The Payton Jordan Invitational is a day and night of fast races, where many open their seasons. For the elite, it is a perfect place to get a qualifier for the Olympic or World Champs. For the college athlete, it is a good place to get a mark or a race in before the conferences start.
I am here for many reasons. For me, the Payton Jordan invitational is about seeing many of my athlete friends for the beginning of the season. But, the big reason I go?
I has the funniest, most cerebral crowd of any meet in the world. Sitting down about the 100 meter start is the place to be. For nearly two decades, the ASICSAggies have made this meet their opening of the season and a time to laugh, tell stories, snack and, did I say, tell stories?
The ASICS Aggies are a club that could only have been born in Northern California. Starting out at UC Davis, the club includes road racers, tracksters, and runners of all shape and sizes. It has always been about racing hard, training hard and having lots of fun.
The ASICS Aggies are a colorful club, yes, but they are also a club with great traditions and a ton of championships at regional, state and national championships, especially in cross country.
At the Payton Jordan, it is always about having fun, enjoying the competition and giving respect (which means standing up, applauding fine performances) to some of the races and competitors on the track.
Truth is, most of the Aggies have been where the athletes on the track are. Most of us stay through the first 10,000 meter sections for men and women, which means you are watching track from as early at 10 AM until, well, for example, right now, I am watching the last heat of the 10,000 meters for women.
Tonight, the most fun was the men’s 10,000 meters as Bernard Lagat was making his debut. The bemedaled, well loved and respected 41 year old was hoping to see how he would fare over twenty-five laps of a 400 meter track.
Running 67-68 second laps, and hitting the 5000 meters in 14:03, Lagat was part of a front pack that included Sam Chelanga, and Sugaru Osaku. For Bernard, whose muscle memory goes back nearly thirty years, it was about breaking Sugaru Osaku over the last 800 meters, and using a fine 57.04 to win the race with a last lap that had all of the speed in the last 200 meters.
“2016 will be my last year at the elite level” a smiling Lagat told the media. I congratulated him, knowing full well that I picked Bernard with the Aggies picking winners 20 minutes into the race. Lead by a character indigenous to Aggie happenings known as “Tuna”, the boisterous comments had us laughing to the point of crying, and the race was just an example of the to and fro that this crowd provides at a meet.
The meet is named in honor of the late Payton Jordan, long time coach for Stanford Track & Field, after he competed here. Payton Jordan was dear to me, as he wrote us letters of congratulations when we started American Atheltics in 1989 and again, in 1998, when we relaunched Cal Track & Running News.
It is also a meet, each year, where my brother, Brian shows up, and we get to relax and watch a track meet together. We cover about thirty meets and road races live each year, and this one is different.
Sara Lahti, of Global Sport, (Sweden) has her own crowd, as well as a top runner from Mexico being cheered in Spanish. It is all part of this night of athletics. The cool clear night makes Stanford, for this night each year, a place where runners from dozens of countrys attend, to chase fast times. For Sarah Lahti, in the section 2, she runs a fine 31:54.87, as she charged around the track for the last 3200 meters, all by her lonesome! Sarah ran 71.4 on her last lap, setting a new Swedish record! Sara Slattery was third in 32:13.03.
One can read all of the results tomorrow, on the website. Right now, I am enjoying the sounds of Swedish behind me, watching Sara Slattery leading the final race of the night, the 10,000 meters, as the exhausted announcers provide lap by lap announcements after fourteen hours of track and field!
Oh, what a wonderful night.
Off to Doha tomorrow, your athletic pilgrim starts his journeys for 2016, as always, searching for the perfect athletics meet, athletics crowd and athletics eatery.