NYAC Athletes Excel
World Indoor Track and Field Championships
By James O’Brien
For the first time since the inaugural event in 1987, the IAAF World Indoor Championships returned to the USA. The Rose City of Portland, OR was the host this time around - previously, it had been Indianapolis, IN - the Oregon Convention Center having been equipped with a vibrant lime green track expressly for this meet and the US championships, held the prior weekend.
Four NYAC athletes survived the selection process and arrived in Portland to contest for world championships medals. A fifth, Reese Hoffa, made the team, but was unable to contest the Championships due to a prior commitment. The fantastic NYAC four were Michelle Carter and Jillian Camarena-Williams, who comprised 100% of the US women's shot put squad, Natasha Hastings in the women's 4x400m relay and Priscilla Frederick, competing in the women's high jump for Antigua and Barbuda. Sadly, on the Friday before her Sunday competition, Frederick strained a hamstring in training and had to withdraw. That could have posed bad karma for the NYAC; but, our athletes clearly know that they create their own karma.
The shot put ladies were the first of the Club's athletes to appear in the arena, their event taking place on the Saturday. Both came into the meet with some serious credentials. Camarena-Williams is a 2008 Olympic Games finalist and had claimed a bronze medal at the World Championships (outdoors) in 2011. A back injury sidelined her in recent years; thankfully, those problems are behind her, as evidenced by her place on this team and her return to top level competition. Carter - daughter of 1984 Olympic shot put silver medalist, Michael Carter - also arrived in Portland with a serious resumé. A nine-time US champion (five outdoors, four indoors), Carter owns a bronze medal from this meet in 2012 as well as another bronze from the 2015 World Championships (outdoors). There was, therefore, every reason why fans of NYAC track and field could be hopeful that more medals would shortly find their way back to the City House.
None of those medals would be won easily. New Zealand's Valerie Adams, the defending champion and who has won every major international shot put title at least twice, was in the field, having recovered from 2014 shoulder and elbow surgery. Adams had not set an indoor mark this season, however, while the woman leading the global list was none other than the NYAC's Carter, she having reached an impressive 19.49m. An intense competition was assured; they did not disappoint.
With the longest seasonal bests in the field, Camarena-Williams, Adams and Carter were the last three throwers, in that order. Fittingly, Camarena-Williams launched a leader of 18.17m on her first attempt, though the NYAC woman's lead was short-lived. Adams threw the ball out to 18.49m, putting the pressure on Carter to respond in kind. She couldn't. A foul throw meant that, at the end of the first round, Adams held the lead with Camarena-Williams in second and Carter not on the board.
Things changed in round two. Camarena-Williams fouled - and was bounced back to fourth by the 18.38m of Anita Marton of Hungary - while Adams couldn't improve on her first round attempt. Carter, however, issued a statement of intent by launching an 18.90m to charge into the lead. Adams was having none of that, however. In the third round, the titanic Kiwi reached an intimidating 19.25m, the longest throw in the world so far this year. At least it was for about two minutes. That's when Carter launched a rocket of her own, reaching 19.31m and showing Adams, and the entire field, that she was not about to let this title slip away without a fight.
At this stage, only the leading eight throwers were allowed to continue throwing, the top four comprising Carter, Adams, Marton and Camarena-Williams.
Camarena-Williams' fourth throw was legal, after two fouls, but could not improve her position. Marton's 19.01m kept her in third, while Adams fouled. Carter was on fire, though. Her fourth throw didn't improve her leading mark, but it did reach 19.28m, meaning that she held both of the two best throws of the competition, thus far.
In the fifth round, Trinidad and Tobago's Cleopatra Borel proved a spoiler to Camarena-Williams' medal hopes. Borel reached 18.38m, bumping the NYAC woman back to fifth. That was hugely significant; under new IAAF rules effected this year, only the leading four throwers advance to the sixth and final round to battle for the medals. Camarena-Williams could not respond, Adams could not improve and Carter fouled; meaning that the four earning a sixth and decisive throw were Borel, Marton, Adams and Carter, though with the latter sill holding on to the pole position. No pressure.
One round left, but it was far from over. Marton, inspired by the occasion, surged into the lead by blasting the shot out to 19.33m, a two centimeter advantage over Carter. That was a blow, for sure. Big trouble. Adams couldn't improve; so, with Carter throwing last, it was all on the final throw of the meet to determine gold and silver. You might call the NYAC woman a clutch performer, or maybe just awesome. With it all on the line, not only did she steal back the win, she did so with a massive US indoor record of 20.21m.
"I was just thinking about focusing on what I needed to do," commented the new champion when asked of the perilous position in which she had found herself. "This year, one of the things that I've been working on is my mental game. The competitor in me came out today."
Camarena-Williams, who ultimately placed fifth, commented, "I was almost ready to not go to the indoor championships (the US indoor nationals, the qualifier for this meet). But my husband persuaded me to just go and have a good time. I'm still trying to get my timing back. To be out there today when Michelle did what she did was really cool.
With Saturday's shot put completed, NYAC attention turned to Sunday and the women's 4x400m relay, a straight final. Natasha Hastings, Olympic relay gold medalist from 2008, was up in her specialty event on this, the final day of world championships competition. As one of the most experienced competitors on the US team, there was every expectation that she and her three team mates - Quanera Hayes, Courtney Okolo and Ashley Spencer - could do some serious damage in what was the final women's track event of this meet.
The NYAC woman was given the task of the opening leg, her job being to get the team into a prime position from which the next three could take advantage. Put it this way: the four did their jobs to devastating effect. From the gun, Hastings made sure that everybody knew the way this was going to go. She charged to the forefront, passing 200m in 24 seconds, then handing over an eight meter advantage (after a 51.89 split) to Hayes on the second leg. From that point on, the winners became clearer and clearer. Okolo blasted leg three, as did Spencer on the anchor. At the line, the USA foursome had 50m in hand over the second placed Poland. Their time was a blistering 3:26.38, the fastest ever recorded on US soil.
"Any time we step on a track, we're going for gold," avowed Hastings. "We said it pre-meet, earlier this week, that we would get in front and stay in front. So, we came out here and got the job done."
That was simply a fitting end to a remarkable championships. The city of Portland did a fantastic job, with a packed stadium every day and just the right balance of theatricality and intensity. The World Outdoor Championships will be hosted in the Rose City in 2021, the first time it has ever come to the USA. If that meet is anything like this meet, it will be unmissable.
Follow @NYACTrack_Field for news and information about the team.