Hiltz, Hoppel Repeat as USATF Indoor Champions
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2024 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission. 

NOTE: This story was written remotely –Ed.

(17-Feb) — On the second and final day of the USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, Nikki Hiltz (lululemon) and Bryce Hoppel (adidas) both repeated as national indoor champions, and both qualified for the World Athletics Indoor Championships next month in Glasgow. Hiltz won the 1500m in the women’s division on the strength of a snappy 28.7-second final lap, while Hoppel won the 800m title –his fourth indoor national title and his sixth overall– by outrunning the field on the final lap.

Hiltz, 29, is on a roll. The former Arkansas Razorback won last year’s title in a tactical race in 4:17.10, then came back in the summer to take the national outdoor title in 4:03.10, followed by an American record in the mile of 4:16.35. Hiltz was in great form earlier in the indoor season, running a USA indoor best at 1000m of 2:34.09, then finishing fourth in the two-mile at the Millrose Games last Sunday in a personal best 9:15.80 (8:39.92 at 3000m).

Nikki Hiltz winning USATF Indoor 1,500m, photo by Randy Miyazaki for Race Results Weekly

In today’s race, Hiltz was content to allow others to lead. Gabbi Jennings (adidas) took the lead right from the gun, and although she didn’t set a fast pace, her rhythm was solid. Jennings started with 35-second laps, then squeezed it down to the 34s, the 33s, and the 32s. With two laps to go, Hiltz was sitting in second place behind Jennings, and Emily Mackay (New Balance Boston) was just a step behind. Hiltz came to the front before the bell, and as much as Mackay pushed in the final circuit, Hiltz just could not be caught. The Flagstaff-based athlete stopped the clock at 4:08.35 at the finish, similar to a 4:03 at sea level (The Albuquerque Convention Center is at 4958ft/1511m of altitude).

“I love championship-style racing,” Hiltz told sideline reporter Lewis Johnson on the NBC broadcast. “There’s no rabbits or pacesetters; it’s all about racing. It was just so much fun.”

Mackay –last year’s Pan Am Games 1500m bronze medalist who ran nearly as fast as Hiltz for the final lap– took second in 4:08.70 and made her first national team for a global championship (both she and Hiltz had already made the qualifying standard of 4:06.50). Third went to Anna Camp-Bennett (adidas) in 4:10.20. Jennings, who led for five of the race’s seven and one-half laps, got fourth.

Bryce Hoppel, Isaiah Harris, photo by Kevin Morris

Hoppel, 26, won with a perfectly executed race. At 400m (53.3 seconds) Hoppel was running third behind Josh Hoey (adidas) and Abe Alvarado (Unattached). On the penultimate lap, Isaiah Harris (Brooks Beasts Track Club) moved up to third, Hoey drifted back to fourth, and a determined-looking Alvarado took the lead. With about 100 meters left, Hoppel went around Alvarado on the outside and came home alone to take the win in 1:46.67. Harris rolled up Alvarado in the final 50 meters to take second in 1:46.78 (coming remarkably close to Hoppel in the final meters). Both Hoppel and Harris had the Glasgow qualifying standard of 1:46.00 coming into these championships, so they claimed their team spots on the finish line.

“Indoors 800 is all about tactics,” Hoppel said in his post-race broadcast interview. “I had to just get out there and execute and stay to my right and confident and do what I need to do.”

Hoey got third in 1:47.41, and Alvarado fourth in 1:47.86.

In the other two distance finals today, the women’s 800m and the men’s 1500m, the wins went to Allie Wilson (Unattached) and Cole Hocker (Nike). Wilson, 27, who left the Atlanta Track Club Elite squad after last season to stay with coach Amy Begley, who moved to Indianapolis, showed that her Millrose Games 800m win last Sunday was not a fluke. Today the former Monmouth University star let 20 year-old Addy Wiley lead the race to the 600 meter mark (although she was nearly tripped by Wiley in the first lap), and ran down her younger rival in the homestretch, just getting past her inside of the final 10 meters. Wilson, who ran 2:00.63, earned her first national title.

Allie Wilson takes the 800 meters, photo by Kevin Morris

“It means everything,” a tearful Wilson said in her post-race broadcast interview, barely able to get the words out. “I have fought so hard for so long to have a win like this makes it all worth it.”

Wiley –who ran for Huntington University in the NAIA system and turned pro only this year– recorded an indoor personal best of 2:00.70 and booked her place for Glasgow. Defending champion Nia Akins (Brooks Beasts Track Club) struggled to find a good position in the pack today and was only running in fifth place at the 600-meter mark. She finally found some clear running room in the final 50 meters but ran out of room and had to settle for third in 2:00.90.

Hocker enjoyed a runaway win in his race. The former Oregon Duck made a slick move with four laps to go, slicing past then-leader John Reniewicki (Under Armour) on the inside, then led the rest of the race to get the win in a championships record 3:37.51. He stretched his arms in triumph before breaking the tape.

Cole Hocker takes the 1,500m title, photo by Kevin Morris, and the 2024 USATF Indoor Championships.

“I didn’t want to let anyone in the race who didn’t need to be there,” Hocker said of why he surged to the front on the inside mid-race. “I thought to myself right when I did that, I feel like Centro right now back in 2016 (when Matthew Centrowitz won the Olympic 1500m title) because I just feel like I could navigate that well; I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t touch him (Reniewicki), so I was happy with that move and tried to put the hammer down.”

Hobbs Kessler, the reigning World Athletics road mile champion, got second in 3:38.76 but was nearly caught by Henry Wynne (Brooks Beasts Track Club), who lunged at the line and only finished 5/100ths of a second behind the former high school star from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who had briefly let up just before the finish. Hocker and Kessler had the qualifying mark 3:36.00 coming into the meet, so they booked their team places for Glasgow.

Cole Hocker winning USATF 1,500m, photo by Randy Miyazaki for RRW

Outside of the distance events, fans were treated to a superb sprint match-up between Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman in the 60 meters, where Lyles came from behind to win in a world-leading 6.43, just 1/100th of a second ahead of Coleman. Both men will be looking for gold in Glasgow.