Monday, March 21, 2016

Wins by Centrowitz, Cunningham, and both 4x400 relay teams bring down curtain on Portland 2016...

PORTLAND—The IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships concluded its four-day run at the green track of the Oregon Convention Center with a flourish if you looked at it from an American perspective, with Team USA setting an all time team best with 23 medals, 13 of which were the golden kind.

On the final day, the American squad got wins from both 4 x 400 meter relay teams, the high jumping teen sensation Vashti Cunningham, and appropriately enough, being that we are in Portland and the state of Oregon, a victory in the metric mile by none other than University of Oregon alum, and current Portland area resident Matthew Centrowitz (left/photo by Paul Merca).

In a race that the pro-Oregon crowd clearly went bonkers over, Centrowitz, who competes for the Nike Oregon Project, burst down the homestretch to overtake University of Michigan grad and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand with about 20 meters to go, winning in a time of 3:44.22, after Willis tried to run away with the race with over two laps to go.

In typical championship racing fashion, the runners went through 800 meters in a pedestrian 2:07.88 led by defending world champ Ayanieh Souleiman of Djibouti before the real racing began when Dawit Wolde of Ethiopia tried to crank up the pace.

Willis’ bold move nearly cost him a medal, as Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic caught him with a few strides left in the race, but he hung on to claim the bronze in 3:44.37.

The teen sensation Vashti Cunningham from Las Vegas proved that her jump of 6-6.25 (1.99m) at last week’s USA indoor championships was no fluke.  Though her winning height Sunday of 6-5 (1.96m) was the same as silver medalist Ruth Beitia of Spain and defending world indoor champ Kamila Licwinko of Poland, Cunningham, who is the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles, was clean through the first four bars of the competition.

The USA women’s 4 x 400 relay team of Natasha Hastings, Quanera Hayes, Courtney Okolo, and Ashley Spencer were dominant from gun to tape, running a world leading time of 3:26.38, with Poland a surprise second in 3:31.15, after Jamaica failed to finish when leadoff leg Patricia Hall crashed and tumbled to the green track coming off the turn to start lap 2 of her leg.

In the men’s 4x4, national indoor champion Vernon Norwood anchored the host squad to a 3:02.45 win, the third-fastest time ever indoors, just 0.33 seconds shy of the world record they set two years ago in Sopot. Bahamas (3:04.75) and Trinidad and Tobago (3:05.51) produced national indoor records to complete the medallists.

In the compact 2 1/2 hour final day of competition, streamlined for a worldwide television audience, the pro Oregon crowd went nuts for Bowerman TC’s Ryan Hill, as the North Carolina State alum, who trains on the Nike campus in Beaverton, took silver in the 3000, running 7:57.39 in a tactical race. 

Likewise, the crowd did the same for Nike Oregon Project’s Shannon Rowbury, who was third in the women’s 3000 in 8:55.55, as the two dominant racers in the world, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba and Meseret Defar went 1-2 in 8:47.43 and 8:54.26.

The Oregon mojo could not quite pull Duck alum Laura Roesler (2:00.80) to a podium spot in the women’s 800 as she finished fourth, but the home crowd was enough to help reigning US national champ Ajee’ Wilson to a silver medal in 2:00.27, as Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi took the title in 2:00.01.

With 2016 an Olympic year, you knew that many of the biggest names of the sport, including Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and American Allyson Felix, would skip the world indoors in favor of getting ready to fry bigger fish and claim Olympic medals in what could be their final appearance on the sport’s biggest stage.

Does the USA’s medal haul of 23, the biggest in world indoor history, mean that the Americans will experience a similar medal haul this summer in Rio?  My guess is probably not, as many other nations didn’t necessarily send their best athletes to Portland.  One journalist suggested that Team USA basically teed up on the world’s junior varsity squad.

Nonetheless, I took away the fact that the TrackTown USA team will do an excellent job putting on a world outdoor championship meet in Eugene in five years, given the learning experience from putting on this meet and the 2014 world junior championships.

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