By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Lauren Fleshman and Jill Camarena-Williams have more in common than just being Stanford graduates and college All-Americans in track and field. Both are reigning national champions.
That means Fleshman and Camarena-Williams will be in position to defend those titles when the 2011 USA Track & Field Championships continue Friday at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. The meet, which began Thursday night, runs through Sunday.
The USA Championships serve as the selection event for the coveted spots to represent Team USA at the IAAF World Championships, Aug. 27- Sept. 4 in Daegu, South Korea. The USA Championships also are the final stop of the 2011 Outdoor Visa Championship Series. Each male and female athlete who finishes the series at the top of the point standings will be awarded $25,000.
Camarena-Williams won last year's title in the women's shot put with a then-personal outdoor best of 62-9 1/4. She has a career outdoor best of 64-10 this season, which led the nation heading into nationals. She set an American indoor record in February with a mammoth 65-2 1/4.
Camarena-Williams went after her third U.S. outdoor title on Thursday evening. However, she didn't get it.
Camarena-Williams and Michelle Carter, daughter of national high school recordholder Michael Carter, were locked in the greatest head-to-head battle between two American female shot putters on Thursday night.
Carter came out better by one centimeter, recording the third-best throw in U.S. history with a 65-2 effort to win. That came in the second round, in response to Camarena-Williams' throw of 65-1 1/2, which wound up being second best. Carter won her third national title, while denying Camarena-Williams of her third outdoor crown.
Carter's personal record ranks her No. 4 in the world this year while the PR by Camarena-Williams makes her No. 5 in the world in 2011.
Fleshman, meanwhile, will toe the starting line in the women's 5,000 finals on Friday. She won last year's title in 15:28.70, completing a rags-to-riches story after a broken foot nearly ended her running career.
"Things are good," Fleshman said on Thursday morning. "Unfortunately, putting together a flawless year of training has eluded me once again. I missed January, February and March this year and will have 12 weeks of training under my belt for the race. However, I'm excited and enthusiastic to give my best effort, as always, and I never count myself out of anything!"
Fleshman currently runs for the Oregon Track Club and resides in Eugene. Her qualifying time for Friday's race is her winning time from last year. She has yet to break into the elite category this season and thus isn't favored to defend her title. Current American recordholder Molly Huddle and former American recordholder Shalane Flanagan are expected to challenge each other for the national crown.
Flanagan is the current U.S. leader with a season best of 14:49.68. Huddle sits in the No. 2 spot this year with a best of 15:10.63. Also challenging for spots on Team USA are 2008 and 2009 champion Kara Goucher and the two time U.S. 1,500 champion Shannon Rowbury.
The meet opened Thursday with the men's and women's 10,000 wrapping up Day 1. Recent Stanford graduate Stephanie Marcy finished 18th in the women's race in 33:18.18. Flanagan ran away with the title in 30:59.97, well off her national record of 30:22.22.
Marcy, Camarena-Williams and Fleshman are among a handful of current and former Stanford athletes competing this weekend.
The men's field includes Stanford grads Russell Brown (1,500) and Nick Welihozkiy (hammer) plus Jake Riley (5,000) and John (JT) Sullivan (3,000 steeplechase). Current senior Chris Derrick also is entered in the 5,000.
The men's 5,000 is just one of many events loaded with veteran talent. American long distance recordholders Chris Solinsky and Bernard Lagat will battle for supremacy in what has traditionally been Lagat's event.
Lagat owns the American outdoor record as well as four of the past five U.S. titles, but Solinsky improved his 5,000 personal best by almost 17 seconds at the last year's Stockholm Diamond League. Two-time U.S. 10,000 champ Galen Rupp and 2009 U.S. 5,000 winner Matt Tegenkamp also should also be serious contenders.
In the 1,500, Stanford grad Brown (3:35.70) will be in tough against an elite field. In his first post-collegiate season, three-time NCAA champ Andrew Wheating will try to earn his first U.S. title. His personal-best time of 3:30.90 at the last year's Monaco Diamond League was the best among Americans for 2010.
Also looking for his first U.S. Outdoor Championship is three-time outdoor runnerup Leo Manzano. Lagat, who holds the American record in the 1,500 both indoors and outdoors, is the veteran of the field with three world championships under his belt.
The women's meet, meanwhile, includes former Stanford standouts Sara Hall (steeplechase), Lindsay Allen (steeplechase), Summer Pierson (discus) plus recent grad Whitney Liehr (triple jump). Liehr ranks No. 8 on the U.S. list with a career best of 44-1 1/4. Hall is the No. 3 seed in the steeplechase with a best of 9:39.48.
Lisa Aguilera is the defending U.S. champion in the 3,000 steeplechase and enters the meet with a seed time nearly eight seconds faster than her nearest competitor. In the triple jump, the event features the current U.S. indoor champion Shakeema Welsch jumping against Blessing Ufodiama, who currently has the longest jump in the U.S. this year with a mark of 46-1 1/2.
Pierson, meanwhile, will be up against a discus field that is up for grabs with the top three competitors all seeded within a meter of one another. Becky Breisch is the defending champion in the event, but 2008 Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Brown-Trafton and four-time U.S. champion Aretha Thurmond will be gunning for the top spot.