NBIGP Preview: The Best US Indoor Meet of 2021 Season Is Saturday
By Jonathan Gault
February 12, 2021
While the Millrose Games and USATF Indoor Championships have both fallen by the wayside in 2021, the third mainstay of the US professional indoor circuit, the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, has endured. Despite a move to Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex (the meet’s usual venue, the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, is being used as a mass vaccination site), NBIGP will be back for its 26th edition on Saturday.
And thank goodness for that, because this meet is stacked. There are sprint stars (Trayvon Bromell, Sydney McLaughlin, Shaunae Miller-Uibo). There are distance stars (Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, Emma Coburn). And if that’s not enough, two of the world’s greatest sprinters will be racing indoors for the first time in three years. That would be Noah Lyles (entered in the 60 and 200) and Michael Norman (400).
Take a second to ponder all those names. You can make a case that the men’s Olympic favorites at 100 (Lyles/Bromell), 200 (Lyles), 400 (Norman), and 800 (Brazier) are all racing in Staten Island this weekend. Throw in deep distance fields including two American record attempts and that’s one hell of a track meet.
Below, a look at the top events from what will be the standout meet of the 2021 US indoor season.
What: 2021 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix
When: Saturday, February 13
Where: Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex, Staten Island, NY
How to watch in the USA: NBC, 4-6 p.m. ET (early events on Peacock Premium from 3:15-4)
How to watch in the rest of the world: Click here.
Related: What About The Sport? Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Donavan Brazier & Bryce Hoppel Raced Each Other Once This Season? The two 800m stars will be at the same meet three times in a four-week span — including Saturday’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix — but aren’t slated to face each other.
Men’s 2-mile (3:20 p.m. ET) & Women’s 1500 (3:50 p.m. ET)
Both of these events feature plenty of talent, though neither will be shown on the main TV broadcast. In the men’s race, Eric Jenkins, who looked terrific his last time out, running 27:22 to win the 10,000 at the Track Meet in December, will face Joe Klecker and Morgan McDonald, both fresh off a 3k in Arizona last weekend (Klecker ran 7:39, McDonald 7:41). Keep an eye out too for Canada’s Justyn Knight. The Syracuse alum, a World Championship finalist at 5000 in 2017 and 2019, began last year on fire, winning all three of his races indoors, including an impressive 3k victory at Millrose. But it’s been almost a year since he has raced; will he be ready to go against this talented field?
Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet, the two-time world and 2016 Olympic medalist, was a late addition to the field and will be favored to win (I’m assuming he’s fit — why would he fly in from Ethiopia otherwise?). Gebrhiwet owns pbs of 7:30 and 12:45 and has wins at this meet in 2013, 2014, and 2019.
The women’s 1500 isn’t quite as deep but should still be competitive, with 2019 World Championship finalist Nikki Hiltz and Heather MacLean, who won the mile at the American Track League meet on January 31. Plus Alexa Efraimson will try to rebound after an inauspicious debut under new coach Pete Julian last week (2:05.10 800 in Arizona).
Women’s 60 hurdles (4:03 p.m. ET)
Sydney McLaughlin hasn’t run a 60 hurdles race since March 2015 — her sophomore year at Union Catholic High School in New Jersey. But as the face of New Balance track & field, it seems clear her bosses want her to get as much exposure as possible during this meet — especially considering McLaughlin, 21, didn’t race at all in 2020. So she’s headlining the first and last events on the NBC broadcast on Saturday, the 60 hurdles and the 500.
This race is far more compelling than the 500, which features a creampuff field to guarantee a McLaughlin victory. In addition to McLaughlin, you’ve got reigning US champ Gabriele Cunningham and reigning world champ/100m hurdle WR holder Keni Harrison. Harrison, 28, will go off as a significant favorite in her first hurdles race of the season. Since the start of 2017, she has lost just once in this event: the 2018 US indoor champs, where it took an American record from Sharika Nelvis to beat her.
