On a day dominated by qualifying races in numerous track events, the highlight performances of the first full day of the USA Indoor Championships on Saturday (17) came in two of the men’s jumping events.
The championships, being staged in the 1507-metre altitude of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will select the US team to compete at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 in two weeks.
In a competition of unprecedented depth outside of global championships, four men leaped 8.14m or farther in the long jump. World silver medallist Jarrion Lawson opened with 8.14m but was overtaken by Mike Hartfield’s 8.18m in the next round.
World indoor champion Marquis Dendy opened with 8.09m but fouled his next three attempts, while Jarvis Gotch jumped into contention with 8.14m in round four.
Dendy then produced a seasonal best of 8.22m in round five to take the lead. Lawson responded on his fifth effort with the ultimate winner, 8.38m, just two centimetres shy of the world-leading 8.40m set by South Africa’s world champion Luvo Manyonga.
There were no changes in the final round, meaning Lawson and Dendy booked their spots on the US team for Birmingham. Hartfield and Gotch, despite jumping 8.18m and 8.14m respectively, missed out.
Unheralded Scott Houston proved to be literally an up-and-coming pole vault talent as he sailed over a lifetime best of 5.83m on his first attempt to beat world champion Sam Kendricks.
The 27-year-old Houston had set indoor personal bests of 5.70m and 5.71m on the first two weekends of February leading into this competition. Kendricks initially led the final with first-attempt clearances through to 5.78m. But he then missed all of his shots at 5.83m to end his streak of consecutive US titles at seven, dating back to the 2014 outdoor championships.
North Carolina native Houston, meanwhile, needed a pair of jumps to make 5.68m, but then made the PB settings of 5.73m and 5.78m on his initial efforts. The latter clearance matched his outdoor best, set last season. Eventual third-place finisher Mike Arnold also cleared a PB of 5.78m before missing out at 5.83m.
Yet Houston, wearing yellow knee-high socks, stayed hot as he negotiated 5.83m on his first try, clearing cleanly. He then took a pair of attempts at 5.88m, missing both, before passing his final try.
“Three weeks ago, I had a great opportunity to go over and compete in Germany [in Berlin and Cottbus],” said Houston. “There were a lot of great guys jumping, Olympic and world champions. I got beat pretty bad. But I’ve never felt that you take a loss and tuck your tail down and run home, so I came home and competed less than 24 hours later [setting a then-indoor PB of 5.70m in Lynchburg on 3 February].
“That set me on the path to these national championships,” he added. “Now I just always want to be in the mix.”
Houlihan and Chelimo take 3000m titles
The day’s only track finals came over 3000m. A tactical race ensued in the women’s contest, but just before the final bell, Shelby Houlihan sprinted to the lead ahead of world steeplechase champion Emma Coburn and Katie Mackey.
A 28.83 final lap of the Albuquerque Convention Center’s 200m oval carried Houlihan to victory in 9:00.08 as Mackey (9:01.68) held off Coburn (9:01.85) for the second USA team spot.
“My coach Jerry Schumacher told me that when I made my final move, it had to be quick and decisive,” said Houlihan, who is attempting a 1500m-3000m double this weekend, having won the mile and two-miles last year. “I did that and was able to hold on for the win.”
In the men’s 3000m, Paul Chelimo, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Emmanuel Bor traded the pace-setting for more than 2000 metres. World indoor silver medallist and two-time US indoor champion Ryan Hill kept close contact.
Down the last backstretch, Olympic 5000m silver medallist Chelimo held the lead while Hill sprinted to second just ahead of Kipchirchir. Chelimo used a 26.04 final lap to maintain his margin to win in 7:57.88. Kipchirchir and Hill traded elbows off the final bend, but Kipchirchir prevailed for second, 7:58.42 to 7:58.69.
Big score from Bougard
An outstanding effort came in the women’s pentathlon on Friday (16), a session concentrating solely on the combined events.
World Championships representative Erica Bougard successfully defended her pentathlon title, leading all the way after opening with a 7.98 PB in the 60m hurdles. She high jumped an indoor PB of 1.89m, tossed the shot an outright lifetime best of 12.76m and long jumped 6.20m before finishing with a 2:13.77 clocking in the 800m to score a world-leading 4760.
Bougard, who now moves to second on the US indoor all-time list, outscored the 4508 tallied by her 2017 World Championships teammate Kendell Williams.
World indoor bronze medallist Erik Kynard won his fifth consecutive US indoor high jump title. The 2012 Olympic silver medallist got over 2.30m on his first attempt before bowing out with three misses at 2.33m.
Notable performances in the men’s qualifying rounds included a 6.46 in the 60m by Christian Coleman after the world 100m silver medallist eased up with 20 metres to go. Defending champion Ronnie Baker clocked 6.47 in another heat.
In the 400m, US champion Fred Kerley cruised comfortably yet powerfully to a 45.18 heat win, the fastest of the round by 0.40. Jarret Eaton hurdled 7.53, with Devon Allen next at 7.58, while both Aries Merritt and Aleec Harris clocked 7.66.
In one of the USA’s premier events, the women’s 60m hurdles, Christina Manning (7.84) led the way ahead of outdoor world record-holder Kendra Harrison (7.87), Sharika Nelvis (7.91) and Olympic bronze medallist Kristi Castlin (7.94).
Shakima Wimbley’s 51.39 paced the women’s 400m field by nearly 0.40 ahead of Courtney Okolo (51.75), with co-US leader Georganne Moline and world champion Phyllis Francis also advancing, both with 52.24.
In the 800, a tough qualifying procedure – three heat winners, plus the next three-fastest times to advance – saw world indoor bronze medallist Erik Sowinski lead the way at 1:47.69, with US leader Donavan Brazier also advancing with 1:48.53. But Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy managed to clock only 1:49.25 and didn’t advance.
In the women’s event, world indoor silver medallist Ajee' Wilson eased to a 2:01.85 heat victory. Indoor PBs went to top three finishers in the round: Raevyn Rogers (1:59.99), Ce’Aira Brown (2:01.43) and Kaela Edwards (2:01.49).
Jon Hendershott for the IAAF