today's race. "Trying to practice that patience, a good gear shift in the last 100 meters. I was just trying to utilize that."
Simpson, who finished second to Houlihan here last year, nearly got caught-up in a tripping incident in the final 50 meters of the second heat when Shannon Osika and Cory McGee made contact. Simpson finished second to the up-and-coming Elise Cranny, 4:20.12 to 4:19.99, and McGee finished third, and Osika fourth. Officials later disqualified McGee for obstruction, allowing Osika to advance.
"I was really surprised," said Simpson when asked about how slow the pace was (77 seconds for the first 400 meters). "We shot off the line pretty quick, and then it just really slows down. So, I was surprised by that. I thought it could easily be a sub-4:10 race."
Kate Grace won the first heat after running most of the race at the back of the pack. She ran the final circuit in under 60 seconds, swinging wide around the final bend to stay out of trouble. She ran 4:10.23, beating collegian Sinclaire Johnson (4:10.43) and Katie Mackey (4:10.98).
"I thought I was good for the first two laps, just on the rail," Grace told reporters, analyzing her race. "Then I had to come out pretty wide on the final lap, but still felt really comfortable."
In the first of three rounds of the 800m, reigning NCAA champion Bryce Hoppel of the University of Kansas extended his amazing 2019 unbeaten streak to 21 races, just edging a hard-charging Brannon Kidder in the homestretch. Hoppel ran 1:47.65 to Kidder's 1:47.68.
"I checked over my shoulder, like I said, a couple of times, and he wasn't there," Hoppel said, recalling the final 100 meters of the race before Kidder began his kick. "So, I was like, I'm going to coast it in and save some energy. Then he was on me and I was, like, I had to give it another burst. I wasn't too worried."
Also advancing were the two big favorites, Donavan Brazier and Clayton Murphy of the Nike Oregon Project. Brazier won heat-two in 1:47.66 and Murphy won heat-three in 1:46.89. Isaiah Harris won the first heat in the fastest time of the day, 1:46.87, and also advance to the semi-finals.
The first round of the women's 800m went to form with team-making favorites Ajee' Wilson, Raevyn Rogers, Athing Mu, Olivia Baker, Hannah Green, and Ce'Aira Brown all advancing to tomorrow's semi-finals. A week ago, Brown wasn't even sure she would be in the meet. She suffered a stress reaction in one of her feet and has spent the last five weeks cross-training by swimming, cycling and working out on an elliptical trainer.
"I've been out for, like, five weeks," Brown told reporters. "I was, like, you put a lot of work into the season. Just come out her and stay strong. It's still in you."
In the first round of the men's steeplechase, all of the favorites advanced to the final including Hilary Bor, Stanley Kebenei, Andy Bayer, Jordan Mann, and Mason Ferlic. Two-time Olympian Donn Cabral finished ninth in the second heat and did not advance.
Middle distance action continues tomorrow in Drake Stadium with the first rounds of the men's 1500m and steeplechase, and the semi-finals of the men's and women's 800m.