By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
February 7, 2015
BOSTON — Records were broken in bunches here at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, with two world and one national mark falling on an exciting evening of track and field. The Team New Balance USA quartet of Sarah Brown, Mahogany Jones, Megan Krumpoch, and Brenda Martinez combined to time 10:42.57 for the distance medley relay, shattering the previous world record of 10:50.98. The team’s performance kicked off what would be a night of fast performances on the newly resurfaced Reggie Lewis Center track, as American Jenny Simpson broke the national record for two miles and Bernard Lagat set a world masters best for 3000m.
A week ago in New York City, the men’s indoor world record for the distance medley relay was broken by a Nike-sponsored American team. Tonight, it was the women’s turn, with all eyes focusing on Team New Balance USA. With Brown and Martinez serving as bookends to the relay, many predicted the University of Tennessee’s 2009 world mark of 10:50.98 would fall.
Leading off the 1200 meter leg, Brown found herself slightly adrift of the front, passing the baton off in second behind the New York All Stars. Attempting to set a world record held extra meaning for Brown, who was part of the University of Tennessee team that set the existing mark six years ago.
“When I knew that they [the team] was going after it, I said I really want a chance to be a part of it,” said Brown, “There’s something just extra special about being on a relay.”
Running the 400m leg for Team New Balance USA was Jones, formerly of Penn State University. Jones quickly caught up to the New York All Star team, clocking a 53.59-second split for two laps. From there, it was Krumpoch’s turn, battling with New York’s Latavia Thomas.
Nearly neck-and-neck, Thomas passed her baton first to Nicole Tully, while Krumpoch exchanged the Team New Balance baton to Martinez less than a quarter second later.
Martinez, the 2013 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist at 800m, regained the lead early on, though never quite shook the tenacious Tully. With fewer than 400 meters remaining, Tully surged trying to distance herself from Martinez. While she did gain the lead, the 28-year-old had a feeling that Martinez would come on strong in the final meters.
“I know Brenda’s got incredible 800 meter speed and a great kick so I figured, I was feeling pretty good with 400m to go so I needed to make a move early,” said Tully. “I could tell by the crowd in the last lap that Brenda was making a comeback.”
Looking at the big screen with 100 meters to go and then glancing back once again with 60 meters left, Tully knew that Martinez was gaining ground. All she could do was swing wide down the homestretch, but that was to no avail. Martinez broke the tape in 10:42.57, giving her team the new indoor world record. Tully’s New York All Stars team placed second in 10:42.79, also under the previous record.
“It was a strong group and I just trusted the girls,” said Martinez, relieved to have achieved the record. “We had a discussion last night saying ‘just give us your best leg at your current fitness and we’ll do just fine’… I really needed to dig down and get after it. I didn’t know it was the last lap, that’s how lost I was out there. I kinda snapped out of it and was like I got to go right now.”
Martinez’s teammate, Brown, said she had no doubt that Martinez had enough left in the tank to make the winning move.
“Brenda is one tough cookie. You can see it in her face when she has that determination,” said Brown. “When Nicole went around and I saw Brenda’s face didn’t falter whatsoever, I was like she might have this. She brought a tear to my eye when she was coming down that homestretch. She was fighting it out and doing it for all of the girls who ran before her. I was so proud of her.”
Cheers for the world record distance medley relay were loud from the near capacity crowd, though they were matched by the roar Jenny Simpson received when setting a new national record in the two mile.
Returning here one year after mistakenly miscounting laps (and costing herself a shot at the two mile national record), Simpson toed the line tonight with motivation. She knew Regina Jacobs’s 9:23.38 time from 2002 was well within reach.
After pacesetter Heather Wilson stepped off shortly after 1200 meters, it was Simpson leading a string of three Ethiopians: Sentayehu Ejigu, Buze Diriba, and Gotytom Gebreslase. Running lap after lap in the 34 to 35 second range, Simpson kept calm up front by listening to meet announcer Toni Reavis rattle off split times.
With her mind set on the national record, Simpson remembered a lesson she learned while chasing NCAA marks in her final year at the University of Colorado: keep your foot consistently on the gas.
“There’s a very fine balance between settling down and not pushing yourself past that threshold of going to the well, but also still grinding so that you’re keeping the pace up,” she said. “When you start slowing up even just tenths of a second, that can slip away really easily.”
By maintaining her hard pace, one by one the Ethiopians behind her dropped off. First it was Gebreslase, then Diriba, and finally Ejigu. Running her final 200 meters solo in 30.69 seconds, Simpson used the crowd’s adrenaline to power her through the finish in a new national record of 9:18.35.
