Brazier Tops Murphy, Fast Miles Highlight NB Grand Prix

(c) 2019 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved 

BOSTON (26-Jan) -- A pair of fast miles and an entertaining two-man battle in the 800-meters were the key highlights of the distance program of today's 24th New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center here today.  Tonight's meet was the first stop of the 2019 IAAF World Indoor Tour.

In the Tommy Leonard men's mile, named for the recently deceased founder of the Falmouth Road Race, two-time world indoor 3000m champion Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia ran a world-leading 3:51.70, an Ethiopian record and 2019 world leader. Kejelcha, who trains with the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, Ore., took the lead after only three laps when the pacemaker, James Randon, dropped out earlier than planned. The tall Ethiopian was shadowed by Kenya's Bethwell Birgen until there were two laps to go, then took off and ran alone to the finish. Birgen finished second in a personal best 3:54.82.

It wasn't clear if Kejelcha was happy with his performance or not. Speaking English without the aid of an interpreter, he first said, "I'm happy," but then shook his head in frustration. He later said he hoped to break 3:50. "Always my dream to make world record," he said.

In the women's mile, Canadian Olympian Gabriela Stafford showed an excellent combination of tactics and speed to win in a world-leading 4:24.80, a Canadian indoor record. Stafford, who was recently married, stayed in the front of the large 15-woman field and avoided a few minor tripping incidents which took place behind her.

"It was all good," Stafford said of her position. "It was a pretty smooth ride."

Following pacemaker Samantha Murphy, Stafford was joined by Ethiopia's Dawit Seyaum and former University of New Hampshire star Elinor Purrier through the halfway mark. After Murphy dropped, Stafford stayed close to Seyaum who took over the lead. Stafford didn't take the lead until the final lap where Seyaum faded, but Purrier launched a homestretch charge almost passing the Canadian on the outside. At the tape, Purrier was just 8/100ths of a second behind setting a personal best time of 4:24.88.

Stafford was elated.

"Awesome!" Stafford exclaimed, when asked how she felt about winning. "I mean, it was such a great field, so many talented women. To come away with the win is really good for my confidence now."

Purrier was also happy with how she raced, citing a recent training stint at altitude with her Team New Balance coach Mark Coogan.

"We spent some time out at altitude camp and was really working hard with my team, getting in some good workouts," she told Race Results Weekly. "Yeah. I just think the hard work led up to that."

The next five women --Seyaum (4:26.84), Cory McGee (4:28.07), Yolanda Ngarambe (4:28.30), Ciara Mageean (4:28.31), and Brenda Martinez (4:29.11)-- all broke 4:30. Ngarambe, a Swede who competes for the Atlanta Track Club, set the Swedish indoor record, while Mageean, an Irishwoman, broke her own national indoor record. Emma Coburn, the reigning world steeplechase champion, finished 10th in 4:32.68.

In the men's 800m, Nike Oregon Project teammates Clayton Murphy and Donavan Brazier traded their usual places on the track. Murphy, a crafty racer and a terrific kicker, chose to run from the front tonight while Brazier, typically a front-runner, chose to hang back. Murphy ran right behind the pacemaker, Peter Girardi, through the halfway point (51.58 seconds) and felt a little awkward to be in that position.

"It was kind of out of my comfort zone," Murphy told Race Results Weekly. "It's probably only one of the first races I took it from the gun. It's one tough way to run."

Brazier was close behind Murphy and was content to let his teammate do the work.

"I used him more this time, you know what I mean?" Brazier said, looking slightly embarrassed. "I was like, if I don't take the lead the whole race it will be easier."

Murphy led through 600-meters and Spain's Saul Ordoñez made a brief move to second place ahead of Brazier. But Brazier stayed patient and didn't show his cards until he moved outside coming around the final bend and tried to get around Murphy who fought hard to hold him off. Brazier barely nipped Murphy at the line, stopping the clock at 1:45.91, a world-leader, just 3/100ths of a second ahead of Murphy.

"It worked out," Brazier said, still glistening with sweat. "I don't know if I will do it again."

In the women's 5000m, which featured 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson, the race didn't go according to form. The small pack of five contenders didn't go with pacemaker Jessica Teal, who ran four of her eight laps in the 37.5-second range, on pace for a 15:38 finish time.

"That really surprised me, caught me off guard," Simpson said of the slow early pace. "We started super slow, and I thought this is good for me. I can just sit and wait until it ramps up and be ready for it."

Simpson ran close behind the 21-year-old rising German star Konstanze Klosterhalfen through 3400-meters, until Klosterhalfen got the signal for her coach, Pete Julian, to pick up the pace. She ran the next four laps in the 34-second range, and with a kilometer to go she had a comfortable eight-second lead over Simpson.

"We wanted to wait a bit longer, but it was very slow," Klosterhalfen told reporters. "So, I started with 2-K (to go) and ran my own race."

Simpson, who said she had put in good training for today's race, was frustrated that she couldn't get her legs to turnover when the pace picked up. "I didn't really feel I could shift," she told Race Results Weekly. She added: "Kind of humbling and another reality check."

Klosterhalfen went on to win in a world-leading 15:15.80 to Simpson's 15:33.38. Tonight's race was only Simpson's second career indoor 5000m; she ran the last one nearly ten years ago when she was still competing for the University of Colorado as Jenny Barringer.

In the men's 3000m, the same two men as last year finished first and second, but in a different order. Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet, last year's runner-up, passed the pacemaker with nine laps to go, eager to post a fast time. He quickly built up a lead on last year's champion, Edward Cheserek of Kenya, and ran alone to the finish in a world-leading 7:37.41.

"The pacemaker, I don't know, was slow," Gebrhiwet said in English. "Five laps I pushed for me."

Cheserek finished a clear second in 7:42.93, about four seconds slower than his winning time from a year ago. Although clearly disappointed that he didn't win, he said his performance was consistent with his recent training where he had a few small setbacks.

"It was a good race for me," Cheserek told reporters. "Coming up from little injury and opening up. I think that is what I wanted to see." He continued: "It's only January. We can just go back and work on other things. I've been having a lot of issues, little bit injuries and family stuff."

In other events, Raevyn Rogers won the women's 600m in 1:27.31 (hurdler Georganne Moline was tripped, fell hard to the track, and was unable to finish), Morgan Foster won the girl's junior mile in 4:50.13, and Matthew Payamps won the boy's junior mile in 4:12.39.

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