Saturday, June 20, 2009

Prefontaine Classic 2009

We went to the Prefontaine Classic a couple of weeks ago, on June 7th, 2009 in Eugene, Oregon. This is our third consecutive year enjoying this event. The day was beautiful albeit a bit warm to permit any world records from falling. Below is a shot of Hayward Field, from Section A which is right in front of the finish line for the races. You get a side shot of the winners as they break the tape. Last year, we were in Section U, which provides you with a front-side shot as they finish. (Click on any of the pictures below for a larger version.)

The national anthem was the first item on the menu. This was followed by antipasti of a medley of field events - men's pole vault, men's long jump, women's discus, and women's hammer throw. Then started the main course, aka the track events, the first of which was the men's 400m hurdles. At this point, the announcer told us that we were now live on NBC TV, which was greeted by loud cheers all around. Bershawn Jackson comfortably won the hurdles in 48.38. This gave way to the highly anticipated women's 1500m with a field that read Gelete Burka, Nancy Lagat, Anna Willard, Jenny Barringer, Shannon Rowbury, Shalane Flanagan, Erin Donohue, among others.

The race didn't disappoint. Burka barely beat out Barringer by 1/100 of a second - 3:59.89 to 3:59.90. That's them finishing. Barringer had a great run down the homestretch where she almost caught up with Burka. You should've seen the expression of overjoyed surprise on her face - she was elated.

Then came the men's steeplechase with last year's winner Paul Koech being the favorite. That's him (below) winning in a comfortable time of 8:13.44, almost 8 seconds ahead of the second place.

It must have been an exhausting race, judging by these runners below. This is right after the race ended.

In the background, the field events contined to progress. The shot below is that of Dwight Phillips finishing his 8.74m jump that ultimately got him the first place. This broke the Hayward Field record of 8.49m set by Irving Saladino in 2007, who finished second this time with 8.63m.

Then followed the men's 3000m race with a field of Eliud Kipchoge, Bernard Lagat, Saif Shaheen, Alistair Craig, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky, seen in order from right to left below. (There were others but they are not in this shot below.)

Lagat and Shaheen fought it out in the last couple of hundred meters. Shaheen pulled into the lead around the 200m but soon Lagat switched gears and with around 100m to go, he took the lead. He won in 7:35.92, almost a second ahead of Shaheen.

All this while, the field events continued. At some points, you could see three or four athletes in action simultaneously - someone running, someone jumping, someone throwing. It was pretty exciting, almost like a fast-paced video game. The above picture shows the lineup for the men's shot put, with a guy getting ready for the high jump in the immediate background, and another guy getting ready for the pole vault in the far background.

I don't mean to downplay the field events vis-a-vis the track events. Indeed, they have their own unique, inimitable moments. Below, Irving Saldino shows how to chat with the photographer while still jumping an 8.63. Perhaps that was the reason he lost to Phillips.

Or better yet, take the woman jumper below. She seems to be from the kung-fu school of long jump, unveiling here, for the first time ever, the soon-to-be-famous Flying Dragon style. This esoteric style is a few centuries older than the Fosbury flop technique in high jump. Unfortunately, I don't remember who the athlete is. If you do, please drop me a note.

Reese Hoffa won the men's shot put with a 71ft 10in throw. Here he is on his way out of the stadium, with a smile that seems to fit a persona of a gentle giant. The announcer reminded us that Hayward Field is the home of the 70-foot throw, there have been more such throws than anywhere else in the world. Adam Nelson, who won last year, fouled on all six of his attempts.

Sanya Richards (below) won the women's 400m easily in 49.86 seconds. Later she was in the Nutrilite tent signing autographs.

The men's 800m was won by Nick Symmonds in 1:45.86 beating last year's winner Alfred Yego. That's Symmonds in the pic below with Elijah Greer, a Oregon high-schooler following closely. Though he finished last here, he's supposed to be one of the up-and-coming stars with a lot of potential. A few days after the race, I was talking to someone in the little town of Tillamook, Oregon and he knew about Greer.

This was followed by the women's 800. Maggie Vessey, pictured below, won comfortably, beating out the favorite(?) Pamela Jelimo who finished dead last. The expression on her face after she won was worth a Mastercard commercial, though Visa being the main sponsors of this meet might not take too kindly to that. Check out this video; you can hear her say "Oh, my God!" She's the one behind everyone else at the completion of the first lap.

Then followed the women's 2000m with a field consisting of Vivian Cheruiyot, Maryam Jamal, Linet Masai, Kara Goucher, Jen Rhines, Sara Hall, among others. Cheruiyot won in 5:31.52 beating Mary Slaney's Hayward Field record and better yet, setting the fastest time ever on US soil.

As the winner started on her the victory lap, out came the athletes for what is arguably the grand finale - the men's Bowerman mile. The field - Asbel Kiprop, Alan Webb, Lopez Lomong, Leonel Manzano, Belal Mansoor, Shedrack Korir, etc. Kiprop won in 3:48.50 barely missing out on the Hayward Field record of 3:48.28 by Daniel Komen. If had hadn't done a Bolt by waving kisses to the crowd more than 50 meters from the finish, he might have had the record. Below is a picture at some point in the race, with all but the guy on the left with their feet in the air. Incidentally, that guy on the left went on to win.

Here's Kiprop doing a Bolt, albeit a bit restrained in comparison to Bolt.

The results showed up one by one on the scoreboard. They were hoping for a sub-4:00 finish by all. It looked good as the screen below shows. Alas, as the results scrolled by on to the second screen with more 3:XX.XX's, the last one burst the bubble - 4:01.09. Nevertheless, it was pretty exciting - 13 sub-4 finishers.

That was it for the races. The final event was the presentation of the Maria Mutola award. Last year was the inaugural one - won by pole vaulter Brad Walker. This year it went to long jumper Dwight Phillips. Here he is below, after being presented with the award by Mary Slaney.

A great end to a great meet. Best of all, it didn't rain! I think the announcer said something like 12,000+ was the stadium attendance, which if I recall correctly is slightly lower than last year's record of 14,000+. Everything was well-organized. The bib numbers that the athletes had, matched those in the booklet that we bought, which made it much easier to follow the races and also to compile this post. Though, I still don't understand why they have a hip number in addition. Nutrilite, one of the sponsors, had a tent set up and a little kiosk with cool stuff. We even got free T-shirts, energy bars, energy pills, and a carry-sack. There were a bunch of athletes signing autographs in the Nutrilite tent - Sanya Richards, LaShawn Merritt, Bryan Clay, etc.

We then headed out the gates and took a hop, skip, and a jump across the street to some absolutely fantastic ice-cream at Prince Pucklers.

(If you're interested, here's a link to my post from the 2008 meet and the 2007 meet.)

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