Track and Field
When the New York Athletic Club was founded in September of 1868 it was with the sport of track and field very much in mind.
On November 11th, 1868, the fledgling NYAC sponsored the first indoor track meet in American history. Subsequently, in 1874, the Club sponsored the first inter-collegiate championships, and, in 1876, the first national championships.
Among the NYAC's founding precepts was to provide competitive opportunities for athletes who, having graduated, no longer had the benefit of college affiliation. Continuing that tradition, the NYAC Track and Field team is an amalgam of former NCAA All-American athletes and emerging local talent. Our goals are continued success in the national and international arenas, plus to make an increasing impact on the New York City club scene.
For information about New York Athletic Club running, please e-mail NYACRunning@gmail.com.
World Indoor Track & Field Championships
March 1st-4th, 2018
James O'Brien reports on the NYAC action from Birmingham
Sunday, March 4th
Lalonde Gordon Racing for Relay Gold
Track and field is track and field, yes? Well, kind of. While several sports have indoor and outdoor versions - water polo is a good example - generally speaking, the indoor and outdoor incarnations are the same. That’s not the case with track and field. The indoor version has fewer events - no javelin and hammer, marathon, etc, for obvious reasons - the confines are much closer (leading to heightened jostling and infractions) and the whole gamut at a championships is compressed into three or four days, compared with the customary nine or 10 at a major outdoor championship.
All of that has been in evidence in Birmingham. The compressed program means that if you blink you’re likely to miss something superb. Last night was a case in point with a thrilling women’s pole vault final lasting for the duration of the program while, concurrently, all kinds of red hot finals took place on the track - women’s 1500m, men’s and women’s 400m, men’s 800m, and more. It was an action-packed evening, without question; but the confined quarters, intrinsic to indoors, have also led to all manner of disqualifications for lane violations and obstructions. In one heat of the men’s 400m, the whole field was disqualified. In the final, the gold and silver medalists were booted. The consensus has been that the officials have been over-zealous; there have even been allegations of favoritism towards British competitors. Be that as it may, the number of DQs has been way beyond the norm. No doubt there will be questions in the House. Along with the magnificent competition, the voluminous DQs will be the abiding memory of these championships.
The compressed program means that today, day four of these championships, is also the last. Ordinarily, on day four you would just be hitting your stride, settling in; but here, it’s all but over. This session is 99% finals (there’s a semi of the men’s 60mH early on), meaning that your attention had better not stray for a single second. NYAC focus is on the final event of this final day: the men’s 4x400m relay final. Invariably, and regardless of the meet, this event is a thriller. The rivalries are intense and the speed is blazing. (Small wonder that there are often lane infractions, obstructions, dropped batons and DQs). It’s high stakes competition at blazing speed.
The world outdoor champions are the team from Trinidad and Tobago. That was the foursome that outgunned the US on the last lap at the World Outdoor Championships last summer. The sharpest shooter on that team was the NYAC’s Lalonde Gordon who produced a stunning anchor leg to charge past the USA’s Fred Kerley in the final home straight. So, the T&T team came to Birmingham with high hopes. Sad to say, Gordon was far from his peak form, having been stricken with the flu early in the season and arriving in the UK still working to reach optimal form. In the heats, indeed, the Trinidad foursome only advanced to the final as a fastest loser, having been beaten in heat one by Belgium and Poland. The line-up for the final, therefore, was: USA, Great Britain, Poland and Belgium, plus Trinidad and Tobago and the Czech Republic as the two fastest losers. It is axiomatic that, once the gun goes, reputations and all that has gone before count for nothing. Competitive mettle is the only currency of value. So, as the teams lined up for the final event of these excellent championships, the scoreboard was a blank sheet awaiting the outcome.
To say the race was a scorcher is not to do it justice. The US team is a favorite almost by default in any relay it enters, and every step of the way here, it appeared that the inevitable was going to happen. Almost every step. The American team was at the forefront at every exchange. At the end of leg one, the order was USA, Poland, Belgium, Trinidad and Tobago, Great Britain, Czech Republic. At the second exchange, the only change in the order was that the Trinidad team had moved into the bronze medal position. That was how it stayed around the third storming leg, meaning that Gordon and his team-mates were in with a serious shot at the hardware.
It was an epic tussle for all positions around the final 400m segment. Vernon Norwood handled the anchor duties for the US, but Poland’s Jakub Krzewina and Gordon were closing hard. In the last 150, all the medals were in question. Into the home straight for the final time, Krzewina went into overdrive, surging away from Gordon, past Norwood and through the finish line in a world indoor record of 3:01.77. The US was safe in second, but Gordon was having to contend with the fearsome challenge of Belgium’s Kevin Borlee. (The Belgium team, by the way, had three Borlees on its team, all brothers). Gordon fought intensely all the way to the line, and even as he and Borlee charged through, the outcome was not clear. The photograph held the answer: Borlee had claimed it by 0.01 seconds. It was a disappointing outcome for Gordon; but, such a titanic race should leave room only for commendation, and congratulation.
