• Curtis Anderson

OTC Elite athletes say goodbye to Hayward Field at Pre Classic

EUGENE, Ore. – Oregon Track Club Elite’s Nijel Amos, Francine Niyonsaba, Ben Blankenship and Hassan Mead bid a fond farewell to Hayward Field at the 44th annual Prefontaine Classic last Friday and Saturday.

A combined total of more than 20,000 fans attended the two-day Diamond League meeting, which was staged at the historic stadium on the University of Oregon campus for the last time. The 99-year-old facility is scheduled to be torn down this summer and replaced by a state-of-the-art venue designed to carry the sport into the next century. Those in attendance were treated to seven world-leading marks, three Pre Classic records, and one U-18 meeting record.

In the men’s 800 meters, Amos waged a fierce two-man battle with Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir. Amos, the reigning Diamond League champion, fought hard down the stretch, but Korir prevailed by 35-hundredths of a second – 1:45.16 to 1:45.51.

“A very good performance for Nijel after making a quicker than expected recovery from last month’s calf tear (at the Commonwealth Games),” OTC Elite Coach Mark Rowland said. “It was one of the better tactical races he’s run since joining our team.”

Amos, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist from Botswana, was pleased with his performance.

“I felt (the calf) a little bit on the last lap, but I don’t think it’s anything that will hold me back,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next race.”

In the women’s 800m, Niyonsaba stayed in great position behind South Africa’s Caster Semenya through 600m before settling for third with a season-best mark of 1:56.88, two-hundredths of a second behind runner-up Ajee Wilson at 1:56.86. Semenya, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, broke the meet record (previously held by Niyonsaba) with her winning time of 1:55.92.

“I’m very happy,” Niyonsaba said. “I’m not worried about time. I know we have a lot of time to run faster … I need to run my personal best (this summer) and I will go wherever the competition is.”

Niyonsaba, a native of Burundi, is entered in the 800m at the Oslo Diamond League meeting on June 7.

“An excellent race for Francine, although she was frustrated with herself over the last 200m and being overtaken by Ajee,” Rowland said. “Her fitness is good and we will continue the momentum as the season progresses.”

Elsewhere, Blankenship made his outdoor season opener in the highly competitive Bowerman Mile. Despite a foot injury, Blankenship hung tough and placed 11th overall with a time of 3:56.67.

In the men’s 2-mile, Mead finished 10th with a time of 8:24.09. Mead is targeting a fast 5,000m race at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm on June 10.

“It was great to see Hassan mix it up with the top guys at this stage of the season,” Rowland said. “This bodes well leading into his next race. As for Ben, we’ll have a couple of days to rest his foot, and then we’ll adjust his short-term race program.”