2009 USATF REVIEW: Portland outshines Eugene as distance capital moves north

Story by Lev Rourke
Photos by Kim Spir

            The newcomers to Portland, Ore., dominated the distance running at this year’s national championships, and in the process they pushed the hometown crew from Eugene to the background.
            It’s not clear if this will be a permanent shift, but the comparison was striking. Even a new resident to Eugene who made the U.S. team headed to Berlin – Dathan Ritzenhein, a recent transplant from Boulder, Colo.— announced afterward that he, too, is moving the 100 miles north up the Willamette Valley to Portland.
            The dominance wasn’t only for regional bragging rights. Portland has become the distance capital of America, surpassing past claimants like Gainesville, Fla.; Mammoth Lakes and Palo Alto, Calif., and Boulder.
            The “moment” for all to see was the men’s 5,000, when three members of the Oregon TC Elite, wearing identical unis, swept across the line nearly together. The group – Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky and Evan Jager – (left) had all relocated from Madison, Wis., to Portland a year ago along with their coach, Jerry Schumacher, who himself had left the familiar confines of the University of Wisconsin to take a job with Nike. He brought some of his Badgers, and their families, to the Northwest with him.
            “I was high-fiving people around me,” Schumacher told Ken Goe of The Oregonian. “I was so excited.”
            Of Portland, Schumacher said, “It’s fun being here. The energy for the sport here is just awesome. I love having this group in Oregon, and having these results when the competition is held in Oregon. It’s pretty cool.”
            Portlanders also made a big splash in the women’s 5k and 10k and the men’s 10k. In the women’s events, Kara Goucher won the 5 and Amy Begley outkicked Shalane Flanagan in the 10. Goucher and Begley currently live in Portland, while Flanagan now plans to split her year between homes in North Carolina and Portland. Flanagan has recently begun training with Schumacher, while Goucher and Begley are coached by Nike guru Alberto Salazar.
            “We are taking the long view,” Salazar told a group of writers in Eugene during the USATF meet. “We believe that American distance runners, given the right training and conditions, can run with anyone in the world. It just takes time.”
            Salazar also coaches Galen Rupp, the University of Oregon senior who followed up his two recent NCAA titles by winning the USATF 10k, his first open national title. “It’s been a long year, for sure,” Rupp said, “but I was ready for it. I took some down time after NC’s, but then I got right back to it.”
            Ritzenhein, who has been coaching himself, said he also plans to train with Salazar. “We don’t feel a coach can handle more than six or seven athletes at a time,” Salazar said. “As we acquire more top runners, we will expand our resources to accommodate them.”
            The men’s 10k was also an all-Oregon finish – Rupp, Ritzenhein and another Wisconsin transplant, Billy Nelson.
            Meantime, though it was well-represented, the Eugene-based group did not have as much success. Nick Symmonds, the Willamette University graduate who won the Olympic Trials 800 a year ago, repeated as winner here, but none of his Eugene ‘mates made the World Championships squad – in the 1,500, OTC runners Stephen Pifer and Will finished 4-5, while John Jefferson and Russell Brown did not get out of the heats; in the 800, Mark Wieczorek, Matt Scherer, Brandon Shaw and Kevin Hicks failed to make the final.
            Of the Oregon Ducks, only Rupp made a splash. Even Andrew Wheating, who won the NCAA 800 in Arkansas, was not a factor. Wheating, said to be nursing a sore calf, withdrew from the meet. Matthew Centrowitz, laid up with a bad foot, was unable to run. Freshman Luke Puskedra finished 16th in the 10k.
            On the women’s side, the UO’s Nicole Blood ran well, finishing 7th in the 5k, running a PR 15:38.61. Her teammate Alex Kosinski was 9th in her heat of the 1,500, while quartermiler Keshia Baker made the final of the 400, where she finished last in the final. Jumper Jamesha Youngblood scratched from the meet.
            One new face in the women’s meet was Geena Gall, fresh from winning the NCAA 800 for the University of Michigan. Gall, a 2009 graduate of the school, wore an OTC singlet at the meet so presumably is moving to the Pacific Northwest.
