ATL #2 Preview: Brazier Debuts, Hoppel vs. Murphy vs. Engels, & Will Any More WRs Go Down?

By Jonathan Gault
January 29, 2021

After an opening meet that saw Ryan Crouser smash the shot put world record on his very first throw of 2021, the American Track League resumes action on Sunday in Arkansas. Unlike the first meet, this one has some mid-distance races, including a loaded men’s 800 featuring Bryce HoppelClayton Murphy, Craig Engels, and Charlie Grice; Raevyn Rogers (600) and Dani Jones (mile) opening their campaigns, and the season debut of one of America’s biggest stars in Donavan Brazier in the 600 meters. Here’s everything you need to know.

American Track League #2

When: Sunday, January 31
Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas
When: 2-4 p.m. ET

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How to watch: ESPN2. It should be broadcast internationally on the World Atheltics youtube channel.

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World record watch?

ATL meet director Paul Doyle was the guest on this week’s Track Talk podcast, where he suggested that multiple world records could go down in Fayetteville on Sunday. After reviewing the start lists, here’s a look at the four events where the WR could fall, ranked from least to most likely.

4. Women’s 200
Current record: 21.87, Merlene Ottey (1993)

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Okay, so Shaunae Miller-Uibo isn’t going to break this record. I honestly didn’t know what the indoor women’s 200 record was before looking it up, but holy crap is it fast. The great Merlene Ottey holds it, and she’s the only woman in history to break 22.00 indoors; in fact, she’s the only woman in history to break 22.10.

Because of the tight turns, it’s hard to run as fast indoors as outdoors — the men’s 200 WR is 19.92, compared to 19.19 outdoors. That’s 3.8% slower. Applying the same ratio to Florence Griffith-Joyner‘s (very dubious) women’s outdoor record of 21.34 yields 22.15 — which is .28 slower than Ottey’s actual mark. Given how rarely the indoor 200 is run these days, 21.87 is a record that might never be broken.

Why even bring up this event then? Because it’s an excuse to talk about Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who for most of the past three years has been the world’s best 200 and 400 runner (until she got beat at Worlds by Salwa Eid Naser). Any race with Miller-Uibo in it is worth watching. Expect her to take a sledgehammer to her indoor pb of 23.26, set as a collegian at Georgia in 2013.

3. Women’s 600
Current record (world best): 1:23.44, Olga Kotlyarova (2004)

Raevyn Rogers didn’t look great last summer after switching to coach Pete Julian in June. She was only ninth in the 1000 in Monaco and couldn’t break 2:01 in either of her 800’s, including a beatdown at the hands of Jemma Reekie in Stockholm.

But Rogers is too talented and Julian too good a coach for her to stay down for long. She’s had time to adjust to Julian’s system and build up to the indoor season, and as a speed-oriented 800 runner who could rip off 4×400 legs with the best of them in college, Rogers is perfectly-suited to the 600m distance. Her pb of 1:24.88 is 1.44 off Kotlyarova’s world best.

2. Men’s 600
Current record (world best): 1:13.77, Donavan Brazier (2019)

Donavan Brazier’s last two indoor 600’s have produced the two fastest times ever in the event — at 1:13.77, he’s a full second ahead of the #2 man all-time, Kenya’s Michael Saruni. As America’s most dominant mid-distance star, every Brazier race is a must-watch. Even if it’s just him against the clock — which is what this race will be.

Brazier celebrates his world record (Phil Bond photo) Brazier set the 600m world best at USAs in 2019 (Phil Bond photo)

That said, Brazier has set the bar very high for himself — expecting him to run a world best in his first race of the season is a big ask. I reached out to Julian to see if they’re treating Sunday’s races as record attempts for either Julian or Rogers. He said no.

“Training is going well though and they are healthy,” Julian said in a text message. “Don’t think either is ready for a world best.”

Brazier has opened up three of his last four seasons with a 600 — and has gotten faster each time out.

Year Date Meet Result
2017 January 28 New Balance Indoor GP 1st, 1:16.57
2019 January 19 Texas A&M Triangular 1st, 1:15.46
2020 January 25 New Balance Indoor GP 1st, 1:14.39
2021 January 24 American Track League #2 ???

1. Men’s shot put
Current record: 22.82m, Ryan Crouser (2021)

This is the best shot at a WR by far — considering Crouser broke this record just five days ago, he obviously has the best chance to break it again on Sunday.

Just consider what he did last week. In throwing 22.82, 22.70, and 22.48, Crouser unleashed three of the six best throws in indoor history in the span of an hour. Crouser has shown an insane level of consistency in throwing 22m+ meet after meet, which means the WR will be in danger anytime he steps in a ring this year.

A stacked men’s 800…but this race would be even better with Donavan Brazier

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The race of the day in Fayetteville is the men’s 800, which features 2020 US indoor champ Bryce Hoppel, 2019 US indoor 1000m champ Clayton Murphy, 2019 US 1500 champ Craig Engels, 3:30 1500 man Charlie Grice of Great Britain, and three-time US indoor champ Erik Sowinski.

That’s a stellar field, which makes it disappointing that Brazier is in the 600 instead. (Julian says he likes opening Brazier up with an 600 — it’s worked well in the past and gives them a chance to compare his fitness to past years).

A long-running complaint at LetsRun is that the stars need to race each other more frequently, but I’m willing to cut Brazier some slack…as long as he races Hoppel et al. at some point this indoor season. Like at, let’s say, the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on February 13. Brazier has run that race every year as a pro, and the the meet director is Mark Wetmore — who just happens to be Brazier and Hoppel’s agent. A showdown there would actually be perfect — they can race separately in Arkansas to get everyone’s juices flowing before squaring off head-to-head in Staten Island. So let’s hope for that. Because no distance fan is going to be happy if the indoor season comes and goes without a Brazier/Hoppel showdown because they ran different events at this meet.

Dani Jones makes her pro debut (sort of)

Dani Jones turned pro almost nine months ago, and though she raced several times last summer in New Balance gear, Sunday’s mile will be the first time she competes as an official New Balance athlete. The four-time NCAA champ will have a shot to win, though she’ll have to take down Heather MacLean (who ran 4:05 last year indoors and was 7th at USA outdoors in ’19), SEC mile champ Carina Viljoen of Arkansas, and 2019 NCAA mile champ Julia Rizk.

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