Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: when Kimbia athletes showed their class

It was a year to remember, that’s for sure. Whether on the road or track, from the middle distance speedsters to the heroines of the marathon, 2017 will live long in the memory for Kimbia’s athletes.

There is no other place to start, of course, than at the finish. In November Shalane Flanagan ended a 40-year drought for American women at the TCS New York City Marathon, the 36-year-old claiming an historic victory in 2:26:53 to defeat the world’s best marathoner in Mary Keitany.

After a slow early pace, the Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete bided her time in the pack as a large group passed halfway in 1:16:18. Only in the final three miles did Flanagan make her move, surging to the front and dropping a 5:08 mile to escape from Keitany and Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia.

From there she never let up, extending her advantage all the way to the finish to claim her first victory in an Abbott World Marathon Major, which proved all the sweeter after being forced to withdraw from Boston earlier this  year with injury.

“About nine months ago I was heartbroken about not getting to race in Boston and it hurt quite a bit,” said Flanagan, “but I kept telling myself there’d be delayed gratification and a moment down the road that made up for it.

“I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl.”

But that wasn’t the only heroics by a Kimbia athlete this year over the 26.2-mile distance. In August Flanagan’s teammate at the Bowerman Track Club, Amy Cragg, produced the performance of her life to win the bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the IAAF World Championships in London.

The 33-year-old unleashed a storming finish to get among the medals, very nearly taking second as she crossed the line in 2:27:18, the same time as silver medallist Edna Kiplagat. Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo took victory in 2:27:11.

“It feels amazing,” said Cragg after. “I can’t even believe it.”

The early pace had been slow, but Cragg began to whittle the leading pack with a move just before the 20-mile mark. She had vocal encouragement along the route from coach Jerry Schumacher and husband Alistair, among others.

“It was really painful, but it was worth every little bit of pain,” she said. “It was just a grind to the finish.”

Also enjoying a breakthrough performance in London was Courtney Frerichs, who unleashed a stunning run in the women’s 3000m steeplechase final to claim a historic silver medal, the 24-year-old from Missouri running a huge personal best of 9:03.77 to come home behind teammate Emma Coburn, who clocked an American record of 9:02.58 to take gold.

“Someone might need to pinch me,” Frerichs said. “It was complete shock. None of us expected this.”

Frerichs admitted afterwards she had been inspired by her teammates at the Bowerman Track Club, Amy Cragg and Evan Jager, who also took home medals for the U.S.

“Seeing Amy find that level of grit and toughness, I told myself I wanted that level, to have that moment,” she said. “Seeing Evan too, he really went for it and put it all out there, so to see them do that gave me motivation that I can do it too.”

Which brings us to that men’s steeplechase final, where Evan Jager became the first US man to win a medal in the steeplechase at the World Championships, the 28-year-old Illinois native coming home third in 8:15.33 in a race won by Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya. It was a measure of his caliber that he was unhappy with bronze.

“I’m a little disappointed I didn’t come away with the win but happy I stayed in the top three and got a medal,” Jager said afterward. “I’m a little bummed.”

Jager enjoyted another spectacular season overall, clocking a lightning-quick 8:01.29 to take his first victory in an IAAF Diamond League in Monaco in late July.

There was heartbreak, however, for Colleen Quigley, who cruised to automatic qualification in the first heat of the  women’s 3000m steeplechase in London but was disqualified for stepping on the inside line as she entered the home stretch with 500m to run. However, Quigley nonetheless enjoyed a fine 2017 campaign, smashing her personal best to clock 9:15.97 in Berlin towards the end of the season, while she also lowered her 1500m best to 4:03.93, denoting big things ahead for the 25-year-old.

Elsewhere in London, new signing Marc Scott made his world championship debut in the heats of the men’s 5000m, the Briton finishing 18th in the second heat in 13:58.11, which was not enough to advance to Saturday’s final. Former world 10,000m bronze medalist Emily Infeld had another super run in the women’s 10,000m final, running a lifetime best of 31:20.45 to finish sixth in a stellar field. The 27-year-old seems primed for a big year again in 2018.

We also welcomed some new faces to the Kimbia roster in 2017, with Josh Thompson, MJ Erb and Henry Wynne also joining new signing Marc Scott, who is best known to fans for his victory at the NCAA Championships over 10,000m. The Tulsa athlete powered to victory in 29:01.54 at Hayward Field. Since then he moved on to an even bigger stage, securing his world qualifying standard over 5000m in Heusden, Belgium in July, clocking 13:22.37.

MJ Erb finished fourth in the NCAA Championships in the 3000m steeplechase and seventh at the US Championships a fortnight later, and will be another exciting new recruit, the 23-year-old American departing Ole Miss after a successful NCAA career.

Josh Thompson, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, is another promising addition to the Kimbia team. The 24-year-old native of Logandale, NV, had made tremendous progress this season, lowering his 1500m best to 3:38.21 and his mile best to 3:56.89.

Henry Wynne, at just 22, is the youngest of the four new signings, and looks set to have a promising career in his new base in Seattle, where he will be coached by Danny Mackey and run for Brooks Beasts. He is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, where he was coached by Pete Watson, and it was a decorated collegiate career he left behind, one that included victory in the NCAA Indoor Championships over a mile last year.

We look forward to them, and all of our athletes, making 2018 just as memorable as this year. Best wishes to all of you for a happy, healthy and successful New Year.



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