The 2019 indoor track & field season has already opened with some good performances, but the first major meet of the new year comes Saturday with the New Balance Grand Prix at the Reggie Lewis Center at Roxbury Community College.
This is the first of six stops on the IAAF World Indoor Tour, with a $20,000 first prize for entire tour and $3,000-1,500-1,000-750-500-300 for individual events at each stop. Among the highlighted events for the 200 m track:
● 300 m: Not a World Tour race, but anytime Rai Benjamin is in anything, it’s worth watching. Now running as an American, he had a sensational 2018, running 19.99, 44.74 and 47.02 for the 400 m Hurdles. Is the American Record of 31.87 by Noah Lyles from 2017 in reach?
● 800 m: This is also not a World Tour event, but will pit 2016’s wunderkind Donavan Brazier (1:43.55) – and still just 21 – against Rio bronze medalist and 2018’s no. 8-ranked Clayton Murphy, the USATF winner, who ran 1:43.12 last season.
● Mile: Ethiopia’s two-time World Indoor 3,000 m champ Yomif Kejelcha, Kenyans Bethwell Birgen and Vincent Kibet and New Zealand’s Nick Willis are the expected stars here. Kjelcha has already run 3:52.61 on the oversized track in Seattle on 12 January; Birgen’s best is 3:50.42 from 2013, Kibet’s best is 3:51,17 from 2017 and Willis, now 35, has run 3:49.83 outdoors in 2014, but 3:51.06 indoors as recently as 2016.
● 60 m Hurdles: Former Syracuse star Freddie Crittenden was good as any American in the final month of the European season in 2018, and moved his best from 13.42 to 13.27 last season. Can he keep moving up? He will face 2017 USATF champ Aleec Harris and 2018 USATF Indoor winner and World Indoor silver medalist Jarret Eaton.
● 300 m: Not a World Tour event, but it has a superb line-up, with USATF 400 m champ Shakima Wimbley, ex-USC star Kendall Ellis – who brought the Trojans the national title with her come-from-behind 4×400 m relay win last year – plus ex-Harvard star Gabby Thomas, who was the talk of the European season last year with a Diamond League 200 m win.
● 500 m: Only one to watch in this race: Sydney McLaughlin, now a professional, but who was the world leader and NCAA champion in the 400 m Hurdles at 52.75 and ran 22.39 for 200 m and 50.07 for the 400 m (no. 7 on the world list). Just for your information, the American Record in this race is 1:07.34 by Courtney Okolo in 2017.
● Mile: Also not a World Tour event, but Emma Coburn is the reigning World Champion in the 3,000 m Steeplechase, but runs the mile here, where she has an excellent best of 4:29.86 from 2013 and ran 4:31.08 outdoors in 2018. She will face a good field, especially Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum, the World Indoor silver medalist at 1,500 m in 2016, and American Brenda Martinez, now 31, who has a 4:26.76 mile best outdoors (2012) and 4:32.05 indoors, from 2016.
● 5,000 m: Jenny Simpson will be remembered as one of the greater middle-distance runners in American history and a tactical genius. Here she will be the focus in the 5,000 m, where she has run 14:45.26 outdoors in 2013 and 15:01.70 indoors in 2009. So a personal best is a real possibility if she is in shape. She will have interesting competition from German 1,500 m whiz Konstanze Klosterhalfen (3:58.92 ‘18), American Katie Mackey (8:43.15 for 3,000 m at Millrose last year) and Stephanie Bruce, the 2018 U.S. Marathon Championships runner-up.
● Pole Vault: Rio Olympic champ and 2017 World Champion Katerina Stefanidi (GRE) leads this field and will be challenged by Katie Nageotte, the 2018 U.S. Indoor Champion and no. 4 on the all-time indoor list at 4.91 m (16-1 1/4).
● Shot Put: An excellent early-season field with European Champs runner-up Christina Schwanitz (GER), 2018 World Indoor Champion Anita Marton (HUN) and American Maggie Ewen, the NCAA Indoor, NCAA and USATF champ in 2018.
There are other stars, but these should be the events worth watching most closely. The meet will be shown live on NBC on Saturday (26th) from 5-7 p.m. Eastern time. Look for a results link here.