The USATF Indoor Championships are upon us. We’ll have Paul Snyder, Stephen Kersh, Scott Olberding, Jeanne Mack and Jason Suarez on the ground in Albuquerque to bring you all the latest updates. You can follow along on Twitter @CitiusMag, Instagram @CitiusMag and Facebook.
We’ll cut to the chase and bring you our preview of the distance events for the weekend along with predictions by our staff and our fearless feline friend Malcolm.
Let us begin.
Men’s 1,000 meters
The men’s 1,000 meters, which we’ve discussed is one of the wackiest distances out there, pits Rio Olympic roommates Robby Andrews and Clayton Murphy against each other. Both started their careers as 800 meter specialists, but Andrews is a bit further along on his development into a 1,500 meter guy. Murphy is the Olympic bronze medalist in the 800. Andrews made the semi-final of the 1,500 meters and would’ve been a finalist had it not been for a DQ. Murphy has never raced the 1,000 indoors so this should be interesting considering his best race of the season was a second place finish in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games, outkicking freshly minted 3:52 guy Kyle Merber. He’s also run a more modest 1:47.22 for the 800 indoors. (A time that seems like a jog for a 1:42 guy.) His 1,000 meter experience does include a win over Matthew Centrowitz from last summer’s American Track League Meet in Houston.
Andrews hasn’t been as sharp as previous indoor seasons as he was narrowly beaten in a rust-buster by Sam Penzenstadler, but then won a mile over him and Andrew Wheating on Staten Island in 3:59. In their only head-to-head matchup of the season, Andrews took an “L” to Murphy in the Millrose Mile, so consider that for what you will.
Outside of the Olympians, you also can’t overlook Brannon Kidder, who came away with the victory in this event at the Millrose Games over training partner Cas Loxsom and American record holder David Torrence (who now runs for Peru).
Citius Mag pick: Clayton Murphy over Robby Andrews
Women’s 1,000 meters
Charlene Lipsey has been the biggest post-Olympics treat for U.S. middle distance running. She ran the second-fastest U.S. indoor 800 meter race with her 1:58.64 at the Millrose Games and also clocked a 4:30.13 mile at the Armory Track Invitational. She should be the overall favorite in this race but her biggest challenger will be high school sensation Sammy Watson, who broke Mary Decker’s 43-year-old high school record this season. Hannah Fields is entered with the fastest 1,000 time of 2:40.27 in her lone race of the season. She only raced once last summer so there isn’t a whole lot to base how good she can be when healthy recently so it’s nice to see a return to form. Lipsey just needs to hold on for 200 more meters than her marquee event, but as demonstrated by her 4:30 from this winter, she’s got the strength to do just that.
Citius Mag pick: Charlene Lipsey for the win.
Men’s 600 meters
Casimir Loxsom is the king of this distance and it’s been his bread and butter since his Penn State days. He won the national title in this event when the U.S. championships were held in Boston back in 2015. He’s gone from 1:15.33 to 1:14.91 for a new American record and indoor world best (there’s no such thing as the indoor 600m world record according to the IAAF).
Loxsom ran his world-best on his home soil at Penn State. He ran a world-leading time in Birmingham. The only blemish on the season was a loss to Kidder in the 1,000, which is why he’s probably not running it and because it’s confusing as heck and we can’t state that enough.
His 2015 world championship teammate, Erik Sowinski, was previously one of the stars of this distance after he shocked at Millrose a few years ago. He’s strung together a consistent indoor season with two 1:16 600’s and a slew of consistently quick 800m times: 1:46.96, 1:46.80, 1:46.84 and 1:46.85. However, he lost the head-to-head battle with Loxsom over 800 in Birmingham.
Some love for the young pups; Donavan Brazier has the fastest 800m personal best with his NCAA record-setting run last year in 1:43.55 but hasn’t been as explosive in his first indoor season as a professional. Chris Giesting, the former Notre Dame 400 meter specialist, has put his trust in coach Frank Gagliano to make him an 800 meter runner. He has a 1:16.10 personal best in the 600 and that’s the first step for his outdoor ambitions.
Citius Mag pick: King Casimir Loxsom of the 600.
