Sunday, June 15, 2008

Prefontaine Classic 2008

Last weekend, I went to the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. This year the meet started a bit early - at 9:30 a.m. with two specially arranged races. The men's 10,000m race where Kenenisa Bekele was to attempt to break his own world record. This was to be followed by another world record attempt, in the women's 5000m by Meserat Defar whose previous record had been broken by Tirunesh Dibaba only a couple of days before the meet.

That's Bekele in the pic above, with two of the guys that paced him. The race started off with great anticipation in the air. The meet commentator was great. He would tell us at the end of each lap what Bekele's current time was and compare it to his time in his world record run. Pretty much throughout he was behind by about 5-10 seconds.

In the end, he came close but didn't quite break it. 8 seconds was the difference. Nevertheless, the fastest time on American soil beating the previous best by 38 seconds. It was a great race. Lots of support from the crowd in general especially from a couple of Ethiopian contingents who showed up with their vibrant flags and colors and sounds. I think he might have made it if it were a bit cooler. Sitting there in the stands, I could feel the heat on my back.

It got hotter by the time Meseret Defar began her WR attempt. You could tell before even halfway through that this wasn't meant to be it.

She was off by a huge margin. However, she did set a new Pre Classic record. That's Kara Goucher above with Defar's time in the background. Goucher had a lot of support especially from this one woman sitting a few rows ahead of me who cried herself hoarse cheering Kara with each lap. Goucher looked exhausted for more than a few minutes after she stopped running. Similarly for Abdi Abdirahman - the local crowd was very enthusiatic for him.

Next was the women's 400m race that Sanya Richards (below) won quite easily.

The men's 100m followed - won by Darrell Brown in a not so exciting 10.07. No Bolt, Gay, or Powell though. Asafa Powell was in the Nutrilite tent signing autographs however. Then came the women's 1500 meters which was won by Gelete Burka in a new Pre Classic record of 4:0.44. Alfred Yego of Kenya set a new Pre Classic and Hayward Field record in the men's 800m with a time of 1:44.01. That's Yego below, at the finish line.

This was followed by the women's 100m hurdles. (As an aside, does anyone know why it's only 100m in the hurdles for women whereas it's 110m for the men?) Joanna Hayes won this race inspite of tripping over the last hurdle. This is how she did it.

While the races were on, Adam Nelson was helping set a new Hayward Field record. Hayward Field now has the maximum number of 70+ foot shot-put throws in any single stadium. This tidbit was courtesy of the commentator. (Wish I knew what his name was. He was excellent.) That's Nelson below on one of his throws. He even did a little victory lap in the shot-put pit - probably the shortest victory lap in athletics ever.

In another field event, Brad Walker won the pole vault setting a new American record of 19 feet 9-3/4 inches. He then attempted to go for the world record. The display shows 20 feet 2.5 inches which would've broken Sergey Bubka's world record from 1994.

The crowd was filled with anticipation yet again. Alas, yet again, they were disappointed. Nevertheless, it was a great performance. There was even a minor accident in the event when someone's pole broke in mid-air after he had just lifted off the ground. Thankfully, he hadn't gained much altitude and was able to safely come back down to earth. No pic though since I wasn't anticipating a pole breaking.

Next up was the one of the highlight events - the men's 2 mile race boasting a field of Bernard Lagat, Craig Mottram, Alan Webb, Saif Shaheen, Paul Koech, Rachid Ramzi. That's the field below.

Bernard Lagat won the race. Look at his Happy smile at the finish.

Then came the men's 200m. Wallace Spearmon won in a new Pre Classic record of 20.14. Below is the field coming onto the final stretch.

Next up was another highlight event - the men's mile. Among the field were Alan Webb, Daniel Komen, and Nick Willis. Shedrack Korir won, with the entire field coming in under 4 minutes. According to the commentator, there have now been 208 sub-4 minute performances.

There was even a Prefontaine lookalike - lane 1 below. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to map his bib, or rather hip number, to his name.

This brought us to the grand finale - the 800m womens race starring the crowd favorite - Maria Mutola. That's her below lining up for the start. The commentator was cool - he started the introductions lane by lane but when he got to her lane number, he said he'd skip it for a moment and then went on to finish the rest of the introductions. Then he came back to introduce Mutola and what an ovation she got. You had to be there to experience it. This was her last appearance at the Pre Classic and she had won this 15 times before.

She didn't disappoint her fans and won comfortably beating off a challenge from the young phenom Chanelle Price who actually took the lead in the first lap.

Right afterwards, the commentator announced the inaugural Maria Mutola award. This one went to none other than Brad Walker - with his new American record in the pole vault. Check out the swarm of photographers around them.

At some point they even introduced Prefontaine's mom and sister who were in the stands. They got up and waved. The crowd gave them a nice round of applause.

Overall, this was a great experience. A world record or two would've made it even better :) But, hey, that's not something you get to see everyday. Next year perhaps. If you're interested, this is my report from last year's meet.


Eric J said...

Man, great thread of comments and pictures. I've been to Pre only once, working with Asafa Powell's team last year. Good to have this commentary.

All best,


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