Monday, 03 July 2017 10:15

Surprise, Ben Blankenship wins the 1,500 at the TrackTown Summer Series meet

GRESHAM - The main event turned into a technical knockout on a sunny Sunday in the TrackTown Summer Series at Mount Hood Community College.

Robby Andrews, USA Track & Field outdoor 1,500-meter champion, needs to run the world qualifying standard of 3 minutes, 36.00 or better to nail down his spot on Team USA for the World Outdoor Championships.

This 1,500 was set up for him to get it. Meet organizers invited the estimated crowd of 1,300 onto the track to watch.

Andrews appeared to be in position through the first two and a half laps, but began fading as the runners began the bell lap.

As the pace quickened, Andrews slowed. He stopped with 300 to go and did not finish.

He missed a great conclusion.

Ben Blankenship took the lead with a strong move on the back straight. But coming off the final turn and onto the home straight, everybody seemed to be gaining on him.

"Based on the crowd noise, everybody being so close and intimate, you could definitely tell there was some kind of surge going on behind me," said Blankenship, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Oregon Track Club Elite. "I knew I would have to work every last inch. It was a great finish."

Blankenship, representing Philadelphia, won by .006, finishing just ahead of hard-closing Kyle Merber.

Both runners were timed officially in 3:37.43. Craig Engels was third 3:37.65, ex-University of Oregon runner Colby Alexander fourth in 3:37.86.

Blankenship said he felt confident he had won the race, although had it been two meters further he might not have.

"I could tell with just a little peripheral that I had him by just enough," Blankenship said.

Andrews, representing San Francisco, was apologetic afterward, and complemented Lopez Lomong, the two-time Olympian pacing the race.

"I felt pretty good early on, and that might have been the problem," he said. "We were out a little quick. Lopez did a great job. He got it strung out nice and early. I just didn't quite have it my legs today."

If any fans were unhappy, it wasn't obvious.

The meet was delightfully low key throughout, and closed with children and athletes taking a half-lap together.

There was lots of time for photographs, autographs, handshakes and backslaps.

The shot competition, in which the two contestants from each of the four designated teams - Philadelphia, Portland, New York and San Francisco - competed in tandem, was especially low key.

The shot was held just north of the grandstand. Fans watched from within feet of the athletes.

"I like high-fiving little kids before I throw, having them be excited about it," said Ryan Whiting, who had the day's best put of 69 feet, 4 1/4 inches. "It makes me more excited about it."

Olympic champ Michelle Carter, his teammate, had the top throw by a woman of 62-3.

New York finished with 86 points. Philadelphia was second with 85, followed by San Francisco with 80 and Portland with 78.

This meet was the second in the three-meet series, which concludes Thursday in New York. Teams get points depending on their overall order of finish in each meet on a 9-7-6-5 basis.

Team standings after two meets show New York and San Francisco tied with 15 points. Portland and Philadelphia are tied with 12. There were good performances Sunday throughout.

Former University of Oregon sprinter Phyllis Francis, for instance, got an uncharacteristically, good start and held it to the finish to win in 50.65. Ex-UO sprinter Elexis Guster was second in 51.39.

"I loved the energy," said Francis, representing Philadelphia, who won the 400 in 50.65. "It was amazing, an exciting experience."

It was for Drew Windle, who surprised at the USATF Championships by finishing third in the 800 to clinch a spot on the U.S. world team, and showed Sunday that performance was no fluke.

Windle, representing Portland, took over the 800 with a strong move on the back straight and powered in from there to win in 1:46.21.

It was a good finish, with six of the nine runners finishing in under 1:47.

"I was up in the mix early, which is something I didn't do at USAs," Windle said. "Luckily I was close enough and closed hard enough to get the win."

Here are the results from the TrackTown Summer Series.

-- Ken Goe

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