The Five Best Men's Matchups At U.S. Indoors

Though there are no team spots on the line, the U.S. indoor championships do offer a better payday than most domestic-only track meets, with $6,000 for first place, $4,000 for second, $2,500 for third, $1,500 for fourth, and $1,000 for fifth. That, along with the opportunity to be a U.S. champion, has brought decent fields to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for this weekend's nationals. Our women's preview is here; these are the five best men's matchups.

1. Ronnie Baker vs. the all-time books

Baker recently ran 6.46 in Poland, tied for the 24th-fastest performance in world history and just 0.07 seconds off the world record. In an event as short as the 60 meters, obviously, seven-hundredths of a second is pretty significant. But the NCAA deems the altitude of Albuquerque to be worth roughly two-hundredths of a second; if Baker runs 6.44 in ABQ, he'd tie Asafa Powell for the No. 5 spot on the all-time list. 

Powell's two 6.44s in last year's world championship semifinal and heat are the fastest times in the world since Dwain Chambers ran 6.42 in 2009. Baker is not far from that rarified air, and he might get an assist from some thin air this weekend.

2. Cas Loxsom vs. Donavan Brazier

Loxsom and Brazier have each run one 600 this season. Brazier's was an underwhelming, bizarre race, after which he said that he knew Duane Solomon was disqualified right after the start. And Loxsom's was, well, the best 600 anyone's ever run indoors.

But Brazier has run 1:43.55 in the 800 and split 45.9 seconds in the 4x400. Loxsom might be perfectly built for the 600, but a guy who can run 45 and 1:43 can almost by default challenge even the best indoor 600 meter runner ever. 

And Emmanuel Korir showed earlier this year that a 600m world record was possible at the Albuquerque Convention Center. (His 1:14.97 lasted a week as the WR before Loxsom ran 1:14.91.) If Loxsom or Brazier (or, say, former 400m runner Chris Giesting) opts to take it out hard, the world record could go down for the third time in 2017.

3. Clayton Murphy vs. Robby Andrews

The last time Murphy raced a 1500m Olympian in a 1K, he beat eventual Rio gold medalist Matt Centrowitz in 2:20 at the American Track League. After finishing a well-beaten 12th in a deep 3K to open the season, Murphy has been sharper, most recently finishing second (and beating Andrews) in the Wanamaker mile. There, Murphy ran 3:54 and Andrews ran 3:47.

So, Murphy is the Olympic bronze medalist in the 800 and just smoked Andrews in a mile, so he's a lock in a 1K, right? Probably. But Andrews has shown an affinity for the kilo for years. His 2:17.90 indoor PR is No. 4 in U.S. history, and he is still the high school national record holder in the event. It would be an upset, but not a huge one, if Andrews knocked off Murphy for the win here.

4. Evan Jager vs. the pure milers

Jager is not a pure miler, but his 3:32 1500m PB makes him an instant title contender in any domestic field that doesn't include Matt Centrowitz.

This field doesn't include Centro, but it does include five of the next eight finishers at last summer's Olympic Trials 1500m final: Robby Andrews, Ben Blankenship, Leo Manzano, Johnny Gregorek, and Kyle Merber. Merber and Gregorek have been running particularly well this indoor season, running 3:52.22 and 3:53.15 to become performers Nos. 5 and 10 on the U.S. all-time list.

Lopez Lomong is the only man in the field who has ever run faster than Merber's time in Boston, and he's showed decent mile form this season--he and Jager crossed the line together in Seattle last month in 3:56.55.

Merber's mile is the best performance in the field this indoor season. But second might be Blankenship's 3:36.42 1500m in Birmingham, and Blankenship and Andrews were head and shoulders above this field last outdoor season. Those three and Jager are the favorites, but weird things can happen in a distance race at altitude.

5. Paul Chelimo vs. Ryan Hill vs. Woody Kincaid vs. Ben Blankenship

Chelimo hasn't raced since February 4, but based on the form he showed last outdoor season and this indoor season (two 3K wins in 7:42 and 7:45), he's the favorite in the 2-mile. But Hill and Kincaid are coming out of the deepest U.S. indoor 5K ever, where they basically ran their last 3K in 7:45. Hill ran 13:07 to become the No. 6 American ever indoors.

Kincaid is the feel-good story of the indoor season. He graduated from the University of Portland with a 13:32 5K PR and cut that to 13:26 last summer. He then ran 13:12 behind that race in Hill in Boston, putting him at No. 8 on the U.S. all-time list. (Though he is just No. 4 on the Bowerman Track Club indoor 5K list, behind Lomong, Hill, and Chris Derrick. He beat Lomong and Derrick in that race, though.) 

Hill had the upper hand over Chelimo last indoor season, outkicking him for a U.S. 3K title and then taking silver at world indoors while Chelimo was only seventh. But Chelimo is on another level now after his Olympic silver medal, and if anyone beats him, even a clearly fit Hill, that would be an upset.

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