Thursday, February 23, 2012
Simplot 2012: Wilson's legacy grows; rising distance aces have their covers blown
By Rich Gonzalez
(POCATELLO, Idaho) -- One of the fastest teenagers on the planet cheerfully shared the stage with a brand new collection of athletes destined to become household names in 2012.
Trinity Wilson -- the St. Mary's High (Berkeley, Calif.) hurdling phenom who last July won the gold medal at the World Youth Championships in Lille, France -- captured her meet record fourth individual hurdles championship to headline Saturday's action at the Simplot Games indoor track and field meet.
Wilson's 8.23 clocking in the 60-meter hurdles sheared another five-hundredths of a second off of her lifetime best as she rose to #2 on the all-time lists, trailing only Jacquelyn Coward's 8.16 national record scorcher from the 2008 edition of the Simplot Games.
"I love competing here, it's an amazing experience," said Wilson amid a series of question-and-answer sessions from a phalanx of media members and one distinguished new friend -- more on that later.
"Ever since I was a freshman, this has always been a great place to compete for me."
Undoubtedly, it is for others as well.
With a grand total of 522 DyeStatElite marks (individual events only; Canadian marks not included), the Simplot Games re-affirmed its status as among nation's premier regular season indoor meets, with its DSE tally ranking second nationally thus far this winter. In fact, the final DyeStatElite meet tally is also the largest in the Simplot Games' illustrious history.
The effects of altitude -- less wind resistance in the air due to the "thinner" air at such elevations -- have always served as a magnet to attract top hurdlers, dashers and horizontal jumpers to Pocatello each winter. Those same effects have often kept top distance runners away; such conditions also deny the vital sources of oxygen that prove beneficial to those in aerobic, stamina-based events.
Simplot's 2012 solution to combat the reluctance of top multi-lappers trekking across country to Idaho for the three-day meet?
Simple: Rely on home-grown and nearby talent.
Pocatello-based distance runners Dallin Farnsworth of Highland and Elijah Armstrong of Pocatello HS led a historic 3200-meter clash while Davis' Brad Nye (Kaysville, Utah) and Twin Falls' Erik Harris (Twin Falls, Idaho) each made the two-hour drive to produce a sensational 1600-meter duel, creating four names which only the shrewdest of distance aficionados would have previously identified as top-tier distance talents nationally.
Internationally, Canada's Tyler Smith also stamped his name on the distance scene with a scintillating meet record 1:49.46 sizzler in the 800-meter run.
Now each of their secretive covers are blown.
Aside from New Jersey's Edward Cheserek, no true distance runner (1600 meters and up) on the male side has produced more quality efforts this winter than the BYU-signed Nye.
Although he arrived here as the national leader (4:13.56) in the 1600 this season, on the surface that performance would only rank as solid, but not overly notable. But what made that mark truly impressive is that it came at altitude in a Utah meet.
Using the time-tested time conversions for distance marks achieved at various altitudes, Nye's performance there would've already translated to sub-4:10 at sea-level type conditions, where a majority of national meets are contested.
In short, he was the clear favorite, despite not being that well known outside the his neighboring states.
Content to let Haven Shelton (Pleasant Grove HS, Utah) set the pace early with a 2:09.1 halfway split, both Nye and Harris remained within striking distance, with Harris then seizing the lead -- and Nye in close tow -- as 400 meters (two laps) remained. Biding his time, Nye finally pounced on Harris with authority along the backstretch of the final lap, preening his way into the lead and setting off to victory in a nation-leading 1600 clocking of 4:12.39.
The BYU-signed Harris also rose to the occasion to produce the best performance of his indoor career in 4:13.66, the #3 mark in the nation this year and more than three seconds faster than his best last year.
"It helped that (Shelton) got us out to 800 meters in good time," said Nye. "My plan was to take the lead with 400 to go… but it looked like Erik had the same idea. After that, I just knew I needed to move really hard in the backstretch."
Nye's shifting of gears along the backstretch revealed a new level of power and fitness, one which also also helped forged his name alongside the greatest name in Utah prep miling history: Luke Puskedra.
The only Utah prep to ever run faster than Nye for 1600 meters, Puskedra (4:10.58 to set the Simplot Games record) matriculated to the University of Oregon, where he has gone on to win multiple All-American accolades.
A year ago, Nye was running in the low 4:20s indoors, but that has all changed. On average, he is clocking 8 to 9 seconds faster than last year in each barometer race.
"I attribute it a lot to a change in attitude," said Nye. "A year older, a year more of experience, winning the state title in the 800… It has just made he open my eyes. I'm trying to set myself up for a monster outdoor season."