It was fitting that the evening’s events also included a testimony to Sir Roger Bannister, the legendary British athlete who, on May 6th, 1954, became the first man in history to run sub-four minutes for one mile. Bannister died today, a sad occasion, though one that was almost poetic. Where else on the planet on this day are there almost 8000 track fans assembled, fans who can suitably recognize the great man’s passing? Which they did with an emotional display of warmth, recognizing the extinguishing of one light while, here in Birmingham, so many others burned with an intensity that - who knows? - may take them to their own epoch-shattering levels in the seasons to come.
Saturday, March 3rd
Katie Nageotte Hoping for Pole Vault Hardware
Lalonde Gordon Racing to make 4x400m Relay Final
If you had happened to be in Albuquerque, NM two weeks ago, you would have seen the NYAC’s Katie Nageotte claim the US indoor pole vault title with a world leading clearance of 4.91m/16’ 1 1/4”. That accomplished, Nageotte took three further attempts at the world indoor record of 5.02m/16’ 5 1/2”, a mark set by the USA’s Jenn Suhr back in 2013. Nageotte was not successful in re-writing the world standard; but her attempts clearly indicated one thing: she was on fire and ready to contend for the top position at these World Indoor Championships.
To take the crown was not going to be easy, for sure. The Olympic and world outdoor champion, Katerina Stefanidi from Greece was in the field, as was the USA’s Sandi Morris, winner of the silver medal at the Rio Olympics, the 2017 World Outdoor Championships and the last World Indoor Championships, held in 2016 in Portland, OR. Add in..well most of the world’s finest female vaulters and you get a sense of the scale of the challenge. Furthermore, coming into this meet, while Nageotte held the world’s leading mark, she did so by a mere one centimeter over Morris.
Morris and Nageotte both entered this competition at 4.50. Morris cleared with ease; Nageotte failed. Stefanidi passed. From the outset, it was tense. Although Nageotte cleared safely on her second attempt, those early errors can come back to haunt you. In the event of two athletes finishing the competition with the same height, the outcome is determined by who has the best clearance record. Many a medal has been decided on the count-back. That said, with Morris and Nageotte both clear, Stefanidi had still not come in.
At 4.60m, Morris was at least a foot above the bar, serving notice that there was way more still to come from her. Nageotte responded with a clearance at least as good, her own statement of intent. But still, Stefanidi had not entered the competition.Next, the bar went to 4.70m. Four women had been eliminated from the 12 person field, but Stefanidi was on the list to come in, which she did, making it look gloriously easy. The gauntlet was down. Morris failed her first attempt as did Nageotte. Uh-oh. Also clear on a first attempt at 4.70m was Anzhelika Sidorova representing “Authorized Neutral Athlete.” (Translation: she’s Russian, but that nation is banned by the IAAF, so she’s here, anyway. Figure that one out).
On her second attempt at 4.70m, Morris sailed clear. Nageotte did precisely the same. As the bar moved to 4.75m, there were six women left in the competition: Alysha Newman (CAN), Eliza McCartney (NZL), Morris, Stefanidi, Sidorova and Nageotte. Fifty per cent of the field had been eliminated. The new height would assuredly prune those numbers further. Of the group, McCartney and Morris went safely over on their first attempts. Stefanini, who had won 19 finals in a row coming into this meet, cleared on her second, while Sidorova and Nageotte passed. Mind games. Remarkably, Newman, who had set a Canadian record in clearing 4.70m, was eliminated by virtue of letting the time clock run out. (In the early rounds, vaulters have 60 seconds in which to execute their jumps. It increases to two minutes and three minutes as the number of competitors left in is whittled down).
So, next up was 4.80m with five athletes remaining. Of that group, Sidorova and Nageotte were permitted only two attempts, due to having taken one unsuccessful attempt at the previous height and then passing to this one. Pressure? Oh yes.McCartney, Stefanidi, Morris and Nageotte all failed their first two attempts at the new height, while Sidorova sailed clear on her first. That was a deadly failure for the NYAC woman. Remember: she had only two attempts due to having passed at 4.75m. So, with that, her medal hopes in this event were gone. It was a valiant attempt and, amidst this caliber of competition, a fine result. For the record, after a thrilling - thrilling! - last few rounds, the final outcome went as follows: 1. Morris, 4.95m; 2. Sidorova, 4.90m; 3. Stefanidi, 4.80m; 4. McCartney, 4.75m; 5. Nageotte, 4.70m.