Women’s 800 (4:09 p.m. ET)
The name to watch here is Sophia Gorriaran. Last week, the 15-year-old high school sophomore ran 2:02.44 — #4 all-time among US high schoolers — at the American Track League #3 but was overshadowed by another precocious teenager. Gorriaran led almost all the way in that race before she was caught by Great Britain’s Adelle Tracey — who will also compete in Staten Island — in the home straight. The national HS indoor record is Sammy Watson‘s 2:01.78 from 2017.
Gorriaran has a shot to break it as this week’s race will go almost certainly go faster than last week’s up front. 2019 World Championship finalists Natoya Goule (6th) and Ce’aira Brown (8th) will both run here. It’s Brown’s first race since August; Goule, meanwhile, has won all three of her races this year, including a 2:01.08 at Clemson on January 30. 2020 US indoor runner-up Kaela Edwards is also entered.
Men’s 60 (prelims 4:16 p.m. ET, final 5:39 p.m. ET): Bromell looks to get back on track
Six days after facing Ronnie Baker in Fayetteville, Trayvon Bromell will try to get back to winning ways in Staten Island. Baker handed Bromell a convincing defeat, 6.53 to 6.58, though losing to Baker — the third-fastest man ever at 60 meters — is no great shame. Bromell remains the 2021 world leader at 6.48, which he ran at the first ATL meet on January 24.
Noah Lyles is also entered in his first 60 indoors since 2018 (though he clocked a wind-aided 6.66 in an outdoor 60 on January 22), but this is merely the warmup for him on Saturday. He’ll run the 60 prelims but not the final, as it is immediately before the 200 (5:47 p.m.), which Lyles is also running. Lyles has only run one indoor 200 as a professional — he clocked 21.02 in his very first meet as a pro at Arkansas in 2017 — and should go substantially faster on Saturday. In case you are wondering, the fastest time ever run indoors is 19.92 – the fastest by an American is 20.02.
Men’s 1000 (4:32 p.m. ET): Bryce Hoppel chases American record
While we won’t get the matchup everyone wants to see on Saturday — Hoppel against Donavan Brazier (read this to find out why: ) — this should still be an entertaining race. Marco Arop (7th at 2019 Worlds at 800) and Charlie Grice (1:45.62 in Fayetteville on January 31) are both fit, and Hoppel, fresh off his 1:44.37 at the ATL meet two weeks ago, seems ready to rip a fast one.
Hoppel, who edged Jake Wightman in a thriller in this race last year, is targeting the late David Torrence‘s American record of 2:16.76. He has a great chance to break it. Last year, Hoppel ran 2:17.41 here, but that was almost an accident, a byproduct of racing to win. Considering Hoppel just ran 1:44.37, and Torrence’s lifetime best at 800 (outdoors) was 1:45.14, the record should fall if he gets his pacing right. World Athletics’ scoring table says 1:44.37 is worth 2:15.16 for 1000.
For posterity, the Canadian record is Nate Brannen‘s 2:16.87 from 2014 (set in the same race as Torrence’s). The British record is Wightman’s 2:17.51 from the 2020 NBIGP.
Women’s 2-mile (4:46 p.m. ET): New Balance’s stars on display
The headliner here is Elle Purrier, who enjoyed a breakout 2020 indoor season, headlined by a 4:16.85 American record in the mile at Millrose. Purrier earned a commanding win at this meet a year ago, also over two miles, and will be favored to repeat on Saturday. Steeple star Emma Coburn and her training partner, four-time NCAA champ Dani Jones, are also entered, but Purrier will go off as favorite.
Could the American record go down? Purrier ran 9:29 last year, but ran a big negative split of 4:49.79/4:39.38. Jenny Simpson‘s American record of 9:18.35 from 2015 is attainable (WA says it’s worth 4:23 in the mile or 8:39 for 3k), but would require a dedicated effort from the start. Simpson, by the way, isn’t racing at NBIGP as she usually does — she told LetsRun that she was sad to be missing out, but that collectively decided with New Balance and coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs to stay in her current training block rather than come out for what would typically be her only indoor race of the season.
Men’s 400 (5:08 p.m. ET): Michael Norman debuts
This is a real treat. Michael Norman hasn’t raced at all indoors since his legendary performance at the 2018 NCAA indoor meet, when he won the 400 in 44.52 and anchored USC’s 4×400 to the win in 3:00.77. Both of those times were the fastest ever indoors for those discplines, though neither was ratified as a WR (the 44.52, presumably, because Norman did not take a drug test; the 4×400 because all four athletes weren’t from the same country).
