A three-hour weather delay on Sunday descended upon Drake Stadium for the USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. The interruption, however, was likely preferred to last year’s heat fest in Sacramento, as the greatest track athletes in the country gathered to compete for new titles. Championship meets are always littered with jaw-dropping performances, good and bad, and this year was no exception.
All eyes were on Iowans Shelby Houlihan and four-time-straight US champ Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1,500-meter final. Houlihan was fresh off a win over Simpson at the Prefontaine Classic in May, coming from behind to snag gold in the final stretch of the race. The Bowerman Track Club runner repeated her performance at Drake, chipping off the pack in the bell lap and outkicking Simpson in the final 100 meters to break the tape in 4:05.48. Kate Grace came in third behind Simpson after an uncharacteristic move at the bell, taking a noticeable lead for much of the final lap. The race wasn’t clean of bumps between women, however, as everyone fought to maintain their position. Brenda Martinez, another favorite and world bronze medalist in the 800 meters, had an unfortunate collision and did not finish the race.
Twenty-four hours later, Houlihan wows everyone in similar fashion, this time over her keynote distance: 5,000 meters, where she claimed the national title last year. She chipped away from tenth up to second with 1,200 meters remaining. Her closing lap was a whopping 62 seconds, and some fans enthusiastically likened her final 100 meters to that of Usain Bolt speed. She earned the first 1,500/5,000 outdoor double in 18 years (however, the previous woman to do it ended up testing positive for steroid three years later). Her finishing time: 15:31.03.
“I don’t know if it’s actually hit me yet. I mean, I did set out to come and try to win both, and it’s awesome I was able to do that,” Houlihan said to the press, sounding humble, yet ecstatic about her historic victories.
On the men’s side, Matthew Centrowitz clenched his fifth 1,500m national title, after a tight pack kept it fairly pedestrian for the first three laps. The Olympic gold medalist broke free from the bunch in the final 100 meters to grab the win in 3:43.37, a moment of redemption after some recent struggles with injuries.
In the men’s 5,000m final, following a weather delay and still under raindrops, Paul Chemino barely squeaks out the win over Ryan Hill, clocking 13:29.47, just two-tenths of a second quicker than the runner-up. The U.S. Army runner saluted as he crossed the line.
The women’s 10,000m went to the G.O.A.T, Molly Huddle. Two months after a disappointing Boston Marathon, Huddle returned to the track to do what she does best: school the rest to earn her 27th national title overall. She outran Marielle Hall in a 64-second final lap. Stephanie Bruce came in a strong third. Lopez Lomong was victorious on the men’s side, outkicking runner-up Shadrack Kipchirchir with a blistering 54-second bell lap and thrilling final 400 meters to finish in 28:38.58.
Steeple people and now-iconic duo Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went 1-2 in the steeplechase final, with Oiselle’s Mel Lawrence finishing third in a huge PR time. Coburn finished in 9:17.70, a Drake stadium record and her fifth straight national title. Frerichs crossed barely a second behind her New Balance competitor, a familiar image following their epic gold-silver win at worlds last year. After a weather delay, Evan Jager came out on top for the BTC men, winning his seventh national title in the steeplechase and setting a new stadium record in 8:20.10.
Many anticipated hurdle speedster Sydney McLaughlin‘s 400-meter competition; however, McLaughlin scratched at the last minute from the preliminaries due to a quad issue. Ajee Wilson won the women’s 800 meters with a new stadium record (1:58.18), while Clayton Murphy ran away with the men’s win 1:46.50 and an insane 52-second final lap. Like fellow Nike Oregon Project teammate Centrowitz, Murphy came to Des Moines to get a title after a rocky year of setbacks.
And it wouldn’t be a track meet without a dramatic final event of the weekend. In the men’s 110m hurdles, two-thousands of a second separated first from second place in a most definite photo finish. Wide-receiver-turned-Olympian Devon Allen had the golden lean and stride in the end.