Katie Nageotte was not the only NYAC athlete in action today. This morning, Lalonde Gordon, competing for his native Trinidad and Tobago, ran the anchor leg in the heats of the 4x400m relay. A 400m bronze medalist in the London Olympics in 2012, many in the US will recall Gordon most for the manner in which he denied the US 4x4 team victory in last year’s World Outdoor Championships in London. The Trinidadian foursome claimed a stunning victory and, thus, returned to England with a fearsome reputation. Unfortunately, Gordon was stricken with the flu early in the season, about which severely impacted his championship preparations. The T&T team was, therefore, significantly below par in the heats this morning, advancing to the final only as one of the fastest losers.
That said, having made the final, it’s all to play for. The US, Great Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic and Belgium will also line up to contest those medals. It will be a barn-burner and a fitting way to bring the curtain down on these championships.
Friday, March 2nd
Jeneva Stevens in the Shot Circle
It never snows in the UK, at least not much, and not New York style anywhere south of Scotland; but, the weather gods had different plans for the British Isles in early March, and they did so at precisely the moment that the world’s finest track and field athletes were making their way to Birmingham for this biennial championship.
This meet notwithstanding, this is somewhat of a quiet year in the track and field world. Yes, there is a Commonwealth Games and European Championships coming up, but with no Olympic Games or World Championships, many elites take this once-every-four-years circumstance as an opportunity for rest and recuperation before next year’s outdoor world event and the following year’s Olympics. Thus a world indoor championships in these incremental years can be a curious event. Some superstars have retired - Usain Bolt - some compete at less than full volume, and others - the emerging forces - take it as an opportunity to take another step or two up the ladder. Consequently, far from being a low-key event, this World Indoor Championships was afire with competition.
That said, the aforementioned weather gods did all they could to extinguish that fire. Blankets of snow swathed the British Isles, making travel treacherous, if not impossible. Even so, most athletes made it, and the Arena Birmingham - a beautiful facility - was generally full. Generally. If you had to drive, you were taking your life in your hands; but, one way or the other, the fans made it. Track and field is a big deal in the UK and fans are not easily dissuaded.
So, it got underway on Thursday (March 1st), albeit underway without me. Norwegian Air placed a lower emphasis on my travel plans than I did. (They’ve done this before, BTW). I’ll refrain from further comment, suffice it to say that I made it for Day Two, Friday (March 2nd) and the appearance of Jeneva Stevens in the final of the women’s shot put. A straight final, Stevens earned her ticket by virtue of a third place finish in the US championships just two weeks previously. For indoor championships, customarily the first two finishers earn selection to the team. In this instance, Erin Farmer, the second placed finisher in the US meet did not have a qualifying mark; thus, Stevens got the seat on the plane.
Although she was ranked fifth in the world coming into this meet, the NYAC woman had her work cut out. The 2017 World Outdoor Championships gold and silver medalists, Anita Marton (HUN) and Lijao Gong (CHN) were in the field, as were fourth place finisher Danniel Thomas-Dodd (JAM) and fifth placed Yang Gao (CHN). Claiming a medal in this field was not about to be a stroll around the Bull Ring. (Birmingham reference. Google).
Throwing fourth, a shakey opening 15.90m did nothing to make a dent on the competition. Round two was a different matter, though, as the NYAC woman launched a superb 18.18m to take her into a solid sixth position. The almighty Gong held the lead at 18.98m, with Thomas-Dodd second at 18.95m, Gao third at 18.77m, Paulina Guba (POL) fourth at 18.53m, and Marton fifth at 18.30m. Those were big numbers, but there was hope.
Round three saw Aliona Dubitskaya (BLR) reach 18.21m to shunt Stevens back to seventh. Marton, meanwhile, launched a massive 19.48m, to surge into the gold medal position ahead of the new second placer, Thomas-Dodd at 19.22m. Halfway through the competition and it was ominous for the NYAC woman. Stevens fought bravely, but there was little that she could do to improve her standing. A round four 17.64m was followed by a foul in round five, by which stage she was in eighth.
And that was how it stayed. Marton won the competition, improving to a world leading 19.62m on her final throw; Thomas-Dodd held on for silver, and Gong stayed in third. It was a gripping competition, and eighth in such company is an exceptional performance. Ironically, the last time Jeneva competed in these championships, in Poland in 2014, she also placed eighth, reaching 18.05m on that occasion versus 18.18m this time around.
It was cold outside, but hot in the Arena Birmingham. It will be all the more so tomorrow when gold medal contender Katie Nageotte contests the women’s pole vault. That will be a thriller. Make sure to check back.