That the 2021 NB Indoor GP was something of a miracle in itself-watch to see that stoy this week! Now, enjoy the amazing middle and long distance events on Staten Island as seen by David Monti, editor of Race Results Weekly.
BRAZIER, HOPPEL & PURRIER SET AMERICAN RECORDS AT NEW BALANCE INDOOR GRAND PRIX
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(13-Feb) — The 26th edition of the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix saw 11 national indoor records, including three American records in the distance events by Donavan Brazier in the 800m (1:44.21), Bryce Hoppel in the 1000m (2:16.27), and Elinor Purrier in the two-mile (9:10.28). What was the fourth of six gold-level meetings of the 2021 World Athletics Indoor Tour was held for the first time at the Ocean Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex in Staten Island, N.Y., because the event’s regular home in Boston, the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, was converted to a COVID mass-vaccination site.
Brazier, the reigning world 800m champion, only shaved 1/100th of a second off of his own national indoor record set at the 2020 Millrose Games, but the mark was impressive because it came in his first race in nearly six months. His rust-buster was supposed to come two weeks ago at the American Track League event in Fayetteville, Ark., but he was forced to scratch from that meet after he came in contact with a COVID-positive individual and had to quarantine for five days.
“That was supposed to be my gauge race to see where I’m at at this time of year,” Brazier said at yesterday’s press conference.
After a slightly too-fast first lap of 24.8 seconds, Brazier settled down and let the pacemaker, James Bias, run well ahead of him. From there, he clocked three steady and lonely laps of 26.5, 26.3 and 26.9 seconds, respectively. He finished more than two seconds ahead of Britain’s Jamie Webb who clocked a personal best 1:46.26. Brazier said that he followed the race plan given to him by his coach, Pete Julian.
“Pete wanted me to go out and die,” Brazier told reporters using the event’s virtual mixed zone on the Zoom platform. “He said, go out hard and see if you can hold it, and just try to gauge where you are from a fast pace. So, the plan was to go out fast, but not as fast as the rabbit. He was kind of overzealous with his pacing.”
Hoppel’s record came in a very different race. The former NCAA champion for the University of Kansas followed his pacemaker, Mike Columbus, closely through 400 meters (55.4), and had Britain’s Charlie Grice right on his tail. Grice stayed close behind Hoppel through 800 meters (1:49.8), but Hoppel pulled away with authority in the final lap to get the win. He closed in a fast 26.6 seconds because he knew he was close to the late David Torrence’s national record of 2:16.76 set at this meet in Boston in 2014. He didn’t want to miss this chance.
“I was a little disappointed when I came through 800 and I was like, oh man, I’ve got to pick it up,” Hoppel told reporters. “I kind of, like, studied the splits before hand and was trying to get it perfect, but I fell a little bit behind.”
Hoppel, 23, came very close to Brazier’s indoor 800m record at his first meet of this indoor season, running 1:44.37 at the American Track League in Fayetteville on January 31, the #2 American indoor mark of all time. He and Brazier are likely teammates at the Tokyo Olympics and seem to have a friendly rivalry. Brazier respects Hoppel, but didn’t have anything to say about his race this afternoon.
“I don’t know,” Brazier responded when a reporter asked him to comment on Hoppel’s Race. “I didn’t watch it.”
Canada’s Marco Arop passed Grice in the homestretch to take second in 2:17.10, just ahead of Grice who set a British record of 2:17.20 in third.
Purrier’s record in the two-mile came out of an honest battle between her and 2017 world steeplechase champion Emma Coburn. Behind the smooth pacemaking of Leah Falland, the pair went through the first mile in 4:41.82 with Dani Jones and Emily Lipari still within striking distance of the lead. But after Falland retired, Purrier notched down the pace and only Coburn could hold on. With a lap to go, Purrier had a clear lead and was only running against the clock. She ran the final quarter mile in 64 seconds flat to smash Jenny Simpson’s 2015 record, also set at this meeting, by eight seconds.
“I felt pretty confident going in,” Purrier told reporters. “But you never know when you’re just training. Mark (Coogan, her coach) felt pretty confident about my fitness level, but after that I’m feeling pretty good now.”
Coburn finished second in a very strong 9:15.71, also well inside of Simpson’s record, and Purrier and Coburn recorded 3000m splits of 8:36.41 and 8:39.19, respectively, both personal bests. Third place Julie-Anne Staehli set a Canadian indoor record of 9:22.66.
Purrier, who grew up on a farm in Montgomery, Vt., spent much of the last year on that farm with her family. She was not only able to stay safe from the corona virus, but said that the support of her family was critical in keeping her positive about her training when she couldn’t race.
“I’m very grounded there,” she said. “I’m glad that I have these two parts of my life. Growing up on the farm has been a great asset for my career.”
There was also a pair of 1500m races this afternoon. In the men’s race, former University of Wisconsin star Oliver Hoare got the benefit of drafting behind Britain’s Jake Wightman, and slingshotted past him on the backstretch to win in an Australian indoor record of 3:32.35, a Tokyo Olympic qualifier (3:35.00 or better). Hoare trains with the Boulder-based On Athletic Club under three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein.
“It’s just Dathan,” Hoare said when asked to explain how he had gotten prepared for such a fast early-season effort. “I mean, he wanted to make sure we kept our strength pace going. You know, opportunities right now are slim so we are just trying to make sure to get the best races we can and the best opportunities. So this one was one that was definitely important to me.”
Wightman, who was disappointed not to win, set a personal best 3:34.48 in second place, also an Olympic qualifying mark. New Zealand’s Sam Tanner was a surprise third in 3:34.72, a mark which was not only an Olympic qualifier but it surpassed Nick Willis’s national indoor record of 3:35.80. Willis, who was also in the race, finished seventh in 3:37.53.
Heather MacLean won the women’s 1500m going away, backing up her mile win at the American Track League on January 31. She clocked 4:06.32 today ahead of Cory McGee’s 4:07.21. Like Purrier, she is part of the New Balance Boston training group coached by Mark Coogan which also includes Siofra Cleirigh Buttner, Millie Paladino, and Katrina Coogan. Buttner and Paladino finished third and fifth, respectively, today.
“Training’s just been really consistent,” said MacLean. “We’ve got a really great team dynamic and it’s been really great for my physical and mental health. It’s so great to be surrounded by such amazing women everyday. Honestly, it gives you great confidence when you’re training with some of the best in the world.”
Finally, Ajee’ Wilson returned to racing after almost exactly a year, winning the 800m in 2:01.79 after a conservative run. She said she made a race-day decision to compete after a recent hamstring injury had resolved.
“The shakeout felt great, so thankfully I was able to jump in,” said the two-time World Athletics Indoor Championships silver medalist. Of her conservative race she said: “I wasn’t trying to take any chances.”
The men’s two-mile went to Canadian Justyn Knight in 8:13.92, a world-leading time.