RRW: Donavan Brazier Blasts Fast 600m At New Balance Indoor Grand Prix

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BOSTON (25-Jan) — Taking to the track at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center here tonight for the final event of the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, Donavan Brazier had only one thing on his mind: run fast.  The reigning World Athletics 800m champion wasn’t looking for a tepid season opener like so many other athletes in January, but rather wanted to make a statement as he opened his Olympic year at the first event of the 2020 World Athletics Indoor Tour.

“It’s definitely a high bar to clear,” Brazier said of trying to beat his own world indoor best of 1:13.77 set 11 months ago in Staten Island, N.Y.

Following pacemaker Jovanni Parkinson through the first 200 meters in 24.52, the other four contenders in the field –Michael Stigler, Robert Grant, David Kendziera, and Brian Bell– quickly fell behind.  Brazier hit 400 meters in 49.61, with the rest of the field a full two seconds back.  He shot one quick glance over his shoulder on the backstretch of the final lap, then rounded the last bend at full tilt as the meet announcer, Geoff Wightman, counted down the seconds and the crowd roared.  Brazier crossed the finish line in 1:14.39, the second fastest time in history, but instead of celebrating he showed the crowd a shrug, looking slightly embarrassed.

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“That was kind of me saying, ‘sorry I know I messed up,'” Brazier explained.  “The first first 300 meters was slow, that’s on me, and that was kind of an apology.”

The fans found no fault with his performance, however.  Followed by an enthusiastic crowd of admirers for whom he signed autographs and took selfies, Brazier could barely make it to the mixed zone to meet with an anxious group of reporters worried about their filing deadlines.  When he was reminded by a reporter that it was only his first race of the year, Brazier softened his self-criticism a bit.

“I was happy with it,” Brazier admitted.  “Especially on this track.  This track is a little on the slower side.”

The much-anticipated men’s 1000m race was nearly as exciting, and the match-up between British miler Jake Wightman and American 800m man Bryce Hoppel did not disappoint.  Behind good pacemaking by Hazem Miwad, Hoppel, Wightman and Spaniard Saul Ordoñez were running a close one-two-three through 600 meters (1:22.78).  A lap later, Wightman muscled himself to the front (1:49.76), Hoppel gave chase, and Ordoñez began to falter.  Wightman led down the backstretch, and still held the lead out of the final bend, but Hoppel challenged and passed him on the outside, nipping the Briton at the tape, 2:17.41 to 2:17.51.  Ordoñez got third in 2:18.81.  Hoppel’s time was a world leader, a personal best, and only 41/100ths of a second off of the meet record by Matthew Centrowitz in 2015.

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“I kind of always have that sneaky little kick at the end,” a smiling Hoppel told reporters.  “That’s the way I like to race, and sometimes people don’t see it coming.”

Wightman, a fierce competitor, was pleased to get the British indoor record, but was disappointed that he got nipped at the tape.

“Not to be a brat about it, when you get beaten in that situation it’s always a bit like bitter to take,” said Wightman.  “It’s January so it doesn’t really matter, but you still want to come out and win a race like that.”

Also winning with a strong sprint was Wightman’s Scottish compatriot Chris O’Hare who out-kicked New Zealand Olympic medalist Nick Willis to win the Tommy Leonard Memorial Mile, 3:59.62 to 3:59.89.  Interestingly, both men were nowhere near the lead for most of the race as another New Zealander, Julian Oakley, was the only athlete to follow the pacemaker, Ryan McGorty.  Oakley led through 1200 meters, and at one point had more than a four-second lead.  O’Hare tried to stay calm, but in the middle of the race he began to think there were two pacemakers and not just one.

“I wasn’t really paying attention to who the rabbits were,” O’Hare admitted.  “Do we have one or two rabbits?”

Three minutes and 27 seconds into the race, the pack caught Oakley with O’Hare leading the charge.  The race quickly devolved into a two-man battle with only Willis being able to keep pace with O’Hare.  Thinking back to his narrow defeat at the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile last September where Willis edged him at the line, O’Hare knew he couldn’t take any chances and had to keep the pace high.  He scorched the final bend and was able to hold off Willis to get the win.

“When I looked at the screen and saw it was Nick behind me I was like, I’ve been on the wrong end of this kick too many times,” O’Hare recalled.  “So, I had to dig deep for it.”

Elinor Purrier showed a very strong kick in the women’s two-mile, bolting away from a strong field –including eight-time USA steeplechase champion Emma Coburn– in the final lap to win in 9:29.17, a personal best.  Dominique Scott of South Africa took second in 9:31.98 and Coburn got third in 9:32.81.

“Honestly, it feels good now that it’s done,” said Purrier, a former steeplechaser.  “I think it was kind of a grind, then definitely just a sprint to the finish.”

There was a very close finish in the women’s 1500m.  Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany and Jessica Hull of Australia, both of whom train under coach Pete Julian, ended up in a two-woman sprint in the final 50 meters.  Hull, the 2018 NCAA 1500m champion for the University of Oregon, passed Klosterhalfen in only the final 10 meters to get the win, 4:04.14 to 4:04.38.

“I didn’t really think I could win,” a surprised Hill told reporters.  She continued: “The main thing I wanted to do today was have a good last lap, and that’s kind of what happened.”

In the men’s 3000m, Bethwel Birgen of Kenya upset compatriot Edward Cheserek, 7:44.21 to 7:46.74.  The two men had broken away from the field after just the first kilometer (2:35.18), and Cheserek did most of the leading.  But in the final 400 meters, Birgen shot ahead, running 28.77 for the penultimate lap, and 26.33 for his final circuit.  Cheserek just couldn’t match that speed and had to settle for second.

“It’s OK,” said Cheserek who would like to represent Kenya at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in March.  “It’s my first race, and I have an issue with my Achilles.  So, it’s good to be back.”

The junior miles (for high school athletes) were won by Lucy Jenks of Newton, Mass. (4:47.83) and Cruz Culpepper of Lafayette, Colo. (4:11.44), while the masters miles were won by Sascha Scott, 44 (4:56.67 MR) and Mark O’Shea, 48 (4:34.51).  Fifty year-old Karolyn Bowley, a marathoner, set a USA 50-54 age-group record with her 5:08.51 clocking in second place.

Sydney McLaughlin did not start the women’s 500 meters; she had scratched earlier in the day.  “Sydney is a little tight from traveling and Coach Joanna Hayes has asked her not to compete today,” meet organizers said in a statement.

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