Weissenbach wins women's 800m as blistering times set at Stanford meet
STANFORD, Calif. -- At a meet like the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, places mean little and times mean everything ... or so it would seem.
On Sunday, at the distance-running showcase at Cobb Track and Angell Field that marked the final home meet on Stanford's track and field season, the 18th annual meet lived up to that reputation thusly:
• Four world-leading times.
• Five meet records.
• Two stadium records.
• Thirteen World Championship 'A' standards.
The competition was so thick with running talent that the top-10 finishers in the men's 5,000 meters all were under the existing best time in the world this year. In the men's 10,000, the top three did the same.
Colorado's Emma Coburn, a 2012 Olympic finalist, broke meet and stadium records and hit the world 'A' standard while running the fastest time in the world this year in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase by eight seconds, in 9:28.26.
In the men's 5,000, Ben True beat a loaded field that included two American record-holders, an Olympic sixth-place finisher, four U.S. top-10 rankers, a two-time NCAA cross-country champion, and the American mile road-race champion. The former Dartmouth star outsprinted U.S. steeplechase champion Evan Jager to smash his personal record by seven seconds to win the meet's marquee race in 13:14.44.
Other world-leading times came from Canadian Matt Hughes in the men's steeplechase in a meet record 8:21.34, and Australian Ben St. Lawrence in the men's 10,000 (27:37.55). Other meet records were set by Treniere Moser in the women's 1,500 (4:06.40) and a pair of British hammer throwers -- Sophie Hitchon (a stadium record 231-5) and Mark Dry (241-11).
There was so much happening on the track that the meet's two 2012 Olympic gold medalists were afterthoughts. Decathlon world-record holder Ashton Eaton was third in the pole vault (16-0 3/4) and Britain's Alistair Brownlee, the men's triathlon champion at the London Games, was second in the second section of the 10,000 (28:32.48).
Those were the undeniable highlights of a meet that offered star power and a night of no-frills honest racing.
That's where Chris Miltenberg, Stanford's Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field, comes in. The first-year Cardinal head coach shrugged at the idea of fast times when it came to his athletes.
There's a difference. If you compete, he told them, the times will take care of themselves. So, that's what the Cardinal runners did. And the results were impressive:
• Four additions to the school top-10 lists.
• Three U.S. Championship 'A' standards and two 'B' standards.
• Eleven personal records by distance runners, and another by a thrower.
Stanford's signature highlight came from Amy Weissenbach. She won the women's 800 meters in 2:04.24 to break the school freshman record set by Regina Jacobs in 1982 (2:04.38) while achieving a U.S. 'A' standard and jumping to No. 2 on Stanford's all-time list.
With 200 meters to go, Weissenbach was pinned against the rail with no room to make a move.
"If there's one thing I've learned over the course of the season, it's always worse if I panic and try to shuffle around and waste a lot of energy with tiny moves that don't really do much," Weissenbach said. "So I had to trust that it would start to open up, and tried to relax until I saw an opening."
A glimmer of one appeared and Weissenbach swung sharply to the outside of Lane 2 to forge her way down the stretch. In the center of five stretched across the track, Weissenbach edged her way to the point and held her ground to the finish as the top-six runners finished within one second of each other.
"I'm really excited," Weissenbach said, glancing at a future that next will bring her to the Pac-12 Championships. "I've built a stronger endurance base than I ever had in high school. So, in terms of basic strength, I'm stronger than I've ever been."
Weissenbach shares the 800 with school-record holder Justine Fedronic, who left her comfort zone for a training run in the 'B' section of the 1,500. Fedronic carved nearly six seconds off her PR with a second-place 4:14.69 - moving her into the Stanford top-10 list at No. 7 with a U.S. Championships 'B' standard that she'll probably never use. After all, this is likely the final 1,500 in the collegiate career of the senior from nearby Belmont.
"Justine is phenom in practice," Weissenbach said. "She's awesome in training, always really aggressive. She holds me accountable, for sure. I can't slack off in workouts."
Perhaps the most anticipated event involving Stanford athletes was the men's 1,500. Michael Atchoo and Tyler Stutzman were making their first concerted effort at the distance since assembling a stellar indoor season that resulted in a 1-2 conference finish with twin sub-four miles, and two first-team indoor All-America honors. Atchoo broke the school indoor mile record with a 3:57.14 and Stutzman broke four minutes three times.
"I was pretty nervous," Atchoo said. "It was tough keeping myself composed. But once we started running, I started to feel better."
They took on Craig Miller, ranked No. 10 in the U.S. at this distance last year, as well as NCAA indoor mile record-holder Chris O'Hare, and a host of others.
For three laps, Stutzman and Atchoo were content to ride out the race in the back of the pack, but, all the while, they kept their focus on the race around them, ready to cover any move. It was Stutzman who made the effort first, turning it on at 250. However, he could not maintain the pace.
As Stutzman began to fade, Atchoo began to roll, closing fast to the finish in a personal-record 3:39.57 to finish fourth in the race and second among Americans. In fact, he and runner-up Riley Masters (3:38.79) of Oklahoma ran the fastest times by Americans and collegians this year.
Atchoo nosed into No. 9 on Stanford's all-time list, displacing Stutzman, who fell out of the top 10 despite running a personal best 3:40.43 for 10th place.
In the next race, Stanford's Jessica Tonn continued the Cardinal momentum, staying strong while picking off runners over the final laps of the second section of the 5,000. She ran a personal record 15:54.90, placing fifth while breaking into the school top-10 at No. 10.
One race later, it was Erik Olson's turn. He also earned a PR, with a 13:46.12 while placing seventh in the second section with a U.S. 'B' standard time. It was an eight-second improvement from his best at a February indoor meet, and an indication that Olson has made his way back from a series of injuries that hampered his cross-country campaign this past fall.
"The plan was to compete," Olson said. "I like that. Compete, rather than place.
"Coach Milt's been saying, 'You'll get your kick when it matters,' meaning in regionals and nationals. He's progressed me through injuries in cross country by keeping the pressure off and the miles low, and not taking time off. And now it's starting to pay off.
"My confidence has grown and my trust in him has grown, too."
And, somehow, the success of the Cardinal runners seems intertwined. They shared the same mantra -- to "compete" -- and their success built on each other.
"Stutz and Mike set the bar high," Olson said. "Us guys in the distances want to reach that same level."
At 11:36 p.m. local time, Mexico's Nora Leticia Jimenez crossed the finish line in 17th place -- last in the second and final section of the women's 10,000 meters -- and the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational was complete.
Those 11 hours and 36 minutes formed a meet that will have a lasting effect on those competitors. For some, like Japanese 10,000 runner Suguru Osako, it was a meet that will be remembered for his near-miss at a national record. He fell three seconds short, easing up in frustration over the final meters when he realized he would not achieve it.
But Stanford took a different approach: "Compete," the coach said. And the times did come.