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Boston, April 19, 2014 -- Rounding the final turn of the three-lap course at today's B.A.A. Invitational Mile here in Back Bay, Morgan Uceny looked every bit the two-time USA 1500m champion that she is. Shoulders back, arms pumping, she smoothly accelerated over those final 70 meters to the finish line on Boylston Street, beating back credible challenges from Heather Kampf and Brie Felnagle.
"It's 2011/2012 Morgan," observed her coach Terrence Mahon, referring to Uceny's two best seasons where she was both IAAF Diamond League and USA Olympic Trials 1500m champion. He continued: "She's officially put the past behind her."
Uceny's winning time of 4:44.0 wasn't impressive, but how she controlled the race was. It was her third victory here (she also won in 2010 and 2012), and she was clearly feeling that she was beginning to regain her old form. Coach Mahon had her focusing on endurance and strength training this winter; she showed off parallel bruises on her thighs from where a barbell had bumped her multiple times doing "cleans."
"It was a long arduous year last year and I just kept my head up and kept training hard," said Uceny who struggled with injuries in 2013. "Obviously it's very early but I think this is a good indicator of hopefully my season and success to come."
In today's race, Uceny stayed focused and didn't take any chances. The 29 year-old Cornell grad, who lives in nearby Brighton, ran the entire race near the front, ramping up the pace from the first lap to the second, the putting herself in the best position for the final sprint. Knowledge of the course pays dividends here because of the sharp corners.
"You don't want to think, 'Oh it's going to be like last year or the last time I won 'cause you just never know how the race will play out," she told reporters." As soon as I was in the lead I felt comfortable there and I knew how to take those corners. If it's a slow race it's a hard race not to be in the front, you have to do a lot of work."
Mahon said that Uceny would open up her track season in Shanghai on May 18 where she'll run the 1500m in the IAAF Diamond League meeting there. He said it would be anything but a soft race.
"You've got to be ready to go out in 2:02/2:03," he said of the first 800m split.
Kampf was timed in 4:44.3, and Felnagle in 4:44.8.
In the men's contest, a similar race played out, with Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis showing a mastery of the course. Willis, who has twice won New York's Fifth Avenue Mile, successfully defended his title here in 4:11.3 Like Uceny, Willis controlled the race throughout, staying in the pack for the first two laps, before asserting himself on the final circuit. He had a clear lead over second place Paul Robinson of Ireland coming out of the final turn.
"It felt great to come across the line in first," Willis said. "This was a little bit more challenging than last year just cause it was a very slow pace so it brings a lot of the kickers into the race." He added: "I knew I needed to be in the front in the last lap so I could hit the corners first and get the right lines."
Robinson was timed in 4:12.0, followed by Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano in 4:13.3. Today was Manzano's first race for new sponsor Hoka One One, although he wore Nike racing flats with the "swoosh" symbol blacked out (Hoka has yet to develop a racing shoe).
"I owe this race to everybody who really supported me," Manzano told Race Results Weekly, speaking of his extended period without a sponsor. "Without them, It would be really tough to be here."
The high school races were both tactical affairs. In the girl's contest Hopkinton High School teammates Lauren Hazzard and Melisa Lodge finished 1-2 in 5:22.7 and 5:34.0, respectively. Lodge had been the defending champion, but was overwhelmed by the faster Hazzard.
"It felt good," said Hazzard. "It spread out a lot quicker than I was expecting but I was able to keep my own pace pretty well I think."
The boys' winner, Mike Schlicting of Newton, took a patient approach, and was running a comfortable third with one lap to go. He was a clear winner coming out of the final bend, clocking 4:39.0, beating Ben Griswold of Wellesley (4:40.5).
"It's nice," Schlicting said in his post-race interview. "I don't mind running a little slow [time wise] as long as I can really push it the last little bit cause then it makes the effort worth it in the end."
Photo: Morgan Uceny on her way to victory in the 2014 B.A.A. Invitational Mile against (left to right) Violah Lagat, Chelsea Reilly, Heather Kampf and Laura Crowe (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly).