With much of the track nation gearing up for the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon this weekend, almost three thousand miles away, in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, world class running comes to Furman University. The daylong meet on Saturday will be held at the school’s Irwin Belk Track Complex- the site where American record holder in the mile, Alan Webb, became the first runner to break four minutes in the state of South Carolina back in 2007. Admission is free and one of the rare opportunities for the public to catch a glimpse of professional runners in person.
When it was decided not to hold the annual Blue Shoes Invitational earlier this spring, Saturday’s all-day meet stood unrivaled as the premiere track event of the year in the Upstate. The action kicks off with the annual South Carolina Open and Masters Track Classic. This long-running event put on by the Greenville Track Club (GTC) and attracts runners throughout the state and Southeast region. Based on age-graded adjustments, the Open and Masters Track Classic has seen its share of world class performances over the years. In 2014, a number of age group records were set in the meet, which included GTC members Mike Sullivan in the 1500m (5:23.27) for Male 55-59 and Simpsonville’s Philippe Giguere breaking the previous Male 45-49 mark in the 5000m (17:03.77).
View last year’s meet results here.
View the Open and Masters Classic event form for starting times and registration information.
Originally, a “festival of miles” lineup (featuring the 3000 meter steeplechase and 800 meter events) was scheduled for the twilight portion of the meet, which is being billed as the “Furman Elite Race for Olympic Rio Standard.” With these aforementioned events now eliminated, the men’s and women’s 1500 meter invitationals emerge as the main event races of the evening. The fields are once again heavily stacked, with several athletes looking to achieve World and Olympic qualifying standards. In 2014, nine of the ten male competitors in the event ran under 3:54 (equivalent to a 4:11 mile). Two athletes, Genna Lara and Nate Brennan are past Olympians. Lara competed in 800m semifinal at the London Olympic Games in 2012. Brennan represented Canada in the 1500m at the 2008 Games in Beijing, then again in London four years later.
Since Webb’s sub-four minute performance at Furman eight years ago, the magical mile barrier has been eclipsed ten times on the Belk track- all within the last two years.
All-time sub-four minute mile performances at Furman University
Cory Leslie Furman Elite 3:56.18 (2013 Blue Shoes Mile)
Jeff See Furman Elite 3:57.45 (2013 Blue Shoes Mile)
Michael Hammond Furman Elite 3:57.70 (2014 Blues Shoes Mile)
Alan Webb 3:57.83 (2007 Blue Shoes Mile)
Jake Edwards 3:58.09 (2014 Blue Shoes Mile)
Jack Bolas Furman Elite 3:58.43 (2013 Blue Shoes Mile)
Jack Bolas Furman Elite 3:58.53 (2014 Blue Shoes Mile)
Matt Elliott Brooks 3:58.78 (2013 Blue Shoes Mile)
Matt Elliott Brooks 3:58.94 (2014 Blue Shoes Mile)
Andrew Colley North Carolina St. 3:59.34 (2014 Blue Shoes Mile)
Joe Stilin Zap Fitness 3:59.75 (2014 Blue Shoes Mile)
“Last year, we wanted to switch the distance to 1500m (from the mile) for international qualifying purposes and have it as a stand-alone event,” says meet organizer, Robert Gary, a two-time Olympian (Atlanta, 1996 and Athens, 2004). Gary currently serves as head coach for the Paladin program and also runs the professional training group, Furman Elite.
Five of the first six positions in last year’s event were run by Coach Gary’s athletes, who train regularly on the very same oval. Following a blistering last lap, Michael Hammond outkicked the strong field in the homestretch to pick up the win (3min, 37.88 seconds; 3:53.7/mile pace). This year’s field is equally impressive. Almost all of the male competitors enter the race with sub-four minute mile performances (or equivalent 1500m times) on their resumes. Spectators will want to keep a close eye Saturday on a pair of Furman Elite runners- Cory Leslie and Jeff See- both established pillars of the post-collegiate training program.
Leslie was a fourth place finisher at the USA Outdoor 3000m Steeplechase Final (8:26.30). He comes in with the second fastest career time in the field at 1500m (3:34.93). See, who finished second behind Hammond in last year’s race by just eleven one hundredths of a second, has come on strong this spring. He established a new personal best and Olympic standard in the 5000 meters at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, California earlier this month (13:21.16). Then, a couple weeks later, he finished second in the USATF 1 Mile Road Championships in rain-soaked St. Paul Minnesota. Gary coached Leslie and See at the Ohio State University where they earned All-American marks.
“This will be one of the best fields (that) we have ever had,” says Mickey McCauley, Assistant Coach for the Furman cross country and track and field program. “We have been fortunate to have (had) some great elite races on our track the last eight years.” The intent of assembling this collection of high-caliber athletes, says McCauley, is to chase down qualifying marks for the USATF Olympic Trial and World Games. For the men, that standard is 3:39.00 for the Olympic Trials, 3:36.20 to gain entry into the World Championships later this summer in China. The women’s qualifying standard in the trials for 1500m is 4:09.50, with a time under 4:06.50 punching a ticket to Worlds.
