Rain, Lightning Cut Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic Short

LOS ANGELES (14-May) — Hopes for world championships qualifying marks were washed away for many when tonight’s Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic at Occidental College here had to be cut short due to heavy rains, dangerous lightning and chilly temperatures.

The meeting –which was contested in typically dry Southern California conditions with 90-degree heat last year– was interrupted by officials at 8:04 p.m. as 14 men lined up for the second of three sections of the 1500m.  Rain began to fall heavily, combined with hail, and lightning flashed in the distance.  Officials pulled the athletes off of the track to wait for conditions to improve.  Athletes huddled shoulder to shoulder under white pop-up tents along the backstretch which were originally erected to protect them from the sun.

After more than one hour of waiting, the rain was still pouring down and lightning flashes became more frequent and closer to the Occidental campus.  At 9:19 p.m., officials said that the remainder of the meet was cancelled.  Two sections of the men’s 1500m, and both the men’s and women’s sections of the 5000m were scuttled.  Robby Andrews, Chris O’Hare, Nate Brannen, Brie Felnagle, Kara Goucher, Natasha Wodak, Galen Rupp, Lawi Lalang and Cam Levins were among the dozens of athletes who were not able to compete.

But before the meet was called off, the few hundred fans in attendance got to see several quality races, led by four very strong sections of the 800m.  On the men’s side, USA indoor 600m record holder Cas Loxsom held off a hard-charging Matthew Centrowitz in the first section to win in 1:46.23 to his rival’s 1:46.55, just off of the 1:46-flat IAAF World Championships “A” qualifying standard.  Charles Jock made a strong stretch run to get third in 1:46.55.

“Centro was right on me,” Loxsom told Race Results Weekly after catching his breath.  “It was great to have someone there to push me the last 400.  I just tried to stay as relaxed as I could on the homestretch, not break form.”

Ryan Martin won the second heat in 1:46.37 to post the second-fastest time of the night overall.

In the women’s two-lap race, the top two sections both played out dramatically.  In the first section, reigning IAAF World Indoor champion Chanelle Price held the lead with 200 meters to go, but four-time USA 1500m champion Treniere Moser got around Price on the outside in the homestretch to take the win in 2:01.67.  Price would fade to fourth in 2:01.99, beaten also by Olympian Geena Lara (2:01.87) and LaTavia Thomas (2:01.89).

“It was great,” said Moser who explained that her recent workouts focused on improving her finishing kick.  “We’re trying to perfect that.”

In the second section, 2011 world 1500m champion Jenny Simpson chased 800m specialist Maggie Vessey down the homestretch, but couldn’t quite catch her taller rival.  Vessey clocked 2:00.70, the fastest time of the night, to Simpson’s 2:00.79.  Both women bettered the IAAF World Championships  “A” qualifying mark of 2:01-flat.

“I’m trying to wrap my brain around racing again,” Simpson said of her opening outdoor performance this year.  “Last year, for me personally, was very much about times.  So, being able to step back from that and say, OK, we’re back in a championships year, racing is going to be really important.  So, I knew in an 800 I was going to be buried.”

None of the athletes who ran in the 1500m races made the world championships qualifying times of 4:06.50 for women and 3:36.20 for men.  The women came the closest when Katie Mackey won the first section in 4:07.51, just holding off Gabe Grunewald in the final meters (4:07.67).  Mackey, who has the meet record of 4:04.60, thought that she competed well.

“It’s always a little trick to know when do you go,” said Mackey in her yellow and black Brooks uniform.  “It’s just something that you learn over time and racing 1500 after 1500.”  She continued: “I decided to go for it and see if I could hold on the last 150 and it worked out.  I felt really, really good.”

Only one section of the men’s 1500m was contested, and Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano –wearing a new one-piece Hoka One One uniform– bolted away from the field with 250 meters to go, and went on to win in 3:39.96.  Two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating was second (3:39.56).

In terms of producing world championships qualifying marks, the two steeplechase races did best.  Stephanie Garcia of Team New Balance ran away from the women’s field to win in 9:37.19, well under the 9:44.00 World Championships “A” standard.

“We wanted it to be a tactical race,” said Garcia who is coached by Robert Gary in the Furman Elite program in South Carolina.  “It went just as planned.”

Ashley Higginson (9:41.27) and Genevieve Lalonde (9:42.40) also made the world championships qualifying standard.  Nicole Bush, the 2013 USA steeplechase champion, fell into the water pit and finished well back from the leaders.

“I have no idea,” said Bush when asked why she had tripped over the water barrier.

In the men’s steeplechase, Canada’s Matt Hughes dominated the race, leading nearly every step to win in 8:25.54.  He was pushed in the homestretch by compatriot Taylor Milne who finished second in 8:25.72.  Travis Mahoney of the New Jersey-New York Track Club finished third in 8:27.08 and was the last man to get under the world championships qualifying standard of 8:28.00

“Canadian steeplechase is really strong right now,” commented Hughes, who represents Nike.  He continued: “It’s going to be a dogfight at nationals.”