US sprinters Rai Benjamin and Michael Norman (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview New York City, USA

Hot sprints in store at New Balance Indoor Grand Prix


Following the middle-distance madness in Lievin earlier this week, the sprints look set to provide the highlights at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix – the next World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting of 2021 – on Saturday (13).

Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center – the usual venue for New Balance Indoor Grand Prix – is currently serving as a mass vaccination site, so this year’s competition will be held at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island in New York City.

But despite the change in venue and the lack of spectators, the high-quality fields that have been assembled for the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix will ensure another afternoon of action-packed excitement.

The men’s and women’s 400m races could well be the events of the meeting.

Training partners, housemates, friends – it’s little wonder that Michael Normal and Rai Benjamin often bring the best out of each other whenever they race. The duo’s respective PBs for 100m (9.86 and 10.03) and 400m (43.45 and 44.31) were set when racing against each other; if the same happens again this weekend, it could result in a world record.

Norman owns the fastest indoor 400m performance in history with his 44.52 clocking from the 2018 NCAA Indoor Championships, but it couldn’t be ratified as an official world indoor record. Benjamin, meanwhile, has clocked 45.94 indoors – albeit on an oversized track – and won over 300m at the 2019 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.

Norman has won all eight of their clashes to date, so will head into this weekend’s 400m as the favourite, but world 400m hurdles silver medallist Benjamin knows Norman better than any other athlete and could use that knowledge to his advantage.

The world all-time list for the women’s 400m could also be rewritten on Saturday. Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo opened her 2021 campaign at the end of January by clocking a Bahamian indoor record of 22.40, moving to ninth on the world indoor all-time list.

Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Getty Images)Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

The multiple World Championships medallist will contest her specialist discipline this weekend and her indoor PB of 50.88, set back in 2013 when she was still an U20 athlete, looks to be living on borrowed time. With 2017 world champion Phyllis Francis and World Championships fourth-place finisher Wadeline Jonathas as rivals, Miller-Uibo could even get close to 50 seconds – a barrier that just three women in history have bettered indoors.

Lyles on double duty

World 200m champion Noah Lyles will have a busy afternoon. He will first contest the heats of the 60m, which will also feature world leader and 2016 world indoor champion Trayvon Bromell, last year’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix winner Demek Kemp and 2014 world indoor silver medallist Marvin Bracy.

Regardless how he performs in the heats, Lyles will opt out of the 60m final (and, if applicable, his place will be offered to the next-best athlete) so that he can prepare for the 200m later in the programme. Trinidad and Tobago’s two-time world indoor 400m bronze medallist Deon Lendore and USA’s Jaron Flournoy, a 20.09 performer outdoors, will be Lyles’ opponents in the one-lap sprint.

Noah Lyles in the 300m at the IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting in Boston (Victah Sailer)Noah Lyles in the 300m at the IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting in Boston (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

 

World indoor champion Kendra Harrison will contest her first hurdles race of the year. The outdoor world record-holder has impressed on the flat last month with times of 7.26 for 60m and a 36.83 PB for 300m. Her North American indoor record of 7.70 may be a bit of an ambitious target, but the world-leading mark of 7.83 could well be under threat.

Three-time world indoor medallist Tiffany Porter, who clocked a season’s best of 7.89 in Fayetteville in January, looks to be Harrison's toughest opponent.

World 400m hurdles silver medallist Sydney McLaughlin is also in the field. She last raced the 60m hurdles when she was 15 years old, clocking 8.17. Given the flat speed she has shown in recent years – a wind-assisted 11.07 for 100m and a wind-legal 22.39 for 200m in 2018 – she may have the tools to get into sub-eight-second territory.

The women’s 60m, a scoring discipline on this year’s World Athletics Indoor Tour, will feature 2020 US indoor champion Mikiah Brisco, Hannah Cunliffe, 2018 US 100m champion Aleia Hobbs, and Olympic 4x100m champion Morolake Akinosun – all of whom have bettered 7.10 in the past four years. The in-form Jenna Prandini and double world U20 champion Briana Williams are also in the field.

Gabby Thomas, the 300m winner at the 2019 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, will race that distance again this weekend and look to improve on her 35.92 world-leading time. She’ll line up against 2017 world 400m hurdles champion Kori Carter and 2018 NCAA 400m champion Lynna Irby.

Brazier targets fifth consecutive victory

World 800m champion Donavan Brazier will open his 2021 campaign this weekend by targeting a fifth successive triumph at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.

Having won the 800m in 2018 and 2019 and the 600m in 2017 and 2020, Brazier will return to his specialist distance this weekend. He has fond memories of the Staten Island track too, as it’s where he set a world indoor best for 600m in 2019.

Donavan Brazier on his way to winning the 600m at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Boston (Victah Sailer)Donavan Brazier on his way to winning the 600m at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Boston (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

 

Brazier, who holds the North American indoor record at 1:44.22, will take on 2016 world indoor bronze medallist Erik Sowinski and European indoor silver medallist Jamie Webb.

Bryce Hoppel, who currently tops the world list for 800m, will be looking for a second consecutive 1000m victory at the New Balance Grand Prix. The 23-year-old clocked 2:27.41 last year, but will be buoyed by his recent indoor 800m PB of 1:44.37. Pan-American champion Marco Arop will make his 1000m debut but could have an eye on Nate Brannen’s Canadian indoor record of 2:16.87.

Like Brazier and Hoppel, Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet is hoping to add to his tally of New Balance Indoor Grand Prix wins. The Olympic bronze medallist has won the 3000m three times and holds the meeting record of 7:32.87, but this weekend he’ll compete over the slightly longer distance of two miles.

With opposition from USA’s Eric Jenkins and Canada’s Justyn Knight, the long-standing meeting record of 8:16.15 – set by Paul Bitok in 2000 – could be under threat.

The men's 1500m also looks highly competitive with the likes of two-time Olympic medallist Nick Willis, European bronze medallist Jake Wightman, and Pan-American silver medallist Johnny Gregorek.

Morris chasing higher heights

World indoor pole vault champion Sandi Morris ended her last competition by taking attempts at a would-be world record height of 5.07m.

Sandi Morris in action at the American Track League meeting in Fayetteville (Shawn Price)Sandi Morris in action at the American Track League meeting in Fayetteville (Shawn Price) © Copyright

 

The US vaulter was unsuccessful, but even failed attempts can provide valuable experience. Having set world-leading marks of 4.81m and 4.88m in her previous two competitions, the world and Olympic silver medallist will be looking to build on that momentum this weekend when she faces Canadian record-holder Alysha Newman and USA’s Olivia Gruver.

Elsewhere, Pan-American champion Natoya Goule will start as the favourite for the women’s 800m. She takes on Britain’s Adelle Tracey and USA’s 15-year-old talent Sophia Gorriaran, who clocked 2:02.44 in Fayetteville last weekend.

Emma Coburn, the 2017 world steeplechase champion, lines up for the women’s two miles, while Pan-American champion Nikki Hiltz contests her specialist 1500m distance.

Olympic silver medallist Erik Kynard, 2007 world champion Donald Thomas and world finalist Jeron Robinson will all feature in the men’s high jump.

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics