2012 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix: Truth in Advertising, by Elliott Denman

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Suhr_Jenn-LondonDL11.jpgJenn Suhr, 2011 AVIVA London DL, photo by PhotoRun.net

Last year, New Balance came into the famed Boston Indoor and literally saved the meet's future. The New Balance Indoor Grand Prix is to indoors in the US what the Nike Pre Classic is to meets outdoors: an example of how to manage an elite meet in the current sports environment.

RBR asked Elliott Denman to look at the overall meet, see its strengths and see where it can be improved. His view, like ours, is that the 2012 NB Indoor GP lived up to its hype and continued the tradition of the best indoor meeting in the US.

Vessey_Maggie-NewBalGP11.JPGMaggie Vessey, 2011 NBindoorgrandPrix, photo by PhotoRun.net

The races this year, and the AR of Jenn Suhr, clearing 4.88m on her first attempt, a sixteen footer for all to see! Suhr is now the SECOND BEST EVER indoors, behind only Yelena Isinbayeva! Maggie Vessey's last step victory in the 800 meters gave the NBers something to savor! 

We congratulate New Balance, Global Athletics & Marketing, staff of the Reggie Lewis Center,  and all of the volunteers, support and athletes who make this meet the success that it is. See  you in 2013!

By ELLIOTT DENMAN
 
 BOSTON - "Let's Make Excellent Happen," said the big signage nearly ceiling-high on the homestretch side of the Reggie Lewis Center indoor track.
 
  And that was absolute/ 100 percent/ no-doubt-about it, truth in advertising.
 
  Sure it was sponsor-boasting, but truth be told, Saturday night's New Balance Grand Prix made excellent happen.
 
   Not too long (just under three hours, first event at 5 p.m., last event going off at 7:50 p.m.), full of international stars (plenty of top Americans, plenty of the folks you'll see them taking on at the London Olympic Games), made for TV (tape on Sunday), run on a speedy 200-meter track at a not-too-big, not-too-small venue, the NBGP made spectating fun.
 
  And maybe that's why the meet was a sellout for a ninth consecutive year (announced attendance 4,072.)
 
  Face facts, gone - almost surely - are the glory days of indoor track when 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden would be jammed with knowledgeable fans who'd track their favorites over a five-consecutive-week indoor season.
 
  But meets like NBGP do their best to satisfy the interest that's clearly still there in the century-and-a-half-old indoor track game.
 
  Long before there was an NBA (or even basketball; Dr. Naismith hadn't found his first peach basket), or an NHL, there was indoor track to keep sports folks focused through winter.
 
  "Boston truly supports this meet every year and that's a great thing," said meet director Mark Wetmore. "We must be doing something right."
 
  "I guess we have the right formula," concurred Rich Kenah, twice (once indoors, once outdoors) a World Championships 800-meter bronze medalist and now fully occupied on the management side of the sport as Wetmore's first lieutenant.
 
   With Boston's distance tradition, distance races understandably dominate Wetmore's meet planning.
 
  About the only complaint distance-minded NBGP-goers had was that they didn't get to see Ethiopian stalwarts Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar take a run at each other.
 
  So about an hour before Defar won the women's 3,000 meters in 8:33.57, Dibaba came out to run about a lap further and take the two-mile in 9:21.60.
 
  Some critics called it "absolutely crazy" that the two were running separate races, but apparently that's the cost of keeping peace in the Ethiopian team national family.
 
  The men's mile was another crowd-pleaser.  It even had a taste of modern-era "full contact" action.
 
  When Great Briton Mo Farah, the world 5,000-meter champion, was tripped and stumbled to track in the very first lap - this was a no-fault episode - most in the 4,072 audience scratched out his chances.
 
  But this gutsy runner - who could command the stature approaching the Beatles or Elton John with a gold medal run at his nation's Olympics this summer - got right up and gave gallant chase.
 
  Within three laps, he had caught the pack but the effort would take its toll.  He couldn't hang with them for the final two laps but "settled" for fourth in 3:57.92 back of Florida State Irishman Ciaran O'Lionaird (3:56.01), Canada's Taylor Milne (3:56.40) and best buddy/USA training partner Galen Rupp (3:57.10.)
 
   These were indoor PRs for each of these first four, and specially notable for Rupp and Farah, whose Olympic dreams will focus on far longer races.
 
  How deep is this Rupp-Farah friendship?  Well over an hour after the last event, long after the last fan had left the building, these two, shirtless now,  were "cooling down," smilng through it all, with some quick interval work on the Reggie Lewis oval.
  
