Donavan Brazier on his way to winning the 800m at the IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting in Boston (© PhotoRun)
Saturday, 25 January, marks 183 days until the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo. That would explain the heightened sense of urgency spiking through the athletics world. And on Saturday, many athletes – from Olympic hopefuls to medal aspirants – will be kicking off their Olympic year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the first stop on the 2020 World Athletics Indoor Tour.
Featuring reigning world champions like Nia Ali and Donavan Brazier to rising stars like Sydney McLaughlin and Konstanze Klosterhalfen, Saturday is sure to provide a star-studded opener to the Olympic year.
US women’s hurdle stars kick off 2020 season
Ali is the headliner in the women’s 60m hurdles, racing indoors for the first time since winning gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2019 World Championships. Also the Rio Olympics silver medallist and mother of two, Ali is accomplished on the short, indoor straightaway, witnessed by her run to the 2016 world indoor title. She will be challenged by Payton Chadwick, the 2018 NCAA indoor champion in the 60m hurdles, Christina Clemons, the 2018 world indoor silver medallist, and Lolo Jones, a two-two world indoor champion and Olympian in both the summer and winter games.
Ali isn’t the only star US hurdler racing in Boston. McLaughlin, who finished second to world record holder Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles at the World Championships last October, is running the rarely-contested 500m. McLaughlin, who made the 2016 Olympic squad at 16, put together a stellar first year as a pro in 2019, winning the Diamond League 400m hurdles title and becoming the second-fastest 400m hurdler of all time. She opened her professional career with a win in the 500m at this meet last year, running 1:09.46. If close to last year’s fitness, McLaughlin could give the national indoor record of 1:07.34 a scare.
In the women’s 2 miles, 2017 steeplechase world champion, Emma Coburn, is, like McLaughlin, ditching the hurdles. Coburn has medalled in the steeplechase at the last three global championships, and will have her hands full as a solid field lines up beside her. Elinor Purrier was second in the mile at last year’s meeting and was a World Championship finalist in the 5000m. Coburn’s training partner Dominique Scott of South Africa could also challenge.
Brazier begins Tokyo pursuit in 600m
Brazier could do no wrong in 2019. Not only did he win a world title in the 800m, he also broke the world indoor best in the 600m when he clocked 1:13.77 to win the US indoor title last March. He’s running the three-lapper in Boston to kick off his 2020 season. Brazier, who also took the 2019 Diamond League 800m title, is going to be the favorite in nearly every race he runs this year.
There is no clear favorite in the mile, however. Clayton Murphy is an Olympic bronze medallist in the 800m, and New Zealander Nick Willis is a two-time medallist in the 1500m, but neither quite reached their top level in 2019.
Bryce Hoppel, meanwhile, had a breakout year in 2019 and will race the 1000m in Boston. Hoppel went undefeated in collegiate races in the 800m and then went on to finish fourth at the World Championships in Doha. He’ll face Jake Wightman of Great Britain who has won some big races in his career.
Klosterhalfen, the World Championships 5000m bronze medallist last year, begins her season in the 1500m. The German, who won the 5000m at this meet last year in dominant fashion, will face a talented field that includes training partner Jessica Hull of Australia. US athletes Rachel Schneider and Cory McGee could contend as well.
Bromell’s indoor comeback
The men’s 60m features Trayvon Bromell, an athlete on the comeback trail. In 2015, Brommell tied Canada’s Andre De Grasse for 100m bronze at the World Championships and captured the world indoor 60m title the following year. But, hobbled by injury, he has run scarcely since. He returns to the track in the 60m on Saturday - his first indoor race since 2016 - where he’ll take on a field that includes former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell.
In the women’s 300m, 200m standout Gabby Thomas and Kendall Ellis, the NCAA indoor 400m champion in 2018, will take on 400m hurdler Shamier Little over the rarely contested one-and-a-half lap event.
The World Athletics Indoor Tour - season five
The Boston meeting kicks off the fifth edition of the World Athletics Indoor Tour, which includes stops in Karlsruhe on 31 January, Dusseldorf on 4 February, Torun on 8 February, Glasgow on 15 February, before taking in the newest addition to the circuit, Lievin on 19 February. The series champions will be crowned after the final stop, in Madrid on 21 February.
The tour will feature 11 point-scoring disciplines, six for men – 60m, 800m, 3000m/5000m, pole vault, triple jump and shot put – and five for women – 400m, 1500m, 60m hurdles, high jump and long jump. Each athlete’s best three results will count towards their point score and the athlete with the most points in each discipline at the end of the tour will be declared the winner and receive a US$20,000 bonus. Tour winners will be eligible for wildcard entry into to the World Athletics Indoor Championships Nanjing 2020 on 13-15 March, subject to the approval of their national federation.
From there, the road to Tokyo will become even shorter.
Liam Boylan-Pett for World Athletics