ATL #3 Preview: Bromell v. Baker & A Fast Men’s Mile on Super Bowl Sunday?
By Jonathan Gault
February 4, 2021
If you don’t know which pregame show to watch ahead of Super Bowl LV on Sunday, may we offer a suggestion: how about the American Track League?
The third installment of the indoor track series features a showdown between top US sprinters Trayvon Bromell and Ronnie Baker, a fast mile featuring Nick Willis and top collegians Takieddine Hedeilli (Texas Tech) and James West (Oregon), Olympic champ Omar McLeod in the 60m hurdles, and field event stars Sandi Morris and Vashti Cunningham. And the most important part: the meet runs from 4:30-6:30 p.m. ET, which means you can watch the whole thing and then switch over to CBS just in time for the opening kickoff between the Chiefs and the Bucs.
Below, a look at the most intriguing events at the meet in Fayetteville.
American Track League #3
When: Sunday, February 7
Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas
How to watch: The meet will air live at 4:30-6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
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Men’s 60: Bromell vs. Baker — a Trials preview?
Trayvon Bromell has spent the last 12 months reminding everyone just how good he is. Ronnie Baker is trying to spend 2021 doing the exact same thing.
Flash back two years ago, to the start of 2019. Bromell had raced once in the previous two years. Baker, meanwhile, was 25 years old and coming off a breakout year that saw him run 6.40 for 60m (#3 all-time) and medal at World Indoors, followed by an outdoor campaign in which he ran 9.87 for 100m (#2 in the world) and won four Diamond Leagues. Bromell was an afterthought; Baker was a potential Olympic medalist.
Now, in February 2021, the tables have turned. Bromell, 25, has looked like the Bromell of old, running 9.90 last summer and clocking 6.48 to win the first ATL meet two weeks ago — just .01 off the pb he set to win World Indoors in 2016. Meanwhile the 27-year-old Baker has become the forgotten man of US sprinting. He shouldn’t be.
Baker missed almost all of 2019 due to injuries to his hamstring and adductor, but he still showed up to USAs in an effort to make the World Championship team. He came darn close, running 10.20 (-1.0 wind) to finish 5th in the final in his only meet of the year. Last year, he was excellent indoors, running 6.44 twice and winning all four of his races. But he skipped USA Indoors (avoiding world record holder Christian Coleman) and his only competitions outdoors came in those weird meets in Fort Worth that Nike athletes ran to preserve their contracts (Baker was a distant third in the race where Michael Norman ran 10.23, but he did run 10.00 three days later).
On Sunday, Baker will make his 2021 debut, and he’ll do it in his best event against an in-form Bromell. This is most definitely the race of the day, as a fit Baker should be favored against Bromell over 60m — he has run Bromell’s pb of 6.47 or faster nine times during his career. Should Baker — still only 27 — regain his 2018 form, and the 100m conversation in the US becomes much more interesting. Even without Coleman, you’d have four sub-9.90 guys (Bromell, Baker, Noah Lyles, Justin Gatlin) battling it out for three spots.
Tracksmith men’s mile: NCAA title contenders square off
Though two-time Olympic medallist and recent record-setter Nick Willis is by far the most decorated guy in this field, he’s not the favorite after running just 4:01 for third at the Magic City Elite #2 last week in Birmingham.
In this one, I’m more interested in the duel between two of the NCAA’s top mid-distance talents: Texas Tech’s Takieddine Hekeilli and Oregon’s James West.
Who?, you might be asking.
Well, both of them might be bigger names had we had an NCAA championship in 2020. Hedeilli, a 24-year-old from Algeria, won the 1k/mile double at Big 12s in 2020 in his first year at Texas Tech and is the NCAA 800 leader by more than a second at 1:45.98. West, a 25-year-old Brit, ran 3:34 twice in September (Track & Field News — which counts only marks made during the NCAA season — lists the collegiate 1500 record as 3:35.01). This could be an NCAA outdoor preview (West doesn’t have indoor eligibility), though they’ll have to go pretty quick to take down the 3:54.54 NCAA leader thrown down by West’s Oregon teammate Charlie Hunter on the same track last week.
Among the pro entries, Eric Avila (3:55 pb) has the best shot to win — he ran an impressive 13:18 at the Track Meet in California in December.
Women’s 800: High school sophomore Sophia Gorriaran takes on the pros
Brit Adelle Tracey, who ran 1:59 last year outdoors, is the class of this field on paper, though it figures to be a fairly close race with France’s Cynthia Anais (2:00 last year indoors) and a trio of 2:01 women in Brooke Feldmeier, Nikki Hiltz, and Canadian Samantha Murphy. The most intriguing entry, however, is 15-year-old Sophia Gorriaran, who ran 2:02.90 last summer. Now a sophomore at the Moses Brown School in Rhode Island, Gorriaran clocked 2:03.96 to finish second in a high-profile battle of HS stars at the Virginia Showcase on January 16 and then last week moved to #3 all-time in US HS history for the 600 by running 1:27.02. The win is unlikely, but Gorriaran is fit enough right now to beat one or two of them, which would be a huge accomplishment. Again — she’s only 15 years old!
Best of the rest
There aren’t any other big-time showdowns across the rest of the meet (the men’s mile and women’s 800 are the only mid-distance events), but there are a few other athletes worth keeping an eye on. In honor of the late Larry King‘s old USA Today column, let’s break out the ellipses…
Fred Kerley looked easy in running 45.03 at the ATL #1 meet. He’s one of just nine men to break 45 for 400 indoors, and could challenge his 44.85 pb from 2017 if he gets rolling here…Olympic 110 hurdles champ Omar McLeod is racing the 60 hurdles here for the first time in three years. At Arkansas in 2015, McLeod set the collegiate record of 7.45 (since broken). The next year, he won World Indoors in 7.41…Vashti Cunningham (high jump) and Sandi Morris (pole vault) will both be looking for their second ATL wins of 2021 and will be heavily favored. Though it will be worth seeing what Olivia Gruver (who holds the NCAA outdoor record at 4.73m) can do here; she cleared 4.67m to win her indoor opener in Seattle last weekend.
Full entries can be found here.