Olympic Trials Men’s 1500 — Cole Hocker Outfoxes The Fox

Rookie Cole Hocker had too much for defending champion Matthew Centrowitz in the stretch. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

ONCE AGAIN MATTHEW CENTROWITZ proved he is the master of tactics in the 1500, but that didn’t protect the reigning Olympic champion from being gunned down in the stretch by upstart Oregon frosh Cole Hocker.

The two both hung back in the early going, letting Eric Avila lead through a solid 58.50 first lap as they stayed mid-pack. Some 200m later, Colby Alexander made a bold move from the back to take over up front. That spurred Centrowitz into action, and he passed 800 just off Alexander’s shoulder as the leader split 1:59.13. In 3rd ran Sam Prakel with Craig Engels close behind. NCAA runner-up Yared Nuguse was another half-stride back.

As the pack passed 1000m, the time had come to truly race, and the experienced Centro moved to the front and started applying the pressure. He passed the bell just ahead of Prakel and Alexander. Hocker looked hopelessly boxed in 5th, while Nuguse ran on the outside in 6th. Centro passed 1200 in 2:56.29, a 57.06 lap. He stretched it out on the backstretch but did not shake the pack.

Entering the final turn, 9 men remained in contention. Coming off it, Centro had a lead of a stride and was looking around to see what was coming. Hocker broke out of his box and edged past Nuguse and Josh Thompson. Craig Engels, in 7th, found himself in bad position for the final sprint.

With 100 left, it appeared that the defending champ realized that Hocker was coming. He upshifted but didn’t have the momentum the 20-year-old did. Much to the delight of the Duck fans, Hocker caught Centro with 40 left and held on for a PR in a 3:35.28–3:35.34 victory. It was the only PR scored by any runner in any of the three rounds.

Nuguse grabbed the final team spot by outsprinting Engels 3:36.19–3:36.69, and noted, “There was definitely a lot of hustlin’ and bustlin’ going on.” The qualification of Hocker and Nuguse was the first time since Stanford placed Gabe Jennings and Michael Stember on the Sydney team in 2000 that any collegians had made it in this event.

While Hocker’s PR fell just short of the Olympic qualifying standard of 3:35.00, it looks as though his WA ranking position will suffice. He called his critical move on the final turn “a little dicey,” adding, “I knew I had to get out in that opening. Then there was one man in front of me and hunted him down.”

Centrowitz called it “One of the most exciting races I’ve ever been part of. I didn’t know what to expect, fast or slow, so I had different race plans. They all involved me being at the front.”

As for the finish, “Instead of trying to save something a little extra for the last 50, I just tried to punch it, and sure enough, Cole had another gear that I didn’t have. I felt very confident that I could win, and I came close to it, but I knew if someone would beat me it would be Cole.

“These decisions you make in the last 150m are split-second decisions. Looking back now I should’ve saved more. Going to Tokyo, it’s only going to make me better.”

The saga of precocious high schooler Hobbs Kessler took several big plot turns. The day after announcing a pro contract with adidas, the 18-year-old Michigander won his heat in 3:45.63, showing great tactical skill. The next day’s semis were a different story, as he ran listlessly to an 8th-place non-qualifier in 3:45.50.

“I think I was a little emotionally tired and didn’t have that extra gear that I normally have,” he said. “I think that I wasn’t in the final before the gun went off because I was a little bit at the end of my rope.”

MEN’S 1500 RESULTS

(June 27)

1. Cole Hocker (Or) 3:35.28 PR

(58.96 [58.96], 60.84 [1:59.80], 56.85 [2:56.65], 38.63);

2. Matthew Centrowitz (NikBowTC) 3:35.34

(58.87 [58.87], 60.36 [1:59.23], 57.06 [2:56.29], 39.05);

3. Yared Nuguse (NDam) 3:36.19

(59.01 [59.01], 60.52 [1:59.53], 57.19 [2:56.72], 39.47);

4. Craig Engels (Nik) 3:36.69

(58.80 [58.80], 60.59 [1:59.39], 57.42 [2:56.81], 39.88);

5. Henry Wynne (BrkB) 3:37.70

(59.06 [59.06], 60.67 [1:59.73], 57.17 [2:56.90], 40.80);

6. Josh Thompson (NikBowTC) 3:37.73

(58.73 [58.73], 60.91 [1:59.64], 56.95 [2:56.59], 41.14);

7. Eric Avila (adi) 3:38.20

(58.50 [58.50], 61.10 [1:59.60], 57.97 [2:57.57], 40.63);

8. Colby Alexander (EmpE) 3:38.29

(59.23 [59.23], 59.90 [1:59.13], 57.41 [2:56.54], 41.75);

9. Sam Prakel (adi) 3:38.67

(58.59 [58.59], 60.77 [1:59.36], 57.07 [2:56.43], 42.24);

10. Vincent Ciattei (NikOTC) 3:39.02

(59.16 [59.16], 60.87 [2:00.03], 56.96 [2:56.99], 42.03);

11. Waleed Suliman (BrkB) 3:40.08

(59.28 [59.28], 60.54 [1:59.82], 57.28 [2:57.10], 42.98);

12. David Ribich (BrkB) 3:44.43

(58.69 [58.69], 61.20 [1:59.89], 57.46 [2:57.35], 47.08).

HEATS (June 24)

I–1. Hobbs Kessler (adi) 3:45.63; 2. Thompson 3:45.67; 3. Ribich 3:45.71; 4. Vincent Ciattei (NOTC) 3:45.77; 5. Paul Ryan (WaSt) 3:45.86; 6. Alexander 3:45.87; 7. Jack Salisbury (Gtn) 3:46.17; 8. Casey Comber (Vill) 3:46.25; 9. Ryan Adams (Furm) 3:46.65.

II–1. Hocker 3:39.72; 2. Suliman 3:39.92; 3. Engels 3:40.03; 4. Centrowitz 3:40.09; 5. Jack Yearian (Or) 3:40.19; 6. Eric Holt (EmpE) 3:40.50; 7. Talem Franco (BYU) 3:40.58; 8. Graham Crawford (ReebB) 3:40.68; 9. Dillon Maggard (Hoka) 3:40.93; 10. Robert Domanic (ReebB) 3:42.85.

III–1. Prakel 3:39.02; 2. Nuguse 3:39.09; 3. Wynne 3:39.10; 4. Avila 3:39.13; 5. Tripp Hurt (unat) 3:39.18; 6. Johnny Gregorek (Asics) 3:39.36; 7. Abdirizak Ibrahim (NM) 3:40.04; 8. Izaic Yorks (BrkB) 3:40.18; 9. Ben Blankenship (NikOTC) 3:42.46; 10. Abraham Alvarado (AtlTC) 3:47.88.

SEMIS (June 25)

I–1. Engels 3:38.56; 2. Nuguse 3:38.60; 3. Alexander 3:38.71; 4. Ciattei 3:38.74; 5. Ribich 3:38.75; 6. Suliman 3:38.78; 7. Avila 3:39.07; 8. Holt 3:39.83; 9. Yearian 3:41.00; 10. Yorks 3:42.58; 11. Ibrahim 3:43.45; 12. Crawford 3:54.40.

II–1. Centrowitz 3:42.96; 2. Hocker 3:43.00; 3. Thompson 3:43.61; 4. Wynne 3:43.77; 5. Prakel 3:43.82; 6. Gregorek 3:44.41; 7. Ryan 3:44.60; 8. Kessler 3:45.50; 9. Maggard 3:45.91; 10. Franco 3:46.37; 11. Blankenship 3:46.58; 12. Hurt 3:47.38.

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