USATF Distance Classic prep athletes for worlds

WALNUT (News4usonline) – The road to the world track and field championships will be well-traveled by the time the mega event comes around in July. Right now, some athletes are just prepping for the international meet as well as the 2022 USA Track & Field Championships, which take place in June in Eugene, Oregon.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, at the USATF Distance Classic at Mt. Sac College in Walnut, athletes there on Thursday, May 19, went about their business to get some of the kinks out of what they’re trying to do as they prep themselves for the big meets.

Isaiah Jewett, the 2021 NCAA Outdoor champion in the men’s 800 meters and an Olympian, didn’t have the outing he would have preferred, finishing eighth in one of the two heats. The former Cathedral High School and Southern California star fell behind early in the men’s 800 and just couldn’t muscle his way back into viable contention.

“I could work on my finish a little bit,” Jewett said after his race. “I still got some things to work on.”

Jewett’s time was 1:48.86. Winner Brandon McBride swooped in to win the race with a mark of 1:47.39. McBride’s time was the best of the two heats. To get to win at the USATF championships and get to worlds, Jewett, who is ranked as the No. 34 half-miler, was blunt in assessment.

“A lot of guts and a strong finish,” Jewett replied. “I still got some ways to go, but I’m getting closer.”

May 19, 2022. Brandon McBride (9) claims the men’s 800 at the USATF Distance Classic meet in Walnut, California. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Like Jewett, Sinclaire Johnson is trying to better at running the 800. Johnson posted the fastest time during the chilly evening at Hilmer Lodge Stadium, going 2:01.06. The 2019 NCAA champion dropped back early before blasting her way through the pack of runners to edge out Anna Camp-Bennett (2:01.20) for first place.

“I felt like the first 400 I was a little bit conservative and just tied to hang on the last 400,” Johnson said. “It really was just the race, I think. Just like finding, making moves, making them decisive, and really like trying to focus on putting myself in the best position…It’s a little quiet today. Not a whole lot of energy out here, but it’s cool. It’s nice that we have these meets that focus on the different events.”

While she is good at running the 800, Johnson has learned to master the 1,500. When she won the NCAA title in 2019 for Oklahoma State, Johnson did so by running the longer race. Johnson currently has a No. 61 ranking in the 1,500. She is also ranked No. 60 in the 800. Her best time in the 800 is 1:59. 91. So what does she want to do in 2022? Improve, she said.

“I think that last year, I just didn’t feel very confident racing,” Johnson said. “I just like wanted this year to be about feeling confident, and like looking confident, and I feel like I am in a much better position this year. Hopefully, that’ll be shown on the track.”

May 19, 2022. Anna Camp-Bennett (4) and Darlene Johnson (right) battle it out all the way to the finish line in the women’s 800 race. Johnson won the race with a time of 2:01.06. Camp-Bennett had to settle for second place with a time of 2:0120. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

This USATF sanctioned meet put the onus on distance running, including the 3,000-meter steeplechase and men’s and women’s 5,000 race. However, there were several field events, like the high jump, going on as well. Vashi Cunningham won first place in the event. But she had some tough competition.

Cunningham, the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, took home first place with a jump of 6-2 and three-quarters. The elder Cunningham was at the meet as he typically does, coaching up his daughter. Up next was runner-up Rachel McCoy, who posted a mark of 1.87 meters (6-1 1/2) in the event.

McCoy, who came within one spot of making the U.S. Olympic team after coming in fourth place at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, said this was her best outing so far this year.

“I did the best I’ve done all season,” McCoy said. “I had fun. I was confident. It was really an extended practice just because of a lack of ambience, but I came out here with a goal and I accomplished it.”

McCoy admitted that getting to worlds means putting the focus where it belongs.

“Trying to stay focus, that’s problably the most difficult part,” said McCoy. “Coming off the Olympics and the indoor world [championships], and then there is this world [championships], it kind of leaves us with no room to fall off. So it’s mentally draining. As long as you could realize that there’s more for next year and the next yar and the next year, then it kind of takes some pressure off of you.”

May 19, 2022. Rachel McCoy goes over the bar in the women’s high jump at the USATF Distance Classic meet in Walnut, California. McCoy took second place after Vashti Cunningham. McCoy’s jumped 6-1 and 1/2 inch. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Australian runner Abbey Caldwell didn’t feel pressure when she won the women’s 1,500 meters. Caldwell, who finished with a winning time of 4:04.18, waited until the last stretch of running before she took off in a sprint burst to hit the tape before anyone else. Her strategy coming in the race was about being calm, cool and collected.

“Pretty much going in just making sure I’m comfortable and not press half the race, not knowing where others are at, where opens for people, Caldwell said. “Yes, going in comfortable and just really working that back half and try to stay on that pace and not get lost in the race. Yes, throwing myself in the mix.”

Featured Image Caption: Vashti Cunningham clears the high jump bar at the USATF Distance Classic on Thursday, May 19, 2022. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

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