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April 25, 2017

Everybody, please pay attention to the Drake Relays 1,500-meter races this weekend

Thanks to its infamous caucuses, Des Moines, Iowa, has come to serve as a stand-in for Middle America and the political values the nebulous region supposedly espouses.

Every four years, the mid-sized, Heartland city ceases to be an afterthought to the majority of the nation, and all eyes turn to Des Moines, trusting on its citizenry to dispense folksy, corn-shucking wisdom, even though the city’s largest employers are insurance companies and banks and stuff.

During Des Moines’ time to shine, United States presidential candidates—alternatively fleshy and cadaverous, but always horrible—congregate in sweaty, under-air-conditioned conference rooms and diners to press the flesh while pretending to give a shit. They wear hunting vests and say “y’all” and insist that yes, they eat sweet corn nightly to quell their sweet tooth. Then they leave.

Come November, after a victor has been determined by the electoral college, nobody projects what they imagine Iowans are like onto actual Iowans anymore. People simply ignore the place once more, until the next cycle.

But friends, our systematic erasure of Iowa comes at a cost. (It comes at many costs but this is a track blog so you can guess which cost I’m talking about.) That cost? We don’t give the Drake Relays enough credit.

And that’s especially troubling this year. Because both the men’s and women’s fields are truly exciting, and possess the possibility of producing the Year’s First Big One.

In 2017 thus far, the fastest time run by a dude for 1,500-meters is NCAA indoor mile champ Josh Kerr’s 3:35.99 from a few weekends ago. Behind him, only five other guys have run under 3:40. For the women, the current world leading mark is owned by Australia’s Linden Hall at 4:08.98. She’s the only woman in the world to have run under 4:10 this outdoor season.

And that’s not too surprising. Spring track is for the kids. We’re early enough in the cycle of things for a good chunk of the global top ten times in the middle distances to still belong to American collegians. But that changes this weekend, when the professionals descend on Des Moines to toe the line at Drake.

Here are the fields, with minimal commentary.

The Women

The women’s field is essentially the 1,500-meter final from the 2016 Olympic Trials, with a few exceptions, and one or two intriguing additions; it’s a race being officially dubbed the “Women’s 1,500 Meters Rio Olympic Rematch.” It’s practically a given that eight or more of the top times run in the world after this weekend will come from this race.

Name Country 1,500m PB Notes
Brenda Martinez USA 4:00.94 Last raced to a 5th place finish on the roads at Carlsbad, in 15:44
Jenny Simpson USA 3:57.22 Looked strong anchoring the NB women’s world record-setting indoor DMR this winter
Nikki Hamblin New Zealand 4:04.82 The New Zealand national record holder
Marta Freitas Portugal 4:06.54 2016 NCAA outdoor 1,500m champ
Shelby Houlihan USA 4:03.39 Won the mile and two-mile at this year’s USATF Indoor Champs
Alexa Efraimson USA 4:09.20 Ran 4:29.54 at Millrose
Amanda Eccleston USA 4:03.25 After a rough indoor season following injury, has gone 4:12.86
Nicole Sifuentes Canada 4:03.97 Canadian Olympian and indoor 1,500m CR-holder
Charlene Lipsey USA 4:18.16 Ran 4:30.13 and 1:58.64 indoor this year
Kate Grace USA 4:05.65 Ran 4:22.93 this indoor season
Kaela Edwards USA 4:13.63 Ran 4:28.75 indoor this year
Sara Vaughn USA 4:08.34 Ran 2:09.92 and 9:07.98 indoor this year
Sammy Watson USA 4:22.09 Went 2:01.78 this indoor season as a high schooler

The Men

And on the men’s side, we get to see what a very fit Clayton Murphy can do when faced with a respectable field. All eyes will be on him, and even if it’s not fair for him to be this big a favorite based only off recently demonstrated 800-meter speed, if one of the purer milers in the bunch wins most track nerds will call it an upset. If anybody in this field is going to challenge him it’ll be Gregorek (based on what we’ve seen recently) or Bayer (based on what he’s proven to be capable of).

Name Country 1,500m PB Notes
Leo Manzano USA 3:30.98 Hasn’t run well of late. Here’s hoping the one-time silver medalist has a few races left in the legs.
Hillary Bor USA 3:44.30 Olympian in the steeple; hasn’t put up up equivalent times w/o barriers
Clayton Murphy USA 3:36.23 The favorite coming in; ran a world leading 1:43.60 earlier this month
Andy Bayer USA 3:34.47 Hasn’t looked great in 2017 but could still be transitioning after leaving BTC
Johnny Gregorek USA 3:36.04 Ran 1:48.08 last weekend in Princeton; lowered mile PR to 3:53.15 this winter
Chad Noelle USA 3:38.35 Reigning Drake road mile champ
Lex Williams USA 3:38.77 Ran his PB at age 29 last year
Brendan Lasater USA 3:42.91 7th place finisher in the 1,000m at the 2017 USATF Indoor Champs
Daniel Herrera Mexico 3:39.66 Coming off a 3:45.62 season best this month
Eric Speakman New Zealand 3:37.44 Hoping to return to his 2016 form after a rough start to 2017
Edward Kemboi Kenya 3:39.02 Has run 1:46.47 this outdoor season


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