In an exciting Friday night of distance action at the 2012 USATF Occidental High Performance Meet in Los Angeles, 15 athletes in six events turned in times under the Olympic “A” standard. Among the most notable was Dathan Ritzenhein, who made the standard in the men’s 5000 meters. “Ritz” is seeking to make his third U.S. Olympic team after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January.
The most dramatic race, section two of the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase, saw four Americans better the standard despite a spectacular face-plant by Evan Jager of the Oregon Track Club, who had a solid lead on the last lap before crashing over the final water barrier. Recovering quickly, he rallied to finish fourth in 8:20.90, easily under the standard of 8:23.10. Donn Cabral of Princeton won the race in an American collegiate record time of 8:19.14. He was followed by Dan Huling in 8:20.81 and Kyle Alcorn in 8:20.86.
In the men’s 1500 meters, 2011 IAAF World Championships 5000-meter gold medalist Mo Farah of Great Britain won the first heat in 3:34.66, with Nike Oregon Project teammate Galen Rupp right behind in 3:34.75—a personal best by more than four seconds. Both bettered the “A” standard of 3:35.50, as did third-place Robby Andrews (3:34.78), the 2011 NCAA 800-meter champion who turned professional in March. Jamal Aarrass of France (3:34.85) and American David Torrence (3:35.81) joined them under the “A” when they went 1–2 in the third heat.
Ninety minutes after their 1500-meter race, Farah and Rupp started the 5000 meters—the final event of the night—to act as pacesetters for Ritzenhein, their Nike Oregon Project teammate. The trio ran near the back of a large second pack for the first half of the race, and then they accelerated smoothly and bridged a 30-meter gap to a leading group of five. Rupp stepped off the track at 4000 meters, but Farah, who found that he felt much better than he expected to, pulled Ritz to the front of the race—and then stayed there. He won in 13.12.87, followed closely by Juan Luis Barrios of Mexico (13:13.54), Sam Chelanga of Kenya, the 2010 NCAA 10,000-meter champion (13:14.05); and former American record-holder Ritzenhein in 13:14.72—his second-fastest time ever. All bettered the standard of 13:20.00. Ritzenhein, in this post-race interview, said he feels “light years” ahead of where he usually is at this point in a track season, despite a recent stress reaction.
In the women’s 5000 meters, 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor took the lead after the pacemakers dropped out and held it until the last 500 meters, when Jackie Areson and Lisa Uhl took over. Areson, the 2011 NCAA indoor champion who is now with the Nike Oregon Project, won in 15:14.31, with Uhl, the 2010 NCAA 10,000-meter champion, second in 15:15.22. Both bettered the “A” standard of 15:20.0, while the 39-year-old Kastor came close, finishing third in 15:23.51
In the women’s 1500 meters, 2009 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury bettered the standard of 4:06.00 by turning in a U.S.-leading time of 4:05.92 to win the second heat. 2008 Olympian Anna Pierce, bouncing back from a disappointing 2011 campaign, blazed the final 200 meters and nearly caught her, finishing just under the standard in 4:06.11. Gabriele Anderson produced the biggest shocker of the night when she defeated Morgan Uceny, ranked #1 in the world for 2011, in the first heat with a personal-best 4:06.46 to Uceny’s 4:06.52.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg