By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom and David Monti @d9Monti
SACRAMENTO (29-Jun) -- The 2014 USA National Championships came to a fast conclusion here at Hornet Stadium, as three women dipped under the two-minute barrier for 800m, led by 20-year-old Ajee' Wilson. The Neptune, N.J., native claimed her first national outdoor crown with a time of 1:58.70, separating from recent University of Oregon graduate Laura Roesler in the final stretch.
Taking the lead from the start was Saucony's Molly Beckwith, who brought the field through a fast opening 400 meters in 57.75 seconds. Trailing Beckwith was IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Brenda Martinez, with Wilson a step behind. Sitting back in fifth was Roesler, the 800m NCAA Champion both indoors and out.
"I wanted to run fast," Beckwith told reporters. "I wanted them, if they were going to beat me, I wanted to run under two minutes."
Hearing the opening 400 meter split, Wilson was a surprised and a bit nervous. Yet, showing the acuity of an experienced racer, she quickly reassured herself.
"I'm like, 'OK, don't think about that, just go. You've got the strength, you've got the endurance for it, you've been working really hard on being able to come through and still keep going,'" said Wilson. "I just tuned out the time and decided to keep going."
Moving into the lead with 300 meters to go, Wilson made her claim for the win with authority. As soon as she went to the front, Roesler began a move of her own, surging from fifth to second in the span of 200 meters.
Rounding the final bend, Wilson was ready to unleash the same finishing kick that earned her titles at both the 2013 and 2014 USA Indoor Championships. Although Roesler put up a good fight, it was no match for Wilson's final gear, as the Temple University student powered home in 1:58.70. Roesler finished strong in second, breaking 2:00 for the first time with a 1:59.04 mark.
"I knew most of the girls in the race had a strong kick, but I used the big screen and looked up," said Wilson, referring to Hornet Stadium's video board. "I was peeking up and seeing how close people were. Yeah, luckily that was right there!"
For Roesler, the sub-2:00 clocking was very meaningful. She has not yet signed with a shoe company, though has partnered with Pace Sports Management, an athlete representation group led by Ricky Simms. Running 1:59.04 will likely open up more doors for potential endorsements and entries into European meets.
"I was pretty sure that no matter the race, I was going to run under two minutes today," she said. "This race might have thrown a little bit of a wrench in my plans in a good way. I'll just have to see."
Passing Brenda Martinez with less than 100 meters to go was Beckwith and Maggie Vessey, who finished third (1:59.04) and fourth (2:00.17), respectively. Martinez would come across fifth in 2:00.18.
"The girls are just tough. I just didn't have it the last 100," said Martinez, visibly frustrated and disappointed. "They just went around us and had more."
Solomon Repeats As Men's 800M Champion
In the men's two-lap contest, Duane Solomon was given strict orders by coach and American record holder Johnny Gray to hit splits of 49 seconds and 1:15 for 400 and 600 meters, respectively. The 2012 Olympian did just that, leading wire to wire to win his second straight national title in 1:44.30.
"I did exactly what I wanted to do and just tried to maintain the whole way through," said Solomon, sporting his gold medal. "The whole thing with me was just to do the pace coach wanted me to do."
Solomon's only challenge came from Casimir Loxsom, who hung tough through 400 meters before fading in the final lap. Finishing second in 1:45.97, Loxsom was thrilled with the silver medal.
"This is one of the best track and field moments of my career so far. I'm really happy with it," said Loxsom, a member of the Brooks Beasts.
Solomon and Loxsom's front running style helped the pair avoid a race-altering fall by Charles Jock. Roughly 250 meters into the race, Jock's feet tangled with another competitor, causing him to trip and crash to the track. The fall disrupted everyone but Solomon and Loxsom, creating a large gap between front and chase packs.
"It kind of sucks that I couldn't finish the race because of something out of my control," said Jock, who fell hard on his hip and shoulder. "Somebody clipped me from behind and I tried to stay up and I just couldn't get my balance."
"That's why I stay out in the front because anything can happen in the back. I knew there was some jostling back there. I could hear it," said Solomon.
Simpson Wins First National Outdoor 1500M Title
In the women's 1500m, two-time world championships medalist Jenny Simpson finally won her first USA outdoor 1500m title. Controlling the entire race, mostly from the front, Simpson got a clear victory over junior sensation Mary Cain, 4:04.96 to 4:06.34. Katie Mackey got third in 4:07.70, her first podium finish at a national track championships.
"First one, and it feels really, really good," a smiling Simpson told reporters.
Simpson had hoped that another athlete would take the race out hard, but when she saw that the early pace was soft, she decided simply to take over.
"When we went through the first 300, when I looked at the clock and I thought, this is slow," Simpson said. "No one really wanted to take it. So, I thought, everyone expects me to go to the front and I feel good doing that, and why not?"
Simpson got her biggest challenge from Cain, who got into good position behind her, but was simply too far back to mount a challenge in the homestretch.
"I was really trying to save it for more like the last 200, 100," Cain explained. "So, when she (Simpson) started to go, I just tried to stay on Katie as much as possible." She continued: "I think I gave her too much of a gap."
Simpson has now won a total of eight national titles since 2007 at 1500m (both indoors and outdoors), 3000m indoors, 5000m, and the steeplechase.
Third Straight Steeple Title For Jager
Like Simpson, Evan Jager was a heavy favorite in the men's 3000m steeplechase. But the Bowerman Track Club athlete, who came into today's meet as a two-time defending champion, got his biggest challenge from his training partner, Dan Huling, the 2010 national champion.
Five minutes into the race, Huling took the lead. Jager stayed close, then re-took the lead heading into the last lap. Huling hustled to catch him him on the backstretch, but ran into some trouble.
"Should have passed him with 220 to go," Huling lamented. "I had a bad barrier and an even worse water jump. So, I've got to figure that out."
Jager accelerated out of the final water jump, then sprinted the homestretch to win in a solid 8:18.83 to Huling's 8:19.73. Olympian Donn Cabral was a clear third in 8:20.04 over Cory Leslie (8:26.30).
"I knew going into this he was really fit," Jager said of Huling. "He's had two incredible races so far this year." He continued: "I was definitely looking out for him the whole race."
Jager, 25, is quickly developing into America's best-ever steeplechaser. In addition to his three national titles, he has the top-4 times ever run by an American, including the national record of 8:06.81. In the 2012 Olympic Games, he finished sixth, and he was fifth at last summer's IAAF World Championships.
When asked if he was in the best shape of his life, he responded: "Yeah, pretty close to it."
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The 2015 USA Outdoor Championships will be held at the Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene, as will the 2016 USA Olympic Trials.
PHOTO: Ajee' Wilson (r) leads Laura Roesler (center), Brenda Martinez (black top) and Molly Beckwith on her way to winning the 2014 USA Outdoor Championships 800m title in 1:58.70 (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)