By ELLIOTT DENMAN
ALBUQUERQUE - The walls inside Albuquerque Convention Center are decorated with USA Track and Field's giant-sized posters,
"Perfection has a look," says one.
"Glory has a look," says another.
"Fast has a look," Teamwork has a look," "Strong has a look," say others.
Looks good, of course.
Except that almost all the athletes looked to, by USATF, to deliver those messages aren't on the premises. People like Bernard Lagat, Christian Cantwell, Sanya Richards-Ross, Allyson Felix, etc, for a wide variety of reasons, have opted out of competing at the annual USA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
As the Albquerque Journal sports page lead article headlined, "nine champs back at USA Indoors to defend titles." Quick arithmetic: as the Journal article below it then pointed out, "19 of the 28 national indoor champions from 2012 have not returned to defend their titles."
Ambition is a big part of it - there are no World Indoor Championships to aspire to in 2013. Last year's USA Indoor Nationals was a qualifier for the Indoor Worlds held in Istanbul, Turkey. Next edition of the Indoor Worlds will take place in Sopot, Poland in March 2014, so are America's indoor best waiting to next year, too?
Money's a big part of it, as well.
Albquerque is not an inexpensive trip from much of the rest of the U.S. Running at Albuquerque's altitude (just over a mile over sea level) poses some challenges, too.
This may be The Land of Enchantment, but not to everybody and there's always a bottom line.
Event winners do earn $2500 and runners-up $1500, so these two each in event, in this increasingly professionalized sport, are sure to come out far ahead But third and fourth-placer checks are $500 each, meaning that even finishing that high is no guarantee of vast riches.
American male distance runners have truly come of age in recent seasons and, aside from Kenya and Ethiopia,have given their nation third place in the rollcall of distance racing achievers.
But so few of them have taken the Albuquerque option.
Rather shockingly, just four of them elected to run the men's 3000 meters Saturday.
Will Leer, winning his first title, the 3,000m, photo by PhotoRun.net
Gaps were huge as Will Leer won it (in 8:07.84) over Benjamin Bruce (8:16.69), Tommy Schmitz (8:30.92) and Cole Atkins
There are six entrants in Sunday's men's 3000-meter racewalk. Who ever heard of a major meet attracting more walkers than runners?
So there will be no Bernard Lagat-Galen Rupp duke-out in The Duke City, as many American fans hoped for at the beginning of the winter season.
What a dazzler that would have been - these two USA distance greats in peak form.
Instead, they're both looking in differing directions. Lagat is hoping to run the March 17 NYC Half-Marathon in under 61 minutes.
Rupp is planning a magnficent outdoor season after a huge indoor campaign.
"Did Galen surprise you this winter?" his coach, Alberto Salazar was asked at Albuquerque.
Galen Rupp, 2012 Nike Pre Classic, photo by PhotoRun.net
(Subtitle: was that 3:50.92 mile and that 7:33.67 3000 meters out of the blue?)
"Galen's performances may have surprised some people but they didn't surprise me," said Salazar.
"He ran virtually those same times (outdoors) last year so we knew he was capable."
Coming on the heels of his silver-medal performance in the Olympic 10,000 meters (back of training partner Mo Farah, running for Great Britain) it simply emphasizes that Rupp, really and truly, has come of age to run with any of the world's elite - virtually any distance, any opponent, any venue.
after the Gold Rush: Galen, Alberto, Mo, after the London 10,000 meters,
photo by PhotoRun.net
"The key thing to remember about Galen is that he has stayed so healthy for so long,"
said Salazar. "I think he's missed only two training days in the last five years (with many thanks to the Nike support system available to him..)
"And he's got nearly perfect technique, too," said Salazar.
"His biomechanical analysis shows less than a half-percent variation (in balance side to side.)"
Rupp's next serious racing may not be seen until the Occidental College High-Performance Meet, or the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field late this spring, all a lead-up to the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races at late June's Outdoor Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa, final tuneups before the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in August.
With Rupp absent from Albuquerque, Salazar's rooting interests here are named Matthew Centrowitz and Mary Cain.
Matthew Centrowitz, 2013 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net
"Centro" dipped down from his usual 1500/mile specialty to breeze through his 800-meter qualifier Saturday. High school phenom Cain scratched out of the 800 to focus on the women's mile final.
Mary Cain, 2013 New Balance Games mile, photo by PhotoRun.net
One thing Salazar will never predict is a record performance.
His philosophy forever: "If it happens, it happens."
Jenn Suhr, 5.02 meters, 16-5.5 feet, WR, photo by PhotoRun.net
Jenn Suhr got the 2013 Indoor Nationals off to a sizzling start with her world-record pole vault (late Saturday afternoon after much of the crowd had already headed for the exits.)
Who, then, will "have the look?" on Sunday?
Ajee Wilson, 2013 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net
How about this one for a long-shot Daily Double: Jersey Shore friends Robby Andrews and Ajee Wilson in their respective 800 finals?
Robbie Andrews, 2013 USA Indoors, photo by PhotoRun.net
To again paraphrase Alberto Salazar, "whatever happens is going to happen."