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Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Huddle_Molly-WC17.JPGMolly Huddle, photo by PhotoRun.net

Infeld_Emily-WC17.JPGEmily Infeld, photo by PhotoRun.net

Sisson_Emily-WC17.JPGEmily Sisson, photo by PhotoRun.net

: USA 10,000m Threesome Performs Honorably, Gains Top 10 Finishes

August 5th, 2017

London, England

Let's be honest: Americans love their winners. While this can be said of all sports, it seems to ring especially true in track & field. Consider last year's Olympic Games when the women's sweep of the medals in the 100m hurdles final ignited coverage that was extensive and deep. But like all countries, the United States also participates in some events here in these world championships where its athletes, while most skilled and prepared to be sure, only have diminished chances to make the podium. This is not to denigrate these talented athletes. But sometimes the cold reality is a fair number of their global competitors are frankly, well, better.

This dichotomy - terrific American performances that don't translate into medal stand glory - is perhaps best evidenced by Molly Huddle and her outstanding race in last year's Olympic 10,000 meter final. The focus was on the battle that raged up front with Almaz Ayana grabbing the gold with her world record time of 29:17.45. But back up the track, running her own disciplined race, Huddle stuck with her race plan to clock a sparkling 30:13.17 to take down Shalane Flanagan's 8 year old American record - to finish 6th.

But that was then and this is now. And while no noise had been expected in tonight's women's 10,000 meter final from the talented American trio of Huddle, Emily Infeld, and Emily Sisson, one of them just might have been able to scrap and claw her way onto the podium. Impossible you say? The "impossible" happened 2 years ago in Beijing when the then lightly-touted Infeld closed with a vengeance to capture the world championship 10,000 meter bronze. Everything's impossible until it isn't. That's why they run the races.

 

And in the women's 10,000 meter final, 33 anxious athletes got underway beneath clear skies and cool conditions. Unlike the men's 10K final which was a firecracker from the gun, the early pace for the women was funereal. Portugal's Carla Rocha dragged the mob around the opening circuit in 81 seconds. And while Uzbekistan's Sitora Khamidova went to the front soon after, the tempo was still a trot when the bunched field passed 1600m in 5:29. No material pace change occurred until the 9th lap when Ayana, her patience exhausted, charged to the front. The Ethiopian's move was not a simple lead change. It was a powerful, decisive downshift that soon ended the race for the gold. Pulling away with a fluid cadence, Ayana left the best athletes in the world behind as she dropped the per kilometer race pace from a 3:15ish range to the low 2:50's and never let off the gas. Meanwhile, the American women stuck to their knitting back in the second chase pack, adhering to their pre-race game plan of running their own race and hoping to pick off dying competitors over the final kilometers.

Ayana_AlmazH1-WC17.JPGAlmaz Ayana, photo by PhotoRun.net

Ayana - who has run no races on the European circuit this summer - continued to fly onward. With a huge negative split, the Olympic champ raced the second half in 14:24.94 to cross the line in 30:16.32 - 46 seconds ahead of the rest of the field, the largest margin of victory in world championship history which allowed her to lap all but 3 of her 32 fellow competitors. Multiple time Olympic and World Championship medalist of all colors Tirunesh Dibaba recalibrated her expectations shortly after Ayana's killer mid-race move and ran for the silver - the medal she won with a powerful Dibaba-like close over the final lap that allowed her [31:02.69] to better Kenya's Agnes Tirop [31:03.50].

The medalists were over the line, but drama remained for the American athletes. Racing together - within meters of each other with 1200 meters to go - the trio began to execute their plan: moving through the mid-pack and reeling in faltering early leaders. Climbing into the top 10 over the closing circuits, the 3 Americans hit the final lap looking for more late-race kills. The spunky Infeld was the best, uncorking a zestful finish that propelled her across the line in a 31:20.24 PR which lifted her into 6th. Huddle, normally a strong finisher, struggled over the final 400 meters but held on to finish 8th in 31:24.78. And Sisson's encouraging 9th place debut - a 31:26.36 clocking - completed the American field.

While the USA placed no one on the medal stand, a crude application of cross-country scoring suggests that the USA women are climbing the ladder from respectability and edging toward global contender. With an aggregate placing total of 23 [6+8+9], the USA trailed only Kenya [3+4+7+23] and Ethiopia [1+2+14=17] in this unscientific ranking of nations.

The American threesome was upbeat and optimistic in the mixed zone. "Just jogging out onto the track, hearing the cheering of the crowd, it was just incredible. It was a moment of excitement and I was nervous," admitted Sisson, a world stage rookie. "I think I ran decently well. I thought 8th was like a realistic goal - so I was just off of it." In responding to an inquiry about the ascent of American women distance runners, Huddle's training partner proclaimed it is already happening. "I think, honestly, we have been raising the bar. Look at what everyone has done on the track and on the roads this year. Everyone is stepping up nicely. When one person steps up, it allows others to rise up to be competitive. So I think we are doing it."

Multiple-time Olympian Huddle - disadvantaged by a strain late in her training - acknowledged the special challenges facing the Americans in this 25 lap event. "I've been facing it my entire career. [In these global championships] I go out at a prescribed pace and hope to pick off late race stragglers at the end," explains the American record holder whose customary kick was MIA over the pivotal final 400. "I felt like I was running in mud the last 100." Notwithstanding her lingering discomfort, Huddle says she'll be ready for the 5000m later in these championships.

The irrepressible Infeld drew a big crowd as she held court with the media. "I think that three of us being in the top 10 is amazing," proclaimed the ebullient former Georgetown athlete who this year has side-stepped the multiple stress fractures that have hampered her over the past three years. "If - knock on wood - I can stay injury-free, I think I can keep progressing. I definitely know that I am faster than that race showed. I was hoping to blast my PR because I feel like I am in really good form. But the race didn't go out that way," she explains. "But I still got a PR by a couple of seconds. And to finish 6th in that field, I am really, really excited about that." Echoing the sentiments of her teammates, the former world championship bronze medalist sees the elevation of American women's distance running - inspired by past U.S. greats - as well underway. "I think it is already happening. We need to keep competing - it's huge. We need to just keep getting better each year. I think having people at that level to compete against in the U.S. makes us have to elevate our game. It's exciting. I do think Shalane [Flanagan] and Kara [Goucher] and Deena [Kastor] were the first ones to demonstrate that you can be competitive on the world stage and you can medal." After a short pause, Infeld adds, "In my mind, I want to be at that level."

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.