Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz never doubted — and, based on post-race comments, other top American milers didn’t, either — but after a dreadful year that followed his Olympic breakthrough, and moving across the country, his fifth national title had unique significance.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC after winning the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.

“I wouldn’t say it was my best race since the Olympics, but it was a step in the right direction.”

Centrowitz regained best American miler status 55 minutes after Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight 1500m titles ended in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, won in typical fashion, moving toward the front on a 57-second penultimate lap and outkicking the field on the home stretch.

He crossed in 3:43.37, just .04 faster than his runner-up time a year ago and a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaik Yorks. Centrowitz, whose past celebrations included odes to Cam Newton and J.R. Smith, this time held his right hand to his ear to mimic a phone.

“I was calling 911,” Centrowitz said, “report a murder.”

It marked Centrowitz’s first win on this kind of stage since Rio. Last year, Centrowitz was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season due in part to adductor issues and an ER visit with a viral infection. It showed at nationals, where Olympic teammate Robby Andrews beat him. It was clearer at worlds, where a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat.

Centrowitz announced in January he relocated from Portland, Ore., to work with his dad, a former competitive runner, in the D.C. area but would still be coached from long distance by Alberto Salazar. Then at the Pre Classic last month, Centrowitz was not the top finishing American in the Bowerman Mile for the first time since 2013 (though he missed the meet in 2016 and 2017).

Didn’t matter Saturday. Other U.S. milers still deferred.

“When you get into these big races with Matt, it’s like when you get into a big race with [four-time Olympic gold medalist] Mo [Farah], these guys, you kind of let them do things that you wouldn’t let someone you know you’re better than get away with,” third-place finisher and Nike Oregon Project teammate Eric Jenkins said. “They do what they want. They get into position. They take what they want. It comes with being as good as they are.”

Andrews, bounced in the first round Thursday, texted Centrowitz congratulations. Centrowitz is now one U.S. title shy of Steve Scott‘s post-World War II record. That’s on his mind.

“At this point in my career, I want to keep checking off boxes to leave my mark in the 1500m in the U.S,” said Centrowitz, who personal best from 2015 of 3:30.40 makes him the third-fastest American all time behind Bernard Lagat and Sydney Maree.

With no world championships or Olympics this season, Centrowitz still has motivation. He would like to win a Diamond League race (no U.S. man has done so in the 1500m) and finish the year ranked No. 1 in the country.

“My dad always calls it the three Hs,” Centrowitz said. “I’ve got to be happy, healthy and hungry. …. Relatively speaking, I’ve been healthy since Jan. 1, and I was hungrier than ever today.”

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

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

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

In other events, Deanna Price took the American record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter hammer throw, the best in the world this year.

Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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Five men’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The featured men’s events at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships have a bit of everything.

Dominance from Olympic medalists Ryan Crouser (shot put) and Paul Chelimo (5000m). Promise in the form of Noah Lyles (100m), Michael Norman (200m) and Grant Holloway (110m hurdles). Overcoming adversity — Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) and Clayton Murphy (800m).

A Lyles-Norman showdown in the 200m would have enough spice to headline this meet on its own, but Lyles decided against the double. That enhances the likelihood that the biggest story in Des Moines could come from one of many events on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

There is no Olympic or world championships team to qualify for this year, which is why established stars like Justin GatlinChristian Coleman and LaShawn Merritt are out.

But their absences could yield the emergence of first-time national champions. Just look at 2014, when that list included Tianna BartolettaKori CarterJeff HendersonSam Kendricks and Joe Kovacs, all of whom have since won Olympic or world titles.

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

Five men’s events to watch this week:

100m (Final — Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBC Sports Gold)
World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are missing, but two more impressive sprinters this outdoor season go head-to-head. Noah Lyles, who finished fourth in the 200m at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18 and is since undefeated in that event, drops down for his first 100m at a major meet as a professional. Lyles has the joint-fastest 200m in the world this year. He chose the 100m this week for two reasons — he can improve more in the 100m than the 200m over three rounds and to try something different given his race schedule the rest of the summer is tailored for the 200m. Lyles is forgoing a matchup with Michael Norman in the 200m this week, but he should have his hands full with Ronnie Baker. Baker, who grew up running cross-country and avoiding the moose in Alaska, has been the most impressive American in the 100m this year. Baker beat a slightly injured Coleman at consecutive Diamond League meets in May and, with favorable wind, should improve on his personal best of 9.93 and overtake the fastest time in the world this year (Zharnel Hughes‘ 9.91). As should Lyles, who also has a personal best of 9.93.

Shot Put (Saturday, 3:45 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports Gold)
All four men from Rio and the 2017 Worlds are here, including Olympic gold and silver medalists Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs. Crouser, whose father, two uncles and two cousins were elite throwers, has won 13 of his last 14 head-to-heads with Kovacs, who was taught to throw by his mom in his Pennsylvania high-school parking lot. Crouser also won his last 13 of 14 head-to-heads with Rio Olympian Darrell Hill, according to Tilastopaja.org. Crouser also has the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws in 2018 competition, according to Tilastopaja.

1500m (Final — Saturday, 5:40 p.m. ET, NBC)
Is Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz vulnerable? He was upset at nationals last year by Robby Andrews. Centrowitz revealed afterward that he competed on 10 days of training after a series of health problems that included an emergency-room visit with a viral infection. Then at worlds, a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat and said he was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season. The 28-year-old heads into Des Moines ranked behind Andrews and Johnny Gregorek on best times this season. At last month’s Pre Classic, Centrowitz was beaten by a countryman (Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, not racing the 1500m this week) at a major race at Hayward Field for the first time in five years.

800m (Final — Sunday, 4:13 p.m. ET, NBC)
Maybe the deepest field at nationals. The six fastest Americans since the start of 2016 are here. Clayton Murphy took bronze at the Rio Olympics but withdrew during 2017 Nationals with sore hamstrings and missed worlds. Boris Berian went from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to winning the 2016 World Indoor title and placing second at the Olympic Trials. He didn’t race at all in 2017 (Achilles) and ranks 186th in the U.S. this year. Donavan Brazier won the 2017 U.S. title and 2018 U.S. Indoor title at age 20 but hasn’t raced outdoors this year. Drew Windle took silver at world indoors on March 3. NCAA champion Isaiah Harris and Erik Sowinski are the fastest Americans this outdoor season.

110m Hurdles (Final — Sunday, 5:52 p.m. ET, NBC)
An intergenerational group with 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt, 2016 Olympic Trials winner Devon Allen and Grant Holloway, a rising University of Florida junior who won all four NCAA hurdles titles his first two years and ranks second in the world this season. Merritt underwent a kidney transplant in 2015, then missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 and missed a national title in 2017 by .07 behind Aleec Harris (who is also in this field). Allen, the former University of Oregon wide receiver, looked primed to break 13 seconds after he won the trials in 13.03, but that remains his personal best. Holloway clocked his personal best of 13.15 on May 13 and is the only American to break 13.20 this year. It’s been nearly three years since an American broke 13 seconds, the longest drought in more than two decades.

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Christian Coleman beaten, Tori Bowie injured at Pre Classic

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American Ronnie Baker stunned world silver medalist Christian Coleman to win the Prefontaine Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.78 seconds on Saturday, while world champion Tori Bowie suffered a leg injury in the women’s 100m.

Coleman, in his first individual race of the outdoor season, was passed by Baker midway through and finished second in 9.84 in Eugene, Ore. Coleman was last year’s breakout sprinter, taking silver between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt in the last individual race of Bolt’s career and posting the fastest wind-legal time of the year (9.82).

Coleman said after Saturday’s race he was recovering from “tweaking something in my leg.” He withdrew from his scheduled season opener two weeks ago and, earlier this week, was scratched from running the 200m in addition to the 100m at Pre.

Baker also won the Pre 100m last year but was eliminated in the semifinals at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, failing to make the world championships team. Baker also exited in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Born in Louisville, Baker’s family moved to Alaska when he was 5. He ran cross-country in elementary school in Anchorage, avoiding the moose, before coming back to Kentucky in middle school. He was recruited to TCU in the 400m but went down to the 100m and 200m as a sophomore when the team was loaded with one-lap talent.

Gatlin was scheduled to race the Pre 100m but withdrew earlier this week with a reported right hamstring injury. Baker, Coleman and Gatlin could race each other at nationals in Des Moines next month.

With no Olympics or world outdoor championships this year, the Pre Classic is one of the premier meets, if not the greatest collection of talent. It’s also the last Pre before Hayward Field is demolished and rebuilt for 2020.

Bowie, who earned a medal of every color in Rio, was helped off the track by two officials after pulling up in the final meters of the women’s 100m. She said an upper leg muscle “grabbed pretty bad,” according to Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Ivorians Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Murielle Ahoure went one-two in 10.88 and 10.90, while Olympic champ Elaine Thompson was third in 10.98. Thompson, shockingly fifth at last year’s worlds, has now been beaten in both Diamond League 100m races this season.

PRE CLASSIC: Full Results

In other events, South African Caster Semenya extended her 800m winning streak to 23 meets dating to September 2015 by winning in her typical easy fashion in 1:55.92. Semenya, who led for the last 300 meters, clocked the fastest time ever on U.S. soil. She’s expected to be impacted by an IAAF rule limiting testosterone levels for female middle-distance runners scheduled to go into effect after this season.

Noah Lyles, a 20-year-old American on the rise, matched the fastest 200m in the world this year of 19.69, a personal best.

“I’m a little scared,” Lyles said on NBC. “I didn’t think I was going to run this fast this season. … I’m here to dominate.”

Olympic gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo won an Allyson Felix-less 400m in 49.52, the fastest time in the world this year. Felix, who withdrew from Pre for undisclosed reasons on Friday, is the only other woman to run that fast in the last three years.

Olympic and world triple jump champion Christian Taylor needed a final jump of 17.73 meters to overtake rival Will Claye.

Matthew Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champ in 108 years, finished sixth in the Bowerman Mile won by Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in 3:49.87.

The 2012 Olympic pole vault gold medalist Jenn Suhr won her first Diamond League event in five years, clearing 4.85 meters. Rio gold and silver medalists Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris were seventh and third.

Rio champ Ryan Crouser prevailed in a shot put competition that included every reigning Olympic and world medalist. Crouser broke the meet record with his fifth throw of 22.53 meters.

Olympic gold and silver medalists Consenslus Kipruto and Evan Jager were upset by Kenyan Benjamin Kigen in the 3000m steeplechase. Kigen, who has no Olympic or worlds experience, clocked 8:09.07, the fastest time in the world this year. Kipruto and Jager crossed together, 2.64 seconds later.

Jamaica’s Omar McLeod pulled away in the 110m hurdles, clocking a wind-aided 13.01 seconds. McLeod, the reigning Olympic and world champion, has only lost one 110m hurdles race since the start of 2017 (when he suffered a leg injury mid-race).

Olympic 400m hurdles champion Dalilah Muhammad was passed by Jamaican Janieve Russell in the final strides, getting edged by .03. Russell’s winning time of 54.06 is 1.31 seconds shy of the fastest time in the world held by Sydney McLaughlin, who is still in her NCAA season for Kentucky.

Shelby Houlihan, an Olympian in the 5000m, stunned Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson in the 1500m, surging in the home stretch and clocking 3:59.06, a personal best by 4.33 seconds. The race lacked Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon, who is sitting out this season due to pregnancy.

Elsewhere Saturday, the longest winning streak in the sport ended. Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk lost for the first time in nearly four years at a small meet in Germany in her first competition since Aug. 15, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The Diamond League moves to Rome for a meet Thursday with live coverage on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m