USATF Women’s Championships — Saturday Recap

Shakima Wimbley’s 49.52 gave her a share of the yearly world lead and No. 7 on the all-time U.S. list. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Des Moines, Iowa, June 23—Shakima Wimbley arrived with a strong résumé but was somewhat out of the spotlight as upstart newcomers were scheduled to steal the show in the 400. When a scratch by Sydney McLaughlin made the anticipated clash with USC’s Kendall Ellis not possible, Wimbley, running for adidas, took advantage in Saturday’s final.

An imposing athlete standing 6-2 (1.88), Wimbley stunned the Drake Stadium crowd with a 49.52 that equaled the fastest global mark this year and made her the No. 7 American performer all time. Wimbley’s emergence was not a complete surprise. A World Championships gold medalist on the 4×4 in ’17, the 23-year-old Miami alum took the World Indoor 400 silver this year. Her victory did not come easily. Former NCAA greats Jessica Beard and Courtney Okolo moved early with Wimbley in tow. With 150 to go, Wimbley blasted off, exploding down the homestretch. Beard did not relent, running a lifetime best of 50.08. ‘18 NCAA runner up Kendall Ellis closed well to take 3rd in 50.37.

“I’m actually shocked,” said Wimbley, a ’17 Miami grad now training with coach Lance Brauman’s group in Clermont, Florida. “I just kind of shut my mind off and repeated to myself what my coach told me to do: ‘Get out, stay in it and bring it home.’ And that’s kind of what happened throughout the race. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m in good position and I feel good so let me just finish it.’

When she saw her time on the board, Wimbley admitted, “I was in total shock. You dream of that type of time, you put that type of time on your vision board, but you don’t expect it to happen so quickly. You know it’s my first year out of college so that was a far-fetched goal for me but I was hoping to run it trying out for Worlds or even at the Olympics, but to get it now, it’s amazing, I can’t really explain it.”

In what might be the deepest event of the meet, the 100 hurdles contested semis and finals on Saturday. WR holder Keni Harrison moved comfortably through the semis with a strong finish, as did ‘17 World fifth placer Christina Manning. Also advancing was multi-time global medalist Dawn Harper Nelson, competing in her last nationals before retirement.

In the final, Manning gained a narrow lead with Harrison close after three hurdles. Harrison took over in the second half with a very strong final 30 meters to finish in 12.46. Manning’s 12.65 held 2nd. Harper Nelson was 5th in 12.93.

The hammer began uneventfully, but that changed after three rounds. Deanna Price held a respectable lead after a first throw of 242-2 (73.81) but then fouled her next two attempts. She shifted gears after halfway, reaching the No. 6 distance in U.S. history, 250-6 (76.35) in round 4. That set up the big moment in the fifth stanza as she reclaimed the American Record from Gwen Berry, hitting 256-3 (78.12). She finished up with another all-time top-10er, 252-8 (77.01). Berry finished a distant 2nd with 239-5 (72.99).

Asked what she’s been doing right over the past month—in which she has now broken the AR twice with Berry raising it once in between—Price said, “Just connecting with the ball, making sure that every motion feels in unison, being able to push that ball in the correct form and capitalizing in meet situations.”

In this competition, “I was feeling a little frustrated because I didn’t feel as connected as usual,” she added. “But finally on that one throw, the fifth round, I connected and I knew it was a good throw. I was thinking, though, like 75 [meters], 76, and when it came up 78—I don’t even know the official measurement—I was immediately just very overjoyed, but I said, ‘OK, you’ve got one more throw to do. You’ve got to do your job,’ and I brought it out with another 77.” She now stands at No. 4 on the all-time world list.

The expected battle in the 1500 played out in classic fashion. Jenny Simpson and Shelby Houlihan, both with strong Iowa roots and crowded trophy cases, toed the line against a deep field. The first 800 had little activity, as Simpson and Houlihan ran near the back with Kate Grace and Brenda Martinez. All changes with 600 meter to go as Martinez and Simpson drove to the lead with Grace close behind. Houlihan ran wide with 500 to go, positioning herself behind the favorites at the bell. In the final lap, Grace made a big move and gapped the field down the backstretch. With 200 left and Simpson and Houlihan stepping on the gas, Martinez and Lauren Johnson collided, knocking both out of the race. Off the final turn Simpson moved briefly to the front, but seconds later Houlihan sealed the win with a 57.67 closing 400. Houlihan stopped the clock at 4:05.48 with Simpson at 4:06.21.

The steeple had rocketed into the headlines a year ago when Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went 1-2 at the World Championships. Both arrived at the starting line having shown good fitness this year. Near the end of three laps, Coburn moved to the lead with Frerichs close behind. With three laps to go, Megan Roland and Mel Lawrence joined the two leaders to form a group of four. At the bell Frerichs covered every move by Coburn and seems to close slightly off of the final water barrier. In the end Coburn’s patented strength was too much as she won her fifth straight title—and seventh overall—in 9:17.70. Frerichs finished in 9:18.69, and Lawrence set a PR 9:33.30 in 3rd.

Vashti Cunningham, owner of World Indoor gold and silver medals, cleared 6-4¾ (1.95) on her third attempt to repeat as national champion and raise her yearly U.S. outdoor lead. Cal alum Inika McPherson’s clearance of 6-3½ (1.92) gave her the runner up slot.

The long jump final standings saw the top five separated by just 6¼ inches. Sha’keela Saunders used a second round leap of 21-5½ (6.54) to win on a day full of varying winds. Quanesha Burks’s fifth-round jump edged Kendall Williams for 2nd, jumping 21-4¾ (6.52) to 21-3¼ (6.48).

The first round of the 200 set up a great final day of semis and the final on Sunday. Oregon’s Arianna Washington held off Iowa Hawkeye Brittany Brown to win heat I. Jenna Prandini accelerated quickly on the curve and cruised home in 22.48. Kimberlyn Duncan also started quickly and won heat III. Shania Collins crossed the line first in heat IV with ease, while Phyllis Francis unleashed impressive power over the last 60m to win heat V. □