 
  Stats-wise, though, the meet's feature performances came in the women's pole vault and the men's 400 meters.
 
  Jenn Suhr bounced right back-back-back from her mishap at the U.S.Open meet at Madison Square Garden a week ago - when her timing was all off and she failed to clear a height - to soar all the way up-up-up to an American-record of 16 feet even (or 4.88 meters.) Then she took a single try at the world record of 5.01 meters (or 16-5 1/4) but missed and called it a day with an achy left Achilles tendon.
 
  Jillian Schwartz, the Duke grad now competing for Israel, who'd won at the U.S. Open when Suhr bombed out, settled for a second-place tie with Lacy Janson this time at 14-5 1/4.
 
  Is USA's seven-straight men's men's Olympic 400-meter gold medal streak in serious danger?
 
   Every time you see Kirani James, the U. of Alabama-trained delegate of Grenada, in action, the answer - "yes-yes-yes" is driven home with added emphasis.
 
  He's still 19. He's still growing. He's still speeding to great new PRs. His 45.96 two-lap win was a piece of beauty. He took it out quickly, held a clear lead by the break-in point, and took it right in.
 
  Do America's best - right now considered to be LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner, the last two Olympic champions, have any realistic chance of holding him off by London time?  Would it take a Usain Bolt stepping up to 400 to knock him off? Well, who's to know but stay tuned for some dynamite 400 racing.
 
 NBGP had only two straightaway races - men's 60 hurdles (winner David Oliver, USA, 7.60) and women's 60 dash (winner Murielle Ahoure, Ivory Coast. 7.13) - and just a single men's field event (shot putter Adam Nelson muscling it 69-9 1/2.)
 
   But one more good thing the NBGP does is keep the men's Masters Mile on its card, as the meet's 5 p.m. opener.
 
   Face it - we're all aging. So what better than to display the folks who laugh off their growing years and maintain personal fitness programs  so many more of us should be emulating?

  While so many other meets dumped the Masters Mile after Eamonn Coghlan's historic first-sub 4 breakthrough in 1994 - "why do this thing anymore? they queried, after the sub-4 deed by a 40-plus had been achieved.  Happily, however, the event is still alive and well on this meet's slate, and is always an NBGP interest-builder.  
 
  And that's why Charlie Kern, 42,  was willing to fly in from Chicago on his own dime to run it.

   He won it for a second straight year with a 4:22.09 performance, routing Kent Lemme (4:29.89) and Ray Pugsley (4:31.13) and five more.

  "What's your secret, Charlie?" a man asked.

  "Associating with young people, for one thing, and having a supportive wife, for another,' said the former University of Kentucky now a school teacher in Elmhurst, Illinois, 15 miles west of Chi-town.

  At Kentucky, he was a 1:49 800 man and 3:44 1500-meter runner, but never got as far as the Olympic Trials. But while all of his once-contemporaries hung up their spikes years ago, Kern is still at it, still going strong, still loving it.

  In America's pervading what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? culture, it's heartwarming to see a Charlie Kern doing it - and the NBGP keeping him on display.

  And an aside to (outdoor) meet directors everywhere: The sub-4 Masters Mile is a feat yet to be achieved an outdoor meet. So why not go for it? It's an attraction sure to put a few more fans in the seats.

 One more commendable NBGP promotion: giving the high school milers, boys and girls, a chance to sparkle on this big stage.
Leading the way here were (boys) Craig Engels of Pfaffown, North Carolina (4:13.70) and (girls) Haley Pierce of Wilmington, Delaware (4:47.59.)

  But one more question?  Sure we know this is all New Balance's idea and they're footing the bill - but why in the heck does NB outfit every single HS competitor in an identical kit?  All the boys and all the girls were clad in all-black NB attire, thus making it virtually impossible for anyone in the audience (other than family, friends and classmates) to reckon who was who. Please, please, NB, conjure up a better color scheme for 2013.

 And, of course, the same as well for all the shoe/attire sponsors who forever insist on identically decorating all their elites, sprints to the marathon..

 NB brass, take note. Apart from relays, this is an individual's sport. Look, look, over the rainbow, guys.


For more on the 2012 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, please check out www.nbindoorgrandprix.com.

1 Comment | Leave a comment

I was there and loved the meet. Great action and matchups. However, from my front row seats in the cheap section half the meet was obscured by fans(?) continually walking back and forth in front of the seats throughout the entire meet and particularly during the races. Don't people know how to sit still anymore? They was worse than the 4th graders I teach. If you have to move, do it when a race is not being run. Other than that the meet was fantastic!

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