News12 Feb 2021

Lyles, McLaughlin, Benjamin and Brazier upbeat ahead of 2021 debuts


Noah Lyles ahead of the 2021 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (© Organisers)

For several of the headline acts at Saturday’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, their appearance at this World Athletics Tour Indoor Gold series meeting on New York’s Staten Island will be first and foremost an occasion to get reacquainted with indoor running.

Noah Lyles and Sydney McLaughlin, for instance, haven’t raced indoors in nearly three years. Rai Benjamin will be making his 2021 indoor debut. And all three are eager to find out what they’re capable of, particularly after the off-kilter 12 months the planet has just experienced.

Lyles in particular, who’ll be contesting the 60m and the 200m within a span of less than 90 minutes.

“My endurance is really high right now,” the world 200m champion said. “We've just been sprinkling in some speed here and there. And we have been working hard on my acceleration (in the short sprint). And we want to see if it's working.” 

He'll be bringing a 6.57 lifetime best to the start line, set at this meeting - albeit at its home venue outside of Boston - in 2018. In the 200m, his indoor best is 20.63, set when he was still in high school in 2016. He's obviously a different athlete now, a regular sub-20 performer outdoors who also boasts a 9.86 100m career best. He’s not making predictions but he does lend the impression that his indoor best is due for revision.

“In the 200, my coach just said let's try to run a fast 200 this year.” This may be his only opportunity, so we can expect him to take full advantage.

“There's definitely a way to run an indoor 200,” he said. “Learning how to come off the turn - those are the make or break moments of running a 200 indoors.”

Even if he does qualify, Lyles said he will opt out of the final on Saturday to give his legs a decent rest prior to the 200m. Interestingly, Lyles revealed that the 260 metres he'll be racing competitively tomorrow don't even amount to what he believes might be the distance he's best suited for, the 300m, a distance over which he set the standing indoor world best of 31.87 in 2017. 

"I have a strong endurance and I have speed," he said. “That's where I believe I have the most ability."

Benjamin to Norman: ‘I hope you can swim because I'm going to take you into the deep end’

Given a choice, Benjamin would have preferred to run a 300m this weekend for his indoor debut, but instead, one of history’s fastest 400m hurdlers will be taking on rival and roommate Michael Norman in the 400m in his first outing over that race distance since the last 4x400m relay World Championship final on 6 October 2019.

“We keep telling each other,” Benjamin said, “‘I hope you can swim because I'm going to take you into the deep end’.”

That’s a joke of course, but the race is nonetheless one of the most anticipated of the afternoon so hardly the proverbial walk in the park. The biggest takeaway Benjamin’s hoping for?

"Just to learn what it's like to run a really hot 400,” he said. “I know it's going to be fast. So, just to take away a new race pattern, a sense of fitness.”

Miller-Uibo returns to action

There’s a hot 400m in store on the women’s side as well with Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo making her first indoor start over the distance since 2014. Given her performance 13 days ago in the Fayetteville 200m where she clocked 22.40 to move up to No.9 all-time, her 50.88 indoor career best, which dates back to 2013, is expected to be under threat.

“We were really happy with the 22.4 last weekend,” she said. “It was a little tricky getting the feel of an indoor track again. It was very challenging. We went out there the day before to get the feel of the track.”

Miller-Uibo said 2020 provided a great opportunity to work on technical aspects of her race along with her overall fitness.

“We still got a lot of training in,” she said of the 2020 disruptions. “It was good preparation for 2021. I think we're in pretty good shape. We're in a great space right now training-wise. This year we've been working on our base and getting a lot stronger.”

But if she has a goal for Saturday, she’s not sharing it. “I'm just happy to get a break from training to compete.”

Brazier back in a familiar setting

So is world 800m champion Donavan Brazier, whose 2021 indoor debut was moved to this weekend after exposure to COVID-19 ahead of the second Fayetteville meeting sent him to the sidelines. He didn’t contract the virus but was still forced to quarantine for five days.

So, instead of opening with a 600m, he’ll be debuting over 800m on the same Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex track where he set his 1:13.77 600m indoor world best two years ago.

“I’m very excited to race on it,” he said. “It's obviously a fast track. I like racing there more than just about any facility.”

For McLaughlin, her first race under a new coach

McLaughlin is also making her 2021 debut in what will be her first race since she ran the second leg on the victorious US 4x400m relay squad at the 2019 World Championships, just under 500 days ago.

Her outing in the 60m hurdles will also be her first under new coach Bobby Kersee.

"This past year has definitely been a transition," she said of a year that forced her to navigate a landscape that included a global pandemic and a move to a new coach. But she's very happy with the decision.

“I'd seen Bobby out at the track when we were at UCLA and he was helping out the hurdlers with technique and the chemistry just kind of clicked. We felt that it was a good decision that with the Olympics being postponed, if I was to switch coaches that that was the year to do it.”

McLaughlin said her break in 2020 also afforded her the opportunity to find out more about herself both on and off the track.

"Understanding who Sydney is off the track brings a lot more purpose to the time I spend on the track. I've discovered a lot more about who I am - that track is not who I am but it's what I do.” And what she loves to do.

That love affair resumes with her first 60m hurdles race since 2015.

Bob Ramsak for World Athletics