Track Fest — 800 Battles And PR Rooks Steeple Win

USA steeple champion Kenneth Rooks returned to winning ways with an 8:15.08 personal best. (BILL LEUNG)

EAGLE ROCK, CALIFORNIA, May 11 — The 800s took center stage at the Sound Running Track Fest at LA’s Occidental College with Olympic veterans and hopefuls lining the start list. American Olympian Isaiah Jewett, Jamaican Navasky Anderson, Morocco’s Moad Zahafi and Mexico’s Jesús López headed the list, with Ghana’s Alex Amankwa, Kenya’s Noah Kibet and the USA’s Craig Engels and Cass Elliott (pace) rounding out the field.

A spot-on 50.83 by Elliot left López in front (51.59), with Zahafi, Jewett and Anderson in tow. Oddly, the order of the entire field would remain the same to the end. Lopez won in 1:44.71, followed by Zahafi (1:44.93), Jewett (1:45.28) and Anderson (1:45.29).

Keep in mind the Olympic qualifying standard is 1:44.70. Even though López ran that exact time in June of 2023, it happened 2 weeks before the qualifying window opened, so he still may have some work to do.

The steeple may not have been as loaded as the 2-lapper, but merited more than a mention. The field was headed by reigning U.S. champion Kenneth Rooks, who was ready to step it up after his disappointing 4th place at Mt. SAC. Also Americans Duncan Hamilton, Anthony Rotich and Brian Barraza. Special interest focused on American Record-holder Evan Jager, running his first steeple since August of ’22.

A steady diet of 66-second laps by pacer Daniel Michalski brought everyone through 2000 as prescribed and as they approached two laps to go, Rooks decided enough was enough. His 64.7 gave him a cushion over Japan’s Hideki Obara, Hamilton, John Gay of Canada, Rotich and Barraza. After a 61.63, Rooks found himself 15 meters ahead of Hamilton and 30 in front of the other chasers.

Rooks effortlessly extended his advantage and by the time he hit the home straight, he was 50 meters in front. He charged to the line, coming home in 60.17 (final 800 under 2:02) to cross in a U.S.-leading personal best 8:15.08.

Rotich put on a charge of his own and just edged Hamilton and Barraza at the line — their times 8:23.00, 8:23.02 and 8:23.05.

Jager — seeking to make his third Olympic team at 35 after recurrence of a foot injury kept him away from the barrier race entirely in ’23 — placed 8th in 8:33.19. He fell back over the second half of the race and told LetsRun, “I think a little bit of that is fitness and a little bit of that is just I need more reps over hurdles to kind of get that strength that you need for the steeple.”

The yeoman’s award went to Guatemala’s Luis Grijalva. The Northern Arizona grad had an impressive evening when he triumphed in section 2 of the 1500 with a 3:38.20–3:38.69 victory over fellow Lumberjack alum Theo Quax and steepler Matthew Wilkinson (3:39.18 PR).

Less than 2½ hours later Grijalva towed the line in the 5000 and took that race in 13:16.53, 3.84 seconds ahead of India’s Avinash Sable (13:20.37).

Grijalva confessed the double-duty was part of his grand scheme for the day. “More so like a workout semblance to it,” he said. “You know, I got hurt this fall, and I just kinda wanted to get more races since I didn’t have an indoor season. So, I think it was a good way to kinda break up training and get into some competitive fields that cause me to be tactically aware.”

Nikki Hiltz is in a training cycle that focuses on the Olympic Trials, and then the Paris Games. With that in mind, Hiltz, the defending national 1500 champion, was ready for some more speedwork at Jack Kemp Stadium, after having completed a 400/800 combo (54.40 PR/2:00.33) there the week prior. Another 800 was the perfect vehicle.

Hiltz would have to contend with fellow American 1500 contenders Heather MacLean and Emily Mackay, but also a gaggle of 800 specialists.

Pacesetter Lora Roff led all through 200 in 27.6 and came off the turn with Sadi Henderson a couple steps behind and Hiltz moving out to lane 3 to get in position at the bell. Roff covered 400 in 58.00 before moving aside to leave Henderson next in line at 58.83, followed by Hiltz, Mackay and Sammy Watson.

