Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica crosses the finish line to win the women's 200 metres final (© Getty Images)
The inaugural U.S. Open indoor track and field meet, to be held Saturday, 28 January, assures that the long tradition of world-class athletics competition in Madison Square Garden is alive and well: The entrant list includes 22 Olympians, 13 of them medallists.
The meet, which will open the 2012 IAAF Indoor Permit series, will be a boon to New York track fans. After 98 years in the Garden, the Millrose Games have been moved to the smaller Armory Track and Field Center in upper Manhattan; meanwhile, the Garden is undergoing a major renovation, and the U.S. Open will be the first track and field competition held in the venue after the completion of the overhaul’s first phase.
Lagat back on familiar territory
The presence of Bernard Lagat is almost enough to maintain the tradition. The reigning World indoor 3000m champion, who took a marvellous 1500m/5000m double outdoors at the Osaka World championships and is the holder of six national records, surpassed Irish “Chairman of the Boards” Eamonn Coghlan’s total of Wanamaker Mile victories with his eighth in 2010.
After a narrow loss last year to Ethiopia’s Deresse Mekonnen, Lagat will return to the Garden with new incentive as he begins his campaign to make a fourth Olympic team this year but he won't have it easy. A strong field that includes 2011 World 1500m silver medallist Silas Kiplagat of Kenya will be trying to outlast the 36-year-old veteran.
“Madison Square Garden feels like home to me, and I am so happy to be coming back in 2012,” Lagat said. “I can't think of a better place to kick off the Olympic year. I look forward to seeing the New York track fans who have supported me for so many years, and many new fans in the new Garden.”
Sprint rivalry renewed
Justin Gatlin of the USA and Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, one-time co-holders of the 100m World record, will meet in the 50m.
Powell, two-time outdoor World 100m bronze medallist, will be opening his indoor season after injury ruled him out of the Daegu World Championships last summer. Gatlin, the 100 and 200m World champion in 2005, returned to top-level championship competition after a doping sanction to make Team USA for Daegu where he reached the semi-final stage.
The US Open will be Gatlin‘s second meet of the season after runs in Gainesville, Florida on 14 and 22 January, with his best at 55m being a PB of 6.15sec. Gatlin has a 60m personal best of 6.45 (2003) and Powell of 6.56 (2004).
In Saturday's race, he and Powell could both be upstaged by Powell's teammate Nesta Carter, a member of Jamaica's 2011 World championship winning and World record setting 4x100m Relay squad.
Reigning World and two-time Olympic 200m gold medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica will head the women's 50m line-up. She is also the reigning World Indoor 60m champion.
Harper vs Jones
Four years ago, Lolo Jones was leading the Beijing Olympic 100m Hurdles final until she hit the last hurdle; as she staggered to a seventh-place finish, her USA teammate Dawn Harper swept past to take the gold.
Saturday's race is over 50m Hurdles; does Jones have the explosive power to get out ahead of Harper again--and stay there? Her two World Indoor Championships gold medals suggest as much.
The men's 50m Hurdles field is just as talented; it features U.S. Olympic 110m hurdles medallists Terrence Trammell and David Oliver and Team USA members Aries Merritt and Dwight Thomas.
Big men take the big stage
The Shot Put has long been a crowd favourite in the Garden, where the sport's strongest athletes take sole possession of the arena during their event. Three–time World Indoor champion Christian Cantwell, who took the outdoor gold in 2009, and 2005 World outdoor champion Adam Nelson head the field.
World champion Williams opens
Other top field-event competitors include two high-flying Americans: 2011 World High Hump champion Jesse Williams and 2008 Olympic Pole Vault silver medalist Jenn Suhr, who was fourth in Daegu. Both athletes will be opening their 2012 campaigns.
Elsewhere on the high quality card, 2007 World champion and 2008 Olympic 400m Hurdles bronze medallist Bershawn Jackson of the USA will take on 400m Olympians Rennie Quow of Trinidad and Tabarie Henry of the U.S. Virgin Islands over the difficult and rarely run 600-yard distance. USA Olympic steeplechaser Anna Pierce will run 1500m, and rthere are talented fields in the women’s 500y and 800m.
Saved by the Bell Lap
Madison Square Garden is a unique place to watch a track meet. The long sprinters seem to lean near-horizontally around the tight, steeply banked bends, and they pass within mere yards of the closest spectators, who can also find themselves looking nearly straight up at pole vaulters. The pinpoint precision with which moves are made by such specialists as Lagat--and by which the races are often decided--make the track's small size a matter of fascination rather than of limitation. New Yorkers, and track fans everywhere, briefly thought that the Garden track was consigned to their memories. The U.S. Open has reclaimed one of the sport's rare gems.
Stuart Calderwood for the IAAF
6:58 USATF Club Sprint Medley Relay, Race 1
7:06 USATF Club Sprint Medley Relay, Race 2
7:15 CHSAA HS Girls’ 4x400-Meter Relay
7:25 Girls’ Invitational High School Mile
7:35 Boys’ Invitational High School Mile
7:45 Women’s 800 Meters
7:52 CHSAA HS boys’ 4x800 Meter Relay
8:05 Women’s 500 Yards
8:15 Women’s 1500 Meters
8:25 Men’s 600 Yards
8:35 Men’s Mile
9:25 Women’s 50-Meter Hurdles
9:35 Men’s 50-Meter Hurdles
9:45 Women’s 50-Meter Dash
9:55 Men’s 50-Meter Dash
7:20 Men’s High Jump
8:20 Women’s Pole Vault
8:45 Men’s Shot Put