German Fernandez: Rising from the ashes?

Running is full of personal mantras that if espoused often enough, become universal truths. Two mantras that currently apply to German Fernandez are “Talent does not go away” and “You’re only as good as your last race.” The former quote provides hope for Fernandez fans while the latter casts a shadow of doubt over his future running career.

In his first three professional races under Nike and the Oregon Track Club, Fernandez has shown glimpses of hope, brilliance, and uncertainty. He opened his outdoor campaign towards the tail end of the season with a 3:40.71 clocking for 1500m in Antwerp on August 26th, followed by a personal best of 3:34.60 at the Berlin Meeting on September 7th, and concluding with a 7:53.61 run in Rieti on September 9th.

These three races exemplify the sentiments for the past, present, and future of Fernandez’ running career. He’s no Ebenezer Scrooge, but Antwerp is the Ghost of German’s Past, Berlin is the Ghost of German’s “Present”, and Rieti is the Ghost of German’s Future. To those critics who think that we will never see the lethal Fernandez again, I say “Bah, humbug.”


Hope and the Ghost of German’s Past

The 2008 high school outdoor track and field season was worth the 29-year wait for Fernandez. Many high school greats had attempted to break Jeff Nelson’s two-mile national record of 8:36.30, but none had succeeded until Fernandez. After a disappointing cross-country season where he saw a shocking defeat at the Footlocker National Cross-Country Championships, Fernandez took to track like a duck to water.

At the California State Track and Field Championships, Fernandez completed the greatest single-day double in high school distance running history. Not only did he run 4:00.29 for 1600m wire-to-wire by himself, he came back two hours later and ran 8:34.23 for 3200m. The Lukas Verzbicas two-day triple in 2011 (8:40.70 for two-miles/4:10.67 for the mile/14:06.78 for 5000m on the following day) or the Edward Cheserek double (4:06.4 for 1600m and 8:54.82 for 3200m) does not hold water to Fernandez’ double.

8:34 for 3200m on a double at the 2008 California State Track and Field Championship

After then breaking the two-mile record at the 2008 Nike Outdoor National Meet with a time of 8:34.40, Fernandez had solidified his position as the Chosen One. “[He] was supposed to bring balance to the [running] universe, not destroy it.” Well, “destroy it” may be a bit harsh, but feelings of caution should come with the rise of a young superstar. Look at the fabled career of Alan Webb – perhaps the bar was set too high for him to truly succeed.


Brilliance and the Ghost of German’s “Present”

Following one of the most successful high school seasons ever, Fernandez chose to attend Oklahoma State University. His impact on the team was almost immediate, as he won NCAA Pre-Nationals, became the Big 12 individual champion, won the USA Track and Field Junior Cross Country championships, placed 11th at the World Junior Cross Country Championships (the first non-African), and was poised to vie for a top three placing at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. However, Fernandez suffered an injury with 1500m to go in the race that forced him to drop out. The disappointment of dropping out did not change Fernandez’ demeanor as the indoor season was soon approaching.




Watch German Fernandez run the World Junior Record in the mile in 3:55.02

3:55.02 for the mile. No rabbit, in the midst of training, and he didn’t even have to run that fast as 4:00 would have scored the same amount of points at the Big 12 Championships. This wasn’t just the NCAA leading time or American junior record, but the World Junior Record in the mile. Fernandez also ran 7:47.97 for 3000m that would have also been a World junior record, but was disallowed because it was run on an oversized track. Again, The Chosen One was beginning to meet our expectations.

Anything less than NCAA titles and records would have been a disappointment for Fernandez during the 2009 outdoor track and field season. He became the NCAA 1500m champion as a true freshman with a wire-to-wire victory in 3:39.00 and set the American junior record for 5000m of 13:25.46 when he took fifth at the USA Track and Field Championships. It seemed that if his linear improvement continued, Fernandez would ascend from his status as a demi-god to a full-fledged God in the Pantheon of distance running.


Uncertainty and the Ghost of German’s Future

The rest of German’s collegiate running career did not go as planned. Hampered by injuries and self doubt, he never set personal records at 1500m or 5000m. While he did help lead OSU to the NCAA Cross Country National Team Championship, he never garnered another individual NCAA crown. Between 2009 and 2011, Fernandez posted bests of 3:44.18 for 1500m, 4:03.13 for the mile, and 7:51.02 for 3000m. While these times are nothing to scoff at, the bar of expectations does not go back down once it’s raised. Fernandez lacked his devastating kick that he would calmly display over the final 200m of any race.

Questions were raised over whether he should have gone professional after the 2009 outdoor season or whether he should have even selected Oklahoma State University. Unlike other NCAA sports, choosing to forgo one’s eligibility to sign a professional contract may not be the best decision in the running world.

Athletes benefit from the NCAA racing schedule by learning to run tactical races with competitors of equal ability. By leaving this system freshman year, such as Alan Webb chose to do after his freshman year at Michigan, he did not look as confident in preliminary rounds of international races. Others have greatly benefited from the NCAA, such as 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp, who has taken a long-term approach to developing his running ability.

