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U.S. Indoor championships: Exciting finishes, near-records

Rashard Clark, left, took first place in the men’s 400 meters Saturday, edging out Kyle Clemons, right, at the Albuquerque Convention Center. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Oh, what could have been during Saturday’s finale of the 2020 USA Track & Field Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

But for a mere speck of a second in one event and a couple of inches in another, local track fans could have witnessed history and then some.

Sprinter Christian Coleman was so near his indoor world record in the 60-meter dash as he delivered a splash of blur down the runway to finish in 6.37 seconds. Two years ago in Albuquerque he set the mark to beat at 6.34 seconds. He now owns the four fastest times in the event.

Shelby Houlihan leads the field on her way to victory in the women’s 1,500-meter run Saturday. Houlihan also won Friday’s 3,000 meters to sweep the distance events. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“This wasn’t necessarily the plan,” Coleman said of his time. “To be at my optimal, to be at my best here. So I was pretty satisfied with the time considering the lack of speed training that we’ve done.”

It bodes well for Coleman as he trains to make the U.S. Olympic team.

“I just wanted to come out here and compete,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more times you can come out with victories with a stacked field, that builds up your confidence and prepares you for the next level.”

And shot putter Ryan Crouser heaved the iron ball 74-feet, 1¾-inches, just shy of Randy Barnes’ 1989 indoor record of 74-4¼.

“I was really happy with it and even surprised myself a little bit,” he said. “It’s just my second time throwing hard all year. Even from warm-ups, from how good I felt, I thought if I really get one, I can go (74-5). I’ve been over it a few times outdoors.”

Sandi Morris clears the bar during Saturday’s pole vault competition. Morris edged friend and rival Jenn Suhr to win the event.

Other than the multi-sport athletes who compete in decathlon and pentathlon, athletes who cross disciplines at a professional track and field meet are becoming increasingly rare.

But after Quanesha Banks won her first American championship in the long jump Saturday, she walked across the track and then qualified for the 60-meter finals. She ultimately finished fifth.

“I did it a lot in high school and college, so I was basically prepared for it,” Banks said. “I knew I had to come out and jump a solid mark for my first three jumps so I could secure the win and transition to the sprints.”

That’s just the way it worked out as she flew 22-feet, 2¼-inches on her first long jump attempt to earn the winning mark. She had finished runner-up at two previous U.S. championships.

“It wasn’t really bad at all,” Banks said. “I honesty think it worked out perfect because I thought it would interfere with one of my jumps. It’s great to know that I won the long jump and qualified and almost got a personal best.”

Distance runner Shelby Houlihan completed another sweep of the long races with a 1,500-meter win, using her closing kick down the last 100 meters to finish in 4 minutes, 6.41 seconds. On Friday she won the 3,000, giving her 13 national championships and marking the fifth time she has swept both events in the same meet.

Elle Purrier, who a week earlier had set the U.S. indoor mile record at the Millrose Games in New York, did not run the 1,500 as scheduled. On Friday, Purrier finished fourth in the 3,000 (8:56.56).

Meanwhile, another longtime champion was dethroned as Sandi Morris cleared 16-¾ in the pole vault, knocking off 17-time national winner and former Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr, who cleared 15-11.

“It is always exciting to compete against Jenn,” Morris said. “We really do push one another. We put the pressure on one another. Who knows – I don’t think either one of us would have jumped that high if the other person wasn’t here.”

Suhr is something of a role model, Morris said.

“She’s such an inspiration for me just seeing the level she’s at and she’s been in the sport so many years and I really respect that,” she said. “So I aspire to follow in her footsteps.”

• Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, won her fifth straight indoor high jump championship, clearing 6-5½. On the advice of her dad, she took a swipe at the American record, trying 6-8, but that one attempt was unsuccessful.

“It was really special for me to come back here to New Mexico and get another consecutive win,” she said. “I don’t really look at everybody in the competition or necessarily what meet it is. I’m going against the girls in Europe and the I’m going against myself.”

• An apparent emergency early in the meet briefly halted it as the alarm rang through the convention center and lights flashed. But it turned out to be a false alarm.

(Click here for all meet results.)

Bryce Hoppel gestures after winning the men’s 800-meter final.