SPANIARDS SHINE AT NEW BALANCE INDOOR GRAND PRIX
By David Monti, @d9monti (c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (06-Feb) — Distance athletes from Spain were in the spotlight at today’s 27th New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at the Ocean Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex here, winning three events and setting two national records. Esther Guerrero, Adel Mechaal and Mariano Garcia won the women’s 1500m, men’s 3000m and men’s 800m, respectively, and both Mechaal and Garcia set Spanish records.
Moreover, Mechaal’s winning time of 7:30.82 was also a meeting record, a European record, and the fastest time ever on American soil. Guerrero was the first to taste victory. In an unexpectedly slow women’s 1500m where pacemaker Jordan Shead ran through 400 meters in just 72.1 seconds (a typical pace for an elite 5000m race) Guerrero, Heather MacLean, Nikki Hiltz, Cory McGee and Dani Jones were running in tight formation waiting to see what would happen next.
It wasn’t until the backstretch of the final lap where Guerrero, who was leading, started to pull away. The Spanish record holder for 2000m then held off MacLean, Hiltz and Jones who ended up being her closest chasers in the homestretch. Guerrero was thrilled, especially since she represents New Balance the company which sponsored the meet. “I came here not fixing on the time,” Guerrero said, meaning that her 4:11.87 winning time wasn’t important.
“I’m very happy because I fight for the win. For me, it’s very special to win here because I’m from New Balance, and it’s my first win in a big meeting.” MacLean, a USA Olympian at 1500m, finished second in 4:12.29 to edge Hiltz (4:12.32). She was surprised by the slow first 400 meters, but then flipped the script and enjoyed the chance to race strategically. “We went out in 71 (seconds),” a smiling MacLean said after wishing a reporter a belated happy birthday.
“Sometimes you need a race like that.” Mechaal ran the next race on the oval and benefited from excellent pacemaking by miler Robby Andrews and steeplechaser Jordan Mann. Andrews got the race through the first kilometer in a not-too-fast 2:32-flat. Mann took over from there and started to gently squeeze down the pace. He went from running about 30.9 seconds per lap, to 30.3 then 29.8 through the 2000m mark where he pulled off. That set up Mechaal for a fast final kilometer where his only competition was the clock. “Here I was expecting to run 7:32, 7:33 but not 7:30,” said Mechaal who was checking each of his lap splits.
“I was looking at the watch and it’s easy to do the mathematics because it’s 31.00, 31.00, and then… I see I’m going one second faster every lap.” Indeed, Mechaal’s last kilometer was a very fast 2:25.91; he closed with a 28.2-second last circuit. “It was good, it was great,” said the Team New Balance athlete. In breaking the Spanish record, he also broke the European record of 7:32.41 held by his compatriot, Sergio Sanchez, who set the mark in Valencia in 2010.
But Sanchez, now 39 and retired, was busted for doping in 2013 and served a two-year ban. His record was often viewed suspiciously, although his mark was never annulled. There was also fast running in the second pack. Scotland’s Andrew Butchart out-sprinted Guatemala’s Luis Grijalva to get second, barely. Both men were timed in 7:37.42. Butchart set a personal best and Grijalva set a new Guatemalan indoor record. Another Scotsman, Jake Wightman, finished fourth in 7:37.81. Garcia, another Team New Balance athlete, got the third Spanish victory, running away from USA Olympian Bryce Hoppel on the final lap. Garcia was slightly behind Hoppel with a lap to go, but ran a very fast 25.93 seconds for his final 200 meters to win by nearly a second in a world-leading 1:45.12. He just got under the previous Spanish record of 1:45.25 held by Antonio Manuel Reina set in Vienna in 2002.
“The race, the pace was very, very good,” said Garcia in his best English. “Very happy for the national record. Very, very happy.” Hoppel, who won the 800m at the Millrose Games last weekend, ran nearly the same time he did at that meeting, 1:46.08 today vs. 1:46.05 at Millrose. Back in sixth place 18 year-old Will Sumner from Canton, Georgia, ran the second-fastest indoor time every by an American high school boy: 1:48.14. “I knew it was in me,” said Sumner dressed in an all-black racing uniform.
“My PB was 1:51.” In the men’s mile, unsponsored Colby Alexander nearly ran away for the win –he was leading by more than a second at the 1500 meter mark– but was run-down inside of the final 20 meters by Irishman Andy Coscoran who took the win in a personal best 3:53.64 to Alexander’s 3:53.83. Another Irishman, Luke McCann, nearly caught Alexander too, but had to settle for third place and a big personal best of 3:53.87. Coscoran, who had a poor race in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games where he finished 12th out of 13 competitors, was very happy with his race. “I didn’t really expect to come through so strong, but I did,” said Coscoran who said he may have trained a little too aggressively in the days leading up to Millrose.
“I think I was a little tired at Millrose,” he added. In her season opener, Canada’s Gabriela Debues-Stafford of the Nike Bowerman Track Club won a fast women’s 3000m by overwhelming her closest rivals, Ethiopia’s Mekides Abebe and Virginia’s Josette Norris, in the final 100 meters. Debues-Stafford, who already holds Canadian records for 1500m, mile and 5000m, added the indoor 3000m with her 8:33.92 finish time today.
That smashed the previous record of 8:46.50 set by Jessica O’Connell at the Millrose Games in 2019. Abede got second in 8:36.31 and Norris third in a personal best 8:37.91. “I primarily wanted to race instead of time-trial,” Debues-Stafford explained. “It’s kind of like, I knew I was probably fitter than last year when I ran 8:38. So, I knew I was probably in decent shape, but we haven’t done like a ton of specific workouts yet. It’s always a mystery how good you’re going to be in these early races.” Natoya Goule of Jamaica won the women’s 800m, and her time of 1:59.62 was a world leader. The Atlanta Track Club Elite’s Olivia Baker got second in a personal best 2:00.33, a 2022 USA leader.
“I was expecting to go under two minutes,” said Goule who represents adidas. “That was a great run. I feel great. I know I can go harder because I’ve been training this week and this is just like a practice for me.”
The high school miles went to Ellie Shea of Belmont, Mass., in 4:48.60 and Gavin Sherry of West Hartford, Conn., in 4:05.10. Both athletes ran away from their respective fields. “We definitely took it out fast which is good,” said Shea, a sophomore who trains with the Emerging Elites Track Club. “I’m really thankful that New Balance put the meet on and gave us a chance to race.”
Today’s meeting, a Gold level event of the World Athletics Indoor Tour, was held for the second consecutive year at Ocean Breeze after being held 25 times at its traditional home at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston. Last year’s edition took place in a closed anti-COVID “bubble,” and spectators were not permitted. The stands were relatively full this year, and athletes gave out hundreds of autographs to young fans who lined the railing along the athlete’s path to the media area.