Updated 02.26.12, 12:35 PST
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - An announced 2,037 fans turned out for Saturday's opening session of the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, meaning some were disguised as empty seats.
There was lots of room inside the Albuquerque Convention Center venue. No need to jostle around for prime locations.
the venue will be fully-filled for Sunday's second and concluding
session of the USA Indoor Nationals. The meet deserves a full house,
nothing less. By 2012's standards, anyway; this is a meet that once packed Madison Square Garden.
After all, these are America's finest on display, the best of them punching their tickets to the IAAF World Indoor Championships two weeks hence in Istanbul, Turkey, the elite of the elite positioning themselves for Eugene's Olympic Trials and London's Olympic Games.
Saturday was a doubly big day for track and field fans in this Land of Enchantment. ABQ's Convention Center played host to the Mountain West Conference Championships in the morning and early afternoon. But add the Mountain West crowd to the Indoor Nationals crowd and you'd still find an empty seat or two.
The Mountain West meet showcased some bright young collegians. U. of New Mexico long jumper Kendall Spencer went 25-7 ½. Boise State women's 20-pound weight whirler Mele Vaisima hit
69-8 ¼. But they, of course, perform in a whole different world. (A
separate but unequal one, too; the Mountain West fields eight women's
teams, just six men's squads. The San Diego State and UNLV men have been
Title IXed out of business.)
But we're digressing.
Say this for the 2,037 at Indoor Nationals. They did make a lot of noise.
And such luminaries of the current USA scene as Will Claye, Christian Taylor, Bernard Lagat, Lopez
Lomong, Dexter Faulk, Tianna Madison, Jesse Williams, Amber Campbell,
A.J. Krueger, Jennifer Simpson, Justin Gatlin and Trevor Barron
responded in kind.
going-on-four Olympian Bernard Lagat got the best audience reaction of
the night. Lomong and Galen Rupp kept close company for over 13 ½ laps
of the men's 3,000 meters before Lagat said his adieus.
unbothered by ABQ's nearly mile-high altitude, or his 37-year-old birth
certificate, Lagat uncorked a 56-second final 400 capped by a last lap
around 25.5 to run a startlingly good 7:47.54.
If he can run this well so high above sea level, there's no doubt he'll give the best of the rest a run for their money (which is sizable) in the World Indoor 3,000 final in Istanbul. He won the 3,000 in Indoor Worlds at Doha two years ago and seems ready to run a beauty again in Turkey. His remarkable timing and his astounding sprint finish have been his trademarks all along. These talents are not diminishing; they continue being honed.
Message to the Sunday crowd: you're out of luck if you want to see Lagat. Oh, he'll likely be there, but in civvies. Bernard says he'll be sitting out the Sunday 1,500.
But Simpson isn't. After taking the slow-paced, quick-finishing women's 3,000 final in 9:19.15, she reported it took nothing at all out of her and would report for 1,500 duty Sunday.
years back, Jesse Williams was the picture of inconsistency, but just
look at him now. He's got this high jump thing down absolutely pat. He claimed World Outdoor gold at Daegu, now he's zeroing in on World Indoor gold.
On the one hand, he's won every time out this winter, including Saturday's 7-6 ¼ winner here. On the other hand, he's yet to face the Russians who top the 2012 world list. So look for a dynamite HJ confrontation in Turkey.
Back in 2005, Tianna Madison was the women's world outdoor long jump titlist. Now she's putting
that special kind of speed down the runway to another use. Focusing now
on the sprints, Madison led all 60-meter qualifiers in 7.10 and is a
hot choice to claim gold Sunday.
focused, too, is Justin Gatlin, back in amazing and sizzling form after
his four years in the purgatory of suspension. He was quickest of all
men in the 60 prelims in 6.51 and track fans know it - what a story he'd
be able to write if he'd even approach his past levels of achievement.
A.G. Krueger and Amber Campbell might have heaved their weighty implements all the way to Arizona; they still wouldn't have earned tickets to Turkey.
Kruger whirled his 35-pounder 80 feet, 7 ½ inches; Campbell sent her 20-pounder on a ride of 81-3 ¾, topping her own meet record.
But theirs remain virtually a USA-only event. Why the European hammer community hasn't taken to the weights for the winter remains a mystery.
Still, it's a situation Krueger and Campbell accept, maybe even as a somewhat-advantage. As the Istanbul-bound teams continues to work on indoor training, these two at least get a two-week head start on the outdoor season.
Missing Turkey, too, will be 3,000-meter walk champion Trevor Barron. Just 19, he may be America's brightest
young walk prospects in eons, but his event isn't on the Istanbul
slate, either. He won in 11:36.67 - by half a lap, no less, over vets
Tim Seaman (who happens to be his coach) and John Nunn, already owner of an Olympic Trials 50K win.
But Barron is surely headed to Russia in May, to Saransk, to the World Cup 20K which will provide great previews of London in the summer.
Finally, we come to Dexter Faulk.
Or Dexter Who, as the Saturday audience asked.
been seen as a collegian since his Barton County Community College days
back in 2004, and his career since has been a litany of near-misses.
But maybe no more. With his 7.40 win in the prelims, he's now the fastest hurdler in the world this year.
"Who is he?" even Allan Johnson, who should no better, was asking.
AJ, who has won one Olympic and four World Outdoor HH golds in his brilliant career, has no idea how good Faulk can really be. He certainly hopes the 7.40 was no fluke. For the sake of American prestige, he wishes Faulk continued success. But he's not betting the house on it, either.
Speaking of this ABQ house, Johnson was one of the few fans sticking around for both ends of the Saturday twinbill.
was good reason - he's now an assistant coach at Air Fore Academy and
cheered his Falcon men's Mountain West team triumph; he also happens to
be "Mr. Hurdling" and wasn't about to miss Dexter Faulk, or anyone else
later in the day.
The big news Friday was that the USA Indoor Nationals will be returning to Albuquerque in 2013 and 2014. The contracts are signed, the deals are sealed.
But there's no clause in any of them guaranteeing the size of the audience.
USATF top brass surely expects a full house - or one nearly so - for the Sunday windups. TV would love a big crowd, making big noise. The athletes deserve no less. The sport deserves no less. Get with it, Albuquerqueans.