When the 2017 IAAF World Indoor Tour kicks off on Saturday (28) afternoon at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, the fans packing the bleachers will be counting the Olympic medallists, a pastime learned over the 125 years of the city’s marathon.
The draw of Olympic stars isn’t the only thing the Reggie Lewis Center’s banked oval shares with the rolling road course from Hopkinton to Boston: it’s also a place which has set up both historically fast marks and masterful competition.
Ace Matt Centrowitz checked all three boxes in 2016. Fast times: check. 'Centro' clocked 3:50.63 indoors in 2016, just a tenth of a second off his outdoor best and the fastest mile of the indoor season. Masterful competition: check. Centrowitz picked up both global 1500m titles on offer in 2016, taking the world indoor title in March and then Olympic gold in August. Medals: check. Even leaving out his 2013 world silver and 2011 bronze, Centrowitz’s 2016 would make him the most decorated US miler alive.
The field lined up to challenge Centro in the men’s mile, the closing event of the meeting, is lighter on medals but not light on intrigue. Vincent Kibet ranked above Centrowitz in the 2016 1500m performance list outdoors, standing 15th, although Kenya’s wealth of milers meant Kibet wasn’t selected to race in Rio. More interesting is Hagos Gebrhiwet, whose bests at the distance aren’t even listed; Gebrhiwet won Olympic silver in the 5000m and has the seventh-best mark of all time in that event.
Both Centrowitz and Gebrhiwet are no strangers to Boston; Centrowitz’s 1000m PB of 2:17.00 was run here in 2015, and Gebrhiwet set a world U20 indoor record of 7:32.87 at 3000m in 2013.
Peruvian Olympian David Torrence and US long-distance standout Ben True will also toe the line in the mile.
Stefanidi vs Suhr
While the long- and middle-distance events have traditionally drawn the crowds in Boston, the event with the most gold is the women’s pole vault. The past two Olympic gold medallists – reigning champion Ekaterini Stefanidi and 2012 victor Jenn Suhr – will be on the runway on Saturday. Suhr has been a longtime favorite in Boston, announcing herself as an international contender at the US Indoor Championships here in 2005. She has owned the world indoor record in the event at 5.02m since 2013.
Suhr was far from her best in Rio, struggling to make the final due to a respiratory infection, but she has thrived in Boston. With a season-opening 4.81m vault two weeks ago and plenty of air between her and the bar, she’ll arrive in good form.
Stefanidi, meanwhile, is on her way up as well. She cleared 4.90m indoors last year and then, of course, left Brazil as Olympic champion. She settled for bronze at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016, and will be opening her 2017 campaign in Boston.
Strong 3000m clashes
There aren’t many other meetings where two 3000m races would be the top draw, but Boston loves their distance runners and the big names have come to compete.
The women’s race may be the most competitive the meeting has seen, with four world-class competitors in the field. Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Shannon Rowbury, and Dawit Seyaum are all slated to line up for 15 circuits, and all are strong contenders.
The distance isn’t home to any of them – only Rowbury, the 2009 world 1500m bronze medallist, contested the event indoor last year – but Hassan, the world indoor 1500m champion, has already run 8:50.36 this year on the oversized track in Seattle. Obiri is the Olympic silver medallist at 5000m, and Seyaum took world indoor 1500m silver behind Hassan last year.
The men’s race, which is not a World Indoor Tour event, carries slightly less weight of medals, but just as tense a competitive match-up. The headline names are Paul Chelimo, Olympic silver medallist at 5000m just ahead of Gebrhiwet, and Clayton Murphy, Olympic bronze medallist at 800m, meeting at a distance almost exactly midway between their respective distances in Rio.
While the edge in such a race is likely to belong to the more experienced Chelimo, the longer Murphy can keep in contact the greater the threat of his superior finishing speed.
It won’t be just a duel, as cross-country ace Garrett Heath will be trying again to bring his success on grass to a smaller and warmer arena.
Highlighting the women’s 800m will be world champion Maryna Arzamasova, who will be challenged by Olympic finalist Lynsey Sharp.
English Gardner will return to the women’s 60m where she won last year, joined by Schillonie Calvert and Octavious Freeman.
On the infield, the men’s high jump is led by 2007 world champion Donald Thomas; the long jump will feature world indoor silver medallist Fabrice Lapierre and 2014 world indoor bronze medallist Michel Torneus; and the women’s triple jump features European champion Patricia Mamona.
Rising stars Lyles and Hill tackle 300m
Outside the World Indoor Tour events, world U20 100m gold medallist Noah Lyles will be contesting the men’s 300m, facing veterans like Vernon Norwood and Calvin Smith. The women’s 300m will feature another U20 gold medallist in Candace Hill.
With an eye on the third edition of the IAAF World Relays set for April, there’s also a women’s distance medley relay on the card. The most notable team features three global medallists: Olympic bronze medallists and training partners Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn (1500m and steeplechase, respectively) with 2013 world 800m bronze medallist Brenda Martinez and Olympic 400m hurdles semi-finalist Sydney McLaughlin rounding out the team.
Now in its second season, the 2017 IAAF World Indoor Tour consists of five meetings where athletes compete for points in designated tour disciplines. At the end of the series, he individual overall winner of each event receives US$20,000 in prize money and a ‘wild card’ entry to the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
Parker Morse for the IAAF
2017 IAAF World Indoor Tour calendar
28 Jan – Boston, USA
1 Feb – Dusseldorf, GER
4 Feb – Karlsruhe, GER
10 Feb – Torun, POL
18 Feb – Birmingham, GBR