Molly Huddle wins 10,000m at USATF Outdoors for 27th national title

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Molly Huddle may now be a marathoner, but she’s still the class of the U.S. 10,000m field.

Huddle, the American record holder and two-time Olympian, won the national title in the 25-lap race for the fourth straight time, clocking 31 minutes, 52.32 seconds in Des Moines on Thursday night. Huddle owns 27 national titles between track and road races.

Lopez Lomong, the 2008 U.S. Olympic flag bearer who was among the Lost Boys of Sudan, surged past Shadrack Kipchirchir to win the 10,000m by 1.29 seconds in 28:58.38. Lomong, who ran the 1500m and 5000m at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was racing the 10,000m for the second time in his career. The field lacked eight-time U.S. champion Galen Rupp for the first time since 2006. Rupp is now focused on the marathon.

For Huddle, it was a much more pleasant experience than on April 16, when she finished 16th with hypothermia in the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. Huddle was to undergo a root canal the following day, then finished third at a 10K in Central Park on June 9.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be fit enough yet, but I’m glad that when I needed to pick it up, I could,” Huddle told media in Des Moines.

So Huddle entered the U.S. Championships having been beaten by countrywomen in her last two races. Before Boston, Huddle had been the top American in all of her road races the previous five years.

The 33-year-old led after every lap on Thursday and pulled away from Olympic teammate Marielle Hall at the bell, winning by 4.36 seconds. Gwen Jorgensen, the Rio Olympic triathlon champion transitioning to the marathon, finished seventh, 31.77 seconds behind.

“The goal is always to come in and try to win, and I don’t think I was in it for the win,” said Jorgensen, who gave birth to a son, Stanley, on Aug. 17. “I didn’t think I’d be running any track races.”

Huddle would normally be a contender for her first major international medal, but this is the only year in the Olympic cycle without a world championships or Olympics. Huddle plans to race marathons in the fall, next spring and at the 2020 Olympics, but wants to run the 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Thursday, the female headliner of the meet, Sydney McLaughlin, withdrew before the first round of the 400m after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

McLaughlin, who at 16 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. She ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 400m hurdles and No. 5 in the 400m.

All of the favorites advanced out of the 100m first round, including 200m world leader Noah Lyles, two-time Olympian Mike Rodgers (in 9.89 seconds, fastest time in the world this year) and Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker. World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are sitting out nationals.

The men’s and women’s 100m semifinals and finals are Friday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA has live coverage from 6-9 p.m. ET.

Defending 1500m champion Robby Andrews failed to qualify for Saturday’s final.

Keturah Orji and Tori Franklin traded meet records in the triple jump final, with Orji prevailing with a 14.59-meter leap to Franklin’s 14.52. Franklin holds the American record of 14.84 meters with Orji ranking No. 2 all-time.

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Five women’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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As always, there are Olympic champions competing at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships this week. There are world-record holders, too. But the woman with the most buzz this season has neither of those accolades. Or even a single U.S. title.

She is Sydney McLaughlin, an 18-year-old who just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. McLaughlin’s breakout came in 2016, when she became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, making the 400m semifinals.

McLaughlin dropped to sixth at the 2017 U.S. Championships in perhaps the greatest 400m hurdles race ever. While three women in one race went sub-53 for the first time, McLaughlin lowered her personal best by .21. Her star did not fade as she moved from New Jersey to Lexington.

This year in NCAA competition, McLaughlin lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles (all by more than a second). The 400m hurdles time, fastest in the world this year by nine tenths, would have won the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.

She now ranks Nos. 54, 26 and 5 all time in the U.S. in those events. Perhaps the woman who reached anywhere near that versatility was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who ranks No. 37 in the 200m and No. 43 in the 400m hurdles but never ran the 400m at her peak.

McLaughlin had her choice of events this week, and her decision might surprise. Five women’s events to watch in Des Moines:

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

10,000m (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold)
American record holder Molly Huddle eyes her fourth straight national title in the 25-lap race, but the more intriguing entrant is Gwen Jorgensen. The Olympic triathlon champion announced in November that she was switching to the marathon with the ultimate goal of gold in Tokyo. Jorgensen, a 32-year-old mom, has yet to announce her first marathon since the switch (though she was 14th in the 2016 NYC Marathon on triathlon training). In her first outdoor track race in eight years, Jorgensen set a personal best in the 10,000m on March 30 in a time that would have ranked eighth among Americans last year. Reason to believe that another strong effort on Thursday could confirm that she is ready for a fall marathon.

1500m (Final — Saturday, 4:46 p.m. ET, NBC)
A strong field is headlined by a rematch between Jenny Simpson and Shelby Houlihan. Simpson, an Olympic medalist and world champion in the 1500m, saw the Olympic 5000m runner Houlihan pass her in the final strides of the Pre Classic 1500m on May 26. Simpson eyes her fifth straight national title in the 1500m. Houlihan is also entered in Sunday’s 5000m. Other contenders include Olympians Brenda Martinez and Kate GraceSara Vaughn, the mother of three who made the 2017 Worlds team, and Alexa Efraimson, a former high school phenom who turned pro at age 17 in 2014.

400m (Final — Saturday, 5:08 p.m. ET, NBC)
Sydney McLaughlin chose not to race her trademark 400m hurdles this week. Instead, she takes on a burgeoning crops of one-lap sprinters in her first race since turning pro. There’s Kendall Ellis, who ran that incredible 4x400m anchor leg at the NCAA Championships. Shakima Wimbley, a 23-year-old who took third at the Pre Classic behind the Olympic and world champions. And Courtney Okolo, who entered the 2016 Olympic Trials as the fastest American for the year and NCAA champion (and finished sixth) and won the world indoor title on March 3. The last two world champions, Allyson Felix and Phyllis Francis, are not entered.

