By David Monti, @d9monti and Chris Lotsbom, @chrislotsbom
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BOSTON (28-Jan) — An all-star foursome of American Olympians –Emma Coburn, Sydney McLaughlin, Brenda Martinez and Jenny Simpson– lowered the world indoor best for the 4000-meter distance medley relay here this afternoon at the 22nd New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. Urged on by a raucaus, sold out crowd of 4500 which rose to its feet on Simpson’s anchor leg, the team stopped the clock at 10:40.31, about two seconds faster than the previous best of 10:42.57 set on the same Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center track two years ago.
“It was a lot of pressure,” said a relieved Simpson who ran the anchor 1600m leg in 4:27.66. “I was really surprised earlier today how nervous I was getting.”
The team got off to a conservative start when Coburn, the Rio Olympic steeplechase bronze medalist, ran the 1200m leg in 3:18.40, three seconds down on the opening split of the previous record. Training in cold and snowy conditions in Boulder, Colo., Coburn admitted that she was not sharp and was hoping her strength would carry her through an uncomfortably short distance.
“I just wanted to give Sydney the lead,” Coburn told reporters, wearing a special white bow in her hair that the 17 year-old McLauglin had made for each of her teammates. “Jenny made a really good point in our press conference (yesterday). After all four of us had the Olympics and a long season… it is weird to get back into race mode. She continued: “It was a bit of a harsh entry back into speedwork.”
Coburn accomplished her goal, giving her USA team a slight lead over the European team going into the second, 400-meter leg. McLaughlin ran hard, but got a good challenge from Esther Guerrero of Spain who passed the teenager on the second lap, before McLaughlin retook the lead, 52.32 to 52.43.
“I got out pretty well,” McLaughlin told the media. “I knew that the European team was going to have a fast girl so when she came on me it kind of pushed me to go faster. Coming down the backstretch I wanted to get that lead back for Brenda to give it to her in a good position.”
Martinez grabbed the stick and hit the gas, hard. Soon she was running alone, knowing the team needed to make up valuable seconds, even with Simpson on the anchor.
“Any time you’re on a relay team you’re trying to give your best effort, so sometimes you’re just racing the clock,” Martinez explained. “Sometimes you don’t even know what pace you’re going.” She continued: “We just gave it our fullest and our best today, and that’s all that counts.”
After Martinez handed to Simpson –who admitted she hadn’t received a baton in a relay since college– the 2011 world 1500m champion just tried to keep her cool. Like Coburn, Simpson had been training in snowy Boulder and hadn’t done any speed work. She didn’t want to try to crush it, fearing she might blow up. She ran cautiously, but was determined to bring the record home.
“It was so not about my running; it was about preserving what everyone had done up to that point and making sure we got the record,” Simpson said. “I went out really conservative, not what I would have done if I was on the starting line racing a group of 1500-meter, 1600-meter women.”
Simpson ran lap after lap, alone. Urged on by the public address announcer, the crowd got louder and louder and Simpson tried to stay focused and keep calm.
“I know I cut it a little bit close,” she admitted. “But, a lot of that was out of design, saying all we needed to do was be under 10:42.”
Also running conservatively was Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz. Running in the mile, he felt a bit sluggish during the opening laps, though was confident he had enough in the tank to take home the victory. Having raced at this meet four times before since high school, Centrowitz was confident on the blue oval.
After a fast 409 meters in 58.55, Centrowitz settled in as the field partially strung out behind him. Two laps later the clock read 1:59.44, setting up for a quick final half.
The first to truly challenge Centrowitz was surprisingly Ben True, racing his first indoor race on a banked track; entering the race his PB was 3:59.99 compared to Centrowitz’s 3:50.63 indoor best. In uncharted territory, True tried to make a move by slinging to the outside only to be tripped up the track’s banking. While the stumble slowed his momentum, True continued up towards the front as Centrowitz began to put pressure on the tempo.
Hitting the bell leading by a step on Vincent Kibet, Centrowitz went to his kick with the crowd in full force behind him. Looking back to see where Kibet was around the final turn, the Nike Oregon Project star did enough to win by two meters 3:55.78 to 3:56.09. Briton Jake Wightman was third in 3:57.24 with True fourth in 3:57.31.
“Not the time I wanted, but one of those races where I readjusted really early on knowing that it wasn’t all about fast times today and just wanted to get the win. Obviously happy with the win and pretty excited for the two mile in two weeks at Millrose,” Centrowitz said. He’d later add that the crowd’s support was a helping factor in the win. “This place was pretty electric today. Of all the Boston Indoor Games I’ve done this is probably the most packed I’ve seen it.”
The men’s 3000m produced a convincing win by Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo. At Friday’s press conference, Chelimo warned his competitors that the 3000m is his specialty, or as he succinctly put it, his “lion’s den.” That proved true as Chelimo saluted his way to a big win over tough competition including Ethiopian global medalists Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet.
