By Jonathan Gault
June 16, 2016
BOSTON — Several of the world’s greatest athletes assembled at the Boston Marathon adidas RunBase in Boston’s Back Bay on Thursday afternoon ahead of this weekend’s inaugural adidas Boost Boston Games. Nick Willis, Meseret Defar, Ajee Wilson, Wayde van Niekerk, Jenn Suhr, Tori Bowie and Yohan Blake were all on hand to discuss their 2016 seasons and goals for the weekend.
Those are the main headliners in Boston, though several other familiar faces such as Robby Andrews and Mary Cain will be in action. Below you’ll find a preview of Friday’s track action, including insight from the top pros who attended the press event today.
What: 2016 adidas Boost Boston Games
When: Friday, June 17 – Saturday, June 18
Where: Dilboy Stadium, Somerville, Mass. (Friday events) & Charles Street on Boston Common (Saturday events)
Women’s 800 (Friday, 6:32 p.m. ET): Ajee Wilson looks to get back on track
Wilson’s indoor season was terrific, as she ran 2:00.09 (#2 time in the world) and finished second at World Indoors behind Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba. But while Niyonsaba has parlayed that medal into a stellar outdoor season, Wilson has not: after winning her outdoor opener at Swarthmore on May 16 in 2:02.60, she was just 11th at the Rome Diamond League on June 2 and 7th two days later in Birmingham (2:00.81).
Wilson isn’t worried though.
“I don’t really have an exact answer,” Wilson said, when asked about her recent struggles. “I know that training has been going great. Just a matter of time, wait and see the results come up on the track.”
She and coach Derek Thompson started her outdoor season a little later this year to better peak for the Olympics, and when you take that into account, Wilson’s results look better. Here’s a look at what she’s run in her third outdoor 800 of the year the past few seasons:
Last year, Wilson went from running 2:00.65 in her third 800 to 1:57.87 in her fourth. A similar jump on Friday would be a big ask, especially since she’s not facing Diamond League competition, but she could have a shot to break 2:00, something only one other American has done this year.
Thompson likes to add in new workouts every year, many of which are done on the same loop and not a track. That’s about all Wilson can say about them, however, as she doesn’t wear a watch and doesn’t want to know how long the loop is.
“We’re doing more tempo runs,” Wilson said. “I make sure to tell my teammates with a GPS watch never to tell me [how long the loop is]. When we practice, I’m usually behind someone. There’s no reason for me to have a watch because they’re going to be ahead of me.”
Most athletes trust their coaches, but few trust them as much as Wilson trusts Thompson. And so far in her career, the results have been terrific.
The resurgent Morgan Uceny is also entered, but the woman Wilson will want to watch closely is former NCAA champ Natoya Goule of Jamaica, who ran 1:59.38 to win the American Track League meet in Atlanta on June 4 and ran 2:00.23 to win in Kingston last week.
HS Girls’ Dream 1500 (6:40 p.m. ET)
Rainsberger, the NXN champ, ran 4:12.62 last week in Portland; Donaghu was just behind in 4:14.11. They are running a 1500 so people can chase the Olympic Trials standard of 4:09.50 although a sub-4:10 might get you there.
HS Boys’ Dream Mile (6:50 p.m. ET)
Ratcliffe, from nearby Concord-Carlisle High School, set a New England record of 4:01.50 at the Adrian Martinez Classic on June 2 and will go for sub-4:00 on home soil once again.
Women’s 1500 (Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET): Mary Cain races for the first time in over a month; 2015 world champs semifinalist Kerri Gallagher makes outdoor debut
There are several interesting names to watch in this event. The Nike sponsored Mary Cain is the most recognizable and for all the questions about whether she can return to her 2013-2014 form, she has actually run much faster so far this year compared to this point last season (4:12.62 vs. 4:15.42) and Cain wound up 8th at USAs last year. We’re not banking on a big performance from Cain (Alberto Salazar pulled her from Oxy last month because she was “not ready to race”) but if she runs well, she could have a shot at making her fourth straight USA final next month.
Kerri Gallagher, who was 3rd at USAs last year, looked great indoors, winning the 3k at the Camel City meet and running a mile pb of 4:26 to take second at Millrose, but she pulled out of USAs due to illness and has yet to race outdoors. If she’s close to her indoor form, she’s a real contender to make Team USA again, but if not, she doesn’t have much time to put it together. This race will be a key indicator.
NC State’s Megan Moye has the #2 time in the NCAA this year during the regular season (4:11.91) but was a DNF at regionals. The OT auto standard is 4:09.50.
Men’s 400 (7:29 p.m. ET): Wayde van Niekerk comes to U.S. after training with Usain Bolt for a week in Jamaica
The 2015 world champ Van Niekerk beat rival LaShawn Merritt over 300 meters in Kingston on Saturday, clocking 31.03. Since most of you probably don’t know what a good 300 time is, let’s give a little context to that mark: in the history of the world, only Michael Johnson (30.85) and Usain Bolt (30.97) have run faster. When you’re third on a list behind arguably the two greatest sprinters of all time, you’re doing something right. Still, van Niekerk, who has the #2 time in the world right now at 400 (44.11), said that he wanted to go faster and that he started off too relaxed and didn’t really get moving until the final third of the race.
Van Niekerk spent last week training with Bolt in Jamaica and said he is going to try to take a page out of Bolt’s playbook moving forward:
“I’m way too hard on myself now and then,” van Niekerk said. “The guys back in Jamaica are so relaxed and so chill. So I definitely picked up some tips to chill a bit more.”
At the same time, van Niekerk is looking to become more confident when he toes the line as he said he was nervous before his DL victory in Rome and his 400 in Kingston last week. If beating Merritt convincingly didn’t do the trick, I don’t know what will.
Women’s 400 (7:35 p.m. ET)
Men’s 1500 (7:45 p.m. ET): Nick Willis tries to simulate the Olympics against Robby Andrews and Ben True
Willis said that he wants to prepare himself for racing on tired legs as that’s what he’ll be doing in the Olympic final in Rio. As a result, he spent the early part of this week running 90 minutes per day at 5:35/5:40 pace around his cottage in northern Michigan before knocking out some quick 200’s (25-26) on Wednesday.
Even still, Willis wants to win, but with noted kicker Robby Andrews (who was just one place behind Willis at World Indoors in March) in the field, Willis will have his work cut out for him. The race between the two men should make for a fascinating clash of styles. Willis was tough on himself after his recent showings in Birmingham (3rd, 3:34.29 1500) and Oslo (4th, 3:52.26 mile) as he said he waited too long to move and crossed the finish line feeling that he had too much left in the tank. He suggested that we may see more of the approach he employed at World Indoors (where he made a hard move with 400 to go to string out the pack) as he doesn’t want to cross the finish line still feeling good.
“[At World Indoors], I was really trying to make up for frustrations at the Millrose Games the previous two years,” Willis said. “The indoor track was almost the impetus to make me lay it out there. I figured even if I tie up, it’s still easier to be in the front because guys have to come around.”
Willis said his only regret from that race is he went a little too hard too early (25.2 for his penultimate 200), which strung the field out and made it easier for Centrowitz to pass him on the final lap. Willis said he isn’t going to give away all his tactics for this outdoor season and said his plans are still flexible depending on the race situation. Plus, it’s easier to pass on an outdoor track than an indoor track. But don’t be surprised if Willis tries something similar to what he did at World Indoors. At the very least, you can expect him to be more aggressive during the first half of the final lap than he has been so far this year.
I spoke briefly with Willis afterwards on a few topics. In the video below (initially it was longer but the memory card filled up after 1:47), he discusses his thoughts on Asbel Kiprop‘s dominance, pointing out that times aren’t everything: in 2012, Kiprop, Nixon Chepseba and Willis went 1-2-3 in Monaco in 3:28-3:29-3:30 but were 12th, 11th and 9th in the Olympic final.
Willis also said he feels he’s still getting faster at age 33 — not just in terms of his PB (he set his 1500 pb in 2014, broke it again in 2015 and broke his indoor mile pb in February) but that his speed in general is better than it’s ever been. Even Willis doesn’t know why, but he has a theory. Someone told Willis that many of his African competitors in 1500 are likely a few years older than their listed age, which would make Willis’ success at 33 against a field of 20-somethings less of an outlier than it appears.
Willis also chimed in about the upcoming IAAF decision on Russia, pointing out that, just as an athlete who broke the rules has to serve a suspension, a federation must face consequences for its actions.
“Surely a federation should have to face a similar type of sanction,” Willis said. “It seems like it’s very unfair on all of those who have faced sanctions in the past that a whole federation is going to get away with it just because of political pressure.
“It’s not going to affect me personally because I don’t have any competitors in my event that are Russians, but I feel that it’s important for it to be a just sport. And for them to uphold the rules properly, those things have to be in place.”
Men’s 5,000 (7:55 p.m. ET): A glorified time trial
O’Hare is only in there as a rabbit, leaving Gebremeskel and Gebrhiwet — who between them have medalled at the last three global champs at 5,000 — plus 20-year-old Debeli Gezmu (3rd at Carlsbad 5000 in April) as the three racers. This isn’t so much a race as a chance for Gebremeskel and Gebrhiwet to run fast in order to impress the Ethiopian Olympic selectors.
Women’s 5,000 (8:15 p.m. ET): Meseret Defar headlines as Abbey D’Agostino makes outdoor 5,000 debut
Defar won the Carlsbad 5000 road race on April 3 but picked up a calf injury this spring and hasn’t raced since. She said this race will be important to give her a guideline of where her fitness is at two months out from Rio. D’Agostino, who was 5th behind Defar at World Indoors, only opened up outdoors last week, soloing a 4:14 1500 in Waltham, Mass. Based on her outdoor form last year and indoor form this year, D’Agostino would be a strong choice for Team USA this summer at 5,000, but debuting this late suggests an injury. Does she have enough time to get back to peak fitness (or close to it) by the Trials?
Other entrants of note include Marielle Hall (who ran 15:06 indoors but only 15:20 at Pre), Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Ejigu (14:51 on the roads at BAA 5K in April) and 42-year-old Jo Pavey, who will chase the Olympic standard of 15:24.00.
Talk about the meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: Official 2016 adidas Boost Boston Games Discussion Thread