The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally around the corner, barely six months away. For track and field athletes, Saturday brings the first step. The clock starts now.
Of course, there’s the US Track and Field trials in Eugene, Ore., in late June. But the athletes’ 2020 season begins for real Saturday when the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix returns to the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury.
The meet is usually sold out by the time the first of the 20 events, the women’s high jump, begins at 5 p.m. NBCSN coverage goes live at 6 p.m. and will stay on through 8 p.m., finishing with American star Sydney McLaughlin in the women’s 500 meters.
The meet is filled with world medalists, NCAA greats, and once-and-future Olympians, including Trayvon Bromell, competing in the men’s 60 meters, Bryce Hoppel (men’s 1,000), Donavan Brazier (in the men’s 600), Emma Coburn (women’s 2-mile), Konstanze Klosterhalfen (women’s 1,500), and Nia Ali (women’s 60-meter hurdles).
Ali knows all about watching the clock. True, she won silver at the 2016 Olympics in the 100-meter hurdles and is the reigning world champ in the event, winning in Doha in a personal-best 12.34 seconds.
But that’s not where her time-management skills from. Those come from being a mother of two children under 5. She’s as chill as they come.
“I just keep centered,” she said Friday morning. “Whatever happens, I’m not going to get overwhelmed.”
She spoke outside a function room at the Lenox Hotel, the meet’s command center. Athletes, trainers, and support staff walked by looking for the coffee station or the next shuttle over to practice.
Each year, the world’s best athletes slip into Boston under the cover of January. More often than not, the New England Patriots are monopolizing the sports fans’ bandwidth. More often than not, the world’s best athletes are able to walk around the Back Bay without much of a head turn.
They go to the Reggie Lewis Center and get in their workouts — until they are bumped, like they were Friday for the Hockomock League meet, which was followed by the Middlesex League meet. On Saturday, the same people who command the world’s attention in the Olympics will have to wait, because the MSTCA Coaches Invitational has the building until 2:30 p.m.
But the world is watching. Always watching.
Social media is part of the job. To interact with fans, to make some money, to grow the sport, to grow the brand.
“Koko” Klosterhalfen is only 22. She grew up in Germany, and has been living and training in the United States since the fall of 2018. A year ago in Boston, she won the 5,000 in 15:15.90. Two weeks later, she won the mile at the Millrose Games in 4:19.98.
The New Balance Indoor Grand Prix has 3,500 Instagram followers. “Koko” has 68,600.
“I do more [of the social media] now,” she said. “It’’s good to have a good team around. It’s very important to be focused.”
Emma Coburn has 301,000 Instagram followers. She’s 29 and married and an eight-time US champion in the steeplechase. At the Friday news conference, as reserved as Klosterhalfen was in front of the media, Coburn had the mic and the answers.
“I understand it. I grew up with social media,” she said. “I’m just being myself, so there’s no extra pressure.”
McLaughlin is just 20. At worlds last year, she ran the second-fastest 400 hurdles ever. She has 477k followers IG. A story about her in Teen Vogue last summer features posts with more than 100,000 likes.
She understands that she has a platform. She talked positive energy and a journey.
For her and the rest of the track athletes in Boston, that journey starts now.