Two world indoor bests highlighted the first full day of competition at the US Indoor Championships, staged in the 1561m altitude of Albuquerque, New Mexico on Saturday (4).
World U20 100m champion Noah Lyles won a thrillingly-close 300m contest in 31.87 to snip 0.01 off the indoor fastest-ever, while Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry whirled the 20lb (6kg) weight out to a prodigious 25.60m – 84 feet even – to better the former world best of 25.56m only six days short of its 10th anniversary.
Just 19, Lyles is in his first season as a professional. A 33.18 sprinter over the lap-and-a-half last winter, Lyles improved his best to 32.67 in late January and then set a meeting record of 32.16 in winning his heat on the Albuquerque Convention Center oval.
For the two-section final (the fastest four qualifiers ran in the second race), Lyles drew lane five, a bit better suited to his long-legged frame. Unheralded Paul Dedewo, on the outside in lane six, led Lyles until the pair came off the final turn. Lyles got a margin of perhaps one step, which he held to the line as he dipped across to lower the 31.88 indoor best set back in 2007 by Wallace Spearmon. Dedewo, a 45.41 400m sprinter outdoors, clocked 31.92 to move to third on the world indoor all-time list.
“I definitely felt like I was coming in here ready to run,” Lyles said, flashing his trademark broad smile. “My coach [Lance Brauman] and I have been doing a lot of both endurance and speed work, but truthfully I just felt ready in all my practices, so I was really confident in what I could do.
“Coach always says to just keep your composure and I know if I [do that], the competition might die out. I have really good confidence in my endurance, so I knew if I just pumped hard and kept my stride, I’d be good.
“The other competitors, especially Paul [Dedewo], helped set this record. I’m so excited! I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”
Berry beats back injury and decade-old mark
The 27-year-old Berry, who owns a 73.81m hammer throw PB from 2013, had previously thrown the weight a farthest of 24.70m in this arena to win the 2013 US indoor title. She improved that to 24.77m in her lone meet of 2017 at the start of February. In this competition, she opened with a 25.22m PB, then backed that up with a 25.21m on her second effort.
But she saved the best for last as she spun the ball-and-handle out to the record 25.60m on her sixth throw to bring down the 25.56m former best set in 2007 by Brittany Riley. Seeing the measurement, Berry leaped into the air, pumped her arms then ran and jumped into the arms of coach John Smith.
“I really didn’t know what I had in me," said Berry, who won the title by more than a metre ahead of the 24.30m by Olympic hammer teammate Deanna Price. "I really injured my back four weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I wasn’t even going to come to [this meet]. But I fought it out and my coach told me I was in good shape despite my injury. I just came out and fought. I can’t describe it.”
“I knew I could go over 80 feet [24.38m], but the record… you know, I’ve dreamed about it this whole year. But after my injury I really didn’t think I had it in me.”
Kendricks tops 5.85m, two titles for Bougard
Even if no national team spots were to be earned, there were US titles to claim. A dozen were up for grabs at this first session of the indoor nationals.
Olympic bronze medallist Sam Kendricks cleared seven of his eight heights on his first attempt in the pole vault, eventually getting cleanly over 5.85m by a wide margin for the victory in his first competition of the season. “My goal today was 5.85m and that’s why I had the bar specifically put there,” he said. “That’s what won the European Championships and I wanted to be on a par with those guys.”
Erica Bougard, another first-year pro, long jumped 6.44m on the competition’s concluding leap to edge out the 6.42m produced by Jessie Gaines on the jump just before. Bougard thus won her second title in as many nights after taking the pentathlon on Friday with 4558. She led the five-eventer all the way, logging the top efforts in the 60m hurdles (8.21), high jump (1.87m) and long jump (6.18m).
Unheralded shot putter Darien Moore came into the meeting with a 19.37m indoor best (20.33m outdoor PB last year). He opened at 20.10m and then, after two fouls, he powered the ball out to 20.78m on his fourth effort to outdistance the 20.53m opener hit by Jon Jones. Veteran Ryan Whiting reached just 19.30m to place eighth in the nine-thrower field.
Olympic 5000m silver medallist Paul Chelimo ran away from the two-mile field after just a few laps and eventually won by nearly 50 metres in 8:28.53. He was more than 10 seconds ahead of Woody Kincaid (8:38.66), who outsprinted world indoor 3000m silver medallist Ryan Hill (8:38.81) for second.
Olympic 4x400m gold medallist Phyllis Francis took the 300m title in the second-fastest US time ever of 36.15, just 0.03 ahead of Joanna Atkins whose 36.18 moved her to third on the US indoor all-time list. World U20 100m champion Candace Hill clocked a world indoor U20 best of 36.56 in the other 300m section.
Other winners included Erik Kynard in the high jump at 2.30m and La’Derrick Ward in the long jump with 7.93m. Japheth Cato won the heptathlon with 5738, John Nunn the two-mile race walk in 12:38.37 while Shelby Houlihan won the women’s mile in 4:45.18.
Strong middle distances on tap
In qualifying heats for Sunday’s finals, world indoor 800m silver medallist Ajee' Wilson paced the 600m at 1:26.57, just 0.01 off her own meeting record. In the 1000m, Sharlene Lipsey clocked 2:41.86 in the first heat, while the second prelim went to world U20 800m champion Sammy Watson, who timed 2:43.18 to set a US high school record.
In the men’s 600m, world indoor 800m bronze medalist Erik Sowinski led the way with a PB of 1:15.51. Donavan Brazier, national U20 800m record-setter outdoors last year with his 1:43.55, was second-fastest at 1:16.02, with world best setter Casimir Loxsom the fifth-fastest qualifier at 1:16.14, setting the stage for an ultra-competitive final.
Olympian Andrew Wheating was fastest in the 1000m heats at 2:21.56, just 0.01 ahead of Olympic 800m bronze medallist Clayton Murphy with 1500m Olympian Robby Andrews next at 2:21.80.
Jon Hendershott for the IAAF