(28-May) -- Karissa Schweizer of the Nike Bowerman Track Club and Joe Klecker of the On Athletics Club emerged victorious last night at Hayward Field in Eugene, taking the USA 10,000m titles in close sprint finishes. Both Schweizer, 26, and Klecker, 25, won their first national titles and qualified by right for Team USATF for July's World Athletics Championships which will be held at the same stadium. Both athletes were Olympic finalists in Tokyo last August.
PHOTO: The women's podium finishers from the 2022 USATF 10,000m Championships (left to right): Karissa Schweizer (1st), Alicia Monson (2nd), Natosha Rogers (3rd) (photo via USA Track & Field)
Their victories were so narrow, that the combined winning margin for both athletes was just 1.63 seconds, and both athletes prevailed over Tokyo Olympic teammates. Schweizer beat Alicia Monson of the On Athletic Club, 30:49.56 to 30:51.09, and Klecker defeated Grant Fisher (the North American record holder), 28:28.71 to 28:28.81. Third place went to Natosha Rogers of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project in 31:29.80, and Sean McGorty of the Nike Bowerman Track Club, in 28:29.57. Possessing the necessary entry standards, all six podium finishers qualified for the World Athletics Championships, the first to ever be held on U.S. soil.
Interestingly, the reigning champions did not play a role in the outcomes of these races. Defending men's champion Woody Kincaid, another Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete, dropped out 19 minutes and 19 seconds into the race, his face contorted with pain as he rubbed the right of his abdomen. Reigning women's champion Emily Sisson, who just sent a pending North American half-marathon record, did not compete and will focus on road running this summer, instead.
The women's race started first at 7:30 p.m. local time in cool and windless conditions. Although the race did not go out aggressively, the early pace was honest after Emily Durgin (adidas) got in front on the second circuit and put in 74.74 and 73.95 laps through the 1600m mark. The field of 20 quickly stretched out, and Durgin --who seemed frustrated that no other women wanted to lead-- got the field through 5000m in a solid 15:50.43. At that point, Durgin had Weini Kelati (Under Armour/Dark Sky Distance), Schweizer, Steph Bruce (HOKA NAZ Elite), Monson, Emily Infeld (Nike), and Ednah Kurgat (U.S. Army) in tow. Schweizer, who had surgery on her right Achilles tendon last October, felt comfortable.
"I feel like every week has just been getting better and better," she told reporters in the mixed zone. "So, I'm really excited to see where my fitness can go this year."
Bruce took the lead from Durgin (who would fade to 11th at the finish), through 5600m, but then Monson took over at 6000m. The former University of Wisconsin star wasted no time in increasing the pace, turning a 71.62-second lap through 6400m. Only Schweizer could cover that move, and the Olympic duo quickly opened up a gap on the rest of the field.
Monson, who has always been comfortable running from the front, kept the pace high, trying to run the kick out of Schweizer. Only in her second season as a pro, she has been gaining confidence under the coaching of three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein.
"I came into this 10-K in such a different spot compared to last year coming into the Olympic Trials," Monson told reporters. "I just feel like I know I can put myself up there in a race, and lead the race, and be ready for a good finish."
Monson continued to click off 72-second laps and Schweizer matched her stride for stride, never more than a step back. Monson dropped a 68.23-second lap for the penultimate circuit, and on the backstretch of the final lap Schweizer made her first move to get in front, trying to squeeze by Monson on the inside. That move failed, setting up a nail-biting sprint on the homestretch. Schweizer was ready.
"I was confident that I was in a better place than last year," said Schweizer who finished a distant second to Sisson in last year's Olympic Trials.
In the end, Schweizer's sprint proved to strong for Monson's, delivering her the win. Her time of 30:49.56 was the second-fastest 10,000m in the world this year, the second fastest of her career, and a championships record (the previous record of 30:59.97 was held by one of her coaches, Shalane Flanagan).
"I didn't realize I was that close to my PR," Schweizer said. "So, I'm very excited that I was able to do that in a championships race.
The battle for third was just as exciting. Natosha Rogers --who ten years ago finished second in the USA Olympic Trials but was unable to go to the London Olympics because she didn't possess the necessary qualifying mark-- and 2015 World Athletics Championships 10,000m bronze medalist Emily Infeld were locked in a pitched battle for the final spot on the podium. The two sprinted side-by-side on the homestretch (Rogers on the inside and Infeld on the outside), and it wasn't clear who would win until the final 20 meters when Rogers was able to stay just slightly ahead of the tiring Infeld. Her margin was only 24/100ths of a second, putting her on her first national team for a global track championships.
"'This is mine today,'" Rogers told reporters she said to herself in those final moments of the race. "So I was able to dig a little bit deeper, barely."
The men's race went out painfully slow (the second lap was just 77.90 seconds), which led Zach Panning of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project and Sam Chelanga of the U.S. Army to shoot ahead and try to get the race going. Their escape lasted about 4000 meters, when the field caught up and Emmanuel Bor (Nike/American Distance Project) took over the lead.
PHOTO: The men's podium finishers from the 2022 USATF 10,000m Championships (left to right): Joe Klecker (1st), Grant Fisher (2nd), Sean McGorty (3rd) (photo via USA Track & Field)
Bor, 34, whose younger brother Hillary is an Olympic steeplechaser, brought the pace down to around 68 seconds per lap, still slow by global standards (14:31.27 through 5000m). That slow pace nearly assured that last-lap fireworks would follow as none of the contenders --except Kincaid who cheered from the side of the track-- had been eliminated.
Bor was still the leader through 8000m (23:08.24) and he was closely trailed by Lopez Lomong, Sean McGorty and Grant Fisher all of the Nike Bowerman Track Club. Bor managed a 65.30-second lap through 9200m, then Klecker went to the front for the penultimate lap, dropping things all the way down to 60.24 seconds. Bor was running second, Fisher third, Lomong fourth, Shadrack Kipchirchir fifth and McGorty sixth. The race was playing right into Klecker's hands.
"That was my whole game plan," Klecker told reporters. "I didn't really think about who was left. I really couldn't see who was left. If anyone pulls up on my right shoulder, go with him and give him a fight to the line."
That's exactly what he did. Fisher gave him that fight, but Klecker just edged him at the line with a lean on the strength of of a 54.81-second final lap. Fisher gave it everything he had.
"That race felt like 9600 meters of a fartlek and and a flat-out 400," said Fisher. He continued: "I tied up a little those last ten steps. It felt like my legs were bricks."
The battle for third was wild. Bor had clear possession of third place coming out of the final bend, but was starting to tie-up. McGorty launched into a powerful sprint and was gaining on his rival with every step. Bor knew what was happening, and drifted out to lane three to make passing him just a little harder, but McGorty darted inside to get past Bor who fell hard to the track. He would only finish eighth.
"It's unfortunate that he fell, but just tried to keep my eyes up and channel my inner 400-meter runner," said McGorty who wasn't happy with his race position in the final lap. He added: "Definitely was not where I wanted to be and made that last 100 a little more stressful than I would have liked."
Last night's race was held as part of the Prefontaine Classic, the third stop of the Wanda Diamond League for 2021. In other distance action Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi won the women's two-mile in a meeting record 8:59.08; Ejgayehu Taye of Ethiopia won the women's 5000m in a meeting record and world-leading 14:12.98; and Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei won the men's 5000m in a world-leading 12:57.99.
The Pre Classic continues this afternoon.