Closing Hard With Comfort

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With conditions that felt like a hand-held hair dryer, the men’s steeplechasers must have felt some comfort in the lap-by-lap leap into the water at the USATF National Championships on Friday. But for Donn Cabral — who made the Olympic final in 2012 not long after graduating from Princeton — he found comfort in his performance.

“It was comfortable – everything I wanted,” he said afterward. “I got to win my heat and get some confidence. I got a little bit of faster practice over the hurdles.”

His time (8:36.80) was not only the fastest of the day, he closed strong by running a 65-second final lap to pass Dan Huling and pull away from the field. Finals favorite Evan Jager — who won the first heat in 8:40.13 — took note, singling out Cabral as a threat for the crown. “You can’t count a guy like Donn out,” Jager said. “I don’t think it’s a lock by any stretch of the imagination. I feel like I should win, but you never know what’s going to happen.”

Cabral wasn’t the only Heps’ 2012 Olympian in action at Hayward Field on Friday. But Cornell graduate Morgan Uceny’s return to the global stage was ended by nagging injury. She was in good position on the final lap of the first heat of the 1,500-meter run, but an injury that recently kept her from competing in a recent Diamond League meeting in Norway also kept her from keeping pace with the likes of Shannon Rowbury and Mary Cain in the final 200 meters. Uceny finished in 4:21.10 in the day’s slowest heat (Rowbury won in 4:18.89).

Speaking of injury, I’ve been asking more than once about Kate Grace’s absence at Nationals. The answer is that she has been rehabbing from a significant foot injury, but just recently announced that she is joining the NorCal Distance Project, which features Kim Conley. Look for Grace’s return to the track in the near future.

Three Ivy Leaguers — Ashley Higginson (Princeton), Kyle Merber (Columbia) and Will Geoghegan (Dartmouth) — will be running for spots on Team USA, which will compete at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August.

All three will be running in the NBC television window, which is between 4 pm and 6 pm on the East Coast. Higginson’s steeplechase final is scheduled to start at 4:55 pm while Merber and Geoghegan — who recently signed with Nike — will compete in the 1,500-meter final just 25 minutes later.

Higginson and Merber have already bettered the IAAF standard, thus a top-three finish alone would be a ticket to Beijing. Geoghegan would need a top three as well as a huge personal best as the standard is 3:36.20, which is about a 3:53 mile.

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