Seattle, WA. – American youth track and field is in the middle of one of its most vibrant stretches ever as young athletes are making their marks well beyond their years, especially on the girl’s side. With names like Mary Cain, Alexa Efraimson, Elise Cranny and Sarah Baxter leading the charge, a full renaissance in track fortunes may well be nearing as fans latch onto these precocious talents.
Besides the expansion of knowledge via the internet, one explanation for this resurgence is the number and quality of post-season track meets that have cropped up for young athletes in recent years. From coast-to-coast high quality meets offer competitive opportunities that many of the nation’s top-end talent has a hard time finding at home. The better the competition, the better becomes the quality of performances.
Today the Brooks PR Invitational comes to Seattle, Washington’s Renton Memorial Stadium on the heels of last weekend’s New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Dream Miles and Dream 100-meters in New York City — part of the Diamond League’s Adidas New York Grand Prix. And waiting on the near horizon are the U.S. Junior Nationals and IAAF World Junior Championships just south in Eugene, Oregon in July.
135 high school athletes have been recruited for the 13 events making up the fourth Brooks PR Invitational, the first in an outdoor setting after three years of indoor meetings.
“”The only tough thing about the move to outdoors is that a few of the sprinters have football that takes precedence,” said Jesse Williams, head of Brooks sports marketing and the meet’s chief recruiter. “Other than that we got RSVPs back in a snap. We sent out our first invitations at the end of February, and as late as Monday.”
As I went over the list of sprint invitees for the Brooks PR Invitational I wondered how many of the 100, 110 hurdle and 400 meter runners were two-sport athletes with a focus on football.
“I’d say about half the sprinters are football players,” said Jesse Williams. “Last year’s fourth place finisher in our 60m dash Levonte Whitfield helped Florida State beat Auburn in the BCS National Championship in January with a 100-yard kickoff return. When those colleges are spending that much money on these football programs, they really don’t care if you are invited to the PR Invitational. We have way more runners from the Dream Mile races in New York last weekend than are coming in from Dream 100 meters because the football sprinters have to report to their new schools immediately after graduation for pre-season training.”
One of the 400 meters contenders in Seattle will be Snellville, Georgia’s Grant Swinton who calls himself “a track athlete who plays football”. Last year Grant won the state 400 title while his Shiloh High School team took fifth in the 6A Georgia team competition. This year Grant ran second in the 400 (and 200), but his team took their first-ever state team title. When people discuss the ways to re-energize professional track in the United States, one major consideration is the resurrection of team-based competition.
“We have four seniors going to Division 1 schools next year,” Grant Swinton told me. “We dedicated ourselves to winning the state championship for the first time this year. Going in we didn’t think we could win, but after competing in the county and regionals, we realized if we executed we could do it. It was much more exciting for me in 2014 focusing on the team than the year before when I was just invested in myself.”
Another highly anticipated team competitions at Brooks PR will be the boys 4 X Mile relay which will begin the program at 1:30 p.m. Pacific. Five teams will compete, four hailing from Washington, and a late entry from Northport, New York. Last weekend at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Charlotte, Northport put three guys under 9:00 for the two-mile, an unprecedented performance. Senior twins Jack and Tim McGowan went 8:57 and 8:56 to take fourth and third places respectively, while junior Mike Brannigan won with a US-leading 8:53.59. They will be joined by 1:58 800 meter senior Justin Leopold who will lead the team out.
The national 4 X one-mile record, 17:06.6, was set in 1976 by South Eugene High in Oregon and has stood for nearly 30 years. But it seems like its time has come. The record has already been challenged this year, as the 2014 leading time was run by a team from Christian Brothers High School in Lincroft, New Jersey in 17:07.17, less than a second off the mark.
High school sensation Alexa Efraimson from Washington’s Camus High School is coming off an impressive 4:07.05 10th place in the pro 1500 at the Adidas GP in New York City. The high school junior will compete in the 800 meters today. And Denver, Colorado senior Dior Hall will make her fourth appearance at the Brooks PR Invitational, this time in the 100 meter hurdles. Dior finished third in the 60m indoor hurdles as a freshman, first as a sophomore, and second last year as a junior. Dior is on her way to the University of Southern California in the fall. She currently holds this year’s top 100 meter high school time of 13.09, which she set winning the Colorado State 5A Championship.
You can watch the meet live on FloTrack. The 4 X One Mile sets off at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time.