By Jonathan Gault
June 20, 2018
DES MOINES, Iowa — Welcome to Track Central USA! At least, that’s what they’re trying to make us call it now, as I learned at today’s press conference on the eve of the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships. By my count, that makes three cities vying for the title of the country’s top track locale — Eugene goes by Track Town USA, while Fayetteville, Arkansas, has boldly proclaimed itself Track Capital of the World (and don’t forget about Terre Haute, Indiana, aka Cross Country Town USA). Eugene is the answer by the way, but when it comes to local popularity, track & field is dwarfed in Eugene by University of Oregon football — and perhaps a couple more sports as well.
Wherever I actually am, there’s a big track and field meet here that begins tomorrow, and it’s the last championship of note of 2018 for American athletes (the Diamond League final and Continental Cup are out; you need rounds for a true championship). A few observations from today’s press conference, and the meet in general, with less than 24 hours to go.
If you missed our men’s and women’s previews, catch up now:
1) Get ready for a storm
Though I wasn’t delayed flying out here today, there is the potential for some severe weather during USAs. As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, there is a tornado watch and flood warning for the Des Moines River (right next to my hotel), along with thunderstorms in the forecast for tonight and Thursday. Though it shouldn’t be quite as hot as the last time USAs were here in 2013 (where it reached a high of 92 on Saturday), it will be warm (high of 81 on Sunday) and sticky with the humidity. Hopefully conditions cooperate enough for the sprinters to lay down some fast times — Sydney McLaughlin, Michael Norman, Noah Lyles, and more are all super-fit right now, and it would be a shame to see that fitness go to waste.
2) Robby Andrews vs. Matthew Centrowitz, round IV?
Andrews joked during today’s press conference that he was just happy to be invited considering the athletes he shared the stage with: 100 hurdles world record holder Keni Harrison, 400 hurdles world champ Kori Carter, triple jump American record holder Tori Franklin, world indoor medalist Ronnie Baker and Griff, the Bulldog.
— David Monti (@d9monti) June 20, 2018
“It’s also crazy we’ve got world record holders, world leads right here, American records, world champions. Thanks for having me up here,” Andrews said with a laugh.
But Andrews shouldn’t sell himself short. Of the five athletes invited, only he and Harrison have won U.S. outdoor titles. And recently, Andrews and Matthew Centrowitz have been the equivalent of the Cavaliers and the Warriors in the men’s 1500 as they’ve gone 1-2 at USAs the last three years. Andrews finally broke through with his first win last year, but admitted after the race that he knew Centrowitz, who dealt with persistent injuries in 2017, was not at 100%. That does not appear to be the case this time.
“I haven’t heard much from him this year, but he’s been running pretty well so far,” Andrews said. “I think he’s doing all right, so I think it’s about as level playing year as we’ll get.”
Andrews and Centrowitz share more than their affinity for making U.S. teams. Both men were named for their fathers, and both of those fathers are involved in their son’s training, essentially fulfilling the same role of “man on the ground” when the lead coach — Jason Vigilante for Andrews, Alberto Salazar for Centrowitz — is unable to make it to a workout.
Looking at this weekend’s meet, Andrews is certainly not as big of an underdog as the Cavs were against the Warriors this year, but he’s still going up against the reigning Olympic champ. If Centro’s win in 2015 — by a massive 1.50-second margin — was the equivalent of a sweep, expect a solid 6- or 7-game series in Saturday’s final.
“Anytime you race Matthew, it’s gonna be a good race,” Andrews said.
3) World champs Keni Harrison & Kori Carter are happy to move to Austin if it means staying with coach Edrick Floreal
Harrison and Carter have both achieved great things under ace hurdles coach Edrick Floreal — Harrison is the world record holder in the 100 hurdles and the world indoor champ in the 60 hurdles, while Carter is the reigning world champ in the 400 hurdles. As a result, both have developed an unshakeable faith in him that made it easy for them to decide to move from their training base in Lexington, Kentucky, to Austin, where Floreal will take over as the head coach at the University of Texas.
“Just looking at my career, and seeing what an impact he had on my life and still does, I think that just speaks for itself,” Harrison said. “I think Coach Flo is the only coach who I want to be coached by. So him moving to Texas, like Kori said, it wasn’t hard for us to follow him.”
Carter said that compared to her last move, Austin will be an easy one. When she initially joined Floreal in Kentucky, she had to leave behind all of her friends, family, and made the move in a matter of days. This time, she has more time to prepare and gets to take her close friend and training partner Harrison with her. But even if Floreal was moving to Alaska, Carter said she’d be right there with him.
“I think me and Keni really trust Coach Flo enough, no matter what,” Carter said. “We would follow him to the ends of the world. So at the end of the day, we’re going to Texas? Okay, cool. We’re going to wherever, we’re going to just follow Flo.”
Harrison & Carter on Coach Flo (Floreal section begins at 2:18)
4) Burgers+fries+cookies+ice cream=9.78, Cardi B+dancing=world title
Ronnie Baker has won two 100s on the Diamond League circuit this year, clocking a wind-aided 9.78 at the Pre Classic on May 26 before earning another win in Rome five days later in a pb of 9.93. One thing Baker’s results show (in addition to the fact that he’s really fast)? Don’t overthink the pre-race meal.
“I’m not encouraging this, but I had a burger and fries and some cookies and ice cream, and I ran 9.7,” Baker said. “So that was my pre-race meal [at] Prefontaine. And in Rome, I had some pizza.”
Carter did not share her meal choice before she won Worlds last year, but said that channeling rapper Cardi B helped get her in the zone for what ultimately proved to be a gold-medal-winning run.
“Cardi B got me through Worlds,” Carter said. “I have to dance when I warm up, so I need a really good beat, and something aggressive so I feel like the baddest girl on the track…If you saw me warming up [before the World Championship final], I was rapping and pretending I was Cardi B. Keni can tell you, I was in the zone.”
Carter said that dancing before races is something she’s done as long as she’s been running.
“I think hurdling’s all about rhythm and I have a lot of energy, so I think part of my jitters is okay, don’t sit there and think, just keep moving, keep grooving. My agent says I know if your dance moves are on point, you’re gonna have a great race.”
5) Everyone wants to be a pole vaulter
Toward the end of the press conference, Andrews took the mic and asked his fellow athletes if they could do any event apart from their own, what would they choose? Franklin chose the pole vault, telling the story of her first track practice in high school, where she spent the whole day practicing the pole vault only to be told by her coach that she was going to do the triple jump. That decision worked out in the end, but at the time it was tough to handle.
“I cried, because I had been dreaming to be a pole vaulter,” Franklin said. “But I have weak wrists, so I wouldn’t have been good anyways.”
Andrews agreed with Franklin’s choice — “She gets it, she gets it!” he said with glee — as did Harrison, who feels her background as a gymnast and a cheerleader would help her contort her body over the bar. Baker, meanwhile, went for the long jump, noting that his speed would be an asset on the runway.
6) Tori Franklin explains the three reasons for her breakout season
Franklin, a 25-year-old Michigan State grad, was the U.S. indoor champ last year, but globally she wasn’t a factor as she did not even make the final at Worlds. She entered 2018 with a pb of 14.03 meters, her only jump over 14m. She has been a different jumper this year. She PR’d twice to repeat at USA Indoors, going 14.05 in the first round and 14.15 in the sixth, and has gone over 14 meters in each of her six subsequent competitions, including an incredible meet in Guadeloupe on May 12 that saw her set the American record at 14.84. In fact, all five of her legal jumps in Guadeloupe were over 14.50 meters — a mark that only one American, Keturah Orji, had eclipsed prior to that night.
So what has been the key to Franklin’s breakthrough? She gave three reasons. In her own words:
“Andreas Pavlou, this is my second year with him. And so I know there’s always an adjustment period when you’re switching coaches. I did PR last year too, but I think this year, just everything really clicked.”
“I eat less meat. My diet’s mostly fruits and vegetables now. I’m not vegan or anything — I love ice cream and butter — but I don’t eat nearly as much red meat, or even the lean meats either.”
3) Mental strength
“I’ve been able to focus my energy on what’s important and I know how I need to compete and what I need to do to keep a level head.”