Saturday, June 16, 2007

Prefontaine Classic 2007

Last weekend, I was at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. This is an annual invitational meet of the top track and field athletes in the world and is named after Steve Prefontaine, one of the greatest American runners of all time. This year's field was especially stellar - Maria Mutola, Craig Mottram, Alan Webb, the Bekele brothers, Bernard Lagat, Daniel Komen, Asafa Powell, Jeremy Wariner among others.

The meet started at 12:30 in the afternoon, but we got there at 11:00. Surprisingly, the best seats are in the general admission section AA which is right in front of the finish line. You just have to get there a bit early; it fills up quickly. When you go to buy tickets at the website, look at the layout of the track and the seating arrangements before buying the tickets.

The first event was the women's javelin throw, followed by the women's 400m hurdles. Then came the men's long jump. Here's a pic of the eventual winner Irving Saladino in action.

The men's 100m followed soon after with Darrel Brown winning in a relatively slow 10.42 seconds, probably because of the 2.1m/s headwind going against the field.

The men's 3000m steeplechase was next. Paul Koech (seen below) won in a time of 8:08.08 - a new Prefontaine Classic and a Hayward Field record.

Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia, the 2004 Olympic gold medal winner was the favorite for the men's 800m race. He's known to sit back and kick it in towards the end. Even with about 1.5 laps gone, he was quite some ways behind the rest of the field, but then, true to reputation, he surged all the way to the front.

However, Nick Symmonds of the USA had other ideas and matched him stride for stride and beat him by width of a shoe - 17/100th of a second - in a new Pre Classic record of 1:44.54. He got quite an ovation on his victory lap.

All throughout this, the other field events were in progress - shot put, javelin, triple jump, long jump, high jump, and pole vault. At some points, I managed to see both the high jumper and the pole vaulter in the air at the same time.

Liu Xiang, the current world champion won the men's 110m hurdles and Torri Edwards won the women's 100m race. This was followed by the men's 400m dash and then the women's 1500 which was won by Gelete Burka of Ethiopia in a new Pre Classic record of 4:00.08.

Sanya Richards of the USA won the women's 400m in 50.74 giving way to what was probably the most anticipated event of the day - the men's 2 mile race. Among those lined up at the start : Craig Mottram (Bib #104 below), Tariku Bekele (#101), Alan Webb (#103), Matt Tegenkamp (#109), Dathan Ritzenhein (#102), Ben Limo (#105). Kenenisa Bekele dropped out at the last minute.

The race lived up to its expectations. Mottram and Bekele found themselves leading the pack quite soon and that stayed so till the end. Alan Webb was trailing behind and he never caught up. As they came down the final 100m stretch, with more than 30-40m to go, Mottram started celebrating, turning to the crowd and raising his right arm in victory. Bekele just didn't have it in him to catch up.

Mottram finished in a new Pre Classic and Hayward Field record of 8:03.50. Apparently, he gave quite the interview afterwards. Bekele was second, followed by Matt Tegenkamp in a new American record of 8:07.07. Here's Tegenkamp posing for the pictures after his finish.

Next was the women's 800m. Maria Mutola of Mozambique won it 1:58.33 and got the loudest ovation of the meet. Below is a picture of the field during the race.

Apparently, she used to live in Springfield, near Eugene, and the local folks love her. This was her 15th consecutive win at the Prefontaine meet. In terms of consistency, she is one of the all-time greats. Check out the pictures on my photo blog of her surrounded by photographers after her finish.

Next was the men's 200m which was supposed to be a match-up between the world 100m champion Asafa Powell, the 2004 Olympic gold winner in the 400m, Jeremy Wariner, and the 200m winner in the 2004 Olympics, Shawn Crawford. However, Xavier Carter decided not to play by the script and was the eventual winner, with Powell finishing in the third position and Wariner a distant sixth.

The last race was the men's 1 mile - the Bowerman mile, named after Bill Bowerman. Daniel Komen of Kenya won quite easily in 3:48.28, a new Pre Classic and Hayward Field record and the fastest mile ever on US soil. Bernard Lagat finished second.

Just like that, it started pouring heavily. The sun had been playing hide-and-seek behind the clouds all day but it was nice of the clouds to hold their rain till the end. This is what it looked like throughout the three hours we were there.

As we walked out the announcer started saying something about the Olympics trials next year on this field and out come a bulldozer and scooped up a giant chunk of the earth in the middle of the green field. Apparently, Hayward field is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation for the Olympic trials.

Eugene is a great place. I saw lots of runners while driving around. Lots of people including young kids and youth showed up for the meet indicating the strong support in the community for running. If you happen to be there on a Saturday, check out the Eugene Saturday Market. If you are driving you could stop by Crater Lake National Park which is about 140 miles away or Portland, about 110 miles away.

No comments: