Phoebe Wright tells me that, scoring cross country-style, top five on each team, The People Of The Glutes, i.e. spinters, won the Women’s World Championship Preview 800 Meters at the Drake Relays. Here’s the race video and results:
1 Ajee Wilson Adidas 2:00.03
2 Brenda Martinez New Balance 2:00.51
3 Phoebe Wright Nike 2:01.65
4 Molly Ludlow Unattached 2:01.72
5 Alysia Montano NYAC Asics 2:01.78
6 Shelby Houlihan SR Arizona Stat 2:02.03
7 Maggie Vessey Unattached 2:02.19
8 Sarah Brown New Balance 2:02.94
9 Chanelle Price Nike 2:03.15
10 Stephanie Brown Nike 2:03.68
11 Latavia Thomas HS International 2:03.81
12 Heather Kampf Asics 2:04.07
13 Morgan Uceny Adidas 2:05.20
Ok fine, so the sprint team of Wilson, Wright, Montano, Vessey and Price BARELY beat the endurance team of Martinez, Ludlow, Houlihan, Sarah Brown and Stephanie Brown. The endurance runners are just warming up.
Partisanship aside, this race was a delightful foretaste of the big fat feast the US is about to lay out in this distance. It’s early in the track season, the first race for many in this field, and Ajee Wilson and Brenda Martinez already set world bests for 2015 (previously held by Chanelle Price). That the Drake Relays could put together thirteen US women of this caliber and not include every top competitor speaks to US depth right now. Add Laura Roesler, Kate Grace, Mary Cain, and the inevitable high school girl who cleaves the air around the track between algebra and her orthodontic appointment, and you’ve got world-beating confidence heading into the World Championships this August, and the Olympics next year.
Since I was in situ in 51-degree and dripping Des Moines, here’s some up-close flava. In the warm-up area, the women had their games faces on, but still spoke with each other., breaking the tension with a quick joke. A drone was taking pictures of me as I took these pictures because I was so darn creepy and suspicious. Below, left to right, is Latavia Thomas, Brenda Martinez’s back, and Chanelle Price.
Above, Ajee Wilson waits for Phoebe Wright to get the hell out of the way. See the porta-potties? Professionalism means taking care of the details.
Warmup completed, from front, Latavia Thomas, Morgan Uceny, Shelby Houlihan and Heather Kampf head to the track. Nerves were on edge—twitching, jumping, shaking their legs, pumping their arms, crossing themselves.
Because the field was so large, they started in a double waterfall, with six women in the outer lanes and seven on the inner lanes farther back. Apparently there was an admin problem in which names did not match hip numbers. While the officials got it sorted out, the corrections didn’t make it to the commenter who announced that Shelby Houlihan was leading when it was, in fact, Ajee Wilson, and that Heather Kampf was in third when Phoebe Wright was in that spot.
They had no trouble correctly identifying Maggie Vessey, who won the swimsuit competition handsdown, accessorizing with equally enchanting gold chain earrings (were those David Yurman? Want.) As there was not enough uniform on which to stick her hip number, Vessey applied her number to her butt cheek. Future story idea: Look into amazing adhesive technology.
Thirteen people, all planning to “get out well,” means that probably there would be another body occupying that prime spot in the first lane. Alternate plans were affected, and while there were some cautionary elbows thrown and careful position shifting (Alysia Montano mentioned afterward that she ran the entire race out in lane two or three because of the crowd in lane one), civility reigned.
The extremely quiet Wilson (you’d never guess her outrageous potential from an interview) is nonetheless a confident, experienced racer who likes to run from the front, partly to give her long stride room to stretch. “I felt a little clipping on my heels,” she told me in the mixed zone after the race, “so, after indoors [where she was clipped and fell hard], I just wanted to stay out of trouble.” She popped out of the scrum within the first 100 meters and never relinquished the lead.
Other fast starters were there as expected—Chanelle Price, Latavia Thomas, Phoebe Wright and, surprisingly, Alysia Montano, in fourth, at 400 meters, hit in a modest 58.93 seconds. If this were not her first 800 in almost two years (baby Linnea is 8 months old), the narrative would have been, Montano with open track in front of her, through 400 in 56 seconds. I asked her afterward if she was just playing it safe in her reintroduction to racing.
“Safe? No, safe’s not my style,” said the voluble brick house with a flower in her hair. “I wanted to run conservatively, to get back into it and remember, Oh yeah, this is what racing feels like. I haven’t done any endurance yet. I just wanted to experience that feeling of going to the well. I’m really excited to be back, and happy with the 2:01.7. I felt like I had more left.”
With 300 meters to go, there were thirteen women experiencing what the 800 feels like, but they hadn’t made the big ask yet. That came on the final turn heading into the straight, when they all looked behind door number three and, huh, some were surprised, not in a good way, to find there was nothing there. But two happy contestants, Wilson and Brenda Martinez, found some blue flaming gas jets behind their doors and wasted no time in putting them to use. Whether Martinez’s normally devastating kick didn’t have its full wallop or Wilson is just that strong, or a little of column A and a little of column B, Wilson held onto her lead, and her typically impassive demeanor.
In the interest of moving things along, finishers were quickly ushered off the track stage right, down four steps into a charmless locker room under the stands with wooden benches and garbage cans, where the runners are reunited with their clothing and training shoes. The room is separated from the waiting media people by an inadequate cloth curtain. Breathless, laughing, talking loud and fast, the emotions held back during the race came pouring out. Way to go big mama! I must have punched six people in those first few steps! Hey, I’m just happy I didn’t fall. The talk was girl-friendly, relieved, bawdy.
Wilson sat by herself, quietly, taking off her spikes, and was one of the last to come through the curtain and face the gauntlet of reporters. Certainly, she’s reserved, but she’s also a 20-year-old college student, eight to ten years and a lifestyle removed from the other women in the field.
Some who were disappointed in their race, sailed past reporters, avoiding eye contact, getting the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Others practically burst through the curtain with a Tada!!! I’m looking at you, Phoebe Wright.
“This is the first time I’ve been happy after a race in...forever,” effused Wright, who held her third place position throughout the race. “I’ve been over-trained for three years, but this time, when I went to the well, I could feel the gears change. It was great! And [sotto voce] I think I got some Parcheesi.”
I didn’t get it.
“This will cover a week of pharmacy school tuition,” Wright said.
As I left the dank athlete recovery/media gauntlet mixed zone, already filled with the sweaty survivors of the next race, I glanced in and saw Latavia Thomas still retching over a garbage can. Just a preview of the World Championships.
photo credit: Getty Images and Sarah images