“No leading, no kicking down people, none of that can help as much as having a rowdy crowd,” said Simpson. “Indoors that’s so much more vibrant and so much more in your face and it really, really helps.”
Taking to the track for the first time since he turned 40, Bernard Lagat wanted to set a record of his own: the masters indoor world record for 3000m. Finding himself tucked in behind Will Leer, Dejen Gebremeskel, and Hassan Mead, Lagat comfortably ran within himself for the race’s first half.
The 3000m turned out to be more like a 300 meter sprint, as no moves would be made until a lap and a half remained. That was when Gebremeskel got anxious and charged to the front.
Lagat, not wanting to lose, quickly matched Gebremeskel’s move and took over pole position. Laser-focused, Lagat made his way down the backstretch with Gebremeskel hot on his heels in full sprint mode.
“He is good at finishing,” said Gebremeskel of Lagat. “I know him very well, so especially if the race is a little bit slow I know he can kick so I was expecting that.”
Lagat did his best to hold off the lanky Ethiopian, pumping his arms faster than he had all race. Yet it was Gebremeskel who had one final gear coming off the last turn.
“I give more time to training this year for Boston Indoor. Three months, around that, I’ve been ready for this. I was working on finishing and sprinting because I was expecting it with Lagat coming,” said Gebremeskel, who won in 7:48.19.
Lagat was still pleased with his 7:48.33 performance, obliterating the previous world master’s record of 8:01.44. However, he thought he could have gone faster.
“I am satisfied but I think we could have gone a little faster. I think we could have gone faster because I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel but I really felt great during the race itself,” said Lagat before appearing on USA Track & Field’s ‘The Cool Down’ post-race show. “This one gave me a lot of confidence.”
In the men’s mile, New Zealand’s Nick Willis was a man on a mission. Having just completed a stint training at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., the 2008 Olympic silver medalist over 1500m felt sharp entering today’s race. He looked in prime form, taking over the lead after 1000 meters and never looking back.
Breaking the tape in 3:51.61, Willis set a New Zealand national record for the indoor mile. He eclipsed John Walker’s mark of 3:52.8, which was set in 1981 and matched in 1982. Willis is also running the NYRR Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games next weekend.
“I had forgotten about that [record],” Willis told Race Results Weekly, standing feet away from his longtime coach Ron Warhurst. “It’s always an honor to come alongside or ahead of John Walker, a legend in our sport.”
The women’s 2000m was won by Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum in 5:35.46. While the discipline is rarely contested, Seyaum’s time is the third fastest ever run indoors according to Alltime-Athletics.com. Seyaum did not speak to the press, as she got sick shortly after entering the media mixed zone.
Sally Kipyego, fresh off of a training camp in Kenya, finished second in 5:40.35, while steeplechaser Emma Coburn took third in 5:41.11.
Executing a finely timed kick, Nike Oregon Project’s Treniere Moser swung wide to pass teammate Mary Cain with a straightaway remaining in the women’s 1000m, going on to win in 2:37.86. Moser, 33, said the victory was a testament to the training she has completed under coach Alberto Salazar.
Cain, who led nearly the entire race after the rabbit had dropped off, admitted she ran hesitantly knowing that at some point Moser would likely strike with a killer kick.
“I think that was the problem. I think I was waiting for it, being like ‘When’s she coming? When’s she coming? When’s she coming? Rather than thinking Go! Go! Go!” said an honest Cain. “I think that reverse mental attitude, that kind of messed me up a bit.”
Cain and Moser will both run the NYRR Women’s Wanamaker Mile next week at the NYRR Millrose Games in New York City.
Another Nike Oregon Project victory came in the men’s 1000m, as Matthew Centrowitz timed a meet record of 2:17.00. Centrowitz’s time was less than a quarter second shy of David Torrence’s national record.
“This is great preparation,” said Centrowitz, who is running the NYRR Wanamaker Mile next Saturday. “Going through the half [800m] today in 1:50, whatever we go through next week will be obviously slower, and the aim is to make that [pace] feel good and we most likely will.”
North Carolina’s Ryen Frazier won the Girls Junior Mile by nearly ten seconds in 4:44.02; she will be attending North Carolina State University next fall. In the Boys section, Michigan’s Logan Wetzel defeated Rhode Island’s Jack Salisbury by one-one hundredth of a second, 4:08.75 to 4:08.76.
“I just wanted to put myself in position to finish well at the end and I was able to do that. It definitely came right down to the end,” said Wetzel. “This is the biggest win of my career so far.”