BOSTON (Feb. 4) – From a razor-close finish in the women's 800 meters to a dramatic crash in the men’s Mile to an American Record in the pole vault, the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix offered something for every one of the 4,072 fans in the sold-out Reggie Lewis Center tonight.
Those fans offered something in return: a rousing welcome for Tirunesh Dibaba, competing on a track for the first time since August 2010 as she fought severe shin splints. The 2008 double Olympic Champion from Ethiopia – who broke the 5000-meter World Record here in 2005 and was making her ninth appearance at the meet – had a reason for choosing the Reggie to host her comeback.
“Boston is my second home,” she said, after almost lapping the field in winning the 2 Mile in 9:21.60 and delighting the large Ethiopian contingent along the homestretch. Dibaba, 26, said she was happy with the result, given that she’s only been back training for two months and has been on a track just three times.
But even “Tiru” had to share the stage. Mid-race, on the infield, 2008 Olympic silver medalist Jenn Suhr succeeded on her first attempt at 4.88 meters/16 feet, breaking her own American Record in the pole vault. It was the 10th American Record set in the 17-year history of the meet, and a giant roar from the crowd marked the occasion.
For Suhr, it was a spectacular comeback of her own: just a week earlier in Madison Square Garden, Suhr had failed to make a height. Now, she regained her position as the second-best indoor vaulter in history, with the highest vault in the world so far this indoor season.
In the closest finish of the night, American Maggie Vessey won the women’s 800 meters in a virtual tie, with both she and Erica Moore being given 2:02.37 by the timing officials. Ethiopia’s Fantu Magiso was leading into the final turn when Erica Moore came up on the outside until suddenly realizing that Maggie Vessey had done the same on the inside. “I think my eyes got a little big,” said Moore, a former heptathlete. “I thought I had it.”
She didn’t. “I was like, there’s enough room!” said Vessey, describing her reaction to being able to squeeze inside and past both Magiso, the victor in last week’s U.S. Open, and Moore. Both Vessey and Moore were credited with the same time, 2:02:37, but it was Vessey in the photo finish.
The men’s Mile featured the meet’s biggest shock when, just three-quarters into the first lap, 5000-meter World Champion Mo Farah of Great Britain, running in front, caught his foot on a trailing runner and sprawled hands-first to the track. After the rest of the field successfully hurdled or otherwise dodged him, Farah sprung back up to give chase. With six laps to go and training partner Galen Rupp in the lead, Farah had worked his way into the middle of the pack, and with three laps to go he was in second.
For an instant, it looked as if he would pull off a miraculous win, but “my legs just didn’t have it,” he said later. “I just had to get back as quickly as possible and work my way through. It wasn’t easy.”
With about 150 meters remaining, Rupp was caught by another training partner, Irishman Ciaran O’Lionard, and Canada’s Taylor Milne. The 23-year-old O’Lionard, who ran for Florida State University, held off Milne for the win, 3:56.01 to 3:56.40. Rupp ended up third, in 3:57.10, while Farah managed a personal-best 3:57.92 in fourth.
“It was disappointing seeing [Farah] fall down,” said Rupp. “We were planning on taking it after halfway, but things happen so you just have to be ready for it.”
O’Lionard, a relative rookie in this company, was thrilled. “I’m so new to the game, and so unbelievably privileged to have such great training partners,” he said, standing with Rupp and Farah. “Part of me is like oh man, this guy has just taken a bad fall and he’s already coming up and kicking my butt. That just shows the character he has and the courage, to be able to get back up and do that.”
In the men’s 3000 meters, the field was still tightly packed when Caleb Ndiku of Kenya made his move with 7 laps remaining, passing reigning 1500-meter World Championships silver medalist Silas Kiplagat to take the lead. He would keep it. The 2010 World Junior Champion at both 1500 meters and Cross Country, 19-year-old Ndiku crossed the line in 7:38.29. Defending champion Dejen Gebremeskel, who last year won despite losing a shoe early in the race, was a close second in 7:38.97.
Rounding out the evening was a decisive victory by Meseret Defar, another Ethiopian superstar who has known great success at the Reggie. Defar handily won the women’s 3000 meters in 8:33.57; behind her, countrywoman Gotytom Gebreslase won a rollicking duel for second over Morocco’s Siham Hilali, 8:46.01 to 8:46.17.
In other action, Adam Nelson easily won the shot put with a throw of 69 feet, 9.5 inches; David Oliver edged Aries Merritt in the 60-meter hurdles, 7.60 to 7.62; and World Champion Kirani James of Grenada won the 400 meters in 45.96.
Once again, the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix featured a pair of exciting junior miles. Leading the Boys’ Junior Mile through the halfway mark in 2:08 was Joel Hubbard of Marshfield, MA, followed closely by Tim Ball of Piscataway, NJ, and Craig Engels of Pfafftown, NC. Briefly taking charge was Tom Awad of Mineola, NY, before Engles, a North Carolina 4A state champion at 1000 meters, made his move with a lap to go, winning in 4:13.70.
In the Girls’ Junior Mile, Cayla Hatton took the lead at 200 meters and quickly built a 20-meter gap, taking the field through the first half in 2:24. With two laps remaining a chase group of three, led by Haley Pierce of Wilmington, DE, began to claw back the difference. Just after the bell, Pierce took the lead and would go on to win in 4:48:49, an indoor personal best.