Hiltz and Mackay overtook Henderson down the backstretch and passed 600 in 1:29.9 from whence Hiltz launched her kick. As Mackay challenged Hiltz with 100 to go, McKenna Keegan and Watson made their move and were making up ground. But with 50 to go, Hiltz’s strength prevailed and she pulled away for a tight 2:00.46 victory over Mackay (2:00.85), Keegan (2:00.89) and Watson (2:00.92).

A satisfied Hiltz said afterwards, “Yeah, I just wanted to win. I really didn’t care how fast we went. It was just a lot of bodies to get around.

“It’s hard to pass on this track especially because it’s so circular. So, I knew if I beat anyone to the curve, I was gonna be hard to get around, especially with my last 50 being what it is. Yeah, I think I heard Emily coming, you know, it’s like ‘Oh no’, but yeah, it’s fun tactics.”

It was a win for Hiltz in the main program, but the best time of the day came a couple hours earlier in section 2. American sub-2 performers Olivia Baker and Brooke Feldmeier would be in hot company with Canadian Jazz Shukla, who brought a 2:00.23 best.

There was not a pacesetter in the race, but Baker took the field through 200 in 27.8, setting up Shukla, who led at 400 in 58.71 just ahead of Stanford alum Baker.

Shukla stretched it out down the back straight to gap the field and maintained her advantage all the way to the line, finishing in a PR 1:59.94.

Another fine performance was turned in by U.S. steeple champ Krissy Gear in the 1500. She cut more than 5 seconds off her best as she ran down and slipped past Lucia Stafford on the inside, edging the Canadian at the line for a 4:03.65–4:03.87 victory. India’s KM Deeksha set a new national record in 3rd with her 4:04.78.

Tokyo Olympic champion Sifan Hassan had no issues in the 5000 as she took command after 800 and ran solo from thereon to finish in 14:58.83 for a comfortable victory over Aussie Natalie Rune (15:07.00) and Great Britain’s Amy-Eloise Neale (15:07.38).

Valerie Constien stirred up the U.S. steeplechase picture in ’21, placing 2nd at the Trials and 12th in Tokyo. Last year in her DL debut in Doha, the Colorado alum landed badly off the water jump and tore her right ACL. Here she returned for the first time to the barrier race, taking the win with a dynamic finish in 9:27.22 over compatriots Kaylee Mitchell (9:29.26) and Gracie Hyde (9:31.07).


800: I–1. Jesús López (Mex) 1:44.71; 2. Mouad Zahafi (Mor) 1:44.93; 3. Isaiah Jewett (US) 1:45.28; 4. Navasky Anderson (Jam) 1:45.29; 5. Alex Botterill (GB) 1:45.63; 6. Alex Amankwah (Gha) 1:45.82; 7. Noah Kibet (Ken) 1:46.35; 8. Craig Engels (US) 1:47.05.

II–1. Abraham Alvarado (US) 1:46.38.

1500: I–1. Eduardo Herrera (Mex) 3:36.31 NR; 2. Justin Kipkoech (Ken) 3:37.29; 3. Kieran Tuntivate (Tha) 3:37.41 NR; 4. Cameron Proceviat (Can) 3:37.56; 5. David Ribich (US) 3:38.14; 6. Amon Kemboi (Ken) 3:38.60; 7. Brett Meyer (US) 3:39.11; 8. Paul Ryan (US) 3:39.45.

II–1. Luis Grijalva (Gua) 3:38.20; 2. Theo Quax (NZ) 3:38.69 PR; 3. Matthew Wilkinson (US) 3:39.18 PR; 4. Christian Noble (US) 3:39.34.

St: 1. Kenneth Rooks (US) 8:15.08 PR; 2. Anthony Rotich (US) 8:23.00; 3. Duncan Hamilton (US) 8:23.02; 4. Brian Barraza (US) 8:23.05; 5. Hibiki Obara (Jpn) 8:25.92 PR; 6. John Gay (Can) 8:30.46; 7. Jordan Macintosh (Can) 8:31.40; 8. Evan Jager (US) 8:33.19.

