A World Record and More: 6 Takeaways From the U.S. Outdoor Championships
The U.S.A. Track & Field Outdoor Championships were packed with entertaining competition as the top American runners qualified for the world championships.
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The 2019 U.S.A. Track & Field Outdoor Championships are over, but we’re not done reliving and analyzing the highlights of the four-day meet that concluded on Sunday, in Des Moines, Iowa.
The fastest runners in the country put on a show under the thick Midwest humidity and rainstorms. Those who came out on top are heading to the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, from September 28–October 6.
A world record was set, long-standing favorites dominated distance events, and a few new pro athletes showed us that the future of American track and field is in capable hands.
Here are our six top takeaways from the 2019 U.S. outdoor championships:
Dalilah Muhammad smashed 16-year-old world record in the 400-meter hurdles.
Most of the attention in the women’s 400-meter hurdles during the past three years has focused on Sydney McLaughlin, a New Jersey native who at age 16 competed at the Rio Olympics. She conquered the NCAA and set a world junior record during her one-and-done season for the University of Kentucky. Then McLaughlin, now 19, turned pro, signed a contract, and onlookers assumed the next steps would be world domination in the event.
Welcome to the world record club, @DalilahMuhammad.
Olympic 🥇 medalist Dalilah Muhammad set a new WR in the women's 400m hurdles in 52.20 at #ToyotaUSATFoutdoors! pic.twitter.com/rY6jz4P8z7
— USATF (@usatf) July 29, 2019
Lest we forget, however, that it was fellow American Dalilah Muhammad, 29, who brought home the 2016 Olympic gold medal. She sent a firm reminder on Sunday, storming home in in 52.20 to set an American and world record. The previous record of 52.34 was set in 2003 by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia and the previous American record of 52.47 belonged to Lashinda Demus since 2011.
McLaughlin was second in 52.88 and Ashley Spencer finished third in 53.11.
In addition to her Olympic gold, Muhammad won silver at the world championships in the 400-meter hurdles in 2013 and 2017.
Shelby Houlihan is, once again, the double distance dominator.
Despite an injury setback earlier this year, Shelby Houlihan held on to her unofficial title of “best distance runner in America.” The 26-year-old member of the Bowerman Track Club, based in Portland, Oregon, successfully defended her 1500-meter and 5,000-meter titles from last year, netting a career haul of 11 national titles.
Houlihan accomplished the feat in less than 24 hours. On Saturday in the 1500-meters, she kicked past 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson using a 1:00.59 closing lap for the 1500-meter title in 4:03.18. Simpson was second in 4:03.41. Newcomer Nikki Hiltz made her first U.S. team by placing third in 4:03.55.
Houlihan returned to the track on Sunday to win the 5,000 meters in 15:15.50, nearly a second and a half clear of the field, thanks to a 1:03.57 closing lap. Her signature gear shift is unrivaled in U.S. competition—and worth marveling.
Bowerman teammate Karissa Schweizer was second (15:17.03), to make her first world championships team, alongside fellow new pro for New Balance Boston Elinor Purrier, who was third in 15:17.46.
The world championships racing schedule does not realistically allow for a 1500-meter/5,000-meter double. Houlihan said after the race she preferred to compete in the 1500 meters in Doha, so Rachel Schneider, who placed fourth on Sunday in the 5,000 meters, will be named to the team. In the 1500, Houlihan will contend with the likes of Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who recently set the world record in the mile in 4:12.33.
Marathoners have speed.
Scared to train for a marathon for fear that the distance will zap your speed? Check out the results of the women’s U.S. outdoor championships 10,000-meter final—the top four finishers are all marathon specialists.
Two sets of training partners claimed the top four spots in the Thursday night race as Molly Huddle won her fifth consecutive U.S. 10,000-meter title (and 29th overall national title) in 31:58.47. Her training partner Emily Sisson took runner-up honors in 32:02.19. Kellyn Taylor and Stephanie Bruce, members of Northern Arizona Elite, placed third and fourth, respectively, in 32:02.74 and 32:09.99.
