The Young and the Old at US Championships


By David Yon

Quite often the year after the Olympics track and field becomes almost invisible in the United States to all except the hard-core fans. This year, however, an eighteen-year-old former swimmer from Reston, Virginia has kept the spotlight on the sport for just a little bit longer. After smashing the magical four-minute barrier for the mile with his U.S. high school record 3:53.43, the kid with the big smile became the center of the universe of track and field at the 2001 USATF National Championships. The hype became so intense, that even the venerable ESPN Sports Center stopped everything long enough to show the finals of the 1500 meter race live on Saturday evening. And while he failed to make the team traveling to the World Championships in Edmonton later this year, he still provided us with quite a show, winning a heat and then finishing fifth in the finals with a time that was, I believe, the second fastest 1500m ever for a high school runner – 3:38.50. That is roughly equivalent to a 3:56 mile.

While the young got so much attention, it was a veteran who delivered the most impressive show of the weekend. Despite fighting a sore Achilles tendon, 37-year-old Regina Jacobs claimed three spots on the US team, winning the 1500 (4:06.12) and the 800 (200.43) and finishing second in the 5000 (15:10.78). It took five races – two 800’s, two 1500’s and a 5000 – to do it. We should not have been surprised – she is after all a 4-time Olympic-team qualifier (”88, ’92, ’96, ’00); 3-time Olympic Trials 1500m champion (’92, ’96, ’00); 2-time World 1500m silver medalist (’97, ’99); 1995 World Indoor 1500m champion; 9-time U.S. Outdoor 1500m champion (’87, ’89, ’92, ’94, ’97, ’96, ’97, ’99, ’00); 1999 U.S. 1500 & 5000 champion; 1999 World Indoor 3000 bronze medalist; 2-time USA Indoor Mile champion (’95, ’00), 1999 and 2001 U.S. Indoor 3000 champion.

In the 1500m race, Jacobs battled another American icon, Suzy Favor-Hamilton, to claim the title. On the last lap Favor-Hamilton took the lead and Jacobs followed right on her shoulder. They stayed that way until the last 100m stretch when Jacobs pulled away for the win. Favor-Hamilton, who seems to have bounced back from her Olympic injuries, claimed second with a time of 4:06.61. Sarah Schwald claimed the third spot with a 4:08.57. Schwald will have to improve to 4:07.0 to get an A qualifier and be eligible to run at the World Championships. In the 5000, Marla Runyan took the pace out early, running 71-second laps, as she was determined not to let it become just a kicker’s race. It was only Runyan’s third 5K ever and she closed with a 66 second last lap to break the meet record (15:18.71) and claim the title with a time of 15:08.03. Meanwhile Jacobs, who had fallen 40 meters behind Runyan in her third event, blasted an incredible 61-second last lap to claim second place with a 15:10.78. Elva Dyer grabbed the third spot, while Amy Rudolph took fourth and will have to wait to see if Jacobs decides to run the 5000 at the world championships. All four of them ran faster that the World Champs qualifying standard of 15:22.0. In the 800, Jacobs fought off the youngest of the Clark ladies (you may remember two sisters and a sister-in-law all qualified in this event for the Olympics last year) Hazel to claim the title in 2:00.43. Hazel Clark ran 2:01.15 to claim second, while Jennifer Toomey captured the third spot with a 2:01.28. No discussion of American distance running would be complete without including Deena Drossin. Drossin, who has battled an Achilles problem since before last year’s Olympics, was content to stay in the middle of the pack for a little over four miles. With seven laps to go though she began to put the hammer down and take control of the race. A series of 72-74 second laps ended the suspense and she went on the win in 32:05.14. Jen Rhines who PR in the 1500, 3000, 5000 and 10,000 during the year 2000 took second with a time of 32:20.03. Sylvia Mosqueda was just behind in third with a time of 32:25.22. She does not have an A standard, however and must run under 32:00 to run the Worlds.

Youth did prevail in the 1500m race, but it was an unexpected sprint to the finish by Andy Downin that captured the National title in a time of 3:37.63. Seneca Lassiter and Paul McMullen were the next two finishers. McMullen became a new father the Wednesday before his race. His story is very interesting. The former Eastern Michigan football player was the national champ in 1995 and seemingly on his way to great things. He finished tenth in the World Championships that year. Disaster struck in 1997 when he slipped and fell underneath a lawn mower. Parts of two toes were severed and his big toe was badly cut. The pieces of the severed toes were collected from his yard, but could not be reattached. He was able to run again the next year, but seemed to find himself injured as much as he was healthy. Things are definitely looking up for him now. Interestingly, he is now running for Alan Webb’s future coach Ron Warhurst at Michigan. Seneca Lassiter has the fastest PR in the 1500m at 3:33.72. All three need qualifying times (3:36.20) for the World Championships.

A veteran returned to claim his crown in the men’s 5000m race. Bob Kennedy had a tough year last year after being rear ende