Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 US Indoor Track & Field Championships - Albuquerque

Made the drive down to the Albuquerque Convention Center to spectate some championship racing yesterday. It was somewhat amazing they were hosting a top caliber event like that just down the road. Tickets were easy to get and I was maybe expecting a low turnout in attendance because of the absence of any kind of event marketing, but the stands seemed full enough. There were also plenty of nachos to be had of which I helped myself.

The night started off with the field event competitions. Couldn't see the womens triple jump so well, so we wandered over to the mens weight throw. These guys were awesome. It seemed like a modified hammer throw and there were a few guys that could heave it. Some of the athletes were hulking, the guy that won was big but looked the least athletic of the lot.

Next up were the qualifying heats of the 800m. All of the athletes looked like fitness title champions and every runner announced was either a Conference, NCAA or US National champion. Phoebe Wright powered through the women's field taking the best time into Sunday's final. In the men's qualifiers, lightning fast Duane Solomon led from the gun to take the first heat. The second heat featured a cut looking former NCAA champ, Jacob Hernandez, but he and the others were blasted by Mark Husted who truly looked like a high school kid out there. Husted waited until the final 150m and just went wide and dropped them all. You could see Hernandez trying to respond but the skinny high school kid just eased away. I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it with my own eyes. Husted is actually a DII champ which is mighty impressive for a skinny 15yr old.  The mens and womens 400m races followed with no big names in the race. I did note that Tavaris Tate is two-thirds ass and legs, and one-third torso. Those proportions apparently make a guy fast as hell.

Lagat signing after winning the 3000m
The mens high jump began next and the announced field had a four time US champion and Olympian in it, Oregon's Jesse Williams. He was a pretty average looking guy next to the rest of them, but on his first jump it was obvious he was a class above the others. He won with a 7'5" clearance. Beyond the high jump pit, the mens pole vault was beginning. All of these guys looked like they were in a band or something. What is it with vaulters? Crash Davis was on the entry sheet but didn't compete. Olympic Champ Brad Walker was in the field but no-heighted. What the hell Brad? I think he may have been distracted by the mens high jumper in the white body suit. That guy probably should've been asked to put on some pants. Mike Hollis won the vault clearing over 18'.

The womens 3000m was run next. We were cheering for Jenny Baringer (Simpson) an ex-CU Buff. There was a field of only six women which seemed odd, and after a 2000m warm-up Barringer and Sarah Hall pulled away from the rest. A Colorado/Stanford match up that played out with Hall tracking Barringer through the entire race and surging on the bell lap. Barringer held Hall off on the back stretch and pulled away with authority over the last 70m winning in 9min 2sec.  She pumped her fists a few times at the finish, clearly happy with her performance. Colorado for the win sons. How about them BUFFALOS!, that's what I wanted to yell at Sarah as she walked by, but she looked tired and it would have been in poor taste. We came away with no photos of the womens race but a great photo album from the evening's events can be found here.

Braun, Rupp, Lagat, and Vaugh with 1000m to go - Assoc. Press

My crappy photo of Vaughn leading early
The mens 3000m featured World Champ and Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat, new American Record holder Galen Rupp, hometown boy and UNM alum Jeremy Johnson, CU badass and recent US Cross Country Champ Brent Vaughn, and a field of notables including Aaron Braun, Jeff See, Kyle Acorn, and Trevor Dunbar (the only collegiate in the race). Johnson went to the front with the field loping along at a conservative pace. At about 1500m Braun went to the front and controlled the pace for a few laps before trying to trade the lead to someone else. The pack nearly came to a stop since nobody wanted to be in front, so Lagat pulled forward and the race was on. Lagat was clearly the star of the night and the crowd favorite. A few laps of Lagat up front and then Rupp finally challenged with 3 laps to go and pressed the pace. Everyone fell off the back but Lagat and Braun. My man Vaughn looked spent, I thought he'd be in the mix a bit more than that but he was cooked. Lagat and Rupp both looked real relaxed as they'd come around each lap while Braun was working like hell to hang on. At the bell, Lagat just destroyed the both of them. It was over in about 10m. The announcer had the last split at 26sec, and there was a loud ovation for Lagat at the finish. Both Lagat and Rupp finished under 8min off what was a pretty slow pace for much of the race. Braun finished strong in third. Johnson held on for sixth. Vaughn was the first athlete to leave the track, looking disgusted. I wanted to give him a 'how about them BUFFALOS!' but he looked like he probably would have punched me. Him and Sarah both. Afterward, Lagat and Rupp (mostly Lagat) were mobbed by fans and kids looking for a photo and an autograph, and the guy obliged for 10-15min. Up close, Lagat just looked like a pure expression of speed. An amazing looking athlete with an electric smile. Quite a sight.

Henry Rono chatting with his former WSU coach John Chaplin
Aside from the competition itself, there were some big names walking around the arena. We walked right past Paula Radcliffe on the way to get some nachos and I thought, was that Paula f'n Radcliffe? Yep pretty sure it was. Wait, when are you racing next Paula? - eh, but it was too late. An un-announced Dan O'Brien was circling the infield interviewing athletes after heats and on the podium. The guy looked like he could throw on some spikes and compete out there on the spot. He was ripped. Alberto Salazar showed up, spoke briefly and was presented with some achievement award. He spoke of how he felt American distance running was on the rise, although one wouldn't conclude that seeing as most of our top talent wasn't running in Albuquerque this evening. The big dog pacing around bleacher side was Henry Rono. Large groups of college and high school aged runners would walk right past Mr. Rono oblivious to who this old well-dressed gentleman with the cap was, then an older spectator would be shuffling by and stop in their tracks, staring with mouth open and ask to shake his hand. Between those four athletes there may be eight world records, an Olympic gold medal, a few World XC Championships, a slew of world titles, and several NYC and London marathon victories - some pretty heavy artillery.

Meredith, Paula Radcliffe, Therese and Gina
That's it. I don't know if I'll make it up to today's competition since I have some work to do today. The track was impressive and the crowds were impressive. USATF should probably let people know when they put on events like this so people know they can come watch them. Also someone should let these youngins know who Henry Rono is. One ought to know greatness when it's right there in front of you.

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