On the topic of all-time state greats and monster seasons, Harris also fits the bill. His 4:13.66 indoors is among the fastest handful of 1600-meter times in Idaho state history, with Gene Betancourt's outdoor state record of 4:10.95 set in 1999 being ripe for the picking this spring. Harris courted 1:54.79 leg speed for 800 last spring, but appears even sharper in 2012.
In a boon year for distance excellence within the state, the Pocatello-based duo of Farnsworth and Armstrong coupled with Harris should give distance fans plenty of thrills in the months -- and in Armstrong's case, years -- to come.
Farnsworth, younger brother to another former state standout (Taylor), was situated as the pre-meet favorite after his fine 9:17.99 performance for two miles at the New Balance Boise Indoor meet three weeks prior. But Armstrong -- sixth in age among seven talented siblings with strong roots in the sport of wrestling -- lent plenty of intrigue to the race, being perhaps the nation's top ninth grader at 3200 meters for 2011-2012.
Through 2400 meters, Armstrong impressively shadowed the more-experienced Farnsworth, who flashed consecutive 800-meter splits of 2:15.6, 2:19.8 and 2:19.7. But with four laps remaining, Farnsworth summoned the reserve strength to close in 2:15.2. That burst was enough to finally jettison Armstrong, who still clocked a fabulous 9:21.30, the 11th-fastest mark in the nation this year.
Farnsworth already owned the state outdoor 3200 mark at 9:03.41 (set last year at the Arcadia Invitational in California) and added the indoor mark to his résumé with the effort this weekend. In the process, he also submarined Utah prep legend Josh Rohatinsky as the meet record holder. Next up will be his bid to break nine minutes at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York in Mid-March.
Armstrong recorded the fastest freshman time in state history with his effort and will be eying a trip to Southern California in search of additional improvement/experience in early April.
But it was the Canadian Smith who really had the crowd in a frenzy with a 1:49.46 blazer for 800 meters to humble U.S. #2 Strymar Livingston of Christopher Columbus HS (Bronx, NY) by more than two seconds. Smith's hoped-for success last spring was derailed when a bout of pneumonia severely weakened him during Arcadia week.
"I want to bounce back and make a statement," said Smith, who spent several minutes sprawled on all fours after his energy-sapping race here. "I want to be the best."
While he may be the best for 800 meters, Trinity Wilson may be the best prep across the board.
Despite not having an ideal start, the St. Mary's sensation exploded down the wooden straightaway and charged across the five flights of hurdles with sheer precision, beginning to pull away from chief nemesis Dior Hall of George Washington (Denver, Colo.) coming off the fourth barrier. Wilson remained pristine, blurring to an 8.23 burner than ranked second only to Jacqueline Coward's meet and U.S record 8.16. Hall, who clubbed the fifth hurdle hard, struggled to an 8.97 after ripping an 8.30 in prelims.
"I knew I'd have a challenge, but I just wanted to run a clean race… get (my lead leg) down quickly," said Wilson, the World Youth Championships high hurdles gold medalist in France last summer. "I got up this morning and it was like, "I'm going to run well, I can feel it.' "
Wilson is mapping out a schedule which continues with the indoor nationals in New York in three weeks, followed by her outdoor opener at Arcadia, then a series of postseason high school meets leading up to the state championships.
But Wilson, who owns the second-fastest time in World Youth history (13.11 across the 30-inch hurdles used for international competition), is looking ahead to the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene this summer, when the 33-inch hurdles are used. Her lifetime best of 13.15 at that height already satisfies the Olympic Trials provisional standard 13.15, but still has work to do in order to secure the automatic standard of 13.00.
"My big goal is to be capable of getting into the Olympic Trials Final," said Wilson. "First I want to compete in the Trials, then -- given the chance -- make the most of it."
It took a wind-aided 12.95 seconds for a hurdler to make the last Olympic Trials final in 2008, and 13.42 was required to advance from the first round into the semifinals. At last year's California state meet, Wilson clocked a wind legal 13.41.
For Wilson, a senior who earlier this month signed on with UCLA on full scholarship, among her newest fans is none other than former Bruin and current world 400-meter hurdles record holder Kevin Young, among the Simplot Games honorees this weekend. Young spent a few minutes counseling Wilson after her race, emphasizing the need to establish a strong support system once she hits college.
Young recalled his collegiate days at the UCLA campus, including a few nights being in tears on the infield of an empty Drake Stadium track, frustrating by occasional setbacks during his career.
"Set your goals as often as you can, as big as you can," Young implored Wilson. "And have outlets. Have a family member, a close friend in college that you can vent to. When things go wrong and you hit a bump in the road, you need to let it out and then get back to work."