Ronnie Baker on his way to winning the 60m at the US Indoor Championships (© Kirby Lee)
The best definitely was saved for last to conclude the final day of the US Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Sunday (5).
The men’s 60m closed the meeting and Albuquerque’s 1561m of altitude provided some aid to the sprinting as Ronnie Baker sped a world-leading 6.45 to comfortably hold off LeShon Collins (6.54).
Baker had run 6.46 in Torun in mid-February for the world lead. In Albuquerque, the two-time NCAA indoor champion led all the way in clocking his PB. A mid-race surge gave him an even wider lead at the finish.
“The notion was in my head that I could do something special in the altitude,” said Baker, who moves up to sixth on the world all-time list. “Now, my biggest goal for this year is to make the World Championships team this summer. And my ultimate goal is to make the Olympic team in 2020.”
In the final women’s contest, staged just before the men’s dash, Olympic 4x100m champion Morolake Akinosun sped to her own 60m PB of 7.08 to outrun Dezerea Bryant by 0.03.
Bryant got out first in the final, but Akinosun was right behind and then edged into the lead at about the 40-metre mark. The 22-year-old finished strongly to cut down her PB from the 7.17 she ran at the Millrose Games last month.
“My start made all the difference,” said Akinosun. “Also, I just stayed focused on running only my own race.”
Just before the sprints ended the championships, both 60m hurdles finals set the tone for the meet-climaxing speed events. In the women’s barriers, outdoor world record-holder Kendra Harrison got the capacity crowd excited as she tied Gail Devers’s 7.74 meeting record in her heat to take 0.01 off the PB she set in January.
Harrison didn’t get the best of starts in the final as Christina Manning led to the first barrier. But Harrison’s superior technique between hurdles gave her the lead before the fourth hurdle and she pulled away to win in 7.81 ahead of Jasmin Stowers (7.82). Manning fell back to third in 8.02.
“I popped up right after the gun,” Harrison said in analysing her start in the final. “And then I didn’t bring my trail leg through as quickly as I would have liked. But I did run fast in the heat, which is encouraging for outdoors.”
Also encouraged for the outdoor campaign is 110m hurdles world record-holder Aries Merritt, who won the men’s 60m hurdles in 7.51 after leading virtually all the way in holding off Aleec Harris (7.54) and Jarret Eaton (7.59).
“I’m happy to get the win,” said the 31-year-old after running his fastest time since 2012. “It shows that I still have it. Now I really want to make the World Championships team for London.”
Merritt has coped with the well-reported kidney transplant that he underwent just three days after claiming the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. He came back well enough to finish in the dreaded fourth place at last year’s Olympic Trials to just miss the team for Rio.
“Last year was very hard,” he said of his recovery and eventual return to racing. “I was in pain all of last year, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want people to know. It especially hurt when I would work on my trail-leg mechanics.
“But I just hung in there and nearly made the team. I really feel that if I had another six weeks of training between the Trials and Rio, I could have challenged for a medal at the Games. Now, I’d like to do that at the Worlds this summer.”
Wilson wins ‘meet-in-the-middle’ 600m battle
While no team places were to be earned at this year’s meeting ahead of an IAAF World Indoor Championships, national titles were at stake so the competition was keen, on both the 200m Convention Center track and on the infield.
The 600m offered an opportunity for 400m specialists to take on some of the country’s top middle-distance runners, and both finals produced quick times.
In the women’s event, world indoor 800m silver medallist Ajee' Wilson set a strong early pace and never allowed any of her foes to get in front of her. Wilson led NCAA 400m champion Courtney Okolo with a 55.14 split at 400m and held her form to the line to win in 1:23.84, ahead of Okolo’s PB of 1:24.00.
Wilson cut down her PB from the 1:24.48 she ran in early February and moved to third on the world indoor all-time list, while Okolo moved to fourth.
In the men’s three-lapper, Erik Sowinski won his third national title by dropping his PB to 1:15.07, cutting his best by 0.44 and moving to fourth on the world indoor all-time list with a time that would have been a world indoor best before this year.
Sowinski grabbed the lead heading down the final backstretch, then held off the home-straight challenges of Casimir Loxsom (1:15.18) and Shaquille Walker (1:15.39). Loxsom, who set a world indoor best for 600m last month, left too much ground to make up over the final circuit but his closing sprint was able to catch Walker just before the line.
“I didn’t race at all last fall, so I got in six extra weeks of training,” said Sowinski, who won the 2013 and 2014 US indoor 800m titles. “Now I’m three-for-three in winning national championships.”
In the women’s jumps, Olympic pole vault silver medallist Sandi Morris cleared her first three heights on her first attempts before needing three at a winning 4.70m to out-jump Katie Nageotte and Mary Saxer, both of whom topped 4.65m in second and third respectively.
The world indoor high jump champion used her first meeting of 2017 to show that she is still as sharp as ever. Vashti Cunningham successfully negotiated five of her first six heights on her initial tries, needing a pair only at 1.91m. She went on to top 1.96m and retained her title ahead of Inika McPherson (1.88m).
Olympic shot put champion Michelle Carter had no trouble retaining her title as four of her six heaves outdistanced the next-best distance. Carter’s longest measured 19.03m, comfortably ahead of Brittany Smith’s 18.29m.
The meeting’s only double win on the track was claimed by Shelby Houlihan as she backed up her mile win from Saturday by ratcheting up the tempo in the final three laps of the two miles to win in 10:19.14. The men’s mile went to Ben Blankenship with his 3:59.22 ahead of the 3:59.56 by Cristian Soratos.
Chris Carter successfully defended his crown as he bounced to 17.10m on both his fourth and sixth leaps.
Olympic 800m bronze medallist Clayton Murphy clocked a PB of 2:18.60 to take the men’s 1000m title by half a second from Brannon Kidder. In the women’s five-lap race, Charlene Lipsey also ran her career-best at 2:37.97 to beat Lauren Johnson (2:38.33). In fourth, world U20 800m champion Sammy Watson set a US high school record of 2:40.72.
Jon Hendershott for the IAAF