Duplantis, Cunningham, Oakley earn 2017 NBNI Athlete of the Meet honors

by Steve Underwood

Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, Trey Cunningham and Brie Oakley each took home 2017 New Balance Nationals Indoor Athlete of the Meet honors for their outstanding performances during the past weekend.

For the first time, the NBNI Boys Athlete of the Meet was shared between two individuals after Duplantis and Cunningham not only smashed NBNI meet and national high school records, but surpassed World Junior record marks, as well.  What Duplantis did Saturday will never be forgotten, as he became the first prep to surpass 19 feet in the pole vault, indoors or out.  The defending champ (Lafayette, LA junior) opened at 17-5 (5.31m) to take the lead over the field, then passed up to 18-2.5 (5.55m) – which he cleared on his first try to break the NBNI standard (17-11.25, Deakin Volz, 2015). 

Next, Duplantis had the bar set at 18-8.75 (5.71m), which he also nailed on his initial attempt.  Then he had the bar placed at a ceiling-scraping 19-1 (5.82m) – which would not only break the World Junior record (indoors or out), but the “family record” by father/coach, Greg Duplantis, and the Swedish national record (Mondo, whose mother is Swedish, is a dual citizen).  It took three tries, but Mondo went over with room to spare on the final attempt to earn perhaps the biggest roar of the weekend from the crowd.  Mondo celebrated, hugged his dad and accepted congrats from the other vaulters.  He took one try at 19-2.75, then called it a night.

Cunningham, meanwhile, smashed the 60-meter hurdles meet record, his own national standard and the World Junior record (previously 7.50) twice – once in qualifying Saturday and again during Sunday’s final.  The meet mark to shoot for was Grant Holloway’s 7.53 from last March here – at the time a national record – when he defended his 2015 title while Cunningham took 4th in his first NBNI.  The Winfield City, AL senior had topped the NR with his 7.49 back in late January.  During the prelims, with little visible strain, Cunningham clocked 7.45 to stun the crowd and himself.

To earn an IAAF World Junior record, Cunningham would not only have to submit to drug testing (as did Duplantis), but also use special starting blocks wired to the starting gun to record automatic reaction time.  NSAF and Armory officials were able to procure said starting blocks that night and were ready should another record be broken.  The WJRs will not, it should be noted, become official until ratified by the IAAF.

So in Sunday morning’s semis, Cunningham qualified for the final with a 7.51, then a few hours later lined up for the final.  The Florida State signee blasted through the line in 7.40 (with a legal 0.170 reaction time), for what all hope will be an “official” WJ mark – as well as the meet and national record.

Oakley didn’t have the complications of a World Junior record to deal with, but her distance double was impressive in its own right.  Friday night she was chasing Weini Kelati’s 16:08.83 5,000-meter mark from 2016, hoping to extend to seven the number of consecutive years that the national record for that distance has been surpassed at NBNI.  Waverly Neer had started the streak in 2011 (16:35.15), and had been followed by Erin Finn (2012, 16:19.69), Wesley Frazier (2013, 16:18.01), Tessa Barrett (2014, 16:11.85), Anna Rohrer (2015, 16:10.79) and Kelati.

As it turned out, Oakley – unbeaten since the beginning of last cross-country season at all distances – left little doubt that she would break the mark and 16:00 to boot.  She took the lead immediately and ran a succession of 37- and 38-second laps – never slower than 39 – and won by more than 52 seconds with her 15:55.75.

Sunday afternoon, the Grandview, CO senior was back for more.  While aware that Mary Cain’s 9:38.68 NR from 2013 might be a little stiff, she was after Aisling Cuffe’s NBNI standard of 9:56.85 from 2011 – and hoping to perhaps beat the legendary Melody Fairchild’s 1991 Colorado state record of 9:55.92 – for 22 years the national record – as well.

Again, Oakley took the lead right away and churned out laps at sub-10 pace.  This time, however, she would need a last lap kick – which she got with 32.7 – to get under Cuffe’s mark and move to #3 all-time.  Fairchild’s mark eluded Oakley, but it was still easily the best distance double in NBNI history and enough to earn her Girls Athlete of the Meet despite tough competition from the likes of Tara Davis (long jump/100 hurdles double, plus 2nd in the triple jump) and Sydney McLaughlin (broke her one NR in the 400).

Fans can now look forward to seeing what kind of standards Duplantis, Cunningham and Oakley can achieve during an outdoor season that will come to a climax June 17-19 at NBNO in Greensboro!

Photos by John Nepolitan, Runnerspace.com/Dyestat.com

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