Pacer Lawi Lalang immediately gaped the field and looked around startled that no one went with him as rabbit. Through 2000 meters in 5:43.76, Lalang had nearly two seconds on the bunched group behind. Chelimo was fine with the race’s unique development.
“I just wanted to sit there and get my body warmed up towards the end. I just wanted under 7:40,” said Chelimo, a U.S. Army soldier. Chelimo and Scotland’s Andrew Butchart –who has been training in Flagstaff, Ariz.– were the aggressors in the final kilometer, overtaking Lalang (who decided to stay in the race) while Gebremeskel, Gebrhiwet, and Eric Jenkins fought behind them.
Everyone was together at the bell, when Chelimo began to tap into his sprint speed. Topping out with a 26.27-second final 200m, Chelimo muscled his way through the tape just ahead of Butchart, 7:42.39 to 7:42.97. To celebrate Chelimo saluted the capacity crowd.
“I can’t ask for much [more], that was enough for me today,” Chelimo said, slightly out of breath. “I just wanted to conserve myself for the end of the race. Always, the most important thing of the race is the last part, because it’s the winner who takes the day.”
Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, testing himself in the 3000m, was a distant 12th in 8:16.70. He did not speak with the media.
In the second half of the women’s 3000m Hellen Obiri was a lethal yo-yo, toggling between 35 and 33 second laps. The Kenyan Olympic 5000m silver medalist toyed with Nike Oregon Project teammates Sifan Hassan and Shannon Rowbury in their first race sporting the same uniform. A mile in, the trio was alone.
With Obiri running inconsistent splits, the metronomic Rowbury found herself back by five steps at one point. But two laps later the two time Fifth Avenue Mile champion was back in contention.
No one was going to stop Obiri on this day, though. Covering the final 400m in just over 62 seconds, Obiri cruised to victory in 8:39.08 to Hassan’s 8:40.99 and Rowbury’s 8:41.94.
“I knew I was in very good shape,” said Obiri, who speaks as fast as she runs. “So far, this season has been good for me. I have been doing a lot of cross country distance and I look forward to doing two more indoor races before I go back to Kenya.”
Rowbury and Hassan are both excited to be on the same team now, despite having not trained together yet (Hassan has been in Portland; Rowbury in Mexico). “It’s great! We’re not going to be fighting each other for the same U.S. team spot, but at the World Championships I’ll know that I’ve trained with one of the best. She’s a great person and has a great sense of humor. I’m excited about it,” Rowbury said.
The world record attempt in the men’s 600m fizzled after Duane Solomon cut in from the stagger too early. Although he held off Donavan Brazer who tried to pass him with about 110 meters to go, he was later disqualified giving the win to Brazier in 1:16:57. Solomon was disappointed with himself.
“The whole mentality was to get the record,” said Solomon. “As soon as I crossed the cones it wasn’t worth it (to keep pushing hard).
In the women’s 800m, Charlene Lipsey built on her personal-best performance in the mile at last weekend’s the New Balance Games in New York, taking control in the last lape of the here and winning with relative ease in 2:02.01 over Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu (2:02.38) and Scotland’s Lynsey Sharp (2:02.88). She said that training under coach Derek Thompson with Olympians Ajee’ Wilson and Marielle Hall has really helped her fitness.
“I’m in really good shape,” she said. “I just want to thank my coaches and my teammates,” she said. This year, I changed coaches I now train with Derek, Ajee’ Wilson and Marielle Hall and it’s been a life-changing experience. She added: “Every day we bring our ‘A’ game.”
Russian whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova finished seventh, and last, in 2:05.14.
In the boys mile, D.J. Principe of La Salle Academy in Providence, R.I., was upset by Josh Hoey of Downingtown West High School in Downington, Pa. Principe, who nearly broke four minutes at last Saturday’s New Balance Games in New York, led most of the race until Hoey passed him with 250 meters to go winning 4:09.26 to 4:12.34. Principe said he felt flat.
“I had a 101 fever last week,” Principe told Race Results Weekly. “I think last week’s race beat me down.”
Hoey, who was woozy speaking to the media after the race, said he stuck with his plan an wasn’t focused on beating Principe. “I wanted to stay within reaching distance,” he said. He added: ” Really, I was just tring to come and run my race and I wasn’t really worried about everybody else.”
Jacqueline Gaughan of Exeter High School in New Hampshire won the girls mile in a personal best 4:52.60. With two and a half laps to to, she took the lead from Abbe Goldstein of Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania, and held it to the finish, despite a small crisis of confidence over the last two laps.
“I was feeling good and I just wanted to make sure that we picked up the pace so it didn’t end up a sprint the last lap,” she explained to the media. “Once I made the move I was like, oh no, I shouldn’t have done that because I’m not really a miler and I don’t know what to do. I was kind of regretting that move at that moment.”
PHOTO: Jenny Simpson running the 1600m leg of the distance medley relay at the 2017 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)