Penn Relays and Drake Relays Pro Recap
Kevin Sully | On 29, Apr 2015
Today is part two of the delayed Monday Morning Run. Yesterday, I discussed the London Marathon with 26 observations on the year’s best race so far on the road. Now, we turn our attention to the track where their were two major professional meets in the United States.
Having the Penn Relays and Drake Relays on the same weekend divided our attention and split up the best athletes. Penn was more sprint focused with the US vs. World format featuring only the 4 x 100, 4 x 200 and the 4 x 400. Drake continued its quest to bring the Diamond League to Iowa with incredibly strong fields in the hurdles, long sprints, mid-distance and field events.
The top three performances of the week
Gold: Jasmine Stowers
With Dawn Harper Nelson, Queen Harrison and Kristi Castlin, Stowers was placed in an outside lane. In a field that deep, it was the right spot. After Saturday’s race she won’t be there for long. Stowers ran a personal best of 12.40 and comfortably won what should have been a tight race.
Thus far in 2015, Stowers is the best hurdler in the world. She won the US indoor championship and now has the fastest time of the year. Ordinarily, being the best in the world in spring wouldn’t mean much and if anything could be interpreted as an athlete peaking too soon. In the high hurdles though, there does seem to be some tangible momentum gained once athlete starts winning and dropping fast times. Look at Brianna Rollins in 2013 or Aries Merritt in 2012. I’m not going as far as saying Stowers is a favorite for a gold medal, but I do think she can maintain this form at least until the US Championships in June which will get her on the team for Beijing.
Silver: Kirani James
The first round of James vs. Lashawn Merritt in 2015 was a route for the 22-year-old. James was on another level from the entire field and ran 44.22 to break Michael Johnson’s Drake Relays’ record. Merritt was not a factor in the homestretch and Yousef Masrahi was the only runner near Merritt. Saturday was James’s second race of the year under 44.5. For the sake of the event, here’s hoping Merritt reestablishes his form, otherwise James is going to be very lonely in front all season long.
Bronze: Ajee Wilson
Many of the events at Drake were billed as previews for August’s World Championships. The women’s 800 didn’t have the international flavor to fit that criteria, but it was a preview of the US Championships. Wilson, Brenda Martinez, Chanelle Price and Alysia Montano all raced on Friday night.
Wilson ran to the front of the enormous field (13 runners!) and controlled the race the entire way, winning in 2:00.03. The win, of course, is more important than the time, but the windy conditions and the lack of a pacemaker make Wilson’s performance even more impressive. This is a continuation of what we saw from her in 2014. She rarely has a bad race and always looks unfazed by the pressure of the moment. Her lone stumble indoors came when she literally stumbled and fell in the 600 at the US Indoor Championships. When healthy, and upright, she is the best of a very group of American women’s 800 runners.
McCorory blew the doors off the women’s 400 field at Drake. She got off to her characteristic fast start and her margin only grew from there, finishing in 50.13, almost an entire second ahead of Sanya Richards-Ross in second place. At this rate, the only woman in the world capable of running with McCorory is Allyson Felix and she doesn’t even run the event. Not yet anyway.
-US Men’s Sprint Relays
The American men went 3-3 at the Penn Relays. In the 4 x 100, Justin Gatlin broke the race open on the second leg and the US easily beat a Bolt and Blake-less Jamaican team 38.68 to 38.88. The 4 x 100 will be much more competitive this weekend at the World Relays in the Bahamas when Bolt is on the track and the overall field is much deeper.
The 4 x 200 and the 4 x 400 also went to the US and no batons hit the ground. A very successful day overall.
Back at Drake, Harris continued his undefeated season with a 13.16 victory against a top notch field including David Oliver and Aries Merritt. Like the women’s high hurdlers, the Americans will have four entrants at the World Championships by virtue of having the defending world champion. That extra spot will go to good use.
There is a good chance that both the men and women will put all four athletes through to the finals in Beijing. Injuries and other random occurrences make that prediction far from a guarantee, but at least in terms of times there is little doubt that Americans will once again dominate the top of the world lists. Young hurdlers like Harris, and Jasmine Stowers, are further proof that the US has an endless string of high hurdlers at their disposal.
Another member of the outside lane club, Jackson came from lane two to upset co-favorites Michael Tinsley and Javier Culson in the 400 hurdles at Drake. Unlike the high hurdles, the US does need some help in the 400 hurdles. Tinsley is gold medal threat, but the depth is spotty.
Perhaps the relief comes from Jackson who made his first World Championship team in 2003 and won his first global medal in 2005. The low hurdles is a funky race so maybe all this is possible. Remember, this is the event where Felix Sanchez and Angelo Taylor each went eight years between Olympic gold medals, alternating their victories in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
-US Women’s Sprint Relays
The women didn’t perform as well as the men at Penn. Some of that was because of personnel (McCorory and Richards-Ross were at Drake, not in the 4 x 400), but there were also issues with exchanges in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200. They got beat by Jamaica in the 4 x 400 and 4 x 100 and needed a great late run from Porscha Lucas after a poor exchange to win the 4 x 200.
Lucas was a bright spot as was Kaylin Whitney, who anchored the 4 x 100 in her first major professional race. Nothing like a low key opener.
As mentioned above, Merritt was a well-beaten fifth in the 400. A remarkable result because Merritt never finishes that low.
LaShawn Merritt, fifth at Drake on Friday, hasn’t finished lower than 2nd at Olympics/Worlds/Diamond League/Golden League 400m since 2006.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) April 25, 2015
After the race, Merritt gave some silver linings on the live television interview. 1) This was the first race of the year. 2) He is coming off an extremely busy 2014 season 3) He was still happy with the time, 45.2. All our legitimate points. Opening up at Drake makes for a tough opener, at least the couple years because the fields are so tough. He should be back under 45 seconds soon and I expect another close race with James at the Prefontaine Classic.
-NCAA 4 x Mile at the Penn Relays
Jesse covered this race extensively on Monday. I’d recommend giving it a read if you haven’t already. No race has reminded more of the Passive Aggressive Olympics.
-Shuttle Hurdle Relays
Who doesn’t love a good shuttle hurdles controversy? Especially when it involves a world record….
Someone sent me this freeze-frame from Friday’s women’s Shuttle Hurdles relay. What’s wrong with this picture?? pic.twitter.com/6YFpOVaGpT
— Ato Boldon (@AtoBoldon) April 26, 2015