The athletes are already arriving here for the kickoff to the 2019 IAAF World Indoor Tour on Saturday evening (26). But with the collegiate season well underway in North America and a top invitational wrapping up just on the other side of Boston as this meet gets started, what feels like an opening to the professionals can also feel like merging into already-moving traffic – it all depends on your frame of reference.
The men’s mile, for example, will put its winners at the top of the World Indoor Tour by default – but one of the contenders, two-time world indoor 3000m champion Yomif Kejelcha, has already run 3:52.61 this season, albeit on an oversized track in Seattle.
Kejelcha might be the established one if we’re talking about this season, but he’s still a newcomer when his neighbour on the starting line is Nick Willis. Approaching 36, Willis has Olympic medals from 2008 and 2016, more than a few victories in this very meet, and the world-leading 1500m time… outdoors, at 3:41.70, from a meet in his home of New Zealand.
Tour title chase begins
Kejelcha and Willis are just two of the stars who will set out in their chase for World Indoor Tour title honours in this season's 11 point-scoring disciplines, a quest that concludes with a US$20,000 prize and a wildcard entry into the IAAF World Indoor Championships Nanjing 2020. Over the course of 26 action-packed days, the series will include stops in Karlsruhe (2 February), Torun (6 February), Madrid (8 February) and Birmingham (16 February) before reaching its final destination Düsseldorf on 20 February where the series winners will be crowned.
The women have a richer menu of World Indoor Tour events, including two field events. Boston has been a favourite vaulting site, and several women who vaulted at the Pole Vault Summit last week in Reno, Nevada, have come east to jump again. Most notable, of course, is Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, but Katie Nageotte, who equalled Stefanidi’s best clearance in Reno, will also be vaulting again in Boston.
Germany's 2015 world shot put champion Christina Schwanitz has the only mark beyond 19 metres so far in 2019, making her easily the class of the field in that event.
Part of the heritage of indoor athletics is non-standard race distances, a reminder of the days when indoor tracks hadn’t standardised at 200m and were sized to whatever fit in their arena. The women’s 600m in Boston isn’t even the oddest distance on the timetable – that honour goes to the 500m – but it will bring together aces from the 800m and 400m in a race which is either too short or too long, depending, again, on where it’s seen from.
Raevyn Rodgers and Lynsey Sharp have identical 800m PBs outdoors (1:57.69) but they’ll both be figuring out the rhythm of 400m hurdles specialist Georganne Moline.
McLaughlin to debut over 500m
Step down another hundred meters to the women’s 500m and you meet U20 star Sydney McLaughlin, who was part of a distance medley relay quartet that set a world best at this meet in 2017, in her first race in the senior ranks. But if her race on Saturday tells us anything about what she can do in 2019, it will be indirectly; McLaughlin won’t even score tour points, since the 600m is the tour event.
Jenny Simpson is likely to be the class of the field in the women’s 5000m, but at the opposite end of the distance spectrum, the 60m has plenty of familiar names – Michelle-Lee Ahye and Schillonie Calvert-Powell, just to name two – but few who have posted representative marks so far this year.
The other men’s events for the World Indoor Tour will be the 60m hurdles, which will include the second through fifth-fastest men so far in 2019 in Aaron Mallet, Freddie Crittenden, Jarret Eaton, and Josh Thompson, and the 400m, where Kyle Collins has the best time in the field this year at 46.63, but all four entrants are likely to set season’s bests.
Outside the World Indoor Tour events, a few more athletes stand out.
Seyaum and Coburn head strong women's mile field
Simpson’s fellow global medallist and sometime training partner Emma Coburn is venturing outside her comfort zone in a crowded mile field which includes multi-time Boston winner Dawit Seyaum and 2013 world 800m silver medallist Brenda Martinez.
The women’s 300m will feature Gabrielle Thomas, whose collegiate career was carried out across the Charles River from Boston at Harvard, and who won the 200m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne last summer. She'll face Kendall Ellis, the 2018 NCAA 400m champion. The men's 300m features 400m hurdles standout Rai Benjamin.
Olympic 800m bronze medallist and US champion Clayton Murphy will face last year’s event winner and US indoor champion Donavan Brazier. Brazier sits at No.2 on the North American indoor all-time list after coming within 0.10 of the continental record held by Johnny Gray last year.
Finally, the men’s 3000m will be a rematch between last year’s mile winner, Edward Cheserek, and the meeting record-holder, Hagos Gebrhiwet.
Those looking behind the presumptive favorites for a more sentimental choice, however, might be pulling for Adel Mechaal, who raced from the front last year and looked ready to steal the race outright before Cheserek and Gebrhiwet launched their battle in earnest. For a distance runner, is it better to set a hard pace in the middle of the race and finish fourth, or lead for a few seconds but break the tape first? It all depends on your frame of reference.
Parker Morse for the IAAF