The starting list for the invitational men’s 1500m (8:05p.m.)
1. RILEY MASTERS BROOKS BEASTS 3:37.19 & 5000m WORLD OLYMPIC STANDARD 13:17
2. JOE STILIN ZAP FITNESS 3:39.42 /13:33 5000m
3. KYLE MERBER HOKA ONE 3:35.59
4. MATT HILLENBRAND BROOKS BEASTS 3:39.84/1500
5. CHRIS MOEN ZAP FITNESS 3:47/1500
6. BRANDON HUDGINS UNATTACHED 3:45/1500
7. FORD PALMER NEW YORK NEW JERSEY 3:38/1500
8. GRIFF GRAVES ZAP FITNESS 3:47/1500
9. DORIAN ULREY BROOKS BEASTS 3;35.23/1500; Team U.S.A. member at 2009 World Championships
10. NATE BRANNEN SAUCONY 3:34.22 / 3:52 mile. World and Olympics 1500m Finalist
11. FREZER LEGEESE UNDER ARMOUR 3:41/1500
12. ISAAC PRESSON FURMAN ELITE 3:40/1500, 7:50 indoors, and 13;39 5000m
13. TROY REEDER UNATTACHED / FURMAN 4:05 mile indoors and redshirting freshman here at Furman
14. CORY LESLIE NIKE / FURMAN ELITE 3:34.93 / 3:53.44 mile. Was 4th at USATF steeplechase final in 2014
15. JEFF SEE FURMAN ELITE 5000m WORLD OLYMPIC STANDARD 13:21.16 & 3:35.21/1500
16. TRAVIS BURKSTRAND BROOKS BEASTS (rabbit) BIB 1516
Travis Burkstrand has been given rabbiting duties, and will attempt to pull runners through 1200 meters (three laps) in 2:52. Coach Gary cannot overstate the importance of good rabbiting in a race of this caliber. “I believe lack of quality, dedicated rabbits is really the toughest problem to tackle when setting up a race like this,” he says. “Any monies a meet director might have should first go to a rabbit willing to perform just that duty at a meet.”
Look for an aggressive early pace in the women’s 1500m (scheduled for 8:20p.m.). Nine of the twelve female competitors come in with 800 meter times of 2:05 or faster. Olympian Geena Lara will pace the field through 1200m in 3:18. Lara’s personal best in the 800m is 1:59.24. “I have great confidence that both of them (Burkstrand and Lara) will not only be on time, but make it to 1200m, so that the real racing can occur over the last lap,” says Coach Gary.
The starting list for the invitational women’s 1500m (8:20p.m.)
1. HEIDI SEE FURMAN ELITE 2:05/800 & 4:09/1500; 2015 Australian 1500m Champion
2. MARIAH KELLEY UNATTACHED 2:05/800
3. HEATHER WILSON NEW YORK NEW JERSEY 2:03/800 & 4:07/1500
4. MELISSA SALERNO FURMAN ELITE 2:04/800 & 4:12/1500
5. JACQUELYN CROW FURMAN 4:25/1500; Freshman at Furman
6. REBECCA ADDISON UNATTACHED 2:03/800 & 4:10/1500
7. LAUREN PACQUETTE UNATTACHED 2:02/800 & 4:09/1500
8. STEPHANIE BROWN NIKE 2:02/800 & 4:09/1500
9. STEPHANIE GARCIA NEW BALANCE / FURMAN ELITE 4:13/1500. 5000m WORLD OLYMPIC STANDARD 15:19. 3rd at 2014 USATF 3000m steeplechase final
10. KATE VAN BUZKIRK BROOKS 2:02/800 & 4:051500
11. EMILY LIPARI BAA 2:05/800 & 4:12/1500
12. GEENA LARA UNATTACHED (rabbit) 2012 U.S.A. Olympian. 1:59/800 & 4:09/1500
In March, Heidi See became the Australian national champion in the 1500m when she set a personal best of 4:09.60. Her coaches are hoping that Saturday’s field will set her up for not only another personal breakthrough, but the opportunity to achieve the Olympic standard (4:06.50). Her teammate, Stephanie Garcia, set an American record in the seldom held 2000m steeplechase (6:14) at this very same meet last year. A few weeks later, Garcia placed third in the 3000m steeplechase at the USA Outdoor Championships. On Saturday, she will look to improve on her 1500m time, four weeks after achieving the Olympic standard and personal best in the 5000m at the Payton Jordan Invitational (15:19.50).
As a way to involve the Greenville community with this event, Furman Elite T-Shirts will be handed out to all kids in attendance. It’s all part of what Coach Gary describes as a “vision” to build on the area’s deep running tradition. “As we attempt to make Furman a national distance powerhouse, hosting events for all levels, and providing genuine opportunities for elites, is one of our mission focuses,” he explains. “I hope that the country, and obviously Greenville, will start to regard Furman University as a wonderful destination of opportunity (for track and field).”