A sparkling women's metric mile highlighted the Prefontaine Classic
Last Saturday afternoon Regina Jacobs gathered her gear and headed out of Oregon's Hayward Field after running a personal best of 1:58.08 in the 800 meters at the Prefontaine Classic, good for second place behind 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Maria Mutola of Mozambique. Because the 800 is not Jacobs's primary event (she's the U.S.-record holder in the 5,000 and a two-time world championships silver medalist at 1,500), her Pre performance, in essence a high-level training run, underscored her superb Olympic-year fitness. Jacobs paused to look at the scoreboard, where the placings in another event, the just-concluded 1,500 meters, were displayed. In that race Suzy Favor Hamilton of the U.S. had produced a front-running, wind-cutting 4:00.79, only to be nipped at the finish by reigning world 5,000-meter champ Gabriela Szabo of Romania, who ran a 4:00.73.
Jacobs smiled knowingly, hers and Favor Hamilton's performances having illuminated what has become increasingly obvious: The women's 1,500 has become the deepest and most intriguing middle- or long-distance event in U.S. track. Not only is Jacobs, who will be 37 in August, running better than ever, but two-time Olympian Favor Hamilton, 31, has recovered from Achilles tendon surgery in the spring of 1999, while Marla Runyan, a legally blind former heptathlete who did not run in Eugene because of a hip injury, has continued the steep improvement that took her from obscurity to the final of the '99 world championships. "We could have three American women in the Olympic final," said Favor Hamilton last Saturday. "That would be incredible." It would also be unprecedented.
Jacobs, who graduated from Stanford in 1985 and was a serviceable runner for nearly a decade after that, began her climb to Olympic medal favorite in 1993, when she altered her diet and training to correct an iron deficiency. Last summer at the worlds she lost to '96 Olympic double gold medalist Svetlana Masterkova of Russia by less than a second. Since then Jacobs and her husband-coach, Tom Craig, have worked on refining her biomechanics and her tactics to improve her chances of beating Masterkova in the final 100 meters. En route to the Olympics, Jacobs will chase Mary Slaney's U.S. records in the 1,500 (3:57.12) and the mile (4:16.7), set in 1983 and '85 respectively. She followed her 800 on Saturday with an impressive 8:42.55 on Sunday in the 3,000 meters at the Adidas Oregon Track Classic in Portland.
Jacobs will have company in pursuit of Slaney's records, because Favor Hamilton also has never looked better. After taking over for the rabbit at 800 meters, she opened a 20-meter lead on Szabo with less than 200 to go and was caught only in the final strides, throwing herself over the finish line as Szabo closed frantically. "I'm happy for Suzy, that she is back," says Szabo. "It's good for America that she is running again, and it's good for the sport."
Long a sprint-oriented runner who disliked long-distance training, Favor Hamilton was forced during her recovery from surgery to forgo sprinting for several months. She replaced it with long, steady distance. "I did 75-minute runs, which I had never done," she says. The distance work made her stronger and better able to sustain speed when she returned to full health, all of which should stand her in good stead for the push to Sydney.
It was a tumultuous 1999 off the track as well for Favor Hamilton. In September her 37-year-old brother, Dan Favor, committed suicide. It is in memory of Dan, a manic-depressive who Suzy says had stopped taking medication at the time of his suicide, that Favor Hamilton began using her maiden name again. "After he died, I began to understand the struggle that his life must have been," says Favor Hamilton. "I've decided that I want to make every race I run a spectacular event."
As anyone who was at Hayward Field can tell you, she is honoring that resolve.
What Price Glory?
The principal question regarding the much-anticipated Maurice Greene-Michael Johnson 200-meter showdown at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento later this month is no longer Who will win? but rather Will either man's health survive the race? Rhetoric continued to build last weekend in Eugene, where Johnson again called the trash-talking Greene "immature," while Greene's coach, John Smith, dismissed Johnson's 19.32-second world record, set in 1996, as "a day you get once in a lifetime," and said that MJ "is a 19.90, 19.85,19.80 sprinter right now." This was after Greene had won the Pre 200 in an easy 19.93, with a wind just above the legal limit. Johnson, opting for the 400, had cruised to victory in 43.92.