Cam Levins, Galen Rupp, photo by PhotoRun.net
The Nike Oregon Project Invades the NYC Armory–Elbows In!!
by Jeff Benjamin
During the early 1980s when he was the best distance runner in the world, Alberto Salazar was not known as being all about money when it came to racing. While he did sign a lucrative long-term contract with Nike, Salazar the runner never turned down invitations to race over money. He knew, as countless runners and fans of the sport knew as well, that performing at a particular event was just as important towards defining one’s legacy in the sport. Surprising to many might be the facts that the Falmouth Road Race and even the famous 1982 Boston Marathon “Duel in the Sun” with Dick Beardsley produced no financial invitation or incentive for Salazar to compete. He wanted to win the “big ones”, known by their traditions so as to claim his world class mantle, which he did.
Much has changed since that time. Alberto’s Nike Oregon Project athletes do not train using the same methods that vaulted him to the top of the running world. The high intensity workouts he was known for have now been very technically designed for his athletes, and has brought many of them great success. It’s not unusual to hear Coach Salazar yell at his charges to slow down and that they’re going too fast in this new century! While that aspect has changed, Coach Salazar’s devotion to events and venues have not. Basically, in the world of U.S. indoor track if one wants to race fast in a major media center, one must compete at the hallowed, historic and state-of-the-art mondo banked Armory indoor track facility at 168th street in upper Manhattan. Rescued from the doldrums by former NY Marathon winner Dr. Norbert Sander, the Armory’s reputation for fast times and great competitions have resonated throughout the country and the world, leading to the best to come and compete here. Coach Salazar, true to his 1980s mantra, brought into town his elites so they can have their chance at greatness today.
Jordan Hasay, photo by Jeff Benjamin
Despite being a two-day affair with various Colleges and High Schools competing in events, the late Saturday afternoon time of the Armory Invitational was blocked off for the National and World-Class athletes. However, when it was over, New York City had endured to the screams of the crowds in the Armory an invasion of Oregon’s Nike Project. Leading the way in the Women’s 2-mile was Jordan Hassay, who ran 9:38.28. A happy Hassay said later,
“the race became tactical and I didn’t want to exert to much energy but I revved it up going into the last few laps and tried to work on my form, especially keeping my elbows in.” She also credits her success to the training group she belongs to. “It helps to compete and train in practice with Mary Cain and Shannon Rowbury. Practice is sometimes harder than the races!”
Cam Levins, after his two victories, photo by Jeff Benjamin
If that’s the case then Cam Levins sure made his day look easy. The Canadian first won the mile and smashed the national indoor record with a time of 3:54.74 and then only thirty minutes later won the two mile in 8:15.38 besting Suguru Osako, Ben Blankenship and teammate Galen Rupp. Like Hassay said, the Oregon Project athletes must be working on their elbows as all of them showed great upper body form, which was echoed to me by Salazar and assistant coach Peter Julian. “It’s very important to run upright and erect,” said Julian.
Mary Cain, photo by Jeff Benjamin
Mary Cain returned to the Armory with her elbows in as well. But she was disappointed in her 800 performance, finishing 5th in 2:02.75 to top ranked Ajee Wilson, who won in 2:01.63. “I guess I was hesitant. I felt like I was going out faster than I thought I really was.” Yet track fans must truly wonder about Cain’s potential. At her stage to run that 800 time when it’s not even her prime event, one must wonder what she could potentially do in the mile!
The evening finished off with a Distance Medley Relay where Team USA’s Distance Medley Relay Team of Matthew Centrowitz, Michael Berry, Erik Sowinski and Patrick Casey set a world record time of 9:19.93! Centrowitz, coached by Salazar and rooted on by his father Matt Senior, ran the 1200 leg in a time of 2:49.47 to put the team far out front. Although challenged in the anchor 1- mile leg by the Irish team’s C O’Lionaird (3:58.23), Team USA’s Pat Casey held them off by running his leg in 3:56.48.
Alberto Salazar on cover of Coaching Athletics,
photo from Doug Pensinger/IAAF/Getty
But the night was not over, and despite it’s successful evening, there was still work for the Oregon Project to do. As has been reported before, Salazar’s charges finished off the night with a series tempos and sprints of different distances, the session lasting approximately 45 minutes. Cain, Rupp, Treniere Moser, Hasay, Levins and a few others were put through a regimen of paced distances ranging from approximately 5000 meters down to 150 meters, all at different paces – some floating, some fast, concentrating on form-and under the supervised watch of Coaches Salazar, Julian, Darren Treasure and David McHenry.
Peter Julian and Alberto Salazar, A Day in the Life, April 12, 2013,
photo by Doug Pensinger, for IAAF/Getty
While the work was hard, as etched on these athlete’s faces throughout the workout, there were no complaints, and fans who stayed late were given a treat and watched in awe as they watched America’s best grind out each interval. This is how champions train, I said to Salazar when it was over. “It’s all hard work, very hard work” he said. But it’s also that drive, desire and faith that these athletes have in their Coaches that gets them there too. They have reached a pinnacle which Salazar has led them to, and by coming into the Armory tonight, they showed they can run in the “big ones” in indoor season as well. By the way, the Nike Oregon Project will be invading the Millrose Games in 2 weeks, to once again race at one of the “big ones” again.
I told Alberto I’ll see him in two weeks. He nodded back at me and smiled. Another notch to get on the belt!