Houlihan Completes 1500/5000 Double, Jager Wins 7th Straight Steeple

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

DES MOINES (24-Jun) — Shelby Houlihan made her USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships twice as nice at Drake Stadium here today, becoming the first woman since Regina Jacobs in 2000 to win both the 1500m and 5000m in the same national championships.  Showing the same powerful kick which brought her victory over Jenny Simpson in the metric mile yesterday, Houlihan waited for the final 100 meters to put away her last rival, the versatile Rachel Schneider, to win in 15:31.03.  It was Houlihan’s second consecutive national 5000m title.

“I knew going into the last lap that I had a huge kick left,” Houlihan told reporters.  “I mean, I’ve seen other people with huge kicks, so I was just hoping that it would be enough to get the win.”

Early in the race Houlihan was content to follow the gentle pace set by Callie Macumber through 2200 meters knowing that every slow lap that went by increased her chances of success. She told herself to be patient.

“The biggest thing is just to in my own mind to stay calm,” Houlihan said. “I’m constantly having these thoughts, ‘I feel really good, just stay calm.'”

With three laps to go, NCAA 5000m champion Karissa Schweizer of Missouri took over the lead taking Houlihan and Schneider with her. Schweizer, who has secured professional representation but has not yet signed a professional contract, squeezed the pace down to 73-second laps, and thought this was her best chance against Houlihan.

“When I took the lead I knew there were all these kickers behind me,” Schweizer said. “I had to take it then; that gave me the best shot and really made it a more honest race.”

Schweizer was the first to be dropped when Houlihan made her first move on the backstretch of the final lap. Schneider hung on for as long as she could, but she could not match Houlihan’s top-end speed in the homestretch.

“With 100 to go I still felt good, but when Shelby put in that kick in and I didn’t quite have it,” said Schneider, who was delighted with her runner-up finish.

Schneider, who finished fourth in the 1500m yesterday, was timed in 15:32.71, and Schweizer was clocked in 15:34.31.  Lauren Paquette and Vanessa Fraser rounded out the top five in 15:36.83 and 15:36.89, respectively.

The women’s 800m final went to form, with 2017 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Ajee’ Wilson overwhelming the field to win her second consecutive national title. Running from the front, she out-legged both Raevyn Rogers and Ce’Aira Brown in a stadium record 1:58.18. Rogers ran 1:58.57 to Brown’s 1:58.65.  Kaela Edwards, who was in last place at the bell, finished fourth in 1:59.68.

“My coach told me to get out,” the plain-spoken Wilson told reporters. “We weren’t sure how the other girls were going to start, not to fight for the lead.” She added,  “From there, just running relaxed and within myself.”

In the men’s two-lap final, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy ran a tactically sound race to get the win. Murphy was unperturbed by the slow opening lap of 54.6 seconds where he ran shoulder to shoulder with early leader Abraham Alvarado. Murphy waited, then followed Erik Sowinski who surged hard on the backstretch through the 600m mark. Sowinski would fade, but NCAA champion Isaiah Harris moved up to challenge. The race got a little physical in the homestretch, and Murphy wasn’t backing down.

“He tried to come in and I just kind of fought him off, didn’t really give up my spot,” Murphy explained. “Bumping’s racing, I guess.”

Murphy prevailed in 1:46.50 to Harris’s 1.47.11. Sowinski got third in 1:47.76.

“He’s got that speed,” Harris said of Murphy. “That’s why he medaled at the Olympics.”

The next two distance finals, the men’s 3000m steeplechase and the 5000m, were delayed by three hours as meet officials waited for a thunderstorm with potentially dangerous lightning to pass.  The steeplechase athletes had already warmed up and were coming on to the track before they were pulled back by officials to take shelter.

But the delay had little effect on the outcome of the steeplechase.  For the seventh year in a row, Evan Jager scored the win, tying Henry Marsh’s record for the most consecutive victories.  He did it in classic style, by riding out a slow early pace, then squeezing it down in the last two laps, and holding off a credible charge by his chief rival, Hilary Bor.  Jager was clocked in 8:20.10, a facility record, to Bor’s 8:22.58.  The difference? Jager’s last lap was 59.7 seconds to Bor’s 61.9.

“I think it just shows that I’ve been really consistent over a long period of time,” Jager told the assembled media.  “I’ve been healthy for a long period of time.”  He added: “It’s very satisfying for sure.”

The reigning champion, Paul Chelimo, also won the 5000m in 13:29.47.  Chelimo, the 2017 Olympic silver medalist, led for 11 of the 12 and one-half laps, controlled the pace, the string together three fast laps to close the race: 64.4, 61.2 and 55.8 seconds.  Ryan Hill tracked him closely coming out of the final bend, but could not match Chelimo’s speed in the final meters.  Hill clocked 13:29.67 to claim second.

“I was in the exact spot I wanted to be with 400, 300, 200 to go,” said Hill.  “But Paul just has that little burst.  He got a few steps on me and I didn’t have a gear to stay with him and pass him.”

Chelimo, a soldier in the U.S. Army, said that the delay in starting his race didn’t knock him off of his game.  As a soldier, he knows what it means to be prepared.

“The Army has always taught me to be prepared, you know?” Chelimo said.  “Every day, like, I’m always ready.  You’ve got to be prepared going to war.”

Hassan Mead was barely able to hold off a hard charging Riley Masters to claim third place, 13:30.12 to 13:30.23.

PHOTO: Shelby Houlihan wins the 2018 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships 5000m (photo by Talbot Cox for the Bowerman Track Club; used with permission)

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