Lipsey Moves Up In Distance; Engels Battles Tough Men's Field At Sir Walter

TASTY RACE: Mikey Brannigan Runs 3:57 Mile

In its fifth year, the Sir Walter Miler has become a fixture of the late-summer schedule in the United States. What began as a race for professionals who couldn’t get into the European circuit is now an elite race on its own. This year (perhaps because of the lack of global championships or because of the reputation accrued over the past four years) the fields set to race in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Friday night are better than they’ve ever been.

Watch the 2018 Sir Walter Miler Live On Flotrack

The men’s race features seven of the 13 finalists from the 1500m at this year’s U.S. Championships. It’s a field that is heavy on high-level experience, with five runners who have competed in the Olympics or World Championships—Craig Engels, Lopez Lomong, Johnny Gregorek, Ben Blankenship, and Hassan Mead. Engels was second in this race last year, one of only two runners returning from 2017, setting his outdoor personal best of 3:57.67 in the process. This indoor season he dropped a 3:53.93 and qualified for the World Indoor Championships where he finished seventh. 

Lomong’s days of focusing on the 1500m and mile are over, but the 33-year-old, two-time Olympian is remaining atop the U.S. in the longer distances. At June’s U.S. Championships, Lomong upset Shadrack Kipchirchir in the 10,000, giving Lomong his first U.S. title since 2010. Like Lomong, Mead is known more for his success at the longer distances. He made the Olympic team in the 5000m in 2016 and placed third in that same event at this year’s U.S. Championships. He’s only run the mile outdoors once (3:59.89), so he should be looking at a big personal best if he can remain with the lead group. 

Gregorek took a surprise 10th place at the 2017 World Championships. This year he’s been a bit quieter with a ninth-place finish at USAs and a season-best of 3:36.95. Blankenship always manages to be a factor whenever he races. The 2016 Olympian didn’t race at USAs this year but finished fifth at the World Indoor Championships in March. 

But the field goes beyond those five. Sam Prakel, the recent grad of the University of Oregon, is on a tear. Since the U.S. Championships, he’s been reeling off strong performances. He set a lifetime best in the 800m in Europe before winning his last three races in the mile. At the Morton Games in Dublin, he powered away from Lomong and the rest of the field to win in a lifetime best of 3:55.60. 

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Any discussion of Prakel, however, has to include Robert Domanic. Why? Because Domanic has managed to finish just ahead of Prakel on three occasions during the spring. When Prakel set a lifetime best of 3:36.84 at the Bryan Clay Invitational, Domanic was one place ahead in 3:36.33. When Prakel took sixth at the NCAA Championships, Domanic was fourth. At USAs, the pattern continued. Prakel ran a solid seventh after leading in the final lap, but Domanic caught him at the line to take fifth. 

Prakel and Domanic aren’t the only runners in the field coming off an NCAA season. 

Stanford grad Sean McGorty looks to continue to ride his hot hand. After winning the NCAA 5000m title in Eugene, McGorty went to Belgium and notched a huge personal best in the 1500m, running 3:36.61. After missing virtually all of 2017 with an injury he looks ready to launch himself into a successful professional career. 

Between the Olympians and the ascendent recent college grads, it might be easy to overlook Pat Casey. But he has as good a chance as anyone to take this race. He ran his season best in the 1500m at Oslo where he placed fifth in the Bislett Games. He took fourth at the U.S. Championships, the highest placing of anyone in the Sir Walter field. He’s run 3:52.62 in the mile—only Lomong has a faster lifetime best.

Eccelston Goes For The Repeat, Lipsey Poised For Fast Time

The women’s field doesn’t have the same amount of U.S. finalists from this year, but it will bring together a handful of the event’s best from the U.S. and Canada. The most interesting entrant is Charlene Lipsey. She’s more known for her exploits in the 800m, where she’s run 1:57 and qualified for the World Championships final. But she has dabbled in the longer distance, running a 4:04.98 in the 1500m this year and a 4:30.13 indoor mile in 2017. At USAs, she took fifth in the 800m. With solid pacing (the race is scheduled to go through 800m around 2:12), she’s poised for a big personal best. 

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Last year’s champion, Amanda Eccleston, is back to defend her title. Eccleston, like many of these women, didn’t advance to the finals at the U.S. Championships in the 1500m. Her personal bests of 4:03.25/4:25.64 put her among the top of the entry list. 

Her history in Raleigh has been a study in perseverance. She was runner-up in 2015 and 2016, before breaking through to win in 4:31.72 last year. 

2016 champion Lauren Johnson should be in the mix again. She’s the only member of the field to make the U.S. final in the 1500m this year. Johnson’s winning time from 2016, 4:25.04, is a meet record and personal best. All signs point to her being sharp again. Three weeks ago she set a personal best in the 800m, running 2:00.87. 

Canada will be represented by Nicole Sifuentes and Kate Van Buskirk. Sifuentes has personal bests of 4:03.97/4:27.69 and took bronze at the 2014 World Indoor Championships. This year, she placed second at the Canadian Championships. Van Buskirk was third in this race last year. In the indoor season, she qualified for the World Indoor Championships where she ran 4:09 in the 1500m. 

Cory McGee, Sarah Brown, Stephanie Garcia, Sara Vaughn all have a bevy of experience. Though she typically focuses on the steeplechase, Garcia won the 2015 edition of the race. Vaughn had a sensational 2017, qualifying for the World Championships and setting a 1500m personal best of 4:04.56.

Great Lakes Champ Aaron Bienenfeld To Skip NCAAs In Favor Of German Champs

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University of Cincinnati senior and 2019 DI NCAA Great Lakes XC Regional champion Aaron Bienenfeld has elected to skip next Saturday’s NCAA XC Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, in favor of the German U23 Cross Country Trials, according to his school’s athletic website.

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