USATF Women’s Championships — Thursday Recap

First-day field action was highlighted by Keturah Orji’s win in an epic TJ duel with Tori Franklin. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Des Moines, Iowa, June 21—Despite lacking the target of a global championship, strong fields and deep early rounds highlighted Day 1 at the USATF Championships. Conditions were favorable, and athletes took advantage of weather that featured temperatures in the 70s and brief showers that did not hinder the action at Drake Stadium.

Georgia Bulldog Keturah Orji powered to the triple jump championship—and a stadium record—in the fourth round, leaping 47-10½ (14.59), the No. 5 U.S. performance of all time. The American Record holder remains undefeated in her primary event on the year, as she extended her ’18 record against Tori Franklin—who took away her AR last month—to 3-0, and 8-0 all-time.

New AR holder Franklin kept Orji under pressure throughout. Franklin opened big at 47-6¼ (14.48), Orji pulled out her winner in the third frame, but then could not rest easy. Determined to contend, Franklin launched herself long in the last frame, maybe long enough to take it, aided by a 3.8mps wind, and Orji had to wait for the measurement. It was close but not enough: 47-7¾w (14.52).

The win lengthened Orji’s string of USATF titles to 3. “This one is a little bit better because I was definitely pushed to win it,” she said. “So I’m happy that I was able to respond to the competition.”

Kara Winger locked up her eighth national title in the javelin. The Purdue grad established an early lead, recording a first-round best of 186-7 (56.89) that would be good enough to win, but finished off the day with a list-leading 206-3 (62.88) on her final toss.

The 10K also saw a familiar face leading early. AR holder Molly Huddle took control from the gun and never relinquished the top spot. Though the pace was slow initially (16:52 at halfway), the 2-time defending champ held the rail with the Bowerman TC’s Marielle Hall staying close. A final 1600 of 4:39, including a finishing 64.5 circuit, gave Huddle the victory in a list-leading 31:52.32. The 33-year-old Saucony runner now owns 27 USATF national titles (track, roads & XC).

The discus final set up to be a Pac-12 territorial battle, and the competition played out as predicted. Stanford’s Valarie Allman and Arizona State’s Maggie Ewen arrived in Des Moines as the year’s top American throwers. Allman edged her NCAA conqueror with a fourth-round throw of 208-06 (63.55).

The preliminary track rounds featured veterans running with poise, collegians climbing the ranks, and one highly anticipated professional debut that will have to wait.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs easily advanced in the steeple. Middle-distance action featured deep fields in the 800 and 1500. Ce’Aira Brown posted the fastest 800 time on the day (2:01.38), with notables Ajee’ Wilson, Raven Rogers, Laura Roesler, and Charlene Lipsey also advancing in impressive fashion.

Jenny Simpson’s 4:07.67 heat I win was the fastest 1500 mark in the opening round, but the competition is stacked up behind her. Bowerman TC mates Shelby Houlihan and Kate Grace closed their final circuit together in 59.3s to take the top spots in heat III. Brenda Martinez navigated traffic in heat II, running to victory in 4:10.51

Five of the top seven qualifiers in the 100 are fresh off of the NCAA season. While San Diego State veteran Ashley Henderson’s 10.91w (3.0mps) in heat IV led the day, Aleia Hobbs of LSU ran a legal 10.97 (1.7).

The 400 set up to be a battle of two titans that had not squared off over one lap. Kendal Ellis of USC was slated to meet new pro Sydney McLaughlin, but the former Kentucky Wildcat was a scratch and did not see the track. Ellis was the third fastest qualifier as Courtney Okolo’s 51.39 was the fastest mark of the heats. □