100m Hurdles (Final — Saturday, 5:52 p.m. ET, NBC)
The U.S. is so deep in this event that it’s one of the headline acts despite lacking the women who swept the Rio Olympic medals (Brianna McNeal, Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin). This field still has a world-record holder (Kendra Harrison, the favorite), an Olympic champion (Dawn Harper-Nelson from 2008 in her last nationals before retirement) and a world champion (Kori Carter, gold medalist in the 400m hurdles last year).

Pole Vault (Sunday, 2:55 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold)
So long an event dominated by one vaulter. Not so much anymore. Olympic champion Stacy Dragila won nine of 10 national titles between 1996 and 2005. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr won 10 of 11 between 2006 and 2016. Sandi Morris since ascended with Olympic and world silver medals, plus her first national title in 2017. Suhr, 36, considered retirement last year but came back and cleared a personal-best outdoor height on April 14 and broke the Pre Classic meet record on May 26. Morris was third at Pre after missing training due to injury, then won the next two Diamond League meets. But Suhr still has the top clearance in the world this season.

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Gwen Jorgensen leaves triathlon for marathon

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Gwen Jorgensen is leaving triathlon as the Olympic champion to pursue a gold medal in the marathon.

“It’s a huge risk to switch sports right now, when I’m arguably at the top and could make more money than I’ve ever made in triathlon,” the 31-year-old said. “However, I am motivated by a new challenge. Triathlon picked me, and now I’m picking marathon.”

Jorgensen, who announced the news on social media, accomplished everything she wanted in triathlon — Olympic and world titles and the longest winning streak since the sport was added to the Games in 2000.

Her new goal is to win a World Marathon Major like Boston, Chicago or New York City and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Her last race before her recent pregnancy was actually her marathon debut in New York City on Nov. 6, 2016. The former University of Wisconsin runner was 14th in 2 hours, 41 minutes, 1 second, more than 16 minutes behind the winner.

Jorgensen was disappointed.

She was also unprepared. Her buildup was triathlon training. Her longest run before toeing the line in Staten Island was 16 miles. The weekend before New York, she won a three-day triathlon stage race totaling 64 miles of swimming, biking and running in the Bahamas.

Jorgensen announced in January that she would take the entire 2017 triathlon season off to have a child. Stanley Lemieux was born Aug. 16. Jorgensen will figure out her 2018 race schedule once she is able to train at least 100 miles per week (she’s barely able to crack 30 miles two months after giving birth).

Few athletes leave at the top of their sport, in their prime, to pursue a different sport.

Michael Jordan is the notable exception, retiring from the NBA at age 30 in 1993 to try baseball after winning three straight NBA titles.

Jorgensen was just as dominant in triathlon. She won a record 13 straight top-level events — going undefeated for nearly two years — en route to becoming the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio.

Her original goal was to defend that title in Tokyo, but the last year brought changes. The New York City Marathon. A move to Portland, Ore. The pregnancy and her first child.

“My time away from triathlon allowed me to reflect and set new goals,” Jorgensen said. “My biggest passion has always been running out of swim/bike/run, and I also feel this isn’t the first big challenge I’ve had before.”

That’s true. Jorgensen didn’t know the difference between 1500m and a mile when she started running her junior year at Wisconsin after walking onto the Badgers swim team as a freshman. She became an NCAA All-American the following year.

She had never ridden a triathlon bike when USA Triathlon recruited her to the sport eight years ago, away from an Ernst & Young accounting job. She qualified for her first Olympics two years later.

“I’ve had a few different athletic pursuits that started out not so great and ended OK,” she said.

Jorgensen will miss the relationships she built in triathlon. Her coach, Jamie Turner of New Zealand. Her training group in Australia, the Wollongong Wizards.

But she is no longer motivated to continue in Olympic-distance triathlons. Other Olympians moved to Ironman triathlons, but Jorgensen always swore that off.

“The major reason I’m trying to do marathon is because I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in triathlon,” she said. “If I hadn’t gotten that gold [in Rio], it definitely would have been a failure. I remember going into the Olympics thinking if I get silver or bronze, it’s a failure.”

Jorgensen first mentioned to Turner that she had marathon ambitions about three years ago, but they were put aside until after Rio.

Now, after so many changes in the last year, come more. Jorgensen knows she must find a group training atmosphere to succeed, like what worked with Turner in Wollongong.

Other Olympic triathlon medalists have run marathons.

Swiss Nicola Spirig ran three between winning triathlon gold in 2012 (and giving birth to a boy in 2013) and silver in 2016. She clocked 2:37, 2:42 and 2:46.

Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes shared triathlon’s longest top-level international winning streak before Jorgensen strung together 13 wins in a row. After an Olympic silver in 2008, Fernandes left triathlon for good in 2011 and clocked a 2:31 marathon in 2015.

Jorgensen knows that she must drop about 15 minutes from her 2016 New York City Marathon time to be competitive on the world level.

“Which seems ridiculous, but at the same time, I think I can do it,” she said. “It’s risky, and I think some people can look at it and probably think I’m being silly. Actually, I have some family members who think I should stay in the sport of triathlon. But, for me, I’m really motivated right now by trying something new and doing this running thing and seeing if I can do it.”

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