Has Sara Hall found her ticket to Daegu & London?

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For Sara Hall, three might be the magic number.  Competing in the third competitive 3000m steeplechase of her professional career, Hall crossed the line in 9:50.68 taking home the win at the Stanford Invitational.(RunnerSpace video)

Hall’s time sliced ten seconds off her previous best set last summer in Rovereto, Italy and moved her to #21 on the US all-time steeplechase list.

So on the surface, the race was a nice early season victory and PR for the former Stanford standout.  Speaking with RunnerSpace’s Kevin Ullman after the race, she explained, “I did one (steeplechase) in Italy last summer and felt like I could run much faster…I feel like the 3k is a good distance for me.”   Although she goes on to state that she’s keeping her 1500 and 5k options open, this race signals what could be a major shift in her focus and a big opportunity for her running career.

To her credit, Hall was the 2000 Foot Locker champion and went on to have successful collegiate career at Stanford, including a few individual NCAA runner-up finishes.  Despite a high level of success on the prep and collegiate level, Hall has been unable to achieve similar success on the professional scene.  So far, there are no outdoor world championship or Olympic teams on her resume.

And to be honest, once you become a professional track athlete, those are the events you’re gunning for.  Countless training sessions, cross-training workouts, dietary discipline, and personal sacrifice are a prerequisite to achieve such high level of success.  Sure fast times are nice, winning the Milrose mile is nice, but making the team and competing at a major championship is the ultimate goal.

Before you correct me, yes, Hall has gained spots on a few other US world championship teams.  Twice she represented the US at the world indoor championships and raced the world cross country championships.

But let’s be honest, making a marjor outdoor championship team is much more difficult than indoors or cross country. Hall competed in the ’06 cross country championships which featured separate short and long course events.

This is not to meant to bash or demean her past accomplishments.  But clearly over the course of her professional career, Hall has struggled to find her place amongst her racing peers on the outdoor track.

Let’s take a look at Sara Hall’s performances at USA Championships throughout her career.  Let’s see why a shift to the steeplechase gives Hall the best opportunity to earn a trip to Daegu and London.

3 Reasons Why Sara Hall Should Shift to the Steeplechase

1.  The 3k Is Her Best Distance

Clearly, Hall has performed best at the 3k distance on the national level.  Yes, USA Indoors is generally weaker than USA Outdoors, but three of the four runners that beat her for the 3k title have represented the US at major outdoor championships (’06 Tollefson, ’09 Yoder-Begley, ’11 Simpson/Barringer).

A fast 3k does doesn’t automatically translate to fast 3k steeplechase.  The steeplechase is a grueling event and requires a certain attitude and ability to persevere.  There have been more than a few ups and downs in Hall’s career and plenty of haters, but she always races with grit and determination (ex. NB Grand Prix 2011).  Though her technique needs some polish, I think this is an event that suits her personality as well as her athletic talents.

Unfortunately for Hall, there are no more barrier-free 3ks at the outdoor major championships.  Hall and her talents appear to be stuck in-between events.  The competitive 3ks she’s run indoors haven’t translated into great 1500 or 5k performances outdoors.  Plus, the level of competition at those distances in the US hasn’t helped her cause.  Which leads to my next point….

2. Stuck in the Middle

The current depth and quality of US women’s 1500 and 5k racing is at an extremely high level.  With Hall’s modest 1500 PR of 4:08.55, it’s tough to compete with stacked field that includes Shannon Rowbury, Christin Wurth-Thomas, Anna Pierce, Jenny Simpson & Morgan Uceny. Each of these ladies has performed at as world-class level in Europe and have each eclipsed or are near 4 minutes for the 1500m.  Accolades which Hall has not achieved.

The level competition in the 5k is equally as daunting.  Newly crowned American record holder, Molly Huddle, along with Shalane Flanagan, Jenny Simpson and Lisa Koll make for some formidable competition.  There’s also a talented group of upcomers including Angela Bizzarri, Jessica Pixler and Jordan Hasay.

Except for a couple of subpar races, Hall has finished in the top 10 and stuck in the middle of the pack at USA Outdoors.  With the talent and times being run in both the US 1500 and 5k, it will be difficult for her to crack the top 3 in these events.  Maybe Huddle, Flanagan, Simpson and Koll will move up permanently, even so the young group behind them will make it difficult to garner a spot.

That’s not to say Hall won’t improve over 1500 & 5k, I think she will.  But let’s take a look at the PRs of the current crop of US 1500 runners: Uceny (4:02.40), Rowbury (4:00.33), Simpson (3:59.90), Wurth-Thomas (3:59.59) and Pierce (3:59.38). If they each decide to compete in the 1500, 2 of the 5 women who’ve run under 4:02.40 will not qualify for Daegu.  Those seem like pretty tough odds, even with some significant improvements by Hall this year.

3.   Less of a Barrier Because of Her Potential

As the graphic shows, Hall has bounced back and forth between the 1500 and 5k.  I am a believer in long term development but she’s failed to place on the podium in 7 out of 7 USA Outdoor Championships.

If this is not a clear sign that a change needs to occur, than I’m not sure what is.  Luckily for Hall, she has an opportunity to institute this change by moving to the steeplechase.

That’s not to say the US steeplechasers are bunch of pushovers, they aren’t.  Though compared to the 1500 and 5k, there is a much more reasonable shot for Hall to make a US outdoor team.  If Simpson and Pierce both jump back into steeplechase, the competition instantly becomes much more difficult.  Only time will tell, which distances the two 2008 Olympians decide to focus on over the next two years. Also vying for spots will be 2009 world team member Bridgette Franek, 2010 9:24 performer and US champ Lisa Galaviz, and 2009 NCAA runner-up Nicole Bush.

Since her debut steeple in 2009, Hall has chopped off 10 seconds in each of her two successive steeplechases.  In her own words, she’s been “dabbling” in the event.  Being new to the event, those improvements bode well for her future in the event.  Not to mention that for the second half of her race at Stanford was primarily a solo effort.  Though early in the season, one of the competitors she bested was last year’s US champs 3rd place finisher, Lindsey Allen.

Her results at Stanford are at the very least an indicator of potential in the event.  If she decides to commit her training and racing to the event, it’s possible for her to run in the 9:20-30′s later this summer.  If Hall’s goal for ’11 and ’12 is to earn her spot in Daegu or London, the steeplechase is her best opportunity.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or continue the discussion in the TrackFocus Forum


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