Previews05 Feb 2015

Suhr opens season aiming for eighth Boston win


USA's Jenn Suhr at the 2013 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston (© Victah Sailer)

No woman has been as successful within the walls of the Reggie Lewis Center, in Boston’s Roxbury neighbourhood, as Jenn Suhr. On Saturday (7), she’ll make a 14th appearance at the IAAF Indoor Permit meeting and try to extend her undefeated record at the New Balance Boston Indoor Grand Prix to eight wins.

The Olympic champion has vaulted in ‘the Reggie’ 13 times since 2005 and won 11 times, setting three national records along the way.

The indoor world record-holder at 5.02m since 2013, Suhr will be opening her 2015 campaign after a comparatively unimpressive 2014 season which saw her reach only 4.73m indoors, her lowest season's best since 2007.

She will be up against European silver medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi, who has improved her indoor PB three times this winter, bringing it up to 4.61m.

Middle-distance fireworks

While Suhr’s competitive success in Boston is monumental, it’s the middle-distance and distance events which draw crowds in a city known for its historic spring marathon. The meeting, which will be held for the 20th time this year, traditionally closes with a series of races between 1500m and 5000m, and this year will be no exception.

The women’s 2000m may be most intriguing, with a three-way race possible between steeplechase Continental Cup winner Emma Coburn, who burst on to the international scene last year, Olympic silver medallist Sally Kipyego, and Ethiopia’s world junior 1500m champion Dawit Seyaum.

Seyaum would seem to have the edge over Coburn and Kipyego, with a significantly faster 1500m PB, but the latter two are stepping down in distance and will bring more experience on the tight turns of a 200m oval to the starting line. Kipyego, in particular, won the two-miles at this meeting in 2014.

This trio is likely to focus more on racing each other than running for time, but with Seyaum’s speed and Coburn’s demonstrated preference for running from the front, it’s worth noting that the world best at this distance is 5:30.53, run by Gabriela Szabo in 1998.

Experience with indoor racing also gives a strong hand to men’s mile entrant Abdalaati Iguider, the 2012 world indoor champion at 1500m and Olympic bronze medallist. The Moroccan has finished in the medals at each of the past three World Indoor Championships and has twice run 3:34 for the metric distance indoors. His outdoor mile PB of 3:49.09 came in the ridiculously fast Eugene IAAF Diamond League meeting last year.

In Boston he’ll face another savvy competitor, New Zealand’s 2008 Olympic silver medallist and Commonwealth Games champion Nick Willis. His outdoor mile PB of 3:49.83 was also set in 2014, just a few weeks after Iguider’s, at the Oslo IAAF Diamond League stop.

The men’s 3000m will bring back Olympic silver medallist Dejen Gebremeskel, who won the respect of the Boston crowd in 2011 by out-kicking Mo Farah despite having lost a shoe early in the race and running most of it with spikes on one foot and only a sock on the other.

This year the Ethiopian will face not Farah but the unsinkable Bernard Lagat. Now 40, Lagat is likely to lower age-group records in every race he runs, but the double 2007 world champion is still tactically sharp and has shown no intention of giving up ground to mere age.

Also in the race is one of Lagat’s training partners, Lawi Lalang, another experienced indoor runner capable of stealing the race for himself, particularly if Gebremeskel is less than sharp.

The final race of the evening will be the women’s two miles, a relatively rarely run distance which is a staple of this meeting. 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson, the 2014 Diamond Race 1500m winner, will headline that event, and with luck this year will correctly count down from 16. In 2014, intent on her duel with friendly rival Kipyego, Simpson miscounted her laps and launched her finishing kick a lap early, a lapse which ultimately cost her the US record in the event.

The meeting record – a 9:10.50 world best by Meseret Defar in 2008 – is unlikely to be part of Simpson’s race plans, but the 9:23.38 North American record may be in her sights for 2015.

Three members of the team that lowered the world best in the men’s distance medley relay last week in New York will be in Boston racing each other at 1000m. Matt Centrowitz, Erik Sowinski and Pat Casey all took part in establishing that mark, and they will be joined by 2010 world junior 800m silver medallist Cas Loxsom, who ran a US indoor best of 1:15.58 for 600m last month.

The women’s 1000m will also feature a top junior with world junior 3000m champion Mary Cain in the field. Cain, still a junior, holds the world junior indoor record at this distance from last year, so a PB will also be a record. She’ll be facing Morgan Uceny, the 2011 1500m Diamond Race winner now based in Boston, and Violah Lagat, younger sister of Bernard.

Global champions feature in sprints field events

The men’s 60m will feature former 100m world record-holder Asafa Powell making his first appearance in Boston. He will take on world indoor silver medallist Marvin Bracy, US 100m champion Mike Rodgers, Chinese record-holder Su Bingtian, and the in-form Canadian Akeem Haynes, who last week smashed his PB with a 6.51 clocking.

The women’s 60m will include Tianna Bartoletta, the bronze medallist at the past two World Indoor Championships and a former outdoor and indoor world champion in the long jump. Lining up against her will be Trinidad and Tobago's Michelle-Lee Ahye, Ghanaian record-holder Flings Owuwu-Agyapong and three-time Olympic finalist Muna Lee, all of whom have run 7.18 or faster this year.

After the pole vault, there are two other field events being contested in Boston. The men’s shot put will be a two-way affair between Christian Cantwell and Ryan Whiting. Between them, they have won five of the past six world indoor titles, with Cantwell winning in 2004, 2008 and 2010 and Whiting in 2012 and 2014.

The women’s high jump will bring back meeting record-holder and 2012 world indoor champion Chaunte Lowe to face former world youth and world junior champion Iryna Kovalenko.

Distance medley relay record likely

Another staple of this meeting has been long relays, with its first world best coming with a 4x800m record in 2000 which stood until last year’s edition. This year the women’s distance medley relay is on the schedule, with three local collegiate teams (Harvard and Northeastern Universities and Boston College) joining three professional teams going after the standing best, the 10:50.98 run by the University of Tennessee in winning the 2009 NCAA Championships.

Notable among the teams is world 800m bronze medallist Brenda Martinez, who led USA’s 4x1500m and 4x800m teams to second- and first-place finishes, respectively, at the 2014 IAAF World Relays.

Parker Morse for the IAAF