Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Special Sunday Night

This is the time of the year I love best.  It is the time of the Boston Marathon, the Kansas, Drake and Penn Relays.  It is when my favorite sport, track and field, begins to get serious.  I couldn't resist the temptation of taking in one of this country's great track meets last weekend, the Payton Jordan Invitational.

Palo Alto with good traffic is only two hours or so away.  So Sunday afternoon I drove through the Bay Area taking in the splendor of San Francisco before rolling into Cobb Stadium at Stanford University.  I hadn't attended a truly world class track meet in five years.  The last one was the 2006 edition of the Kansas Relays, the meet where Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin got caught for doping.

I went to Stanford hoping to see some world class distance running.  The cool spring evenings in Palo Alto had produced some stunning results over the last decade or so.  Last year's edition saw Chris Solinsky run an American record for 10,000 meters in 26:59.6, making him the first white man to break the 27 minute mark.

The rumblings prior to this meet where of a possible American record effort in the 10,000 on the women's side by Shalane Flanagan and a major effort in the men's race by a dozen or so athletes bent on getting the Olympic qualifying standard.

Most of all I wanted to see Matt Tegenkamp run his first competitive 10K on the track.  I had seen him run as a high school star when he starred at Lee's Summit in the Kansas City area.  Tegenkamp was world class at 5,000 and for the last four or five years running fans had clamored for him to try the longer race.

I had arrived early for the meet, almost too early, sitting through five hours of exciting 800's, 1,500's, and 5,000 meter races including some steeplechases.  I saw Jordan Hasay, Lopez Lomong, and a contingent of distance runners from the University of Kansas.  My backside was sore after sitting through the evening on the hard aluminum bleacers, waiting for the big 10K's.  But as the sun set, the breezes died, and the conditions became ideal.

The women's lacked a quality pace maker so it was left to Shalane Flanagan and to Sally Kipeygo to make the race.  You could tell early on there would be no record.  The question would be if Kipeygo who was making her 10K debut on the track could withstand the strength of Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan.  Kipeygo had the kick and got the win as a group of Stanford athletes drummed out a rhythm in the cool night air.

The men's race saw Solinsky pace a group of a dozen other runners through a perfect first 5K in 13:44.  The field filed along in a long string for the next six laps when an unknown Kenyan Bedan Karoki squirted away from the field.  A four second gap became eight in the space of a lap.  Finally Tegenkamp gave chase with only Bobby Curtis following him.  By the penultimate lap Karoki was winning in a romp while a half dozen or so runners had reeled in Tegenkamp and Curtis for a stirring stretch run.

When it was over Karoki had run the fastest 10K I had ever witnessed, 27:13.67.  Tegenkamp showed a disappointing kick but ran a very respectable 27:28.22 to finish 6th, part of a pack of 14 runners to meet the Olympic "A" standard.  It was an exciting night of racing.  It was as good as anything you could see at the super meets in Europe.  The only thing better would be to put a field of this quality in these kind of conditions in front of a crowd at Hayward Field.  Nothing against these laid Californians, but Eugene does it better.

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