Day One: Highlights From The High Plains
March 1, 2013
Albuquerque, New Mexico
As has been the custom in recent years, the approaching end of this U.S. indoor season once again features a pilgrimage of the country's elite track & field athletes to New Mexico - "Land of Enchantment" - to compete for national titles in the 2013 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships. While it would an over-hype to describe Albuquerque's first day of competition as "enchanting", it would be accurate to characterize Day One as spiced by some impressive performances and special moments.
The day began with an upbeat pre-meet press conference as Olympic pole vault champion Jen Suhr was joined on the dais by Jenay DeLoach - London bronze medalist in the long jump - and an exuberant Erik Sowinski - still visibly star-struck by his unexpected, American record win in the Millrose 600. Each shared why competing in the national indoor championships - even with no indoor Worlds this year - is nonetheless important. DeLoach saw it an important vehicle to maintain sharpness. "Sometimes people come out of nowhere and jump really far. You have to be prepared for that. This competition sets you up for a great outdoor season as well," explained the world class long jumper. Sowinski confided that he needs the work. "I am looking to get a couple more races in. It is not going to hurt your outdoor plans. I am going to run the 800. It has a really good field this year," the former Iowa Hawkeye offered. And the world's #1 ranked pole vaulter coyly made vague references to a possible top performance. "I have some lofty goals for this meet," Suhr admitted. Are you thinking of any specific heights? "Yes," she stated. "But if share that and don't hit it, then it is a failure," she added laughingly. Would you be thinking of an improvement of your indoor AR? Perhaps revealing more of her intention that she had planned, Suhr soberly stated, "That would be a start - and then we are going to go from there."
The real focus on Day One was the multi-event competition - the pentathlon and the heptathlon. It was refreshing to see the multi competitors be given center stage - providing the all those in attendance the rare opportunity to devote undistracted attention to these finely-tuned athletes.
In the pentathlon - a relentless one-day grind - 16 women began the competition with the 60 hurdles. Lindsay Lettow got off to a good start, besting the tight field with a winning time of 8.42 for 1035 points - giving the unattached athlete an 11 point lead over Breanna Leslie of Azusa Pacific University. Three other athletes scored over 1000 points as veterans Sharon Day (1002) and Betty Wade (967) lurked in close competition.
The women then moved on to the high jump. Albuquerque's field facilities in general - and the high jump facility and apron in particular - are very conducive to top marks - most recently evidenced by the American record high jump mark of 2.02 [6'7½"] set here last year by Olympian Chaunte Lowe. Here two of the more experienced performers shined. Sharon Day won the competition with a best jump of 1.82 [5'11½"] to give her a 2-event total of 2005. Betty Wade - another veteran - cleared 1.76 [5'9¼"] to finish second to lift her into 4th place overall at 1895 points. Lindsay Lettow - with a 1.73 clearance [5'8"] - held onto second overall at 1895 points.
As the women moved on to the shot put, Day and Wade knew it was no time to let up on the gas - and each performed well. Shot put PR's for the experienced duo allowed them to begin to move away from the field. Day won the event with a best heave of 15.07 [49'5½"] topping her prior heptathlon best mark of 14.40 [47'3"] and giving her 2871 total points. Wade - the former Wolverine - got the ball out 14.30 [46'11"] to improve her existing heptathlon best of 14.02 [46'] and moving her overall point total to 2710. Lettow - outmatched in this strength event - found herself losing ground at 2596 points.
The pentathlon long jump provided no opportunity for meaningful ranking change. Day held her lead as the former Cal Poly SLO star finished 5th in the LJ spanning 5.82 [19'1¼"]. Wade gained a few points with a 3rd place leap of 5.99 [19'8"]. Lettow - placing between the two veterans - jumped 5.82 [19'1¼"] to hold on to third position.
