Spikes14 Mar 2016

Let's Take it to the Stage


Portland Indoor Empty Venue

The dress rehearsal is over. Roll on the Portland World Indoor Championships!

Last Friday and Saturday the USATF Indoor Championships took place at the Oregon Convention Center: the same venue that will host the World Indoor Championships, which kick off in Portland on Thursday (March 17). It was a dress rehearsal that had us salivating at the thought of the long weekend in store.

America’s national championships are notoriously tough, yet indoor editions can be a little more tame when athletes opt not to compete for fear of disrupting their outdoor plans. In this, an Olympic year, you might expect this fear to be endemic amongst the American athletes.

Au contraire: by playing host to the world champs, a huge proportion of US athletes were tempted into making a tilt at the team. “It’s too enticing for athletes from this area not to compete,” Dan O’Brien said in commentary on Friday night, a remark that wasn’t just bluster.

California-based Brenda Martinez, who won the 1500m title on Saturday, admits she would have skipped indoors had worlds not been so close to home. “Any time I travel it takes a bit out of me, so if it was on the other side of the world I feel like it would be a no-go,” the 2013 outdoor world 800m bronze medallist told us after her race.

Who needs grammar when you've got athletics?

As we have already discussed, the championship facility in Portland is the only indoor banked 200m track on the whole of America’s west coast. Indeed, Martinez’s training leading into nationals was completed outside. “We don’t have that luxury here on the west coast,” she added.

That fact might not be as disadvantageous as it might immediately appear. There was a sense at the weekend that the American athletes were out there having fun. Outdoor nationals are a serious affair (this year even more so, with athletes vying to book their ticket to Rio), but the novelty of competing indoors engendered a happy-go-lucky attitude among many athletes, something that should not be mistaken for complacency. Sharika Nelvis, for example, said after making it through her 60m hurdle heat that “I can be fun and be focused at the same time”.

It was as if athletes were prepared to try new approaches just to see how things might pan out: Robby Andrews slingshotting off the curve to push Matt Centrowitz all the way in the mens’ 1500m; Sandi Morris passing heights before going over a PB 4.95m in the women’s pole vault; 18-year-old Vashti Cunningham responding to the crowd with every leap in the women’s high jump, ultimately going over 1.99m for an astonishing world lead and a world junior indoor record.

Enjoying the competition is fundamental to performing: not just to doing justice to ability but also to putting on a show. That's what happened at the US nationals and it only bodes well for the worlds, which are now just days away. A championships is always better when the hosts have heroes to cheer, and with a team chock full of high quality athletes itching to compete, Portland will no-doubt deliver on that front.

On the back of her victory, Martinez was raring to go again this weekend. “It’s on the same track, I don’t have to travel anywhere ... Just rest up and get ready to go again.” Her and us both.