Fernandez’ short professional career so far has been a mirror of his racing career. His 3:40.71 in Antwerp provided a small peek of the Fernandez kick we used to expect.

Although it was Indianapolis in June where Fernandez set a personal best for the first time in three years (3:37 just before the Olympic Trials), it was his first big international race in Germany that stated he was back.  At the Berlin Meeting German barely hung onto the early pace, but produced the fastest final lap of the entire field to finish seventh. If you look at the picture below, you can see how far back he had to come over the last 400m to even retain contact with the pack.

 

Following this performance, something magical was in store for his 3000m at Rieti. He had set a personal best in the 1500m while only doing strength training, so the 3k would be perfect for him to pop a big time. In a very weird race, Fernandez came undone and finished second to last with a time of 7:53.6. Well, the comeback party did not last very long. Was his race in Berlin a lucky one or is that the German we used to see?

Perhaps an even better comparison to these three races is not A Christmas Carol, but the original Star Wars trilogy. Antwerp is A New Hope because it exceeds expectations, but isn’t the best. Berlin is The Empire Strikes Back because it’s the finest of the trilogy. Lastly, Rieti is the Return of the Jedi because it’s good, but mediocre in comparison.

Pop culture and movies aside, German Fernandez is headed back in the right direction.

Craig Engels Is Off And Running In 2020 As Only He Can

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By itself, Craig Engels’ weekend in Boston was routine enough— the 2019 U.S. 1500m champion was tasked with pacing the men’s 5,000m on Friday night before racing the mile the next day. His training partners Paul Tanui and Eric Jenkins ultimately missed the 13:13.50 standard as Engels strained to get through 2600m— “I definitely underestimated what 4:12 pace felt like”, he said— and yet he came back on Saturday to win the mile in 3:56.85 on tired legs.

Nico Young To Chase American Junior 3k Record At Millrose Games

Nico Young will begin his final track and field season with quite the record attempt. 

Five Takeaways From The Weekend: Jessica Hull On The Rise

The 2020 track season got started in earnest over the weekend as droves of top professionals debuted and many impressive collegiate performances took place. Here were the takeaways from Boston, Albuquerque and New York:

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The 2020 track season got started in earnest over the weekend as droves of top professionals debuted and many impressive collegiate performances took place. Here were the takeaways from Boston, Albuquerque and New York:

Donavan Brazier Is Still In Monster Shape

At the risk of overanalyzing a season opener in an off distance, Donavan Brazier’s 1:14.39 600m in Boston on Saturday was further proof that the 2019 world champion remains in a league of his own among 800m runners. Although his competition at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix was overmatched as expected, Brazier hammered away alone to the second-fastest indoor 600m ever, behind only his 1:13.77 world best from 2019. And it was easy. So easy that the 22-year-old managed a shrug across the line as if to say sorry, not my best but it will have to do.

Just look at this gear change as he assumes control of the lead:

Word is that Brazier isn’t planning to run World Indoors this year, but his brief indoor campaign could still bring more fireworks as he next targets the Millrose Games 800m on Feb. 8. A lowering of his 1:44.41 indoor American record will be the expectation given his dazzling season opener.

A New Name Emerges In The NCAA Women’s 60m

Texas sophomore Julien Alfred wasn’t expected to be a contender in the women’s 60m dash this season after posting just a 7.36 best as freshman. But after running 7.10 (#6 NCAA all-time) over the weekend in Albuquerque, the St. Lucia native is in the thick of the title hunt. Just 18 years old, Alfred had a modest freshman season highlighted by a second place finish in the Big 12 100m. That’s why her defeat of reigning NCAA 60m champion Twanisha Terry is such a surprise.


Tyler Day Puts Edwin Kurgat On Notice With 13:16 5k In Boston

The race featuring Olympic silver medalist Paul Tanui and 13:05 man Eric Jenkins disappointed in that no one hit the 13:13.50 Olympic standard (Tanui won in 13:15), but the silver lining was the performance of Northern Arizona senior Tyler Day, who ran 13:16.95 to surpass Galen Rupp as the third-fastest collegiate all-time indoors. It’s not like the time was a total shock— Day ran 13:25 in May— but eclipsing arguably the greatest distance runner in U.S. history carries significantly more weight than simply a nine-second PB.

Naturally, the question now becomes whether Day can translate his stellar performance into an NCAA title in March. Although he’s a standout cross country and 10k runner, Day was just 13th in the 5,000m at NCAA indoors last year and then failed to qualify for nationals outdoors despite his 13:25 being the fastest mark of the season. A great time-trialer, but it remains to be seen if he can thrive in a championship 5k setting.


That, and the presence of 2019 NCAA XC champion Edwin Kurgat, will make winning in Albuquerque a tough task come March, but this just might be a different version of Day than we’ve seen before. He did push a 12:58 man to the line, after all. Add in NCAAs being held at 5300 ft. above sea level (he trains at 6900 ft.), and it would seem that Day has a real chance to avenge past shortcomings in the 5,000m this March.

