Fab five: the stars who made Boston brilliant
With the Oscars less than a fortnight away, we decided to assume the role of the Athletic Academy and dole out our own awards to those who starred on what was a gripping night of action at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston on Saturday. Here are the five who took the major accolades.
Best performance in a leading role: Nick Willis, Men’s Mile
There’s just something about Nick Willis, and his manner of doing things, that exemplifies greatness. More than anything, it is this: he makes it all look so damn easy. Just like the best actors or best musicians, there is an effortless, gifted nature to Willis’s running when he is on top form, and when turning in a performance of such supreme quality – as he did on Saturday night when winning the men’s mile in 3:51.61, a New Zealand national indoor record – he manages to make you both awestruck at how gifted and natural an athlete he is, and almost jealous at how easy it appears to be for him to destroy a world class field.
Willis is now 31, but the stay-at-home Dad is showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, 2015 is shaping up to be the year where he could bolster his already impressive résumé with a World Championship gold medal. On Saturday, he took the lead with two laps to run and cranked out a 54.86 final 400m, taking him home well clear of Ben Blankenship, who finished second in 3:53.13. What’s more impressive, perhaps, is that Willis is still very much training for strength right now, and after Millrose next week, he will jet off to New Zealand for a couple of months and try his hand at the 5k. When he truly sharpens the blades come the summer, his rivals may encounter a competitor with an armoury so strong that defeating him, more often than not, will seem an incredibly daunting challenge.
Best athlete in a supporting role: Bernard Lagat, men’s 3,000m
It looked, for all the world, like he’d done it again. Bernard Lagat took the bell in the men’s 3,000m on Saturday night right where he loves to be when racing indoors: at the front. Behind him, the shuffling in the pack to get in his slipstream was frantic. There may be several athletes who are younger, stronger and faster than Bernard Lagat these days, but there is certainly none smarter. As it turned out, Dejen Gebremeskel simply had too much pace for the 40-year-old Lagat in a thrilling, home-stretch duel to the line, winning in 7:48.19 to Lagat’s 7:48.33, but the fact Lagat very nearly managed to pull out the win, running a 26.22-second last lap, at the age of 40, says a lot about both his willpower and tactical smarts, neither of which have diminished in the slightest despite his advancing years. It was a Master’s world record by a considerable margin. He may have played a supporting role in that he eventually finished second, but make no mistake: Lagat’s performance was one deserving of the highest accolade.
Best Solo Performance: Jenny Simpson, women’s two-mile
It was the way a record should have to be run: on your own, just you, the track, the ticking clock and a race against the ghost of an athlete who did the very same thing many years before. In Jenny Simpson’s case, it was a race against the ghost of Regina Jacobs’, whose 9:23.38 American two-mile record still stood despite her subsequent doping ban. It was a record the whole crowd inside the Reggie Lewis Athletics Center were desperate to see re-written, for the sake of another notable achievement for the prolific Simpson as for the removal of Jacobs’ tarnished name from the record books.
Simpson had pace-making help for the first six laps, but from there she was left alone at the front to do her own work for the remaining 10 laps, with Sentayehu Ejigu clinging to her tail as long as she was able. As it turned out, she made it to the final quarter mile, at which point Simpson kicked it into overdrive, ended the race as a contest, and brought the crowd to its feet as she hunted down Jacobs’ record. In the end, she didn’t just erase it; she obliterated it, with a 9:18.35 run.
Best Drama: Brenda Martinez, Women’s Distance Medley Relay
The more you think about this race – and indeed last week’s men’s distance medley relay in New York, which also produced a world record – the more you start to wonder why this event isn’t part of almost every professional track meet. Once again, for sheer excitement, drama and providing the crowd with the nervous wonder of who would emerge victorious in the last-leg, one-on-one shootout, the DMR came up trumps.
This week, it all came down to Nicole Tully of New York All Stars, who took the baton together with Brenda Martinez of New Balance. Martinez towed Tully around for six laps, before Tully made what appeared to be a decisive kick for home. Martinez, though, was alive to the threat, and gathered herself for the second coming. In the final straight, she drew up alongside Tully, and with the crowd rising to appraise a duel of riveting quality, Martinez edged ahead on the run to the line. It was gripping, riveting sporting drama, and Team New Balance – which comprised Sarah Brown (3:15.54), Mahogany Jones (53.59), Megan Krumpoch (2:05.68) and Martinez (4:27.77), were duly rewarded with a world record of 10:42.57. Superb.
Best Motion Picture: Matt Centrowitz, men’s 1,000m
Just like Willis, Matt Centrowitz is a picture of aesthetic beauty when in motion, and the Oregon Project athlete looked his effortless self once again when racing to a facile win in the men’s 1,000m with a 2:17.00 clocking – the second fastest in US history.
Centrowitz has started the 2015 with a bang; last week, he blitzed the opening leg of the distance medley relay at the Armory, splitting 2:49 on his 1200m leg, and his performance here – where he took the lead after 650m and left his rivals quickly toiling thereafter – showed he undoubtedly has the wheels to challenge the world’s best at the mile this season. As it turns out, he’ll get the chance to do that next Saturday at the Millrose Games, where Centrowitz will take on Nick Willis and the irrepressible Bernard Lagat in the Wanamaker Mile. It will be an eight-lap, sub-four-minute drama worthy of an academy award. Don’t miss it.