            Gall finished 2nd in the USA 800 in 2:01.01 and apparently has made the WC team with the B-standard. Also making the team were UO decathlete Ashton Eaton, who finished 2nd behind Trey Hardee, and Eaton’s teammate Rachel Yurkovich, upset by her rival, Kara Patterson of Vancouver, Wash., in the javelin. 
            A number of native or transplanted Oregonians competed in the nationals, both in the Senior and Junior meets.
            The biggest local disappointments were sprinter Ryan Bailey and pole vaulter Tommy Skipper. Bailey, the 2007 graduate of McKay H.S. in Salem, appeared to pull up in his heat of the men’s 100 meters, and he did not appear for the 200. Bailey had set the national junior college record in the 100 this spring, and he thereupon turned professional and hired an agent. Skipper, a 3-time NCAA champion for Oregon, failed to clear his opening height, the same result he had a year ago in Eugene at the Olympic Trials. Skipper, 24, is reportedly leaving his training base in San Diego, Calif., to return to his roots in Portland.
            In the Juniors meet, Elijah Greer of Lake Oswego finished just 4th in the men’s 800, but two of his future U. Oregon teammates, Californians Mac Fleet and Jordan Hasay, swept the 1,500s. The top two finishers in each Juniors event qualified for the U.S. team going to the Pan-Am Juniors later in July in Trinidad.
            Also making that team were Sam Crouser of Gresham, who won the javelin, and Kellie Schueler of Bend, who finished 3rd in the 400 and thereby qualified for the relay.
            Another Oregon signee, Taylor Wallace, finished 3rd in the women’s 1,500.
            Other local results
            Seniors Men 800 Christian Smith (Nike) 4th, 1:46.92; 1,500 Jordan McNamara (UO), 10th, 3:46.08; Chad Hall (Cal/Riverside, ex-UO), 9th Heat III; Gabe Jennings (Eugene resident), did not finish, Heat IV; steeplechase Kyle Alcorn (Nike) 3rd, 8:34.65; Ben Bruce (OTC) 5th, 8:36.76; Tom Brooks (OTC) 10th, 8:48.56; Billy Nelson (OTC) 13th, 8:52.49; 5,000 Michael Maag (Princeton/Portland native) 22nd, 14:16.72; 10k, Josh Rohatinsky (Nike) 11th, 28:46.65; HH, Eric Mitchum (adidas/ex-UO), 4th, 13.24; HJ, Jesse Williams (Nike/Eugene resident), 4th, 7-5 ¾; Grant Lindsey (unattached/Eugene resident), 6th, 7-4 ½; Ham, Mike Milakovic (Oregon Throwers), 29th, 200-6; JT, Cyrus Hostetler (UO), 4th, 247-11
            Women 400 Keshia Baker (UO), 8th, 52.47; 800, Geena Gall (OTC), 2nd, 2:01.01; 1,500, Alex Kosinski (UO), 9th Heat II, 4:18.87; Jordan Hasay (Calif HS/UO-to-be), 10th, 4:19.61
            Juniors Men 800 Crisofulli (Portland State), 7th, 1:53.62; 5k, Trevor Dunbar (Alaska HS/U. Portland-to-be), 3rd, 14:43.98; PV, Hippler (HS), 6th, 16-4 ¾; JT, Sam Crouser (HS), 220-5; (above left) Dec, Lane Godfrey (Lane CC), 4th, 6,790
            Women 400 Kellie Schueler (HS), 3rd, 54.41 (dnq 100/200 prelims); 1,500, Wallace (HS), 3rd, 4:29.09; Tyerman (HS), 7th, 4:35.34; 3k, Tyerman 3rd, 10:11.47; PV, Street (Linfield), 6th, 12-5 ½; DT, Hasslen (HS), 5th, 155-8; JT, Ross (HS), 5th, 142-8; Andrea Hopkins (HS), 6th, 139-5 (right)