USATF Men’s Championships — Saturday Recap

Forget a stiff pace; if Matthew Centrowitz can use a 53.59 last lap to win the 1500, why not? (KEVIN MORRIS/PHOTORUN)

Des Moines, Iowa, June 23—Questioning an athlete’s ability or edge heading into a championship, even one without qualification incentives, is a dangerous game to play. Rio gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz brought a sharp focus to the 1500 final on Saturday. Showing he was ready and willing to quiet skeptics after a disappointing post-Olympic campaign, Centro reaffirmed himself as the U.S. middle distance king.

Centro settled into the pack, tucking in behind Sam Prakel and Drew Hunter through 400m in 63 seconds. The slow pace continued into the second lap, and Centro seemed content to drift to the back of the field. After splitting 2:07 at 800m, Centro swung wide down the backstretch as Nike OP teammate Craig Engels followed. Eric Jenkins led with 600 to go as the pace quickened heading into the bell.

Prakel took over with 350 to go, but Centro, his consummate racing skills sharp, was in close contact and had to work to stay with his fellow Oregon alum. With eyes on the finish line, Centro moved in the main straightaway. Izaic Yorks followed Centro over the last circuit and was the only threat as the finish neared. Centro held form and won USATF title No. 5, closing in 53.59 over the last lap.

Also seeking redemption, his after a tough NCAA 400 final, was Houston junior Kahmari Montgomery. Just 7th in Eugene after leading at 200m, Montgomery drew lane 7 in Saturday’s finale. ‘17 World Indoor silver medalist Michael Cherry grabbed an early lead before Paul Dedewo built a slight edge at the top of the homestretch. Montgomery stayed smooth over the last 50 meters, outlasting Dedewo’s 44.64 to run a PR

Looking to continue recent dominance was Olympic shot gold medalist Ryan Crouser. With wins in five of seven events outdoors in 2018 and owner of the second-best global toss on the year (73-11/22.53), little drama was expected in the ring at Drake Stadium. Unfortunately Crouser could not establish his footing, literally, fouling on 5 of 6 throws. A round 2 heave of 68-10½ (20.99) was the only throw that registered as legal. Reigning Diamond League champ Darrell Hill took advantage, locking up his first national title with a seasonal best of 70-9¼ (21.57) in round 5.

The vault showcased the continued excellence of Sam Kendricks, as the reigning world champ won his fifth straight title on a day where he cleared seven bars without a miss, topping out at 19-2¼ (5.80). North Dakota soph Chris Nilsen, the NCAA winner, was the only threat to Kendricks, clearing 19-¼ (5.80) on an afternoon where 10 of 23 contestants failed at the opening height of 17-10½ (5.45).

At the age of 35, Bershawn Jackson entered the blocks for his 14th(!) 400 hurdles final. “Batman” arrived in Des Moines as the fifth-fastest American of the year, while the list-leading NCAA champ Kenny Selmon lined up to his outside. At the gun, TJ Holmes took control and looked formidable down the backstretch where his lead was significant. Selmon moved at 120m and took over with 50 to go, winning his first US title in 48.21. Holmes took the runner-up spot in a seasonal best of 48.51, with Jackson finishing a respectable 4th.

In the javelin, Curtis Thompson gained top placing quickly. The Mississippi State grad launched the spear 244-7 (75.99) and 248-7 (75.77) on his first two throws to take and build his lead. Riley Dolezal’s seasonal best of 246-5 (75.10), also in the opening round, was the only mark that was close to Thompson early on. Capers Williamson hit 248-4 (75.71) in round 3 to secure a runner-up finish. Thompson ultimately stretched his lead with the best throw of the day (249-3/75.99) in round 4.

The opening round of the 200 (minus Noah Lyles, who indicated after his 100 title run he would not line up) saw many familiar names advancing safely. Defending champ Ameer Webb took heat I in 20.39, a mark that ended up being the fastest on the day. Justin Walker used a strong last 50 to win heat II in 20.53. Superstar Michael Norman ran a startling turn before easing to a heat III victory in 20.46.

Devon Allen ran the fastest time in the heats of the 110 hurdles. The Oregon alum’s time of 13.45 led notable qualifiers including WR holder Aries Merritt and NCAA champ Grant Holloway of Florida. □