The USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships return to the freezing northeast city of Boston this weekend, and thankfully athletes will have respite from the cold inside the recently upgraded Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center.
With no World Indoor Championships to gain selection for this year, it’s just national titles on the line this weekend, and many of America’s best athletes will make the trip to pit their talents against each other in what, for many, will be their final outing of the indoor season.
With blanket coverage of the meet available online all weekend at USATF.tv, and live television coverage from 4-6pm EST each day on NBCSN, RunBlogRun picked out the five best events for you to watch this weekend. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect.
- Men’s mile, 4:05pm, Sunday
No better place to start than the race of the championships, the men’s mile, which features Matt Centrowitz looking to dispatch the challenge of Ben Blankenship and Pat Casey and cap a fine indoor season by taking the US title. Centrowitz has been in scintillating form this indoor season, leading off the world-record-setting DMR team at the Armory Invitational last month, then running the all-time second-fastest 1,000m indoors by an American with his 2:17.00 win in Boston, before capping it all with that memorable win in the Wanamaker mile a fortnight ago.
Based off that, this race would appear to be a straightforward point-and-shoot for Centrowitz, but the story of the race was lent an element of intrigue and mystery by his flop at the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix last week, where he finished 10th in a world class 1500m field. Was it jetlag, or illness, or multiple-race fatigue? At the press conference in Boston on Thursday, Centrowitz explained: “I adjust poorly going to Europe. All week, I was only getting 4-5 hours of consistent sleep. By Saturday, I was absolutely tired.” We’ll find out this weekend if it was just a random anomaly, or a sign that Centrowitz is trying to write too many checks that his legs can’t cash this indoor season. As he said today: “We’re planning to get seven races in this indoor season. I’m very excited to come back [to Boston]. I was here for the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix and it was one of my best races of the season. The men’s mile is pretty deep this year.”
It is indeed a loaded field, and ensuring he won’t have it all his own way will be Ben Blankenship, who has been in the form of his life this month – first running a 3:56.75 mile in Ireland before running a lifetime best of 3:35.28 over 1500m last weekend in Birmingham. Also in there is Pat Casey, who was a teammate of Centrowitz’s in that DMR last month and has since finished a creditable third in the Wanamaker mile.
If Centrowitz is on, though, then the rest of the field, realistically, is running for second. The question is, with Birmingham so fresh in the memory, is whether he is. Either way, this race should be a cracker.
Prediction: Matt Centrowitz
- Men’s 600m, 4:40pm, Sunday
The decision to stage 600m and 1000m races, instead of the traditional championship 800m distance, will have angered a few half-milers, who have been forced to either step up or down in distance. From the line-ups in the respective races, it’s clear the majority of America’s best have decided to step down, and it has made for what should be a chaotic, three-lap charge for a national title.
Brycen Spratling will undoubtedly race to the front of the field on the first lap of this race, just like he did in the 500m at the Millrose Games last month, where Spratling set a world best of 60.06 seconds. He’s better known as a 400m runner, so his fuel reserves will undoubtedly be running low on the final lap of this race.
Chasing him down will be American indoor record holder at this distance, Cas Loxsom, who ran 1:15.58 last month. Another 800m specialist who will be right in the mix is Erik Sowinski, who has been in great form so far this year, winning the 1000m at the Millrose Games before recording an easy win over 800m in Ireland last week in 1:47.42. It’s set to be the battle of the sprinter gifted with endurance and a pair of middle distance runners gifted with a serious range of gears. The clash of contrasts will make for a thrilling last lap.
Prediction: Cas Loxsom
3) Women’s mile, 4:04pm, Saturday
Who can stop Shannon Rowbury? She’s the standout American female in the middle distances this indoor season – running a 4:22 mile on her own earlier this month and then dominating the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games, attacking the American record but ultimately fading well off pace and literally stumbling up the home straight to a still-comfortable victory in 4:24.32.
If all has been well with Rowbury since, then expect her to power out to the lead early in this race and set a pace that none of her rivals can match. The one most likely to follow her, as she did at the Millrose Games last month, is Nike Oregon Project teammate Jordan Hasay, who herself has had a great indoor season, winning in fine style over two miles at the Armory Invitational last month. The others most likely to put it up to Rowbury include Nicole Tully, Morgan Uceny, Stephanie Charnigo and Katie Mackey.
But who can possibly stop Rowbury? The answer is simple: no one.
Prediction: Shannon Rowbury
4) Women’s Pole Vault, 2:45pm, Sunday
It’s rare that the women’s pole vault gets a look-in as one of the events of a championship, but this weekend’s battle between US leader Demi Payne, Mary Saxer and Jenn Suhr promises to be a clash that diverts plenty of eyes away from the track and on to the in-field. Payne will start as favorite; the 23-year-old made a quantum leap last month when soaring over 4.75m in Albuquerque to set an NCAA record, and if she reproduces anything like that this Sunday, the US title should be hers.
The best vaulter in the field, when on form, is undoubtedly Jenn Suhr, who previously set a world indoor record of 5.02m. However, Suhr – who is 10 years Payne’s senior – has been well below her best this season, with a highest clearance of 4.50m in Boston earlier this month. Also in contention are Mary Saxer and Melissa Gergel, who have also been over 4.50m this year. At the press conference, Saxer explained how excited she is to be part of such a world-class line-up. “I’m really excited about nationals here in Boston,” she said. “I live a mile away so it’s kind of like I’m on home turf. I hope to defend my title from last year. We have a great line-up of vaulters and it’s a great competition.”
Prediction: Demi Payne
5) Men’s 300m, 5:33pm, Sunday
Another unconventional race distance for a championship, but one which should make for an intriguing clash as quarter-milers Manteo Mitchell, Michael Berry and Clayton Parros square off.
Parros is the fastest of the field over 400m this season, courtesy of his 45.75-second effort to win in Texas earlier this month. However, he will be up against it with Manteo Mitchell, who ran 32.81 over this distance already this year, also in the field. Michael Berry stepped up in distance to finish second in the world-record 500m race at the Millrose Games two weeks ago, and he will drop back down in distance here. The lane draw for the final, which will be decided after Saturday’s heats, could well determine the winner, with whoever is drawn on the outside gaining a massive advantage on his rivals.
Prediction: Manteo Mitchell