2012 Brooks PR Invitational: Surprises and speedsters shine brightest

Shayla Sanders FL (right) came within .02 of the 60 dash USR Sunday at the Brooks PR Invite. Andy Kiyokawa/ESPNHS

SEATTLE – Donovan Robertson, Shayla Sanders and Marcus Dickson were not the most well-known athletes among the galaxy of stars at the Brooks PR Invitational, but they were among Sunday's biggest winners. And while the 307-meter oversized track is known for being friendly to distance runners, it was sprinters and hurdlers who collectively shone brightest.

Brooks spared no expense and saw its boutique meet – hand-picked fields lavished by the shoe company's products and attention – flourish in Year No. 2. The 12 races at the University of Washington's Dempsey indoor arena produced seven new US#1s and several historically significant performances.

The best of those came from Robertson. The senior from Berea, Ohio hurdled into history, clocking 7.57 seconds to break the U.S. high school record in the 60-meter event – 7.60 by Southeast Raleigh, N.C. star Wayne Davis in 2009.

"I'm extremely surprised," Robertson said. "I came in here to defend my US#1 spot and I did more than that. I raised the bar and I'm excited." He came into the meet with a nation-leading personal best of 7.78, then ran 7.77 for the third-best time out of the prelim round, .02 behind the 7.75 of Martin Luther King (Lithonia, Ga.) senior Jordan Moore. But Moore and the rest of the loaded field could not touch the Ohio State recruit in the final.

"In the 60 meters, whoever gets to the first hurdle is usually the winner of the race," Robertson said. "I just told myself in the blocks 'first to the hurdle.' I've been struggling with starts in the past and I definitely felt something different today. It was amazing."

Sanders, a Boyd Anderson (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.) senior, had the national record (Ashley Owens, 7.19, 2004) in her sights in the girls 60 and came within a whisker of taking it down. She ran US#1 7.21 seconds after a meet-record-tying 7.26 in the prelims and may have staked her claim as the top female sprinter in the nation.

"I was surprised," said Sanders, who also came in as US#1 in the 55 and sports an 11.45 for 100 meters from last spring. "When I ran in the prelims I didn't feel like I was running (hard). So I knew I had more for the finals." It was just the second time she had ever raced 60 meters.

If Octavious Freeman was the dominant sprinter of 2011, Sanders hopes to take over that position in 2012. "It can't always be the same person, someone different has to come up and break records," she said. "That's what I want to do, handle my business."

A Floridian also won the boys 60. Jones (Orlando, Fla.) junior Levonte Whitfield, cousin and training partner to 55-meter US record holder Marvin Bracy, got the win by out-leaning O'Dea (Seattle, Wash.) senior Tatum Taylor as both hit the line in a US#1 6.71. Whitfield got his chest across first, running 6.704 to Taylor's 6.709.

Bracy had planned on coming to Seattle but stayed home with an injury.

"He got scared of me," Whitfield said of his cousin. "I've been grinding hard while he's been sleeping. He didn't want to tangle (with me)."

Whitfield sold that line as he said it, but couldn't take it any further. "Nah, I'm just playing. (Marvin) got hurt," he said. "I wish he would have come. I think I probably would have run faster."

Whitfield said there was a chance he may line up against Bracy next week in the 200 meters.

Two sprinters who did bring out the best in one another were St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, N.J.) senior Najee Glass and Timberview (Arlington, Texas) senior Aldrich Bailey, who collided in the 400 meters. Glass ran US#1 46.06 to Bailey's 46.07 – for the No. 2 and 3 performances all-time (considering all tracks).

Dickson, a senior who hails from White River High School in little Buckley, Wash., pulled off the day's biggest upset in the final race of the meet, the boys mile All eyes were on Cabell Midland (Ona, W. Va.) junior Jacob Burcham, the soph outdoor 1500 USR-holder who led almost the entire way. But Dickson closed with a rush and caught Burcham on the final step of the race, winning in US#2 4:07.18 to 4:07.20.

Dickson PR'd by six seconds and pulled off a victory for the local Washington crowd. Buckley is located about 30 miles southeast of Seattle.

"I was so surprised by how good I felt," Dickson said. "This is the best off-season I've had. I wanted a big senior year and it's starting off good right now."

For some in Sunday's meet, the Brooks PR Invite comes near the end of indoor season. For others, it felt like a kick-off to the upcoming outdoor season.

