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Elite Athletes Dazzle Capacity Crowd at Pre Classic
By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Statesman Journal
July 3, 2010

Nick Symmonds talking to his coach Mark Rowland

EUGENE - The sun came out Saturday just in time to greet the world’s best track and field athletes at the 36th Annual Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene. Judging by the 12 meet records and five world leading marks established before a 15th consecutive Pre sellout crowd, the inaugural appearance of the new IAAF Diamond League series in Eugene was a big success.

One of the most noteworthy and crowd-pleasing performances on this day was one that didn’t result in a victory. Andrew Wheating, running for the final time in a University of Oregon uniform, came from way back in the field to finish as the top American and take fifth place in the Nike Men’s Bowerman Mile in a stunning time of 3:51.74, breaking Joaquim Cruz’s 26-year-old UO record of 3:53. Wheating’s time was more than a seven-second personal record, and afterward he was basking in the crowd’s cheers.

“It was unbelievable,” Wheating said after the race, which included seven of the top ten 1500 meter runners in the world last year. “I thought the NCAAs were great, but this was amazing. I think I can run with the big dogs.”

Andrew Wheating

As impressive as his last lap was, Wheating couldn’t catch the leaders in the race, however, and favorite Asbel Kiprop of Kenya held on for the win in 3:49.75, as ten runners dipped under the four minute mark. Former world champion Bernard Lagat was ninth.

Earlier, David Oliver blew away the 110 meter hurdle field, winning by .26 seconds and tieing the existing American record of 12.90. Taking the lead from the start and running a very clean race, Oliver became the third-fastest high hurdler of all time. With his victory last week in the U.S. nationals, Oliver is one the verge of becoming the dominant hurdler in the world.

The field in the women’s 100 meters was likened to that of an Olympic final. Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown showed her veteran mettle in blasting out to a narrow lead at the start and refusing to give it up, winning in a world-leading and meet record time of 10.78. Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica and Carmelita Jeter of the U.S. were on her heels throughout the race, finishing in 10.82 and 10.83, respectively.

Javelin thrower Kara Patterson, a native of Vancouver, Washington, continued her hot streak at the Pre Classic, upsetting world record holder Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic in the event. Last week Patterson set a new American record at the U.S. nationals, and on Saturday she backed that up with a winning mark of 216-2, the second-best throw ever by an American

The men’s 5,000 meters had been billed before the meet as a chance to dip under the 13-minute mark for the first time on American soil. With the 12,864 in attendance on their feet and urging the runners on, the top two placers finished just under 13 minutes. Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia won in 12:58.93, edging countryman Dejen Gebremeskel, who ran 12:59.30. The top American in the race was Chris Solinsky, who finished seventh in 13:08.11, well off his personal best of 12:56.66 set last month in Oslo.

The women’s 5,000 was also won by an Ethiopian, multiple gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba, who cruised to an easy win in a new meet record of 14:34.07. American Shalane Flanagan broke away from a pack and looked strong over the last two laps of the race, taking second in 14:49.08.

A.J. Acosta in the interview tent

American women also made a statement in the women’s 800, as four American runners dipped under two minutes. 2010 NCAA champion Phoebe Wright of Tennessee led the way, placing fourth in 1:58.22, a personal best by more than two seconds. Alysia Johnson, Anna Pierce and Maggie Vessey also went sub-2:00 in the race won by Mariya Savinova in a world-leading 1:57.56, which also broke Maria Mutola’s long-standing meet record by one-hundredth of a second.

Savinova’s performance was a bit surprising, as she just arrived in the U.S. on Friday morning and admitted to a severe case of jet lag, noting after her race that “it is one in the morning in Russia right now.”

Allyson Felix, who won the 100 meters last week at the national championship, showed her sprint versatility at the Pre by stepping up to the 400 meters and winning a close race in 50.27. Felix said she had hoped to run faster, but the wind on the backstretch took a lot out of her.

“The wind kind of knocked me out of my race,” Felix said. “My strength is there, I just need to work on my speed a little bit more.”

2009 World Champion Christian Cantwell of the U.S. led from start to finish in the shot put. His winning mark of 73-6.25 came on his last throw.

Lashinda Demus looked strong again in winning the 400 meter intermediate hurdles in a meet record of 53.03.

The men’s International Mile, held early in the meet, was highlighted by ten runners going under the 4-minute mark, the same number as in the featured Bowerman Mile. The race was won by Ryan Gregson of Australia in 3:53.19, with Oregon junior A.J. Acosta finishing very strong to take second in a five-second personal best (and number three all-time on the Oregon list) of 3:53.76.


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