Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reebok Grand Prix

Some people like baseball. Some like football. Most people like some sport that ends in "ball." Sure, I'll watch whatever's on TV. But I don't claim to know anything about popular sports. I do, however, love track. And though you may not believe me, if you know something about track, watching a good meet is pretty darn exciting.

Unlike going to a Major League Baseball game, the athletes enter the field with the spectators, walk through the stands, and are sometimes willing to stop and talk with you. Add to that a knowledgeable crowd, and it feels like one big family. In an atmosphere like that, great performances are bound to happen.

The Reebok Grand Prix, at Icahn Staudium in NYC, is that kind of event. So when my sister got us tickets to this year's meet, I was definitely looking forward to it. We had great seats, right on the finish line, three rows from the front.
Beautiful weather, too. And sitting behind us was a crowd of 5,000 enthusiastic Jamaican track fans with green and yellow thunder sticks. Reebok handed out free cowbells to everyone in attendance. You can imagine the noise.
Some of the highlights: Tyson Gay (America's fastest man) ran the 200m in the third-fastest time ever (19.58), behind only Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson. With all the focus on Bolt last year, people forget that Gay ran 9.68 in the 100m last year, ahead of Bolt's 9.69. But Gay's time was discounted because of a tailwind in the stadium. So the fastest man in all weather conditions? Tyson Gay. He also has cooler spikes than Usain. His retro red and white Adidas sprint spikes were pretty fresh.

In the 1500m, Leonel Manzano, formerly of University of Texas and now running for Nike, got his first win in a major meet. Shaking off a sub-par performance two weeks ago, he beat a very solid field, including American Record-Holder in the mile, Alan Webb. (Leo is the short guy in orange on the right side of the picture below.)

NBC only covered about 2 hrs of the meet. So unfortunately, anyone watching the broadcast would have missed what my sister and I considered 3 of the best races of the day. In the men's 800, our favorite runner/inspirational speaker, Khadevis Robinson, ran a smart race. He stayed off the early fast pace in the first lap, made up some ground on the last lap, and kicked past Gary Reed of Canada and Boaz Lalang of Kenya. In the women's 800, Anna Willard, the American steeple chaser, dropped down in distance and took on America's best two-lappers. Over the last 100m, her strength in the longer distances came through as she kicked past everyone for the victory. The meet ended with an American Record attempt in the 5,000m by Bernard Lagat. He came up a few seconds short of the AR and a few inches short of the victory, but still ran the fastest 5K on US soil by an American. (13:03)

You can watch those races (m800, w800, m5000) on Universal Sports. Click this link, and you can use the navigation bar to speed through the event (make sure your Internet connection is pretty fast). If you missed the TV broadcast, you can catch the Prefontaine Classic from Eugene, OR next weekend.

Next year, buy your own tickets to this event. There's really nothing like watching a crowd rise to its feet in sync with sprinters running down the track. And if the winner is Jamaican, plug your ears.

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