Bowerman Track Club spurs Hill to 3,000-meter victory
The Bowerman Track Club men knew the 3,000 was stacked with closers.
They also knew they wanted to win. And that pushing the pace fast, early, and together was their best shot against some of the most decorated distance athletes in one of the most anticipated races Friday evening at the U.S. indoor track and field championships in Portland, Oregon.
The BTC men took what they knew and led from gun to bell. Their own Ryan Hill out-kicked U.S. Army's Paul Chelimo to defend his national title and win in 7 minutes, 38.60 seconds, the fastest time run by an American and second fastest time in the world for 2016. Chelimo finished in 7:39.00.
"It's incredible. It's unreal," said Hill of training and racing with his BTC teammates, whose gutsy pace proved integral to his win. "It feels like an all-star team sometimes."
The race began just as BTC planned. Andy Bayer of BTC took the early lead, followed by teammates Hill, Lopez Lomong and Evan Jager. The 58.60 first 400 immediately caused the 16-runner field to string out.
Three-minutes in, the BTC quad along with Garrett Heath of Brooks increased the pace to break away from the main pack, leaving Nike's Eric Jenkins leading the chase pack.
It became a three-man race with three laps to go between Jager, Heath and Hill with Jenkins hunting them down from behind.
Hill made his final move to the front with a lap and a half to go.
But the chase pack caught up at the bell. And with it, a closer.
Hill looked up at the board one last time. "Garrett was gone and it was a new guy, it was Chelimo," said Hill.
"The finish was on fire, but I like it that way," said Chelimo, who had hovered toward the back of the pack most of the race.
Chelimo sped into second to challenge Hill with 100 meters to go, but couldn't match Hill's signature kick. He finished 0.4 second behind.
Well behind the BTC action ran the big question mark of the race: Galen Rupp. Barely four weeks removed from winning his debut marathon at the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles, he hovered toward the middle of the pack and finished eighth in 7:48.34.
Rupp admits he felt tired from the marathon and knew it would be a tall order to race so soon, but still thought he could have a chance. "I have no regrets," said Rupp. "I'm glad that I came back and at least gave it a shot; I would have hated myself if I had just bowed out."
Hill thought it was impressive that Rupp managed to finish. "Based on all the marathoners I've known," he said, "they're not ready a month after, so unfortunately we knew it was going to be really tough for him. I don't even know how he finished."
Chelimo finished in 7:39, followed by Jenkins in third in 7:41.19.
Outdoor 3,000-meter record holder and 41-year-old Bernard Lagat finished an impressive fourth in 7:41.25. The veteran runner offered his congratulations to the next generation, patting Chelimo on the back as he walked by the runner-up's post-race interview and saying, "Good job, young man."
Missing from the race were Matthew Centrowitz and Ben Blankenship, who both scratched.