Taylor and Bruce primarily train for the marathon, and Huddle and Sisson have also transitioned into the 26.2-mile challenge after spending most of their careers focusing on the track. All four women are considered contenders for an Olympic berth in the marathon and Sisson and Taylor are the sixth- and seventh-fastest American women ever, thanks to their respective personal bests of 2:23:08 and 2:24:29.
The one caveat to this storyline is that despite placing third, Taylor has not run the world championships qualifying standard of 31:50. Typically, athletes are allowed to “chase the standard” and keep racing after the U.S. championships in order to qualify for the world championships, but this year, only athletes who have hit the time are eligible for selection. Marielle Hall of the Bowerman Track Club, who placed fifth in 32:14.41, was the next finisher with the qualifying standard and barring injury, she will represent Team USA in Doha.
Despite the disappointment (and some light-hearted scheming), Taylor and Bruce returned to the track on Sunday for the 5,000-meter final. They placed ninth and 10th, respectively, in 15:31.62 and 15:32.19 for an extra speed session.
As the Fast Women newsletter pointed out on Twitter, the event champions in the women’s distance events are all seasoned pros. Molly Huddle (10,000 meters), Houlihan (1500/5,000 meters), Emma Coburn (3,000-meter steeplechase) and Ajee’ Wilson (800 meters) were all considered favorites in their events and each woman executed flawlessly for the win. They all have impressive title streaks as well: Huddle now owns 28 national titles in various distances, Houlihan owns 11 titles, Wilson won her ninth title and Coburn earned her eighth steeplechase title.
It’s worth shouting out Coburn, especially, for her win because as defending world champion, she receives a “bye” into the world championships and did not need to win the race or place top three at U.S. outdoor championship to qualify. The majority of American athletes take advantage of the “bye” and race only the first round of competition or compete in an off-event to stave off potential injury or avoid peaking too early. It’s cool to see Coburn embrace the spirit of competition at the national outdoor championships.
But the rookies also had an impressive showing.
Some new college grads might need time to adjust to the training load and challenges of the professional athlete lifestyle. Not the women in the NCAA Class of 2018, as several first-year pros made quite a big impact on the U.S. outdoor championships across all events.
Schweizer, a six-time NCAA champion for the University of Missouri, shadowed teammate Houlihan all the way to a runner-up finish and world championships berth in the 5,000 meters. Behind Schweizer came former New Hampshire All-American Purrier, who nipped Schneider at the line to make her first world team.
In the 1500m, former Arkansas Razorback Hiltz of Mission Athletic Club in San Diego nabbed the final world team spot in a personal best. Right behind her? None other than reigning NCAA champion Sinclaire Johnson of Oklahoma State, who is just 21 years old.
Allie Ostrander is the newest pro of them all. The three-time steeplechase NCAA champion for Boise State announced her new contract with the Brooks Beasts less than a month ago. Now, she’s already qualified for her first world team by placing fourth in the steeple behind a trio of Olympians: Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Colleen Quigley. Coburn’s “bye” allowed a fourth athlete to qualify, so Ostrander will compete in Doha, too.
The future is bright for Team USA.
Thanks in part to an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this season, Olympic legend and new mom Allyson Felix was the subject of intense scrutiny all weekend. When she and long-time sponsor Nike couldn’t agree on contract renewal terms after she gave birth, the most decorated American Olympian in track and field history was left without sponsorship income, which is the primary source of athlete financial support in the sport.
Felix’s last race before these championships was 13 months ago. Since then, she endured complications giving birth to her daughter, Camryn, and fought for every inch of fitness. Felix got a little bit faster in each of the three rounds of the 400 meters, and ultimately placed sixth in the final in 51.94—well behind winner Shakima Wimbley, who ran 50.21, but good enough to qualify for the relay pool at the world championships.
Though she had a great deal of attention, Felix wasn’t the only mom competing at the top at the U.S. outdoor championships. Nia Ali, who gave birth to her second child about a year ago, earned runner-up honors in the 100-meter hurdles in 12.55, just behind world record holder Keni Harrison (12.44), and reigning Olympic champion Brianna McNeal (12.61).
Talk about superpowers.