By: Kyle Markley
Over the course of the past couple months there has been some discussion about who would win in a 4x1 mile relay race between two of the world’s powerhouse countries for middle distance runners, the U.S. and U.K. Both sides have their arguments on who they believe would win, but now it is time to put the pen to paper and discuss who I believe would compete and win in a rivalry between countries that dates to the Revolutionary War.
Leg 1: Matt Centrowitz
Leading off this all-star lineup of runners to represent the stars and stripes I have Matthew Centrowitz. Centro has a PR of 3:50 in the mile and 3:30 in the 1500m. He also has something none of the other runners on either of these teams have, a gold medal. This medal was earned after a tactical 2016 Olympic final. This race cemented Matt as one of the best in the sport for tactical races. He knows how to control the race, and how to shape it into the race he wants to run. Matt is also a champion of the mental warfare that this sport is made of. He has the confidence to speak what he is capable of running and the ability to back up what he says when he says it. Chances are if you are racing against Centro, he is already in your head without you even knowing. That is why it is crucial he leads off for team U.S.A. because he will control the pace early and put his team in the best position possible to succeed.
Leg 2: Cole Hocker
Second leg I have the next up and coming star of U.S. distance running, Cole Hocker. This kid has been on a roll winning his heat and final of the mile at indoor NCAA’s this year. Leading from the front and keeping the pace honest, Cole ran 3:53 and 3:56 on back-to-back days. On top of that, he came back less than an hour later to win the 3000m. This kid has proven he not only has the confidence to run a race from the front, but the wheels to win it as well. That confidence is something I see coming in clutch for the second leg of this relay. Chances are it is going to be a close race, so this team needs someone that is not afraid to lead and push the pace. Both of which Cole Hocker does best.
Leg 3: Donovan Brazier
The third leg has historically been where a team puts its weakest leg. But I am putting Donavan Brazier as the third leg who is anything but weak. Now I know what you are thinking, he is an 800m runner. But I have seen glimpses of how good of a 1500m runner he could be in meets like the Big Friendly and the Sunset Tour. Both times he showed he can pace with anybody. But when it comes down to the last 200m, nobody is safe in front of him. His speed and kick at the end of a race is strong enough to put fear into anybody who is running ahead of this man. 3:35 is a good PR, but this man can run a new American record if he gets the right opportunity. That is why I believe he is the strongest 3rd leg in this race. Because not only can he outkick anyone, but he also has the most potential on this team.
Leg 4: Craig Engels
To close out this star-studded relay this team needs a strong, confident runner who is not afraid of anyone. Someone with the confidence and the drive to bring home the win, so look no further than the mullet man himself Craig Engels. Craig has PRs of 3:34 in the 1500m and 3:51 in the mile, both of which are very impressive times, but he also has the tactical ability to outkick the first leg of the team, Centro, at the last USA Outdoor Championships in the 1500m. Craig is a medal contender at this year’s 2021 Olympics and is creating an impressive resume in the sport. He has also shown versatility in being able execute a fast race as well as a sit and kick--both of which are viable scenarios that could play out in this race. He also always seems to be ready to race when the time is right, an attribute that we can thank his coach Pete Julian for. Altogether, I cannot see any better person to anchor this team of Americans. Craig brings the energy and the athleticism this team needs.
Team United Kingdom
Leg 1: Josh Kerr
Going across the pond, the U.K. packs a punch when it comes to its middle-distance running. The talent of middle-distance runners this country possesses were in full swing during the 2019 World Championships when the U.K. had three runners in the 1500m final, two of which were top six. So, it is only fitting to have one of those three leading off this relay, Josh Kerr. Josh is one of the top up and coming runners in the sport and a serious medal contender for the Olympics. Josh has PRs of 3:32 in the 1500m and 3:53 in the mile. Over the course of the past year however, we have seen Josh Kerr break races wide open, by surging to the lead and not taking his foot off the gas. He knows what he can run and is not afraid to push the pace. This mindset gives Josh the confidence to run his race and not let anyone get in the way. For that reason, he is a perfect fit for leading off this U.K. team because he is going to go out and get the win either by pushing the pace or sitting and kicking like his podcast says.
Leg 2: Neil Gourley
Second leg for the U.K. is one of the other three world finalists in the 1500m, Neil Gourley. Neil’s PRs include 3:35 in the 1500m and 3:57 in the mile. He is one that has competed well on the collegiate and national stage, giving him the racing experience he needs to compete with the U.S. squad. He even has some experience racing against the likes of some of the Americans that make up their relay team. So that experience could prove helpful when competing in this race. Overall, he brings a strong second leg to this U.K. team.
Leg 3: James West
Third leg of this team is one that I believe is going to be one of the future stars for the U.K., James West. James is another Oregon Duck standout with PRs of 3:34 in the 1500m and 3:56 in the mile. Even though his times are not as fast as the other runners in this race. He has the potential to be a legit threat in the 1500m. The pandemic hurt his chances to really show off his hard work this past year, but this kid has been working with some of the top distance runners in the country at U of O and if he can compete with the likes of Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker, he can compete with anyone.
Leg 4: Jake Wightman
Finally, to close out this U.K. squad I have the 5th place finisher of the 2019 World Championships in the 1500m. His PRs are 3:29 in the 1500m and 3:52 in the mile. Jake is a contender in any race he runs in. And in more recent years he has been on a kick of great performances, revolving around a 3:29 1500m race. Jake has consistently been improving in his races and that speed is something that can be dangerous on the last leg of this relay. This New Balance boy is not afraid to go out in a hard pace and suffer. Something that could occur very easily in this duel with Craig Engels. He rounds out this U.K. squad looking to bring the win home to the land across the pond.
I see this race starting off slow and tactical, with Matt Centrowitz keeping the pace slow and consistent. But with 500m to go I can see Josh Kerr breaking the race wide open. Handing the baton off to Neil Gourley with a short lead. Neil holds the lead, but Cole Hocker is able to shorten the gap to a couple of meters. James West runs a good race, but with 400m to go he is no match for Brazier’s kick. Brazier gives Craig a sizable lead going into the last leg where Craig holds onto the win. Jake Wightman closes the gap but does not have enough runway left. Craig crosses the finish line, and the U.S. is victorious. A great hypothetical race that we all would love to see run sometime soon between these two iconic running regions.
Comment below with who you got!