By Chris Lotsbom
(16-May) -- Organizers of the Portland Track Festival announced yesterday that four of the top female prep athletes in America are set to toe the line at the sixth annual meeting, held on June 7 and 8 at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. New Balance Nationals Indoors mile champion Elise Cranny, IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships competitors Katie Knight and Amy-Eloise Neale, as well as 1500m specialist Alexa Efraimson will all be racing.
Of the four, Cranny is the most notable --and surprising-- athlete to emerge in 2013. In roughly one year's time, the Niwot High School (Colorado) junior has gone from running a 5:02 mile to recording a 4:15.07 1500m personal best at the Payton Jordon Invitational last month. The latter result ranks her third on the all-time USA prep list.
Cranny first made her mark on the national stage at the New Balance Nationals Indoors meeting, the high school national championship for indoor track and field. There she defeated a strong field to take home the national title in the mile, timing a meet record of 4:40.62.
At New Balance Nationals, Cranny faced top competition for the first time. Sitting and kicking on the final stretch, Cranny shaved 18 seconds from her personal best, something she credited to the higher competition and coming down from altitude.
"I had no idea [I could run that fast]," she told Race Results Weekly moments after her win. "I knew, coming from altitude, that may give me a couple seconds. But I didn't think I was going to run 4:40 today at all."
Now, the 17-year-old is at the forefront of the national stage. Notably, she is coached by elite U.S. marathoner Jason Hartmann, the fourth place finisher and top American at both the 2012 and 2013 Boston Marathons. She will be racing the 1500m at the Portland Track Festival.
Over the last three years, Hartmann has seen Cranny develop in stages.
"She got really excited about the sport," Hartmann told RunnersWorld.com in April. "People look at what she's done right now and think she just got out of bed and ran that well. It's taken her three years to get to where she has."
"We're excited to watch her join our elite field and take aim at the national record," said Portland Track Festival Director Craig Rice in a statement.
Fellow prep standouts Knight and Neale --who will both enroll at the University of Washington this fall-- will also compete at the meet. The high school seniors from North Central and Glacier Peak High Schools, respectively, raced against one another at the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships in Poland this past March. There, Neale came out on top finishing 21st, while Knight placed 28th some 18 seconds behind.
Knight is set to race the 5000m in Portland, while Neale seeks to earn a birth onto the Great Britain Junior National Team in the 1500m or 3000m steeplechase. Neale is British citizen who moved to the United States with her family when she was a toddler; in Poland for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, she sported the Team GB vest.
Alexa Efraimson, a sophomore also from Washington, will race the 1500m. She is currently the third fastest prep girl at the distance this year.
"Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight have been the face of Washington state's distance dynasty since they were freshman. The PTF will be their last high school race together, but we'll also be seeing the ascendance of their successor, Alexa Efraimson, who will carry the Washington state tradition into the future," said Rice, the Meet Director.