BYU’s Whittni Orton Remains On A Tear

It will be interesting to see which events BYU star distance runner Whittni Orton competes in at NCAAs, as Orton secured another outstanding mark on Saturday (4:29.76 mile at Dr. Sander Invite) to go along with her 15:22.98 5k from December. Orton, who placed seventh at NCAA XC in November, continued her ascent over the weekend from solid collegiate runner to stud collegiate runner by finishing just a step behind 2019 World Championship finalist Nikki Hiltz and breaking the Cougar school record.

Orton has previously been a miler, so her running the mile-DMR double at NCAAs seems most likely. The 5k is also stacked with Katie Izzo (15:13 PB), Weini Kelati (15:14 PB) and defending champion Alicia Monson representing significant roadblocks. All three beat Orton at nationals in cross country. The mile could ultimately feature four-time NCAA champion Dani Jones, so it’s not like any path to the top will be easy. But Orton’s continued rise should make her a threat in any event that she chooses, and whichever route she takes will have a significant impact on the distance races at nationals.

Jessica Hull Might Be On The Cusp Of A Breakout

No performance at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday was more expertly crafted than Jessica Hull’s 4:04.14 1500m win, as the former NCAA champion let training partner Konstanze Klosterhalfen do all the work before cutting her down in the final 10 meters.

It is just one race, of course, but beating someone of the caliber of Klosterhalfen-- the 2019 World Championship 5k bronze medalist and 4:19 miler-- proves that Hull’s finishing speed is elite. The 23-year-old missed the 1500m World Championship final last October, but only after she ran a 4:01.80 PB. The type of form she showed in Boston indicates she could be a medal threat at March’s World Indoor Championships. 

Beyond that, it’s going to be tough to make serious noise in an event as deep as the women’s 1500m outdoors in just year two as a pro, but Saturday suggests that the best of Hull is yet to come.

Brazier Solos #2 All-Time 600m, Hull Kicks Down Klosterhalfen At NBIGP

(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Three Events To Watch At BU: Jenkins/Tanui/NAU 5k, Engels In The Mile

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The 2020 BU John Thomas Terrier Classic is this Friday and Saturday (Jan 24-25) in Boston and will be Live on FloTrack. A fast men's 5k and the season debut of Craig Engels in the mile are among the top events to watch this weekend:

Weekend Watch Guide: Fast Boston 5k, Elite Sprints In New Mexico

Several of the top distance runners and sprinters in the country will be on display this weekend on FloTrack as we stream two days of action at the BU John Thomas Terrier Classic in Boston and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Collegiate Invitational in Albuquerque this Friday and Saturday. U.S. Olympic hopeful Eric Jenkins and training partner Paul Tanui will chase the 13:13.50 Olympic 5k standard along with several NAU stars on Friday at BU, while reigning 60m hurdles world champion Keni Harrison will face 2019 NCAA champion Chanel Brissett in the hurdles at New Mexico on Saturday. That, and so much more, can be seen on our live slate Jan. 24 - 25:

As Trials Approach, Three Contenders Speak On State Of Shoes

As the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials rapidly draw near, tensions surrounding the fate of Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes are at an all-time high. Reports in recent weeks that World Athletics is set to ban the shoe have led to speculation of when a potential rule change would be made and what specifically the governing body seeks to outlaw. With less than 40 days until Atlanta, both action or inaction by World Athletics will be a major storyline in the race for Tokyo. 

Eight Sub-2:21 Women Set To Contest 2020 Boston Marathon

(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Houston Organizers Award 'Top U.S. Male' Prize Money To Two Runners

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The Houston Half Marathon organizers decided to award their "top U.S. male finisher" prize money ($2,000) to two athletes this year.

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The Houston Half Marathon organizers decided to award their "top U.S. male finisher" prize money ($2,000) to two athletes this year.

At first glance, the top American at the 2020 Houston Half Marathon appeared to be Jared Ward, who crossed the finish line first in 1:01:36. Finishing less than two seconds behind him was former BYU runner Nico Montanez, who currently trains with the Mammoth Track Club under Andrew Kastor.

Heading into this race, Montanez's resume (1:04:29 PB) wasn't enough for the elite field; therefore, he was relegated to the American Development Program field. As a result, Montanez had to start in the second corral behind the elites.

The initial results recorded Montanez's chip time as four seconds faster than his gun time. Nico confirmed in his post-race interview that he took about five seconds to get to the starting chip mat. 

Here's a screenshot of Montanez's splits after the race—his start time is set to 7:01 a.m. and 3 seconds (the time of day when he crossed the starting mat).

Because Montanez's chip time of 1:01:34 was faster than Ward's chip time of 1:01:36, the Houston organizers took a page out of the Boston Marathon's book and decided to award the 'top U.S. male' prize money to both Ward and Montanez.

Niiya Sets Japanese Record In Dominant Houston Half Performance

(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved