In a pair of historically deep Dream Mile races during Saturday's Adidas Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium in New York, one champion had to be ready to overcome major disappointment from the previous week. The other just had to be ready … for anything.
In the latter case, Bernie Montoya considered himself a contender, though perhaps not the favorite. So after leading a record nine finishers under 4:05 with his opportunistic final kick, running a US#1 4:01.32, he could barely contain himself.
"I definitely didn't expect (to win it)," said the bubbly Cibola (Yuma, Ariz.) junior, whose previous best was a 4:07.72 1,600. "If it was there, I was going to take it. I just didn't expect it to be."
For Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Cami Chapus, though, an uncharacteristic fifth-place finish in the 1,600 meters at the California state champs on June 2 lingered as she looked to defend her title into the girls' Dream Mile.
"People just kept passing me and passing me," she said of that rare defeat. "Going into this race, I wasn't going to let that happen again."
She didn't, and now Chapus is the first two-time "Dream" champion, running a US#2 4:39.64, leading two more under 4:40 – another first in prep history.
Those two races highlighted the prep action Saturday in the midst of a thrilling Grand Prix meet that saw victories by world-record setters and Olympic champs like David Rudisha, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Tirunesh Dibaba.
In the Dream 100s, Boyd Anderson (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.) teammates Shayla Sanders and Kali Davis-White went 1-3 for the girls' crown, with Sanders' 11.34 (+1.2w) being just .01 off her US#1 mark. The boys' race suffered the absence of defending champ Marvin Bracy (injury) and a false-start DQ by rising star Tyreek Hill, but Bracy's cousin Levonte Whitfield moved up from fourth last year to take it in 10.43.
In the women's Diamond League 800, preps Ajee' Wilson (Neptune, N.J. senior) and Amy Weissenbach (Harvard-Westlake senior; Chapus's teammate) acquitted themselves well with Wilson finishing best (seventh overall) with a US#1 PR of 2:02.61.
That Bernie Montoya felt like a contender and not a favorite would be no surprise; it's likely 13 others shared the same feeling. Looming over the field as favorite was St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.) junior Ed Cheserek – thanks to his status as fastest entrant (4:02.21 PR indoors), top returnee (fourth in 2011), and being generally regarded as the top distance runner in the country.
So it was no surprise after the rabbit dropped out, that Cheserek towed the 15-man field through a 2:01.81 800-meter split. But on this day, the Foot Locker champion lacked verve. Lancaster (Ohio) senior Brannon Kidder and White River (Buckley, Wash.) senior Marcus Dickson, who had been on his shoulder, passed him at 1,000 meters. Then Cabell Midland (Ona, W.V.) junior Jacob Burcham moved past Cheserek and into second, behind Kidder, at the 1,200-meter mark.
"I was expecting Cheserek to take it out and lead the whole race," said Burcham, who finished second in 4:02.72. "(When I saw the splits), I thought maybe Cheserek wasn't running as well as he could."
With Cheserek in fade, Montoya began to climb. Moving rapidly down the backstretch, he reached a pack of four that included Burcham and Dickson as the final turn neared. Surging down the straightaway, Montoya powered ahead, then shredded the tape with a guttural yell.
"It was just all those good feelings, all those repeats, all those miles," Montoya said of the howl. "All the emotions just came out."
Burcham was followed by a late-charging Josh Lampron (Mansfield, Mass. senior) in 4:02.98. Cheserek finished 12th in 4:07.29. According to High School Track publisher Jack Shepard, the race set new best-mark-for-place standards from fourth through 13th, making it the deepest prep mile ever.
Ten minutes after the race, Montoya remained stunned. He cradled a bouquet of flowers and gushed about his family in the stands and the last race of his junior year.
"I was looking at the clock and I didn't realize how close I was to (breaking four minutes)," said Montoya. "I'm definitely going to go home happy. (But) ah, I was almost there."
Montoya's performance makes him #9 all-time.
Earlier in the afternoon, Cami Chapus had buried any doubts created from her state meet loss, using a sensible racing approach and a surge over the final 200 meters. Her 4:39.64 win is good for #8 all-time.
Chapus was pushed to the brink by Pennsylvania (Homer City senior) stalwart Angel Piccirillo – the 2010 and 2011 Penn Relays mile champ with a new 4:39.42 1,600 PR – and a feisty newcomer to the national circuit: Kansan Alli Cash (Shawnee Mission West junior).
Piccirillo took the lead from Tatnall (Wilmington, Del.) senior Reagan Anderson at 800 meters, splitting 2:20.50, with Chapus trailing closely. As the trio crossed the 1,200-meter mark in 3:32.20, Cash made a decisive move. Galloping past Piccirillo, she seized control with long, swooping strides.
Chapus waited for an opening. She darted past Cash with 200 meters to go and broke for the straightaway, closing without a challenge.
Cash was nipped by Piccirillo at the line, 4:39.94-4:39.98.
"Going into the race, I was a little intimidated, because these girls were so fast," said Cash, who raced fearlessly after entering the race with a 4:45.63 PR in the 1,600 meters. She is now #11 all-time and no one from Kansas has ever run faster. Piccirillo moves to #10 in history.
Before racing in New York, Chapus had a long conversation with her coach to salve any worries about the state meet race. With an eye toward the 1,500 meters at the USATF Junior Nationals June 15-17, she defended her Dream Mile title in style.
"I didn't get worried when the pace was slow," said the Stanford-bound Chapus. "I went out there to try and race and (forget) time."
As it was, she just missed the 2012 US#1 time of 4:39.28, set by Bronxville (N.Y.) soph Mary Cain when she won the Penn Relays. Cain was not in the field, of course, due to competing in her state championships Saturday, where she won the 1,500. But Cain and Chapus are set to meet at Juniors, which should be one of the meet's top matchups. Chapus represented the USA at the World Youth champs 1,500 last year in France, making the final and running a 2011 US#1 4:17.12, and would love another international trip.
With her teammate Shayla Sanders motoring alongside her, Kali Davis-White admitted that the girls' Dream 100 had the feel of a practice. Sanders' steely approach in her fast victory, however, suggested otherwise.
"With Shayla, when she gets (to the track) it's business," said Davis-White, whose PR 11.45 was just .01 behind runner-up Aaliyah Brown (Lincoln-Way East, Frankfort, Ill.). "From the moment she gets off the plane till the time she runs the race, it's business."
Sanders, a University of Florida-bound senior, came in a little frustrated in her recent races.
"I told myself that I've got to do better than I've been doing," she said after running her best time since late March. "I really do feel like I had a good showing."
After straining a tendon behind her right knee five weeks ago at the Broward County Championships, Sanders has proven durable anyway, winning her state 4A 100 and 200 titles. She also took the prep 200 at Golden South and was third in the 100 against elites. She's unbeaten against preps this year. But a really fast time had been elusive for a few months until Saturday.
"There was always something she didn't accomplish," said Boyd Anderson coach Damion Thomas, reflecting on Sanders' rise to the top in 2012. "She was always standing behind someone.
"Now she has that state title. She was here last year and finished fifth, so she wanted to come back. … She's really had herself a great senior year."
Like Chapus, the USATF Juniors are next for Sanders as she seeks a Team USA berth.
Levonte Whitfield described nerves as the reason for his fourth-place finish in the last year's boys' Dream 100. On Saturday, the junior from Jones High School in Orlando, Fla. endured the two false starts and a delay – enough to rattle anyone – for the 10.43 win, topping Jamaica's Jazeel Murphy (10.47) and Great Southwest/Texas 5A champ Abraham Hall (10.54).
After one first start that was not attributed to any of the eight athletes, Georgia's Tyreek Hill – considered one of the race's favorites after his stunning 10.19 and 20.14 marks at Golden South – false-started and was disqualified. After a brief delay and a systems check by officials, Whitfield bolted to the win.
"Last year, I was nervous," said Whitfield. "It was my first time in New York, in front of the crowds – 15,000-20,000 people. This year I won the (Florida 2A) state championship. That helped me stay focused."
In women's 800, Ajee' Wilson and Amy Weissenbach showed poise. Wilson used the race, won by Ethiopia's Fantu Magiso in a meet-record 1:57.48, to vault to a new personal best. In her fourth race against a professional field, Wilson rolled to an even-keeled 2:02.61 PR, improving by .03 her status as #6 all-time.
"I think I'm stronger now and I'm happy with what I ran," said Wilson, who came through the first 400 in around 60 seconds to Magiso's 58.12. "I have to go at a pace that's right for me. I have to use them to pull me."
Weissenbach, in her first race against pros, stayed in contact with the lead pack before fading in the final 150 meters for an eighth-place finish in 2:04.03, as Wilson closed on her late. It was a seasonal best for Weissenbach, but she still has not bested her 2:02.04 PR from 2011.
"The biggest thing I've learned (running with the pros) is the faster you go, the harder it is to go faster," said Wilson. "This season I kept running 2:05. I relaxed, backed off, and was patient."