2016 NBIGP Recap: Meseret Defar Returns In Style, Andrew Wheating Stays Undefeated, Nick Willis Cruises, Boris Berian Goes Fast, & Dawit Seyaum Outkicks Brenda Martinez

By Jonathan Gault
February 14, 2016

BOSTON — Fans who braved the single-digit temperatures to attend the 2016 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center on Sunday evening were rewarded with the chance to see some world-class athletes, highlighted by a trio of virtuoso performances from Olympic medalists Meseret Defar, Nick Willis and Dejen Gebremeskel.

Defar’s return to the track for the first time since 2013 was the biggest pre-meet storyline and the four-time global outdoor champion did not disappoint, destroying the field in the women’s 3000 to win by 26 seconds in 8:30.83. Her countryman Gebremeskel was not as dominant in the men’s 3000 but he closed well over the final 200 to earn the victory over Aussie Brett Robinson in 7:42.94. Willis, as he did last year, looked extremely comfortable in winning the world-leading 3:53.27. Other winners on the day included Boris Berian in the 600 (1:15.51), Andrew Wheating in the 1000 (2:18.68) and Dawit Seyaum in the 1500 (4:01.86).

Mid-d/distance recaps and interviews below.

Full results

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Men’s 600: Berian just misses American record

Berian sat on hurdler Bershawn Jackson for the first two laps in this one before taking off at the bell and closing hard to take the victory in 1:15.51. The PA announcer informed the crowd that Berian’s time was a new American indoor record, and though that was not correct (Cas Loxsom ran 1:15.33 last year), Berian was still happy with his run.

Berian, who joked that he shaved his dreadlocks for added speed, was surprised he ran so fast as he had been feeling sick earlier this week. He also said that he’s currently unsponsored but that his agent Hawi Keflezighi is working to change that.

I asked Berian what he learned from his breakout 2015 season, when he dropped his PR from 1:48.89 to 1:43.34.

“Anything can happen in a race, no matter how in shape you are. So just go in, have a great attitude and do the best I can each race,” Berian said. That was a lesson Berian learned the hard way at USAs last year, when he failed to make the final despite running 1:43 in the races directly before and after USAs.

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Place Athlete Time
1 Boris Berian
2 Bershawn Jackson
3 Julius Mutekanga
4 Sean Atkinson
Andrew Wheating Wins Andrew Wheating Wins

Men’s 1000: Andrew Wheating holds off Duane Solomon to stay undefeated  in 2016

As they did for years in college, Wheating and Solomon duked it out over the final lap, but it was ultimately Wheating who had the stronger kick, holding on to claim his third straight victory (at three different distances) in 2016 in 2:18.68. Solomon wound up second in 2:19.10.

Place Athlete Time
1 Andrew Wheating
2 Duane Solomon
3 Cristian Soratos
4 Patrick Peterson
5 Harun Abda
DNF Mark Wieczorek

Quick Take #1: Andrew Wheating says this is the best he’s felt at this time of year since 2010

Wheating was a little disappointed with his execution as he said he should have been right on the shoulder of teammate Harun Abda when he moved earlier in the race, but a hard workout on Tuesday had Wheating feeling tentative. In addition, Wheating said that as a tall runner he has figured out that he either needs to be at the front or the back in order to avoid getting tangled up in traffic on the smaller indoor track.

“It’s pretty clear, you go straight to the front and you go or you just take one step backwards, let everyone go and then go,” Wheating said.

Wheating was pleased to win, however, and he’s said that he hasn’t felt this good at this point in the season since 2010 — when he went on to win the 800 and 1500 at NCAAs and run 3:30 outdoors.

“My confidence is higher than it’s ever been since college,” Wheating said. “Every year [since then], there’s been something wrong, every year there’s been a little ache and pain, something’s not quite right.”

Wheating said that’s not the case this year for two reasons. First, he’s simply focused on maximizing what he does on each day rather than worrying about the big picture. Second, OTC added David Campbell to its medical staff, whom Wheating praised for keeping him healthy.

Quick Take #2: A change of tactics for Duane Solomon?

Solomon has become a familiar sight at the front of races, but tonight he opted for a different strategy, electing to hang back before making his move on the last lap. Solomon said that was the plan coach Johnny Gray laid out for him, and though Solomon felt like he may have waited too long to kick, “all in all, it was a good effort.”

This may not be a one-time deal either. Solomon said that you may see him hanging in the middle or back of the pack more often in 2016.

“We’re kind of training to do something different because I think all my competitors are used to me going out in front all the time,” Solomon said. “So we wanted to try to do something different to see where we can get in a race and run from the middle of the pack or the back of the pack. We just want to have different ways of winning.”

