Walker The Talker: Gabby Thomas Comes Close To History In Action-Packed NYC Meet

Rob Walker reports on a thrilling night on Staten Island
17:30, 14 Feb 2021

A freezing cold Saturday of sport was rounded off perfectly with late-night Athletics action across the Atlantic for the latest instalment of the 2021 World Indoor Tour. 

The famous meet is usually held in Boston's Reggie Lewis Centre, but with the iconic venue currently being used as a vaccination site, some of the world's best found themselves in the excellent temporary home of the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island in New York.

Tim Hutchings had the honour of calling a magnificent world record in the women's 1,500m at Tuesday's French meet. Last night the commentary baton passed to his LA Olympics teammate and good friend Steve Cram.

There was a blistering start with the women's 60m Hurdles, as outdoor world record holder Keni Harrison scorched to a world-leading 7.82. And a promising return to form this year continued for Great Britain's Tiff Porter, an excellent second place equalling her season's best of 7.89 

400m Hurdles World silver medalist Sydney McLaughlin was disappointed to finish last in this shorter discipline and she was a non-starter for the 500m at the end of the evening 

The rarely-run 300m produced one of the fastest performances in history from the in-form 2018 NCAA 200m champion Gabby Thomas. 

Irina Privalova's 35.45 world record dates back to 1993, before 24-year-old Thomas was even born, yet she roared to third on the all-time list with a magnificent 35.73. I wonder what progress she'll make over 400m outdoors this season with that kind of winter speed! 

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If the 300m was impressive, the women's 400m was even better. Olympic champion Shaunae Miller Uibo raced sparingly last year so there was great expectation ahead of her first outing of the season at this distance, and the Bahamian did not disappoint. 

We knew she was in good shape after a 22.40 national indoor record over 200m at the end of last month and she started with intent in New York. Her first lap produced an unofficial split of 21.92, and she finished just a shade outside 50 seconds for a new national record and a place in the top 10 all-time list. She has started her year with a bang over both her sprint distances!

In the two short sprints, American Trayvon Bromell recovered from a slow start to power his way through to take the men's 60m in 6.50, while in the women's race, favourite Aleia Hobbs was disqualified after twitching in the blocks, so Kayla White took advantage for victory from lane two in 7.15.

With so many global sprint stars in action on Staten Island, it was easy to forget the quality of the line-ups were also truly world class for the longer track races.  

Records galore came tumbling down in the women's two-mile race. After a 4.41 opening mile, the platform had been laid for a series of big personal bests and national records throughout the field.

American Elle Purrier showed great strength to finish in 9.10.28 for third on the all-time list behind the brilliant Ethiopian duo of Genzebe Dibaba and Meseret Defar. 

Steeplechaser Emma Coburn had a fine run for second, and there were national records for Canada's Julie-Anne Staehli in third, and Great Britain's Amy Eloise Markovc in seventh, her 9.30.69 eclipsing Jo Pavey's mark of 9.32 set back in 2007.

Colorado-based Australian Oliver Hoare overhauled European and Commonwealth medalist Jake Wightman on the last lap of a very high quality men's 1,500m. His 3.32.35 was a personal best, indoors and out, and a national record, a clear step up in class that many have been predicting for a while. 

Wightman hung on for second and only just missed out on Peter Elliot's British record from 1990. His 3.34.48 indoor PB was a fine run nonetheless. 

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Talented American teammates and rivals Bryce Hoppel and Donavan Brazier won the men's 1,000m and 800m respectively, both producing North American records. Great Britain's Charlie Grice ran a national record for third behind Hoppel over the longer event, while Brazier in particular looked really sharp over the 800m, taking one hundredth of a second off his own record for 1.44.21. Great Britain's Jamie Webb was rewarded with a lifetime best of 1.46.26 in second.  

Ajee Wilson made it an American double over the four-lap indoor event with a sub 2.02 victory, while Great Britain's Isabelle Boffey almost found a way through on the inside round the final bend. She hung on for third with a big PB of 2.02.45, a very encouraging performance so early in the year.

The pick of the field event action saw two further American victories, with Trey Culver taking the men's high jump courtesy of a meeting record 2.33, whilst Sandi Morris won the women's pole vault, clearing 4.60.

All in all a hugely successful evening for meet organiser Mark Wetmore, who saved the biggest sprint names for last with the men's 200m and 400m rounding off a thoroughly enjoyable night in New York.  

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Reigning 200m world champion Noah Lyles had warmed up for the penultimate event with a solid 6.76 in the heats of the men's 60m, yet by his own very high standards he looked underwhelmed with both performance and time over his favoured distance.

He took the win in 20.80 but was made to work for it over the final 50m. No need for alarm bells yet though, he is arguably the sport's biggest showman since the retirement of Usain Bolt and there's a long way to go before he needs to hit his peak in 2021. 

So it was up to good friends Rai Benjamin and Michael Norman to finish with a flourish over the 400m. And they did! No one has ever run quicker than Norman indoors over 400m, whilst Benjamin is joint-third on the all-time list over the 400m Hurdles. A fascinating battle ensued.

Side by side round the last bend, Norman continued his unbeaten streak against his teammate, winning in 45.34, but Benjamin will take great confidence from finishing just five one-hundredths of a second behind his housemate. There’s plenty more to come from those two this year, you suspect.

It was a fitting end to an excellent night in New York.....The Tour returns to Europe on Wednesday for a high-quality meet in Torun, Poland.

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