By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) Race Results Weekly, used with subscription
NEW YORK (06-Jul) -- The first Track Town Summer Series Final at Icahn Stadium here delivered a terrific fan experience, punctuated by compelling middle distance races which featured dramatic stretch runs and fast times. A crowd of 3800, many of whom stood on the outer lanes of the track during the 1500m races, roared with delight each time the athletes passed the grandstand. The runners were close enough to touch.
"The support I felt before the race, during the race, after the race: monumental," said Robby Andrews who competed in the 1500m and who had many family members and friends in the stadium. "It's really special to me right now."
It was Andrews who delivered one of the meet's best moments. The 26 year-old, who won the USA 1500m title 12 days ago in Sacramento, still needed to get the IAAF qualifying standard for his discipline (3:36.00) in order to lock in his berth on Team USA for next month's IAAF World Championships. He came ready to run, he said, after dropping out of the TrackTown Summer Series - Portland 1500m just three days ago.
"I needed an extra few days to reset, and really get ready to drive one home," said Andrews, who represented the San Francisco Surge here tonight.
With two laps to go, Andrews was sitting comfortably in fifth position behind pacemakers Joe McAsey and Daniel Winn, and contenders Johnny Gregorek, and Craig Engels. The pace was solid, and Andrews knew that 3:36 was within reach.
"I think at 800 I saw 1:55," Andrews recalled. "I knew even if we did a 60 (second lap) there, we'd be able to close."
At the bell, Winn stepped into the infield leaving Gregorek in the lead with Andrews, Engels and Ben Blankenship in hot pursuit. Gregorek led down the backstretch and poured it on in the last 200 meters. He knew that Andrews would be coming.
"I knew Robby has a crazy close, so I didn't quite know I had it," said Gregorek. "I knew I had a chance. With about 25 meters left I found that last gear. When Robby's coming up on your shoulder, that's a scary sight."
As the fans shouted encouragement, Andrews bolted down lane-two trying to catch Gregorek who was on the inside. Andrews fell just short of catching his rival, finishing second, but both men went under the IAAF standard with room to spare. Gregorek --who also qualified for the IAAF World Championships by virtue of his third place finish at the national championships-- clocked a personal best 3:35-flat to Andrews's 3:35.25. Blankenship got third in 3:35.29.
"It's been a wild week or so," an elated Andrews told reporters after taking a cool-down jog and posing for photos with friends and family. "TrackTown did an awesome job setting both races up. Super happy to come out here and have an awesome crowd." He added: "It means the world to me to have my family here."
The women's 1500m also came down to the final sprint. In a replay of the TrackTown Summer Series - San Francisco exactly one week ago in Palo Alto, Hannah Fields of the San Francisco Surge battled Amanda Eccleston of the Philadelphia Force for victory. In California, Fields passed Eccleston to get the win, but here the situation was reversed. Fields had the lead and Eccleston would first overtake Alexa Efraimson then Fields just before the line.
"Honestly, with about 150 to go they kind of started to have this tiny little pull-away, and I just thought, shoot, that might be it," Eccleston recounted. "Then you come on the homestretch and I'm like, no, I can't give up! I have to at least see if I can do it. I kind of surprised myself; I haven't had that last 50 all year."
Eccleston was clocked in 4:05.51 to Fields's 4:05.76 and Efraimson's 4:06.25. Fields, who is having a breakthrough season, was disappointed.
"I think it's a little different when you come down the straightaway leading," Fields told Race Results Weekly. "You have your eyes set on the finish line instead of on somebody else. I think it kind of played to my disadvantage."
In the men's 800m, Drew Windle of the Portland Pulse once again used a daring homestretch run to go from fourth to first inside of the final 50 meters and get the win in 1:44.63. He just nipped Chris Sowinski of the San Francisco Surge at the line, the man he passed for a World Championships team spot in Sacramento.
"You know, I've always liked that strategy, especially from an entertainment standpoint," Windle said of his closing sprint. "You know, it's a lot of fun to watch, and it's fun to do it."
Sowinski thought he had the win.
"I thought Drew was coming on the inside, so I tried to close that down, and he ended up being on the outside," lamented Sowinski. "He's had a heck of a finish all year."
Sanne Verstegen of the New York Empire won the women's 800m in 2:00.22
In other events, Stephanie Garcia of the New York Empire was the overall winner of the mixed, staggered 3000m where the women were given a 390m head-start over the men. That lead proved to be too great for even USA 5000m champion Paul Chelimo to overcome. Garcia had an 18-second lead over the men at the bell and won going away in 8:52.74, a personal best. Chelimo, representing the Portland Pulse, clocked 7:47.96.
"It was so exciting," a smiling Garcia told Race Results Weekly. "I don't think many people can say they've beaten Paul Chelimo, but I can. So, it's an extra special treat."
There was also a 5-kilometer road race, and Tommy Curtin (14:11.9) and Kim Conley (16:07.8), both representing the New York Empire, were victorious. Conley, who had a disappointing USA Championships, was happy to get the win.
"That was a lot of fun," said Conley. "I needed it coming off of USA's, having a rough weekend. It felt good to run to win."
In the all-important team scoring, the New York Empire reigned supreme with 200.5 points, followed by Portland (196.5), Philadelphia (189) and San Francisco (180). Each member of the winning team earned a $1000 bonus in addition to any individual prize money they won.
Great Middle Distance Races Highlight TrackTown Summer Series Final
By David Monti, @d9monti