Prefontaine Classic: Still America's Premier International Track Meet

Red ShannonFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2010

When it was announced in early March that Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva would be making her first outdoor appearance on American soil at Eugene's Prefontaine Classic July 3, I deliberately purchased tickets in Hayward Field's east grandstand.

From that vantage point I had hoped to get a favorable view of the iconic world record holder—and possibly witness a new world record.

I was even willing to fore-go the preferred home-stretch seating of the west grandstand for such an opportunity.

Days later, Isinbayeva was defeated by her Brazilian protege Fabiana Murer at the World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar.

That devastating blow, coupled with her infamous no-height at the 2009 World Outdoor Championships in Berlin, did not sit well with the 27-time world record holder.

Confessing that the competitive fire had gone out, Isi took the summer off, hoping a break in her intense routine would somehow help her regain focus.

Knowing that Isinbayeva at 28, is probably approaching her twilight years, my hopes of ever seeing the legend at her best—in person—vanished in a vapor.

And those eastside seats lost a little bit of their lustre.

The list of world class no-shows in the young inaugural season of the IAAF's Diamond League series (the Pre is the sixth of 14 scheduled) would, in itself, form a meet promoter's dream sheet.

Along with Isinbayeva's absence, Ethiopia's distance king, Kenenisa Bekele, and world champion 400m star Sanya Richards-Ross have scratched from the Pre due to injury.

Thankfully, officials from Nike, Prefontaine, and Diamond League made an eleventh-hour scramble to fill those glaring holes in this year's Pre Classic —and once again—America's premier international meet is loaded with class.

Befitting a track meet named in honor of the great Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine, there is not a weak field in any event. Take particular note of the men's throws , short sprints , mid-distance and distance races .

And, of primary interest to me, the Olympian-esque field assembled in the women's pole vault.

Reigning outdoor world champion Anna Rogowska (15-9) of Poland; her colleague and world silver medalist, Monika Pyrek (15-10); surging Brazilian Fabiana Murer (15-11); 2004 NCAA outdoor and 2006 NCAA indoor champion Chelsea Johnson (15-6.25), and American record holder Jenn (Stuczynski) Suhr (16-1.75), the only woman besides Isinbayeva (16-7.25) and Svetlana Feofanova (16-1.5) to eclipse the 16-foot barrier.

After a year of recovery from injury, Suhr made a bold statement in last week's USA Championships, with a winning vault of 16-0.5.

With the Russian queen figuratively watching from the sidelines, the stage is now set in Eugene for a showdown of pretenders to her crown.

And it may be relevant that on this very field, Suhr set her American record in the 2008 Olympic Trials.

Suddenly, those east grandstand seats again look a little more inviting.


Rojofact: The Prefontaine Classic meet record in the women's pole vault is 15-5.75 set by American vault pioneer Stacy Dragila in 2002.