Millrose Challengers Shine In Beantown
Jenn Suhr's still flying high and track and field fans love it.
The Olympic champion's pole vault stock keeps rising — and maybe she'll follow recent Dow Jones upsurges into record territory of her own.
After the 31-year-old Rochester, N.Y. resident's 4.76-meter (15-7 1/4) winning pole vault Saturday night at the 18th edition of the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix Classic, she'll head to the Millrose Games at the Amory on Feb. 16 full of new confidence.
"Millrose has been my nemesis in the past, but I'm determined that's going to change," said Suhr after her triumph at the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center.
Everything seems in order for Suhr to deliver a golden performance at Millrose.
She had just one warmup meet before Boston, and cleared 4.63m (15-2 1/4) in a low-key meet last month at the splendid Spire Institute facility in Geneva, Ohio.
After the 4.76 tonight, she upped the bar to the meet record height of 4.90 (16-0 3/4). After one good attempt and one not-really-close one, she called it a day.
"To open this well, I'm very happy the way things went," said Suhr. "So many great things have happened since London. I just want to keep them going."
While she won the Fred Schmertz women's vault title at the 2012 Millrose Games, she wasn't at her best doing it. While the best of the rest in the field, Lacy Janson, was bowing out at 4.52 (14-10), Suhr was soaring over on first attempt and cleared her first attempt at the next bar, 4.58 (15-0 1/4), easily.
But, aiming to please Millrose fans, and add to the legacy of the Fred Schmertz vault event, she missed her three cracks at 4.71 (15-5 1/2), and that's where the "nemesis" call kicked in.
Fortunately, the rest of her 2012 campaign went a whole lot better. Suhr's 4.75 / 15-7 vault clinched the London gold medal and continued her on the way to the world number one ranking for a second consecutive year.
The Suhr story continues to be one of the most laudable in the sport.
As her official bio reads, "Suhr hones her toughness by training all winter in a cold, dimly lit Quonset hut, a long tunnel tacked on for the run-up before the last two steps bring her into the main hut. its windows boarded up to prevent what little warmth is provided by a propane heater.
"'Everything is way outdated, but it's our training place and we love it.'"
Her coach, Rick Suhr, is also the former Jenn Stuczynski's husband. It's a love match that's seen her rise to her sport's greatest heights — despite a series of setbacks with an array of injuries. Another bar she continues to clear is Celiac disease, which she manages by sticking to a gluten-free diet.
She's pain-free these days and planning to rise to even greater heights — world record-heights are good possibilities — in the days ahead.
When Mary Saxer bowed out at 4.65 (15-3) in Boston, and Suhr cleared on first attempt, she was home free. "Can't wait for Millrose," she said. "I know they'll have great fans. I'll be ready to do a lot better than last year."
Of course, of course, Mary Cain can't wait for Millrose, too.
And this time — after lowering the national high school two-mile record to 9:38.68 in Boston (passing 3000 meters en route in 9:04.31) while trailing just two veteran internationalists — the Bronxville High School junior will be back at her favorite one-mile distance.
It was three-time Olympic gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba (winner of the 5k and 10k at Beijing in 2008, the 10 at London last summer) who turned Boston's women's two-mile into a runaway.
By the time the remarkable Dibaba crossed the line in 9:13.17 (8:38.44 through 3,000 meters), the best of the rest of the field was nearly three quarters of a lap in arears.
But the Boston crowd of 4,500 was more wrapped up in Cain's run in that second group as it was in Dibaba's solo performance.
It took an all-out effort by famed Canadian Villanovan Sheila Reid to hold off the sensational Cain, eight years her junior, 9:37.97 to 9:38.68.
A week after she'd shattered the U.S. high school indoor mile record with her 4:32.78 at The Armory in New York, Cain was again at the top of her game. Going through the mile marker in 4:51, she dug down for a negative-split and a 4:47 second mile.
"Before I came here, I'd heard about that young girl (Cain) and seeing her tonight, she is definitely a great talent. She will be good for the sport in America," said Dibaba, through an interpreter.
Gushed Cain: "Oh-my-gosh, it was exciting lining up against all these other great runners; I wasn't really running for a record, I just wanted to have a good race."
Alberto Salazar's New England roots, of course, are deep. He first rose to fame — which would include world record-marathons and a brilliant collegiate career at Oregon — as a Wayland, Mass., high schooler.
So it's always a joy for Salazar — now one of the world's most acknowledged coaching gurus — to return to home territory. Three of his star coaching pupils — Mary Cain, Galen Rupp and Matthew Centrowitz — gave him plenty to smile about.
Oregon-based Salazar coaches Westchester-based Cain by email, video and lots of telephone talk — whatever it takes.
"Our plan (with Cain) is not to go for records," said Salazar. "I told Mary her only job tonight was to compete well. The records will always come, but first will always have to be learning to compete."
Clearly, she's a fast learner.
Salazar has been coaching Rupp since the prodigy was a Portland, Ore., schoolboy phenomenon. And he keeps adding chapters to his portfolio of dazzling deeds.
Eight days earlier, he'd delivered that sensational 3:50.92 mile at Boston University. Back in Boston for the New Balance meet, he gave Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet — an amazing find himself, an 18-year-old who may easily be the next great Ethiopian — a crowd-pleasing battle at 3,000 meters.
They shared the lead much of the way. When Gebrhiwet took his first surge, Rupp gamely tried to cover it.
By the time they'd finished their 15th lap, Gebrhiwet had just enough left to win in 7:32.87. Rupp was right on his heels in 7:33.67 and both dipped under the meet record of 7:34.50 set by Aussie Craig Mottram in 2008.
"Centro" — bronze medalist in the world 1,500-meter final at Daegu in 2011; fourth-placer in the London Olympic 1500 final last summer — has quickly gained a reputation as one of his event's superb tacticians.
And he lived up to all his growing repute with a virtually wire-to-wire 3:56.26 Boston win, coolly holding off Will Leer (3:56.35), Craig Miller (3:56.85) and five others who dipped under 4.
The Centrowitz family tree, as track fans surely know, has deep Manhattan roots, too. It's no wonder, then, that "Centro" and so many others can't wait for Millrose day to arrive.