The pentathlon's final event produced a meet record as Tiffeny Profit eclipsed the meet mark by .02 seconds when she hit the line in 2:11.69 for an impressive win. Sharon Day capped off a wonderful afternoon with a workmanlike 800 to accumulate 4478 points to shave her PR by 11 points and to capture her first national pentathlon title. Day finished 145 points ahead of runner-up Betty Wade and 177 points better than Lindsay Lettow who captured the final podium position.
In the heptathlon - a two-day affair - 11 men laced up to begin the competition. Ashton Eaton - who performed so spectacularly here last year when he captured the national title in the open long jump by upsetting world-class performer Will Claye with a prodigious winning leap of 8.06 [26'5 ½"] - was notably missing. But the absence of the World's Greatest Athlete did not appear to dampen the competitive zeal among the men. In the opening 60, emerging multi star Gunnar Nixon was clapping his hands after breezing to a win in the first section in 6.86 - a multi PR by .23 seconds. Trey Hardee - the London silver medalist in the decathlon - offered a championship response to the younger Nixon by taking the second section in 6.77 giving him a score of 966 after one event and a 33 point lead over Nixon. Isaac Murphy's 6.88 awarded him 925 points for the 3rd position heading into the long jump.
As the men moved on to the second event, the competitive barometric pressure rose. Hardee's first round leap of 7.19 [23'7¼"] gave him the early lead as Nixon fouled on his initial attempt. But the second round was a different story as Nixon [7.42 / 24'3½"], Curtis Beach [7.40 / 24'2¼"], and Murphy [7.37 / 24'1"] all popped good leaps to vault past the Olympic silver medalist. Hardee's third round jump of 7.34 [24'1"] was an improvement that captured more points for him, but he nonetheless lost ground as he was unable to catch the trio in front of him. After two events, Hardee  clung to a 14 lead over Nixon , with Murphy  not far behind. Buoyed by a solid performance in the LJ, hometown favorite Beach  was clawing his way back into the hunt. Miller Moss - an accomplished performer - inexplicably passed on his final two attempts after a first round foul - for zero points.
In the shot put, the broad span of skill levels among the heptathlon competitors promoted some standing shifts. A heave of 16.82 [55'2¼"] earned Ryan Harlan an outright victory in the shot and gave the veteran a 3-event total of 2638 and pushed him up to fourth overall. Hardee's best toss of 14.77 [48'5½] gave him a 3-event total of 2638 and allowed him to expand his lead to 45 points over Nixon. Murphy clung to third at 2494.
The high jump - the final Day One event in the heptathlon - is always a chess match. But - as was the case on this day - deferred entry into the competition and strategic passes as the bar ascended seemed even more evident than ever. As the event proceeded, excitement grew as the field of 11 was whittled away. It transformed into an authentic shoot-out between the two young bucks. Beach and Nixon - the final two competitors - were left all alone to battle like gunslingers as the bar went higher. Beach - the Albuquerque native with his own personal cheering section - stirred the crowd when - on his 15th jump of the day - he clearer 2.11 [6'11"] for a new personal best. Nixon - displaying poise beyond his years - coolly matched that height and took the event when he cleanly handled 2.14 [7'½"] on his first attempt while Beach - very close on one of his efforts - could not respond. The unspoken thought uniformly shared by the captivated crowd: "Are we being treated to a glimpse into the future of the decathlon?"
With the youngsters grabbing big points in the high jump, the heptathlon standings after Day One suggest that special fireworks are in store for the final day. Aided by 934 big points in the HJ, Gunnar Nixon  will begin Day Two with a 122 point margin over the Trey Hardee - the reigning world decathlon champion. Curtis Beach - who holds that big trump card with his overwhelming 1000 meter prowess in the Day Two final event - is in third place - trailing Nixon by 209 points.
If Days Two and Three can match the magic of Day One - and the competitions among the talented athletes scheduled to compete yet this weekend clearly have that potential - then these national indoor championships may truly deliver some bona fide "enchantment."