In an Olympic year, the indoor track & field season doesn’t tell you who will win at the Games, but it can identify who to watch for. After Saturday’s meets:
1. Mondo Duplantis (SWE), pole vault
2. Christian Coleman (USA), sprints
3. Ryan Crouser (USA), shot put
4. Mikiah Brisco (USA), sprints
5. Malaika Mihambo (GER), long jump
Duplantis continued his heroics at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow (GBR), while Coleman, Crouser and Brisco were at the USA Track & Field Nationals in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Mihambo was at the ISTAF Indoor meet in Berlin (GER). All had performances that signaled much more to come:
● Duplantis is the hottest performer in the world right now, setting a second world record in the pole vault in a week with a 6.18 m (20-3 1/4) clearance at the World Athletics World Indoor Tour in Glasgow. As with his first world mark in Torun (POL), he won the event early and wasn’t at all fatigued when he moved to a new record height.
World Champion Sam Kendricks of the U.S. had the lead through 5.75 m (18-10 1/4), but couldn’t clear 5.84 m (19-2) and had to settle for second as Duplantis cleared 5.84 m on his first try and then 6.00 m (19-8 1/4) on his first attempt. So after only five vaults, he ordered the bar one centimeter higher than he cleared in Torun and sailed over 6.18 m (20-3 1/4) on his first try. That helped make the difference.
“There was such great energy the crowd was giving me and I really thrive off that. I tried a stiffer pole and it worked out.
“It’s unfair to think I’ll break it every time I compete. I don’t think about it too much. You don’t need to break a record to win every comp. Winning is always the goal, then if I have the energy left I’ll crank it up a bit.” (Full results are here.)
He has two more indoor meets scheduled, in Lievin (FRA) on the 19th and Clermont-Ferrand (FRA) on the 23rd.
● Coleman didn’t break his own world record in the men’s 60 m, but he gave it a scare.
He rumbled to an easy 6.48 in his heat, the world’s leading time for 2020 on Friday and with the high altitude in Albuquerque, his world record of 6.34 from 2018 was clearly in jeopardy. In the final, he stumbled at the start, then straightened up and ran past the entire field easily to win in 6.37, the no. 2 time in history, which had run twice in 2018.
He said afterwards he had done very little speed work, so this performance – even at altitude – underlined that defeating him in 2020 isn’t going to be easy.
● Crouser is the reigning Olympic Champion, so there’s no doubt he’s a contender for Olympic gold in Tokyo. But with the cancellation of the 2018 World Indoor Championships, the U.S. meet suddenly became the focus of his season and he responded with a brilliant series and the no. 2 throw in indoor history.
He took the lead right away, reaching 21.84 m (71-8) in the first round and that throw would have been good enough to win by itself. He improved to 22.05 m (72-4 1/4) in the second round, then fouled his third-round throw. Now the final man in the order for the last three rounds, he confidently strode into the ring in the fourth round and whirled rapidly in the ring, sending the ball way out … to a stunning 22.60 m (74-1 3/4), second in indoor history only to Randy Barnes’ 22.66 m (74-4 1/4) at the Sunkist Invitational in Los Angeles in 1989.
He backed up his super-throw with another superb mark, 22.18 m (72-9 1/4) and then a foul. Crouser confirmed that he is ready to defend his Rio title.
● Brisco was one of the women’s stars of the USATF Indoors, showing that she could return to his 2017 form, when she won the NCAA 100 m title for LSU in 10.96. She her heat in 7.10, slower then her world-leading 7.08 coming into the meet. But Javianne Oliver took the world lead at 7.04 and was the one to beat in the final. But Brisco got a good start and held her form to cross the finish line first in 7.04 to equal the world lead, with Oliver second in 7.08.
As a Tiger, Brisco won the 2017 NCAA 100 m, but had nothing left for the U.S. Championships two weeks ago. She won’t have that worry in 2020, but she’ll have to run faster than 10.96 to contend for the U.S. team in June.
● While all of this was going on, the ISTAF Indoor meet in Berlin (GER) saw World Champion long jumper Malaika Mihambo of Germany reach a world-leading 7.07 m (23-2 1/2), the longest indoor jump in three years and moving her to no. 10 on the all-time list.
Mohambo already proved she was the best in the world last year, and her win in Berlin says she’s going to be the one to beat in Tokyo.
There were other impressive performances at these meets, including a 6.50 win in the 60 m (at low altitude) by Ronnie Baker (USA) in Glasgow and British middle-distance sensation Jemma Reekie defeated an excellent 1,500 m field in 4:04.07.
Ar the U.S. Nationals, Wadeline Jonathas claimed a world-leader in the heats of the women’s 400 m in 51.32 and Chase Ealey won the women’s shot in a world-leading 18.99 m (62-3 3/4). Sandi Morris won the women’s vault at 4.90 m (16-0 3/4) over Jenn Suhr (4.85 m/15-11) and Shelby Houlihan completed another double in the 1,500 m (4:06.41) and 3,000 m (8:52.03).
Two old rivals put on a show in the women’s triple jump, with Keturah Orji reclaiming the American Indoor Record at 14.60 m (47-10 3/4) in the second round, but then losing it to Tori Franklin, who got out to 14.64 m (48-0 1/2). Full results are here.
All of these events – and more – were great, but will you find Duplantis or Coleman or Crouser on the front pages of newspapers across the country?
Not likely. On the ESPN.com list of the 30 top stories of Saturday, there was no mention of any of these performances, but coverage of the NBA All-Star Game festivities, college baseball, basketball and softball scores, the Astros sign-stealing scandal, NFL and XFL stories, UFC results, a high school basketball report, a review of the third round of the Genesis Invitational, soccer, boxing and eSports.
NBC, which televised the U.S. Nationals, had no video highlights of that meet, but did have Duplantis’s jump as the 22nd highlight out of 24 in its line-up. The sidebar with a short list of eight stories had the U.S. Indoor Nationals as the sixth out of eight.
This is the dilemma of track & field, a giant in the field of Olympic sports, but barely registering in this country outside of the Olympic Games itself and the trial events to make the U.S. Olympic Team. The Olympics are important, but its sports … not so much.
Duplantis, Coleman, Crouser and the rest were great this weekend, but without a stronger promotional push from someone or somewhere, no one will notice until summer comes. And that’s a shame.