5000: 1. Luis Grijalva (Gua) 13:16.53; 2. Avinash Sable (Ind) 13:20.37; 3. Sam McEntee (Aus) 13:25.62; 4. Davor Aaron Bienenfeld (Ger) 13:28.94; 5. Gulveer Singh (Ind) 13:31.65; 6. Miguel Coca (US) 13:31.95 PR.

10,000: 1. Casey Clinger (US) 27:57.90 PR; 2. Kartik Kumar (Ind) 28:07.66; 3. Andrew Colley (US) 28:08.29 PR; 4. Afeworki Zeru (US) 28:09.26 PR; 5. Futsum Zienasellassie (US) 28:10.46; 6. Ryan Johnson (US) 28:17.66 PR; 7. Cole Sprout (US) 28:17.69.


800: I–1. Nikki Hiltz (US) 2:00.46; 2. Emily Mackay (US) 2:00.85; 3. McKenna Keegan (US) 2:00.89; 4. Sammy Watson (US) 2:00.92; 5. Heather MacLean (US) 2:02.28; 6. Hannah Segrave (GB) 2:02.57; 7. Brenna Detra (US) 2:03.43; 8. Sadi Henderson (US) 2:03.48.

II–1. Jazz Shukla (Can) 1:59.94 PR; 2. Alison Andrews-Paul (NZ) 2:02.11; 3. Kendra Coleman (US) 2:02.15; 4. Stephanie Brokaw (US) 2:03.20; 5. Brooke Feldmeier (US) 2:05.17.

III–1. Kassidy Johnson (US) 2:03.02; 2. Mallory Lindaman (US) 2:03.87; 3. Presley Weems (US) 2:04.45.

1500: I–1. Krissy Gear (US) 4:03.65 PR; 2. Lucia Stafford (Can) 4:03.87; 3. Km Deeksha (Ind) 4:04.78 NR; 4. Dorcus Ewoi (Ken) 4:05.60 PR; 5. Simone Plourde (Can) 4:05.92 PR; 6. Madie Boreman (US) 4:06.93 PR; 7. Christina Aragon (US) 4:07.53 PR; 8. Carina Viljoen (SA) 4:09.47; 9. Angel Piccirillo (US) 4:09.88; 10. Molly Sughroue (US) 4:11.47; 11. Danielle Aragon (US) 4:13.19; 12. Eleanor Fulton (US) 4:13.51.

II–1. Micaela Degenero (US) 4:08.23 PR; 2. Laurie Barton (US) 4:10.01; 3. Anna Gibson (US) 4:10.34; 4. Grace Barnett (US) 4:11.08; 5. Jenn Randall (US) 4:11.15; 6. Melissa Tanaka (US) 4:12.72.

St: 1. Val Constien (US) 9:27.22; 2. Kaylee Mitchell (US) 9:29.26; 3. Gracie Hyde (US) 9:31.07; 4. Allie Ostrander (US) 9:32.87; 5. Judi Jones (US) 9:41.00 PR; 6. Stella Radford (Aus) 9:41.11; 7. Grace Fetherstonhaugh (Can) 9:42.61.

5000: 1. Sifan Hassan (Neth) 14:58.83; 2. Natalie Rule (Aus) 15:07.00; 3. Amy-Eloise Neale (GB) 15:07.38; 4. Lea Meyer (Ger) 15:09.13; 5. Parul Chaudhary (Ind) 15:10.69; 6. Esther Gitahi (Ken) 15:10.70 PR; 7. Izzy Fry (GB) 15:11.17 PR; 8. Wuga He (Chn) 15:12.34; 9. Jenny Blundell (Aus) 15:19.14; 10. Ankita Dhiyani (Ind) 15:28.08 PR.

10,000: 1. Jessica Tonn (US) 31:35.28 PR; 2. Katrina Coogan (US) 31:37.85 PR; 3. Maggie Montoya (US) 31:54.34 PR; 4. Everlyn Kemboi (Ken) 32:15.63; 5. Jessica Gockley (US) 32:16.98 PR; 6. Xiuzhen Ma (Chn) 32:19.76; 7. Alyson Churchill (US) 32:20.70 PR; 8. Holly Campbell (Aus) 32:23.30; 9. Jacqueline Gaughan (US) 32:24.82 PR; 10. Carrie Verdon (US) 32:26.88; 11. Elena Hayday (US) 32:31.41 PR.

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