A championship 1500 meters is very much like a Shakespearean play.
It’s long enough for tension to build to the climax of the final kick, yet short enough for fans to stay captivated as the drama unfolds.
Saturday’s 1500 meter final at the 2014 U.S. Track and Field Championships involved three protagonists in particular, each vying for the love and admiration of the crowd at Sacramento’s Hornet Stadium.
The master tactician
Few men know how to race like Leo Manzano — and that’s not just a claim, it’s a fact backed up by evidence. The Olympic medalist has finished in the top three in each of the last eight U.S. championship 1500 races.
“I just love to compete,” Manzano told reporters after the race. “I’ve never been able to hone the skills in paced races, but in the championships races I’m able to stick my nose in there and see what happens.”
The key to any great championship runner is knowing when to make moves — and when not to.
Manzano found himself badly boxed in fifth place at the bell but knew not to panic and eventually found the opening he needed with 250 meters to go.
From there, it was classic Manzano — swinging wide on the final homestretch to streak past Pat Casey to earn the Texan his second U.S. outdoor title.
The frontrunner’s mindset
Garrett Heath entered the final full of confidence after setting a 5000 meter personal best this spring and hoped to exhibit just how fit he was.
“I felt that my best opportunity to do well would be to make it an honest race,” Heath said.
Heath quickly took the lead despite conditions climbing into the high 80’s on Saturday in Sacramento’s Hornet Stadium.
“Everyone has to deal with the heat,” Heath commented about the weather.
Passing through 400 meters in 58 seconds and 800 meters in 2:00, Heath used the video scoreboard to scout the competition trailing behind him and soon began sensing the pack grouping up behind him.
Heath managed to hold off moves from 600 meters to 200 meters to go but just ran out of gas the last 100.
“It’s a disappointing way to end this year because I felt like I was ready to vie for the win,” Heath said. “I just have to get better.”
The untimely kicker
“Almost” is probably the best descriptor for the career of Will Leer.
The former Division III star out of Pomona College has found himself on the outside looking in of a host of World and Olympic teams and again found himself just missing the medal stand.
As frequently the case, positioning cost Leer a chance at a higher finish.
“I found myself boxed in with 400 meters to go and didn’t finish the way I wanted to,” Leer said. “It really stings.”
Leer ultimately finished in fourth place, just sixth-thousandths of a second behind third place man Lopez Lomong.