To Cami Chapus, the senior from Harvard-Westlake (Los Angeles, Calif.), the meet came just 48 hours after an emotionally draining end to her high school soccer career. On Friday, Chapus played in a California Division I state quarterfinal against San Clemente, the No. 5 team in the nation. The match ended in a 1-1 tie, lasted through two overtimes, and was settled in the seventh round of penalty kicks (Chapus made her PK).

Crushed by that loss, Chapus managed to re-focus on the plane trip up the coast to Seattle on Friday night and overcame sore, fatigued legs to win the 800 meters in US#3 2:10.69.

"It was really hard. I played soccer my whole life," said Chapus, who led the nation outdoors in the mile and 1500 in 2011. "I used to be a soccer player who runs, and then my sophomore year it became more a runner who plays soccer.

"After the game I had to switch my mind around and focus on (this) meet," she added. If Harvard-Westlake had won, it would have played a semifinal on Tuesday.

Another athlete who did a great job of re-focusing was Dior Hall, the sophomore hurdles sensation from George Washington (Denver). Hall stumbled over the last hurdle a week ago in her Simplot showdown with Trinity Wilson and finished last.

In Seattle, Hall was rock solid. She ran a personal best US#2 8.28 in the finals to beat Benjamin Cardozo (Bayside, N.Y.) senior Lateisha Philson (8.36) and defending champ Kell (Marietta, Ga.) junior Kendall Williams (8.39). Hall's time broke Wilson's all-time sophomore class record (8.29).

In the girls 400, Smith (Carrollton, Texas) senior Courtney Okolo became the first repeat champion in the short history of the meet. She stripped more than a second off her winning time in 2011, running a US#1 53.21.

The boys 800, which received a lot of the pre-meet buzz, was one race that fell a little short of the hype. Canadian junior Tyler Smith won for the second week in a row on U.S. soil, kicking out of a slow early pace to win in 1:51.83 and complete a Simplot-Brooks double. Wenatchee (Wenatchee, Wash.) senior Nick Boersma was a surprising second in US#6 1:53.12.

Smith came to Seattle hoping to run closer to the 1:48 range, something he thought he was capable of. "I was the last one off the (starting) line. That should not happen," he said. "It was too risky to have to be in one of the last positions and work my way up. It did get lucky, but it wasn't what I expected, honestly."

Meanwhile, top Americans Zavon Watkins, Nick Hartle and Cameron Thornton – all with sub-1:50 PRs – finished third, fourth and sixth, respectively.

In the boys two-mile, Reagan (San Antonio, Texas) senior Daniel Vertiz of proved that he hasn't lost much fitness since his NXN-Foot Locker double. Leading at one point mid-race, he was glad to see Cary Acad. (Raleigh, N.C.) senior Thomas Graham go by him with about 1,250 to go.

Vertiz relaxed for a bit and then reasserted himself at the end, winning in US#2 8:59.15. Also dipping under nine minutes was Bismarck (Bismarck, N.D.) junior Jake Leingang – another Foot Locker/NXN doubler – in 8:59.66.

"I was looking forward to sitting back and kicking," Vertiz said. "I haven't done much (sharpening), just a lot of build-ups, but not much lactic VO2 work. I wanted to get out (safely) and I was right there on the first turn with everyone staying behind me. I was like 'OK, let's see how this goes.'"

A pair of Midwesterners won the girls distance races.

Foot Locker champion and University Lake (Hartland, Wis.) senior Molly Seidel stayed near the lead the entire way in the two-mile and then got serious, along with Tatnall (Wilmington, Del.) senior Haley Pierce, in the final 500 meters. Seidel kicked away from Pierce in the final 60 to win in US#1 10:13.45 – making her #12 all-time, all tracks. Pierce was next in 10:14.54 and West Bloomfield (West Bloomfield, Mich.) junior Erin Finn, the Foot Locker runner-up who had led most of the way, was third in 10:18.82.

In the girls mile, Grosse Pointe South (Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.) junior Hannah Meier went wire-to-wire for the victory, banging out an early 67-second 400 meters and then holding on late with pressure coming from Glacier Peak (Snohomish, Wash.) junior Amy-Eloise Neale. Neale got shoulder-to-shoulder with Meier but could not get in front of her.

Meier won in US#1 4:43.28, stripping six seconds off Ajee Wilson's meet record from 2011 and moving to #6 all-time, all tracks. Neale was next in 4:44.03, running five seconds faster than she did last year. Meier's twin sister Haley was third in 4:48.10.