Cathal Dennehy and Feidhlim Kelly are the minds behind Jumping the Gun, one of the newest partners of Fortius Media and the Running Network. Cathal is on the East Coast, doing all things track and field, and we asked him to write a bit on the Armory Track Invitational.
There was a moment, during the final event of the Armory Track Invitational on Saturday, halfway through the final leg of the distance medley relay, when you realised just what this sport can be when it’s done right.
Team USA’s Pat Casey had taken the baton with a commanding lead over Ireland’s CiarÃ¡n Ã“ LionÃ¡ird, and given the pace the two were moving at, the world record was inevitably about to be smashed to pieces. The only question, though, was which country would achieve the honour.
What originally looked a victory procession for Casey when he took the baton, though, swiftly turned into a head-to-head contest between him and the Irishman. The crowd, which had been sizeable throughout the two-day event, had greeted the climax to the action with an appropriately thunderous roar.
Over the first 800m of his mile leg, Ã“ LionÃ¡ird clawed back a 30m gap to join Casey’s slipstream, and it was then, with a half mile left to run, that a wave of wonder, a wave of anticipation, coursed through the Armory crowd.
In the end, Casey had far too much in reserve for Ã“ LionÃ¡Ãrd, his 3:56.48 leg proving too strong for the Irish miler, and the American brought his team home to a rapturous sound echoing around the Armory, the 9:19.93 winning time a DMR world record by almost six seconds.
It was a fitting end to an event that proved huge value for all those who stepped out of the freezing New York streets into the warmth of the Armory, an underrated arena for indoor track. Whether one of the hundreds of high school, collegiate or professional athletes who ran, jumped or threw in the arena through Friday and Saturday, or one of the paying customers (who were set back somewhere between $10 and $40 for a seat), there will have been few, if any, who left unsatisfied.
The stadium rocked to a high-tempo soundtrack throughout the day on Saturday; the announcing was sharp, informative, and always effective at making the crowd participants in what happened. It was, essentially, the sport being showcased in a way that made you realise that track and field doesn’t have the be that nerdy, socially awkward outcast of the sporting world, but that it can rival any of the major players when it’s presented in the right fashion.
And with the New Balance Armory Track Invitational, an event, we should remember, that is still in its infancy, meet Director Ray Flynn nailed it. It helped, of course, that the athletes rose to the occasion. Alberto Salazar brought a legion of troops from the Nike Oregon Project. Some, like Cam Levins, rose to the occasion and had the day of days. Others, like Galen Rupp, left wondering where their season goes from here, right after he’d completed a lengthy workout at the day’s end, of course.
There were others, too, who made it what it was. There was the beautifully composed performance of Ajee Wilson, who won the women’s 800m in 2:01.63. Wilson has long looked a likely candidate to ascend to the very top of the women’s 800m and here, once again running a perfectly executed race, she demonstrated that her tactical wisdom matches her physical ability.
It was an event to savour, a sort of miniature version of the Penn Relays, where aspiring high school and college kids got the chance to warm up alongside Olympic medallists, and allow themselves dream of one day emulating their feats. Long may it continue.
From here, of course, it’s on to Boston for the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at the Reggie Lewis Center this Saturday. The Armory Invitational has set an impressive benchmark to kick off the American indoor season; here’s hoping for more of the same.