Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Prefontaine Classic

The day started as a gloomy, chilly with the threat of rain as I headed out the door of my Eugene hotel for a 5 mile run along the famous trails that run along the Willamette River.  As I enjoyed my morning run I spotted a few of the participants from the previous nights 10000 meter race and hoped this day would produce as many stellar performances.

We made our way over to Hayward Field, Fenway Park of American track and field.  The fans are great, the emotion they can lift from the competing athletes cannot be underestimated.  Those fans helped make for great performances that were standard fare for the meets namesake, the late Steve Prefontaine.

The field events began shortly after 12:15 p.m. and by then the clouds had given way to brilliant sunshine.  You knew it was going to be something special when in the warm up mile race, a gathering of "non-elites," if you will, took the track at 12:32 p.m.  Ben Blankenship rolled through a 3:55 mile dragging 8 other competitors under the magical 4 minute barrier with him.  Just to my left the women triple jumpers were going crazy, two bounding out to 49 feet, incredible world class jumping.

Across the infield, Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie was setting a meet mark in the pole vault scaling nearly 20 feet while taking a couple decent cracks at his own world record.  In front of me in the shot put circle American Joe Kovacs was dominating a who's who of the world's best shot putters hurling the 16 pound ball more than 72 feet.

Then the fireworks on the track got going.  English Gardner flew to a world's best 100 meter of 10.84 only to be bested by Shelly Frasier-Price a few minutes later flashed down the track in 10.82 to take down Gardner's mark.  The sprinting was otherworldly with Justin Gatlin clocking a world leading 19.68 in the 200 and Kirani James gliding around the oval in 43.95.

The distance fireworks were even brighter.  On the women's side American Ajee Wilson battled Kenyan Eunice Sum to the tape losing by .05 in an 1:57.82 800.  Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba ran an epic solo 5000 meters in the recording the 6th fastest time in history hitting the tape in 14:19.76.  World Champion Jenny Simpson rescued the American cause nearly breaking 4 minutes to win a deep women's 1500 that saw 18-year-old Alexa Efraimson take down Mary Cain's American Junior Record running 4:03.39.

The men's mile that followed was anti-climatic.  The elite field refused to follow the pacemakers instead gunning a final 800 in 1:51 in which Djibouti's Ayanleh Souleiman edged Matt Centrowitz with his 3:51.1. All told 13 men had broken 4 minutes in that race bringing the day's total to 21.  No other track meet can claim as many sub-4 minute milers as the Prefontaine Classic.

Just before 3 p.m. Pacific time I sat and wondered at the spectacle that I had witnessed over the last two hours.  I knew I had just seen the greatest track and field meet in my life.  And outside of the Olympics, which I only witnessed first hand in 1984, the stats backed my guts up.  The geeks who track the numbers say the two days of running, jumping and throwing were the greatest in history.  I was just lucky enough to be there and see it.

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