Sunday, May 31, 2015

Distance Night

The trip to Eugene proved a bit challenging.  Delta did its best to keep me from getting there.  Instead of landing in Portland on Thursday, I hit the ground Friday at Noon, just in time for my partner in crime Chris, to pick me up at the airport for the drive to Eugene.

The Prefontaine Classic, a world class track and field extravaganza, has been serving up appetizers the last half dozen years with a handful of races on Friday night.  Along with a couple of hot high school miles and a world class women's long jump field, U.S. distance god Galen Rupp was running the 5000 meters and his British training partner, Mo Farah, was going for his country's record in the 10000 meter.  It promised to be a night to remember.

Chris had lured me with 2nd row, finish line tickets, for Saturday's main event.  He also thoughtfully booked a hotel room within walking distance of historic Hayward Field.  When we arrived in Eugene, the first thing he wanted to do was visit Pre's Rock.  It's the rock face where 40 years before, Steve Prefontaine, flipped his MG and died.  We had made the same pilgrimage 11 years before when we attended the 2004 meet together.

I knew it was up a major hill, which didn't bode well for the run, but I had managed it then and I figured I could manage it now.  My 59 year old legs said otherwise.  I made it about 200 yards up the half mile climb to the spot and told Chris I had to walk.  I felt like I had sprinted a 400 as hard as I could.  I managed another short jog before finally walking to the crash site, were five other people had gathered.  I was a sophomore to be in college when Pre died.  I remember that day just as I remember the assassination of JFK. 

We managed to finish the climb off of Skyline Drive and meandered very slowly over to Hayward Field.  The place was decked out and swarming with people, even four hours before the start of that evening's festivities.  This massive NIKE poster greeted us as we made our way back to our hotel.  It was on the side of the three story student-athlete study facility that didn't exist the last time I was in Eugene.  In fact, the number of new buildings at the University of Oregon that have gone up in the last 11 years caught me off guard.

We made it back to the track about 45 minutes before the start of Distance Night.  In an incredibly classy gesture we were handed a special program, free, and a special race bib with the number 40, also free.  It then dawned on us that this very night marked the last time Steve Prefontaine had raced at Hayward Field 40 years ago.  It came with a touching video tribute on the big board that overlooks the track.

The competition was incredible.  Both the boys and girls high school miles were special.  All 10 girls in the mile raced step for step the entire race.  Ryen Frazier managed to nip Danielle Jones by 4/10ths of a second running 4:39.84.  The boys race was even better as Carlos Villareal flew over the last 150 meters to run down Mikey Brannigan with a 4:05.25.  Villareal made up at least 30 meters over that last 150 with an amazing kick.

Tianna Bartoletta, in the midst of the on track mayhem, powered to a 23' 4" long jump, which isn't bad for a woman known more for her 100 meter dash abilities.  In a matter of moments, the crowd favorite, Galen Rupp appeared and the stage was set for what was supposed to be a super fast 50el00 meters.  Unfortunately, the stellar field of distance aces couldn't deliver.

The group of world class runners refused to follow the pace setters, which meant it was going to come down to a kickers race.  That's bad news for Rupp, who has great wheels, but not as good as a handful of Africans.  Rupp charged to the front with 600 meters to go but it wasn't enough to Kenyan and an Ethiopian who went on to win the race.  Rupp settled for 3rd, but the real story was the man in 4th, Bernard Lagat.  The 40-year-old wonder set a master's world record in 13:14.97.

With the crowd still buzzing Mo Farah and a host of more super African distance runners took to the track for the 10000.  Again the pacing was suspect, leaving Farah and Paul Tanui from Kenya to trade surge and counter surge.  The real story developed far back in the track.  Canada's great distance hope Cam Levins, had let the main pack go due to the super fast racing going on from the get go.  Levins found himself trapped in the 2nd pack some 80 meters done. 

Levins started slowly pulling away from that group with about 12 laps to go, slowly picking off those destroyed by the early, punishing pace.  He managed to go from 12th place to 4th place with a lap to go to run a Canadian record in 27:07.51.  Farah showed his amazing kick to win the shootout in 26:50.97, falling short of the British record.  It's still the fastest 10000 I've ever seen in person by a good 15 seconds.

It had been amazing evening and we hadn't even gotten into the good stuff promised for Saturday.

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