- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

BOISE, Idaho — When people think Boise, they usually think potatoes. This weekend, however, more than 500 of the nation’s top masters track and field athletes are here thinking competition.

An odd place to hold a national championship? That’s what many athletes were saying two years ago when the city, best known for 17,000-student Boise State University and its sports teams, was awarded the 2005 indoor championships.

In fact, this is a fine venue for a track championship. Situated at 2,842 feet where the flat desert gently meets the Rocky Mountains, the capital city of the nation’s 43rd state has pristine air, ample green space and a friendly, unhurried atmosphere.

If population growth is any indication of Boise’s allure, this is one happening city. The head count here has more than doubled in the last couple of decades to 193,000, and the metropolitan area is home to more than 432,000.

For the exercise enthusiast, the city offers 2,700 acres of park and urban trails. Much like Washington has its bike path along the Potomac, Boise has its Greenbelt along the Boise River.

The path, snaking more than 25 miles while skirting the downtown area, is a mecca for runners, cyclists, walkers and strollers. One middle-aged woman, who was strapping on her roller blades near a water fountain I was using, begged me not to brag about this scenic and pacifying trail to my friends back home because the city already has enough people.

It was difficult not to imagine moving here while enjoying a sunny 70-degree day as the Washington area was being punished with rain and temperatures in the 40s.

The warmth was a little premature, the roller blader clarified. In fact, it was so warm that one of the ski areas 16 miles from downtown — Bogus Basin — announced it will shut down for the season today, its earliest closing ever.

The actual location of the championship is not in Boise but 20 minutes west in Nampa, Idaho’s second most populous city. Nampa is where Boise State’s track team competes in the Idaho Sports Center on a six-lane banked blue track with a Mondo synthetic surface.

Jacksons Track opened in 2002 and looks strikingly similar to the banked indoor facility used for the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. No wonder: It is the same track, taken apart after the 2001 meet and rebuilt here.

According to track officials, Idaho has the only championship-suitable, world-class indoor track and field facility west of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Both the NCAA and USA Track & Field stipulate that only 200-meter, six-lane banked synthetic surfaces tracks be used for championship purposes.

Obviously, this was a huge consideration in awarding Idaho the 2005 USA Track & Field National Masters Indoor Championships for men and women 35 and older. These athletes compete in all the track and field events not as professional athletes but against their contemporaries in five-year age groups.

Several athletes attending this meet have participated in at least one Olympic and/or World Championship competition. The headliner at this meet, Nolan Shaheed of Pasadena, Calif., was never an Olympian but has barely slowed down as he has aged.

This weekend Shaheed moves into his new age group, 55-59, and he has plans to rewrite the record books as he did at 50-54. His ambitious schedule over this three-day meet includes the 3,000 meters, mile (and 1,500 during that race), the 3,200-meter relay (50-59 age group) and 800. The Masters Track and Field Hall of Famer and multiple world record-holder will be pursuing national and world records in his new age group in all those events.

His first shot was the 3,000 on Friday, going for the 25-year-old world record of 8:58. Shaheed, running in front the entire way, fell short of the mark but did eclipse the U.S. standard of 9:33.40, set in 1998 by Victor Heckler, with a time of 9:30.09.

In the mile, Shaheed came up two seconds short of the U.S. record by running 4:50.96. He said he was disappointed “because the record was soft and I fell asleep in the middle.”

Two hours later in the 3,200 relay, he helped his team to a world mark of 8:32.95, 22 seconds faster than the previous mark.

Today Shaheed will go against his closest rival and current 800-meter world record-holder Alston Brown of Jamaica.

James Stookey of Dickerson, Md., set an American record in the M75 pentathlon with a score of 3,959 points, and John Castle of Ashburn, Va., won the M45 pole vault at 12 feet, 11.5 inches.

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