NCAA, Olympic hopefuls take aim at qualifying marks


The 41st Stanford Invitational, which runs Friday and Saturday at Cobb Track and Angelle Field, takes on added significance to those track and field athletes jockeying for Olympic Trials and even Olympic qualifying marks.

The Stanford Invitational distance events -- especially the 10,000 meters -- typically qualify great numbers into the NCAA preliminary meets. And for high school athletes, the meet provides an ideal opportunity to make an impression in front of college coaches.

Action runs late into Friday night with distance events. On Saturday, field events begin at 9 a.m. and running at 9:52 a.m.

Some of the highlighted events include:

Men's 10,000:

Last year, 41 of the top 50 NCAA qualifying times in the 10,000 were run at the Stanford Invitational. Headlining the field is Shadrack Kipchirchir, No. 4 in the U.S. last year in Track & Field News' annual rankings, and Aron Rono, who was No. 7. Kipchirchir is a former Oklahoma State star who ran 27:36.79 at the Payton Jordan Invitational on this track two years ago and was an NCAA 10,000 runner-up. He made the U.S. team for the World Championships last year, finishing 16th.

Rono's best of 27:31.15 also was run at the Payton Jordan, in 2011. Like Kipchirchir and eight-time Arizona Pac-10 champion Robert Cheseret, Rono is a Kenya native now running for the U.S. Army in this race. He was sixth at the U.S. Championships in the 10,000 the past two years.

German Fernandez, a California schoolboy legend while growing up in the Modesto area, is making his track debut at 10,000. Fernandez, an NCAA champ while at Oklahoma State, won the fast section of the Stanford Invitational 1,500 last year, and has a best of 3:34.60 at that distance.

Women's 5,000:

Dominique Scott, the 2015 NCAA Indoor 3,000 champ and Outdoor 10,000 and 5,000 runner-up at Arkansas, is seeking to make the South African Olympic team. The Olympic standard of 15:24.00 will be a focus this season.

Kim Smith is a three-time New Zealand Olympian and former Providence star who endured foot surgery, childbirth, and a stint in the cardiac intensive care unit during a 12-month span through the end of last season. She was 15th in the 2012 Olympic marathon

Former Boise State star Emma Bates was the 2014 NCAA 10,000 champion and set a 5,000 personal record of 15:32.46 to finish seventh at the Stanford Invitational last year.

Also competing are two of the Pac-12's top runners – Oregon's Alli Cash and Cal's Bethan Knights, and Alice Wright, an Englishwoman who was fifth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships while helping New Mexico to the team title.

Women's 10,000:

Laura Thweatt was Track & Field News' No. 2-ranked U.S. marathoner for 2015, placing seventh at the New York City Marathon in 2:28.23. Thweatt bypassed the U.S. Olympic trials marathon to focus on the track. She was the 2015 U.S. cross country champion, qualifying her for worlds, and finishing 29th.

Also in the field is Sarah Pease, the No. 10-ranked U.S. steeplechaser last year, and Stephanie Bruce, competing in her first track race since 2012 after becoming a mother, and now running for Northern Arizona Elite in Flagstaff.

Men's 5,000:

Paul Chelimo, fresh off the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, headlines the field. Chelimo, who runs for the U.S. Army, reached the final at worlds, placing seventh. He earned the U.S. team spot with by capturing second at the U.S. Indoors behind Ryan Hill.

Former Lamar star Sam Stabler returns to defend his Stanford Invitational title of last year, which he won in 13:30.50. Penn's Tommy Awad, was third in the mile at NCAA Indoors and Tom Lancashire was a 2008 British Olympian in the 1,500.

Women's 1,500:

Kate Van Buskirk is a Canadian who won bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She ran 4:05.38 in the 1,500 in 2014 and has a mile best of 4:28.08. She was a 2013 world championship semifinalist. She could be challenged by North Dakota State's Erin Teschuk, a Canadian who placed fourth in the 3,000 at the recent NCAA Indoors.

Women's 400:

Maggie Vessey set the Stanford Invitational 800 record last year with a 2:01.58 and earned a No. 8 U.S. ranking. She also ran on the U.S. 4x800 team that won gold at the World Relay Championships in the Bahamas. Longtime area track fans might remember Vessey as a Central Coast Section 400 champion while at Soquel High near Santa Cruz. She is coached by former Stanford All-America Greg Brock.

Stanford sophomore Olivia Baker is another halfmiler dropping down to a familiar distance. Baker holds the New Jersey high school 400 record of 52.46 and was a member of the U.S. gold-medal winning 4x400 team at the World Junior Championships in 2014. At NCAA Indoors this year, she captured third in the 800. Kristyn Williams, Stanford's indoor 400 record-holder, is another contender.

Among other top competitors:

Women's 100 and 200: Ashton Purvis was the top high school sprinter in the country in 2010 while running for Oakland's St. Elizabeth and continues to hold the Stanford Invitational high school 100 record (11.50). She went on to race at Texas A&M, setting another Stanford Invite mark, this time for the college/open 4x100 (42.69) in 2014.

Women's 800: Zhao Jing won bronze in the 2014 Asian Games and represented China at the World Championships last year.

Women's steeplechase: Colorado sophomore Erin Clark is the defending Pac-12 steeplechase champion. She races teammate Lucy Cheadle, who won consecutive NCAA Division II steeple titles and a 5,000 crown for Washington University of St. Louis before transferring to Colorado.

Men's 400: Shaquille Walker, a BYU junior, ran a 1:45.58 800 last year and earned a year-end No. 9 U.S. ranking from Track & Field News. Walker was fifth at NCAA Outdoors and sixth at the U.S. Championships.

Men's 1,500: Englishman Oliver Aitchison of Adams State is the reigning NCAA Division II Indoor champion in the mile.

Men's steeplechase: Colorado's Connor Winter is the defending Pac-12 champion and will face Arizona's Bailey Roth, a two-time U.S. junior national champ, and Florida State's Zak Seddon, a first-team All-America last year.

Men's javelin: Tim VanLiew had the fifth-farthest throw among Americans last year, at 260-9 (79.49 meters) and was ranked No. 6 in the U.S. by Track & Field News.

Men's high jump: Roderick Townsend is a world champion Paralympian and a former Boise State multi-events athlete. The Stockton native has a right arm smaller and weaker than his left and doesn't extend straight. Dartis Willis II, who has a best of 7-2 1/4, should contend for the victory.

Men's long jump: Arizona's Pau Tonnesen, the Pac-12 decathlon champ and NCAA runner-up, will compete in this event and the 110 high hurdles.

— Dave Kiefer/Stanford Athletics

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