Norman doesn’t usually do “soft” openers. In 2019, he ran 43.45 in his first race of the year on April 20, a time that held up as the world leader. Last year, in Norman’s only significant competition, he ran a stunning 9.86 for 100.
In recent years, the only thing holding Norman back has been his body; a nagging hamstring injury in 2019 prevented him from even reaching the World Championship final in Doha. So the fact that Norman is feeling comfortable enough to fly across the country from his training base in Los Angeles to compete this weekend is a great sign.
Clearly, Norman is the favorite. But his training partner and World Championship 400 hurdles silver medalist Rai Benjamin (44.31 flat 400 pb outdoors), Vernon Norwood (44.40), and Tyrell Richard (who ran 44.82 to win NCAA indoors in 2019) could challenge him in Staten Island.
Men’s 1500 (5:14 p.m. ET): Engels vs Wightman (and a lot more) should not disappoint
Initially, this was supposed to be the 2021 opener for Matthew Centrowitz, who looked solid in winning the B heat of the 5k at the Track Meet in December. But Centrowitz withdrew on Thursday after tweaking his hip flexor and will not be in action.
Even without the Olympic champ, this will be a competitive race. The favorite is Brit Jake Wightman, who was 5th at Worlds in 2019 and ran 3:29 last year, but 2019 US outdoor champ Craig Engels showed two weeks ago that he’s in shape right now (1:46.10 at the American Track League #2) and should present a challenge.
And this field is deep. Analyzing everyone’s chances would take too much time, but Johnny Gregorek, Olli Hoare, Drew Hunter, and Nick Willis are all names you know well. Sam Prakel is a 3:50 miler. Amos Bartelsmeyer, after his first stretch training with Jerry Schumacher, could be primed for a breakout. And watch out for Sam Tanner. The 20-year-old University of Washington athlete has already run 3:36 and 3:54 outdoors this year and won the New Zealand 3k title on January 23 in impressive fashion.
Women’s 400 (5:24 p.m. ET)
This is a good field, with Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo, 2017 world champ Phyllis Francis, and 2019 NCAA champ Wadeline Jonathas. But come on. We know Miller-Uibo is winning this. The question is how fast she can go. Athing Mu just ran 50.52, and Miller-Uibo is significantly better than Mu. Only three women have ever broken 50 seconds indoors.
Men’s 800 (5:31 p.m. ET): Brazier debuts
After withdrawing from the second ATL meet at the last minute due to close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID, Brazier will be eager to finally get his 2021 campaign underway on Saturday. Brazier has a few things working in his favor:
1) He’s won at this meet four years running
2) In his last three trips to New York, he’s set American records. In his last race on this track, he set a world best — 1:13.77 in the 600 to win the 2019 US indoor title.
3) He’s Donavan freakin’ Brazier
When you’re the best 800 runner on the planet, you’re going to expect to win every 800 you run. Erik Sowinski ran an impressive 1:45.69 his last time out at ATL #2. Brit Jamie Webb clocked 1:46.45 — an indoor pb — to win in Ostrava on February 3 and has run 1:44 outdoors. But the best either can reasonably hope for is to be towed along to a fast time in Brazier’s wake. He’s that dominant.
The only question, really: does Brazier do what he’s done the last few years during the regular season and hang back to work on his tactics? Or does he go full-bore from the gun and try to run stupid fast? His pb/American record: 1:44.22. The world indoor record: 1:42.67.
Talk about the meet on our messageboard. MB: Saturday’s 2021 NBIGP is LOADED. Official discussion thread. *NB Grand Prix w1500m: Quigley vs McGee vs Efraimson vs Hiltz vs Maclean *Matthew Centrowitz OUT of 1500 at New Balance Indoor Grand Prix
More: What About The Sport? Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Donavan Brazier & Bryce Hoppel Raced Each Other Once This Season? The two 800m stars will be at the same meet three times in a four-week span — including Saturday’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix — but aren’t slated to face each other.