Josette Andrews leads way on rocking night at On Track Fest

WALNUT — On the final step of his narrow and dramatic victory in the On Track Fest 5,000-meter run Saturday night, Cooper Teare reached out and pointed in celebration.

Later the Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete had second thoughts about the gesture.

“ was bad sportsmanship,” Teare said after his 13-minute, 12.73 seconds to 13:12.95 victory over Adidas’ Morgan Beadlescomb. “Maybe it was relief.”

Or maybe he was pointing to the future.

The meet at storied Hilmer Lodge Stadium at Mt. San Antonio College put on by On, the Swiss running shoe company, and Sound Running, a Southern California meet promotion company, included a series of rock bands and hip hop groups in the infield, food tracks and a beer garden. This wasn’t your father’s Mt. SAC.

More like the Prefontaine Classic meets Coachella.

But on a night when track was cranked up to 11, the loudest noise was made by a new generation of American middle and long-distance stars who turned in a series of performances that had the sport’s ears ringing.

Josette Andrews, of the host On Athletic Club, smoked the final kilometer of the 5,000 to post a world-leading 14:43.36 victory. Behind her in seventh place, North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy shattered the collegiate outdoor record with a 15:03.12 mark.

BYU’s Kenneth Rooks posted a world-leading 8:17.62 in winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase, knocking nearly four seconds off the 46-year-old school record set by nine-time U.S. champion Henry Marsh.

Yared Nuguse, another OAC member who broke the American indoor 1,500, mile and 3,000-meter records this past season, opened his outdoor season with a thrilling come-from-behind 1:46.75 triumph in the 800.

Then there was Missouri schoolboy Connor Burns who in an earlier 5,000 heat clipped the national high school record and in the process became the first prep runner to break both 4:00 in the mile and 14:00 at 5,000. Burns, despite staggering through an agonizing home stretch, finished in 13:37.30 to snap the 19-year-old mark set by future double Olympic medalist Galen Rupp.

“This is such a cool event and there were times and performances to back it up,” Teare, 23, an NCAA 5,000 champion at Oregon. “I think everyone came in here with the same goals, everyone marked this on their calendars. So it’s cool to see Josette run super quick, the guys in the steeple ran really, really fast, the high school kid, high school records going down. Yeah, it’s inspiring and I just wanted to put my name on the list of doing big things tonight.”

No one was bigger than Andrews, the former Georgetown standout.

Andrews sat toward the front of a large lead pack for much of the race, the size of the group resulted in part of not one but two rabbits being unable to start, the second bowing out because of illness just three minutes before the race.

“I was trying to be patient then push that last mile,” she said.

Andrews broke the race wide open with a 2:46 final kilometer to finish nearly 14 seconds under the World Championships qualifying standard and break the stadium record of 14:43.36 set by Shalane Flanagan, later the Boston Marathon winner and Olympic 10,000 meter silver medalist, in 2007. At the time Flanagan’s mark was the American record.

“That hurt bad,” Andrews said “but I’m really happy with the result.”

Andrews’ victory came a week after she won the Penn Relays 1,500 in a meet-record 4:04.88.

“These races show she’s fit and ready to go,” Ritzenhein said. “I think she can run under 4 minutes right now. Awesome to watch, great, great race.”

The question for Ritzenhein and Andrews, the wife of Olympian Robby Andrews, is she a miler or 5,000 runner?

Andrews started working with Ritzenhein last fall, moving to Boulder, OAC’s training base, in December.

“She’s been incredible, honestly,” Ritzenhein said. “I thought coming in she was much more a 1,500-meter runner and that still iis the goal this year but she’s just got so much stronger. She’s really blown me away and she’s just scratching the surface.”

Andrews is scheduled to run the mile at Oslo’s Bislett Games, a Diamond League event, next month and then the 1,500 at the U.S. Championships. But Ritzenhein admitted she might take another crack at the 5,000 later in the summer.

“She can go flat out fast in those Diamond League races but we need to get her stronger so she can get through the rounds (at the World Championships and Olympic Games),” he said. “I think for her she’s still developing and she has a lot of gains she can make in (mileage) volume. I don’t think I’d want to throw her right now in a sub-14:20 race but I think in one year,  I definitely think she could do that. I think if we get a chance to do another she can run significantly faster if she’s not the one taking it out.”

The current American record is 14:23.99 set by Shelby Houlihan of the Nike Bowerman Track Club in 2020.

Nuguse has a well-deserved reputation as a closer. But 250 left Saturday, 20 meters off the lead, the gap appeared to be beyond even his finishing powers. Even as he surged down the home stretch it looked like he had too much traffic in front of him and not enough track left to pull out a victory. Yet Nuguse snuck past Tonatiu Lopez in the final steps for a 0.45-second win.

“Yared doesn’t know how to lose right now,” Ritzenhein said.

“It was hard pretty hard,” Nuguse said “I won’t lie.

“That’s another beast entirely.”

He was asked if would consider focusing on the 800.

“Absolutely not,” he replied.

Burns’ final lap was in stark contrast to Nuguse’s. Last June he broke 4:00 for the first time, running 3:58.83 and then became only the fifth high school runner to go sub-4:00 indoors, clocking 3:59.11 in Boston in February.

Saturday he took on one of prep track’s most venerable records. Gerry Lindgren of Rogers High in Spokane ran 13:44.0 in 1964, the same year he won the 10,000 in the U.S.-Soviet Union meet at the Coliseum and competed in the Tokyo Olympics. The record stood for 40 years until Rupp out of Portland’s Central Catholic High went 13:37.91.

Burns was on pace to break the record, even finish in the low 13:30s until he hit a final home stretch that never seemed to end.

“I was really locking up,” he said. “I’m glad to get through it. Barely.

“I’ll probably be feeling that for a couple of days.”

Burns was asked what his reward was for breaking Rupp’s record.

“A long flight home,” he groaned.

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