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Centrowitz Wins 1500, Coburn the Steeplechase

CENTROWITZ, COBURN VICTORIOUS ON THIRD DAY OF USA OUTDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
By David Monti (@d9monti) and Chris Lotsbom (@chrislotsbom)

(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(Used with permission)
 
PHOTO:
Stephanie Garcia (right) leads Emma Coburn (hurdling), Leah O’Connor
(blue uniform) and Ashley Higginson in the final of the 3000m
steeplechase at the 2015 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

EUGENE,
Ore. (27-Jun) — Pre-race favorites Matthew Centrowitz and Emma Coburn
were victorious in the men’s 1500m and women’s 3000m steeplechase,
respectively, on the penultimate day of the 2015 USA Outdoor Track
& Field Championships at the University of Oregon here today. While
both won by comfortable margins in well-executed races, it was what
went on behind them that really brought the 10,116 fans at historic
Hayward Field to their feet.

BIG MOVE BY CENTROWITZ WITH 600M TO GO

Centrowitz,
25, who notched his third national 1500m title today in 3:37.25, came
to his alma mater with a special drive to win on the heels of the
doping allegations made by the BBC and ProPublica against his training
group, the Nike Oregon Project, and his coach, Alberto Salazar.

“This
U.S. Championships I wanted to win the most, I wanted [it] really bad,”
Centrowitz told a crush of reporters after the race. “I can’t remember
in a long time how hungry I wanted to be coming into this meet.” He
continued: “Obviously with everything going on, I wanted to win this
one for our team, the Oregon Project, myself, my family. I wanted it
bad.”

Centrowitz was tucked in fourth position as the field,
led by the up-and-coming Ben Blankenship and defending champion Leo
Manzano, went through 400 meters in a conservative 60.7 seconds. The
pack remained tight through 800 meters (2:03.9), with Blankenship still
on the front. Centrowitz, who felt constricted by the pack, decided it
was time to make his move.

“I figured with the wind, being
pretty warm, and looking at the field, there are a lot of kickers in
that field,” Centrowitz said. He went on: “Coming into this race I knew
I was the strongest, but also the fastest.”

Centrowitz exploded
away from the field at the 900 meter mark, and Manzano and Blankenship
immediately gave chase, but to no avail.

“I tried to go with him and, unfortunately, my legs didn’t respond today,” Manzano lamented.

It
was too late for anyone to catch Centrowitz, who put the race away with
a 52.1-second final lap. But behind him, while Blankenship and Manzano
were digging for the last two team spots for the USA team for the IAAF
World Championships, former NCAA 800m champion Robby Andrews was doing
a little digging of his own. Rounding the final bend in seventh or
eighth place, Andrews had swung wide into lane-four and was sprinting
furiously. He actually thought he had waited to long to start his final
drive for home.

“Honestly, with 200 to go I kind of thought I’d
missed the boat,” Andrews told reporters. “My Dad’s at the 150 and he’s
yelling, ‘don’t wait, don’t wait,’ and I’m, like, it’s not over yet.
And I just went for it.”

Andrews, Manzano and Blankenship all
crashed through the line together, and the finish photo revealed the
truth: Andrews was second by 1/100th of a second over Manzano, 3:38.75
to 3:38.76. Blankenship, who had the best position on the inside rail,
was a painful fourth in 3:38.78.

“I didn’t know I had it until I crossed the line,” said Andrews who ran a 52.2-second final lap.

With
his win today, Centrowitz has yet another chance at a global medal. He
won the bronze at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, finished
fourth at the 2012 Olympics in London, and got the silver medal at the
2013 World Championships in Moscow.

“My confidence right now is through the roof,” Centrowitz proclaimed.

FOURTH NATIONAL TITLE FOR COBURN

For
the fourth time in five years, Emma Coburn prevailed as national
champion in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, successfully defending her
title in a 9:15.59, the second-fastest time in the world this year. The
clear favorite coming into the competition, Coburn stamped her mark as
America’s best hope for a medal in this discipline at the World
Championships in Beijing, tying Elizabeth Jackson as the most decorated
female steeplechaser in national meet history with her fourth title.

While Coburn’s effort was impressive, it was the dramatic scene that played out behind her that made the event one to remember.

Stephanie
Garcia pushed the pace up front for the first kilometer, stringing out
the field as she circled Hayward Field’s oval. Behind, Coburn sat
comfortably in second, followed by recent college graduates Leah
O’Connor (Michigan State) and Colleen Quigley (Florida State), and
Ashley Higginson.

Garcia led with Coburn alongside until she
stumbled ever so slightly over the water jump with just over 1600
meters remaining. At that moment Coburn took advantage and gained
control, never to be challenged again.

“I just got behind
Stephanie for the first half and when I wanted to make a move I knew I
had to make a pretty definitive one,” said Coburn, munching on a frozen
lemonade treat while speaking with reporters. “Today was a good lesson
on waiting and closing well.”

With each successive lap, Coburn
extended her lead, her hurdling technique flawless. By the finish it
would stand at nearly eight seconds, crossing in 9:15.59. With that,
Coburn punched a ticket for her third global championships.

“Nine-fifteen,
I was a little surprised. I saw 8:02 at the bell and thought, ‘this is
what I did at the American record when I came through,” she said with a
laugh. “I didn’t close as well as that day, but, yes, I was surprised
how fast it was [today].”

Garcia, feeling the pain of her early
pace, winced her way across the line in second, finishing in a personal
best 9:23.48 to give Team New Balance the top two spots.

“I’ve
had some rough years in Eugene,” a smiling Garcia told the media,
referring to the 2011 USA Championships here where she fell into the
water pit while in third place on the final lap and finished fourth.
“In 2011 I was a college girl coming out and had no idea what I was
doing.”

Ironically, fans would see the same thing happen today.

For
nearly a mile, O’Connor and Quigley battled stride for stride, trading
off the third position. After dispatching with Higginson with 500
meters remaining, the pair would fight in a near replica of their duel
two weeks ago at the NCAA Championships right here at Hayward Field.

Quigley
gained a step’s advantage down the backstretch, preparing to jump over
the water pit for the final time. It was this very water jump that
decided the NCAA title two weeks ago, when O’Connor stumbled ever so
slightly. Tragically, the jump would be the deciding factor once again,
as O’Connor clipped the barrier and fell into the water for the first
time in her steeplechase career. Quigley just kept on going.

“Going
into the last lap I was like, oh my God, it’s like NCAA’s all over
again,” Quigley recounted. “It gave me a little bit of confidence
knowing that I did it once and I could do it again.”

Finishing
third in a personal best 9:24.92, Quigley celebrated making her first
World Championships team while O’Connor crossed the stripe in fourth,
9:31.03 her time. Showing maturity beyond her years, O’Connor met the
media and tried her best to keep a smile on her face.

“It was a
bummer at the end,” she said, sporting her new adidas kit and clutching
her spikes and fourth-place medal. “The way I ran was the way that I
planned it… I wanted to stay calm and relaxed and I felt like I was.
I just ran as hard as I could and I still had some in my legs as I came
off the fall, too. I’m still getting better and the race is going to
get better, it’s just a bummer that I didn’t make the worlds team. But
that’s OK.”

But the day belonged to Coburn, who is confident
that this is the best American steeplechase squad heading to the World
Championships in history.

“I think these three girls belong in
the final,” she told Race Results Weekly. “Assuming [Quigley] can move
off the college season well, you know I think Stephanie and I are used
to racing the professional circuit and I know we’ll both be ready. I’m
confident that Colleen with her new group will be ready too.”

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