Women’s 600 meters
The beauty of indoor track is the clash of titans in off-distances. We have the indoor 800m American record holder Ajee’ Wilson up against the NCAA outdoor 400m record holder Courtney Okolo. This will likely end up being a race between these two. Okolo set the American indoor 500m record of 1:07.34 at the Millrose Games and Wilson was not going to be overshadowed with her own American indoor record of 1:58.27 in the 800. It’s February and Wilson is already running in the 1:58s. In the 600, Wilson and Okolo are only separated by .73 seconds with 1:24.48 and 1:25.21 personal bests respectively. Alysia Montano remains the American record holder with her 1:23.59 but if you recall her race-style, she goes all-out and hangs on for dear life. In this case, we have someone like Okolo who can push it for the first 400 meters at a quick pace and then Ajee’ Wilson who has the strength to maybe hang on for the ride and then close hard. Yo, Olga Kotyarova. If you’re still in Russia, you might wanna tune in for this one in case that 1:23.44 world best might fall.
Citius Mag pick: Ajee Wilson’ over Courtney Okolo
If there’s any event on the middle-distance/distance side of things we’d bill as the headliner, it’s this one. Other events may possess more star power, but a quick perusal of the declared entries for the men’s mile reveals that there are realistically eight or so dudes who could win the damn thing. Ben Blankenship and Garrett Heath are both declared for the mile and two-mile, so it’s possible they’ll scratch from this one, but even if they do, you’re still looking at Kyle Merber (3:52.22 last weekend), Johnny Gregorek (3:53.15 in that same race), Christian Soratos (3:54.23 in the “slow” heat at Millrose), Ford Palmer (3:54.92 with an untied shoe, not to beat a dead horse), plus Olympians Evan Jager, Lopez Lomong and Robby Andrews (who could scratch in favor of the 1,000m). Any of these men winning wouldn’t be a surprise and for those who enjoy redemption stories, Leo Manzano hasn’t run well this indoor season, but has been added to the field as well. Momentum is on the side of the NJ-NY fellas, Soratos looks very fit but is a bit of an unknown, and the BTC boys have looked solid (Jager especially) this season.
Given the altitude, expect a slower race decided on a kick; thus giving the edge to those who’ve looked sharp recently and who are also known closers: the intersection of those two groups says smart money’s on Merber, Gregorek, or Jager.
Citius Mag pick: NJ-NY Boys over the field
While the men’s mile has eight or so guys we could see winning, the women’s has just six. Because there will be just six women in the field: Shelby Houlihan, Colleen Quigley, Heather Kampf, Alexa Efraimson, Cory McGee and Eleanor Fulton. Kampf and Houlihan are also declared for the two-mile, so in an alternate reality, we could see a race in which just one woman misses out on a podium finish. Regardless of the size of the field, the two BTC women have run four seconds faster than anyone else they’ll be facing, so it’ll likely come down to to a sprint finish between Houlihan and Quigley, or just Quigley if Houlihan opts for only the two-mile.
Citius Mag pick: Bowerman Track Club women over the field
The two-mile’s not quite as laden with big names as the mile but it should still make for a solid race. Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo ought to be considered the favorite. He’s run 7:42.39 for 3,000 meters already this indoor season plus he trains at altitude in Colorado Springs. But, he’ll have to topple Bowerman Boys Ryan Hill and Woody Kincaid, who just PR’d in a big way at the BU Last Chance meet. Kincaid lowered his 5,000m best to 13:12.22 in the same race that saw Hill go 13:07.61. Other guys like Ben Blankenship or Garrett Heath could be factors. Realistically, if you’re an Olympic medalist and your last race saw you beating a very-fit Eric Jenkins by two seconds (Jenkins won the Wanamaker mile in 3:52.23 and went 13:05.85 at BU), this is your race to lose. Let’s see if Carl’s cat can be proven wrong and if Chelimo can continue to make good on his 2017 resolution to not lose a race.
Citius Mag pick: Paul Chelimo over Ryan Hill
If Houlihan runs, then it’s her race to lose. If she doesn’t things then become more open-ended and ultimately, more interesting. Kampf, Sara Sutherland, Emily Lipari, and Katie Mackey are all in this race, have all put up solid times and all have great closing speed over long distances. Most specialize in shorter events. Of the non-Houlihan favorites, Sutherland trains in Boulder, so in theory she should be best adapted to running hard at elevation. But Mackey’s run 15:04.74 for 5,000m, which is tough to beat. In a Houlihan-less race, she’s the likely favorite, but it should be a close one.
Malcolm’s pick: The field over Shelby Houlihan
Citius Mag pick: Shelby Houlihan over the field