Men’s 3000: Dejen Gebremeskel takes it over Aussie Brett Robinson

Robinson, a 24-year old with a 13:18 5000 pb, made a bid for the win in the final kilometer and with three laps to go, the Aussie had a shot at pulling the upset as it was down to him and the 12:46 man Gebremeskel at the front of the race. But Gebremeskel kicked hard at the bell and Robinson could not respond to the Ethiopian’s move, Gebremeskel winning in 7:42.94, his second straight victory in this meet.

Place Athlete Time
1 Dejen Gebremeskel
2 Brett Robinson
3 Lawi Lalang
4 Isiah Koech
5 Kemoy Campbell
6 Julian Matthews
7 Maverick Darling
8 Kirubel Erassa
DNF Daniel Stockberger

Quick Take #1: Gebremeskel said his run was “not bad” though he was hoping to run faster

“It’s not bad,” Gebremeskel said after the race. “Actually, I expect more than this, 7:36/7:35, around there, but not bad.”

He revealed that he is planning on running the 3000 at World Indoors (where he earned bronze two years ago) and that he’s traveling to the Czech Republic next week where he’ll try to better his time from tonight.

Quick Take #2: Think USAs were early last year? Australia’s Olympic Trials are from March 31 – April 3

Brett Robinson had never even seen an indoor track until Friday, when he worked out at Harvard University, but he took to the surface extremely well, breaking his outdoor 3000 pb with a 7:44.29 tonight. Though he couldn’t hold off Gebremeskel — whom Robinson accurately described as “world-class” — Robinson was pleased with the effort and even allowed himself to dream of winning when they reached the bell.

“Once we got to a lap to go, I was just hoping he was already going really hard, but he just went past me and I couldn’t keep up,” Robinson said.

Robinson would like to run World Indoors but said it’s up to the Australian selectors to determine his fate. With Collis Birmingham having already grabbed one spot in the 3k, it’s down to Robinson and Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan (who ran 7:48 on Friday on Staten Island). Tiernan could conceivably pull the NCAA/World Indoors double as the two meets are a week apart.

Robinson won’t have much time to relax after Worlds (should he run there) as the Australian Championships (which will determine the Olympic team) begin less than two weeks later on March 31. Robinson said that it’s not ideal but because the seasons are reversed in Australia, it doesn’t make sense to have the trials in June or July, which is the winter Down Under.

“It’s hard because right now when everybody’s doing base work, we’ve got to be ready to race but I suppose once the first of April [comes around] I’ll know whether I’m in the team or not so I can start getting ready for the Olympics,” Robinson said. “So there’s disadvantages and advantages.”

Quick Take #3: Lawi Lalang is rooting for Edward Cheserek to pull off the mile-3k-5k triple at NCAAs

Lalang finished third in 7:45.07 and afterwards spoke about former college rival Edward Cheserek. It’s possible that Cheserek attempts the mile-3k-5k triple at next month’s NCAA Championships. Two years ago, Lalang tried the same triple but was denied by Cheserek (who won the 3k and 5k) and Anthony Rotich (who won the mile).

“I really hope he can get it,” Lalang said. “I tried, I didn’t get it so I want at least someone to do it.”

Lalang’s advice for Cheserek? Stay humble.

“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it’s the sport.”

Women’s 3000: Pure dominance from Meseret Defar

This was really two races: Defar against the clock and the other eight runners battling for second. Escorted by pacers Melissa Salerno and Rachel Schneider, Defar quickly amassed a humongous lead and attacked sub-8:30. Ultimately she came up just short, clocking 8:30.83, but that was still a terrific run considering she hadn’t raced on a track since August 2013. Behind her, Massachusetts native Abbey D’Agostino, who grew up racing on this track in high school, did the heavy lifting and led the chase pack throughout. She was rewarded with second place and a World Indoor standard of 8:56.77, holding off Laura Thweatt (who rebounded nicely after running a marathon just three months ago), a hard-charging Nicole Sifuentes and Heidi See.

Place Athlete Time
1 Meseret Defar
2 Abbey D’Agostino
3 Laura Thweatt
4 Nicole Sifuentes
5 Heidi See
6 Diana Sujew
7 Liz Costello
8 Elina Sujew
9 Rachel Johnson
DNF Melissa Salerno
DNF Ciara Mageean
DNF Rachel Schneider

Quick Take #1: Defar was all smiles, but just missed a sub-8:30

After her long layoff (pregnancy in 2014, injury in 2015), Defar wasn’t quite sure what shape she was in and said she didn’t want to run too aggressively at the start of the race as a result. But the 32-year-old looked like her old self tonight, gapping the field early, never breaking form and closing hard to earn the win.

“The first race I run 8:30, it is amazing for me,” Defar said.

Though Defar’s race was obviously a great sign, she was a little disappointed not to dip under 8:30, which has proved to be a stumbling block for her in the past. Defar, whose PB is 8:23.72 (#2 all-time indoors), hasn’t broken 8:30 since 2010, but she’s come very close as her last 3000 before this was 8:30.29 outdoors in Stockholm in 2013. And she has now run 8:30.xx on this track four times but never faster.

That’s splitting hairs though: after all, Defar did win the race by 26 seconds. She said she’ll decide with her manager whether to race again between now and World Indoors, where she will have her hands full if Genzebe Dibaba elects to defend her 3k title.

Quick Take #2: Abbey D’Agostino wanted to go faster, but she got her World Indoor qualifier

While Defar got two pacers up front, the chase pack had none, so D’Agostino had to do the work pushing the pace, which was something she was prepared to do heading in. The slow early laps negated D’Agostino’s chance for a pb (her best is 8:51) but she did manage to nab the World Indoor standard of 9:00.00. Overall, the 23-year-old is happy with where her fitness is at right now though.

“I feel really confident about USA Indoors,” D’Agostino said. “There’s time to put in some quality work between now and then; it’s a month away. I just feel like I haven’t had an opportunity to kind of demonstrate the work I have put in to this point.”

She will get that opportunity next week: D’Agostino is entered in the 5000 at the Millrose Games, where Molly Huddle will chase Shalane Flanagan’s American record of 14:47.62.

Nick Willis Way in Front Nick Willis Way in Front

Men’s Mile: Nick Willis cruises to world-leading 3:53.27

Willis looked unconcerned, even when 3:30 1500 man Bethwell Birgen of Kenya grabbed the lead and began to press with three laps to go. Willis was content to hold back, but when he struck at the top of the homestretch on the penultimate lap, he struck hard. By the backstretch of the bell lap, Willis had torn open a gap in the race; Birgen — and the rest of the field — were powerless to respond. The time was not as fast as Willis’ 3:51.61 here a year ago, but given the ease with which Willis ran, his performance was almost as impressive.

Place Athlete Time
1 Nick Willis
2 Bethwell Birgen
3 Vincent Kibet
4 Dusty Solis
5 Brandon Lasater
6 Cody Horowitz
DNF John Travers

Quick Take #1: Bring on the Wanamaker Mile

I only had a minute to catch up with Willis before he was whisked away to do an interview with USATF.tv’s The Cooldown, but he made clear that he desperately wants to win next week’s Wanamaker Mile in New York.

“Some of you guys are too young to remember but I had some good tussles with [Bernard] Lagat and Craig Mottram when it was back at Madison Square Garden,” Willis said. “That’s where the real history of the Wanamaker Mile comes from.”

Saturday will be Willis’ fifth crack at the Wanamaker Mile, but ending his winless streak there will be difficult with defending champ Matthew Centrowitzwho outleaned Willis in a classic last year — in fine form.

Willis in the Wanamaker Mile
2008: 3rd, 3:58.14
2009: 2nd, 3:59.48
2014: 3rd, 3:53.02
2015: 2nd, 3:51.46

Women’s 1500: Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum moves to #12 all-time indoors with 4:01.86

Seyaum, who finished 4th at Worlds last year, went right to the front behind rabbit Megan Krumpoch and stayed there for the entire race. Brenda Martinez moved up on her late, trying to go past on the backstretch of the penultimate lap, but Seyaum would not let her by and once she dropped the hammer with 200 to go, she crushed Martinez’ hopes quickly. The result was a 4:01.86, which puts her #12 on the all-time indoor list. Martinez’ 4:04.58 was a terrific run in and of itself. Among Americans, only Regina Jacobs and Mary Slaney, both of whom served drug suspensions, have run faster indoors.

American Treniere Moser was tripped midway through the race and hit the track hard. She got up and jogged for a couple of strides before electing to drop out.

Place Athlete Time
1 Dawit Seyaum
2 Brenda Martinez
3 Kate Grace
4 Melissa Duncan
5 Violah Lagat
6 Cory McGee
7 Alexa Efraimson
8 Morgan Uceny
9 Stephanie Brown
10 Fiona Benson
11 Christy Cazzola
DNF Megan Krumpoch
DNF Treniere Moser

Quick Take #1: An impressive run from Brenda Martinez, who wanted to keep pressing all the way to the finish

Martinez had a decision to make when Seyaum gapped the field, and though she knew it would be tough to hang onto the Ethiopian stud, she took a risk and it paid off.

“It’s gonna hurt, but let me just get on her and kind of just ride the train,” Martinez said of her mindset when deciding to follow Seyaum.

Martinez couldn’t hang with the 1500 specialist today — “she was just playing with me the last 400,” Martinez noted — but her time was her fastest since August 2014 (she didn’t run a 1500 last year) and a good indication that her strength is coming along nicely.

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