Ronnie Beard competed against world-class athletes at the Reebok Grand Prix on June 3
Ronnie Beard competed against world-class athletes at the Reebok Grand Prix on June 3

June 3, 2006

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Maryland-Eastern Shore trackster Ronnie Beard competed at the Reebok Grand Prix on Saturday, June 3. The junior from Frederick, Maryland ran a respectable 51.91 against world-class athletes in the 400m hurdles.

Justin Gatlin, the world record holder in the 100m dash, and Marion Jones, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist, headlined the event, which was held at New York's Ichan Stadium.

The Reebok Grand Prix, which featured head-to-head competition among 150 world-class athletes from 19 countries, was the fifth event of USA Track and Field's (USATF) Visa Championship Series.

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Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones and Veronica Campbell were billed as the stars of today's Reebok Grand Prix, and dazzle the crowd they did: Gatlin won the 100m in an impressive 9.87 on a chilly, damp evening; Jones continued her comeback by beating a top-notch women's field in 11.06; and Campbell delighted her legions of Jamaican followers with her trademark grace and warmth.

But fans found plenty of room in their hearts, too, for Meseret Defar, who scorched a stunning 61-second last lap in the 5000 meters to run 14:24.53, breaking the World Record in the last race of the evening and sending the enthralled crowd home to tell their friends they had witnessed history.

"I knew that I could do it," said Defar, the 22-year-old Ethiopian who is also the 5000-meter Olympic gold medalist. So did Haile Gebrselassie, her countryman and perhaps the best distance runner in history. "When I was coming to New York, Haile said to me, `You can break the World Record.'

It was not the only 5000-meter record of the meet, either: on the men's side, Abraham Chebii of Kenya ran the fastest ever on American soil, winning in 13:04.56 to improve on the mark set by Said Aouita of Morocco (13:05.59) in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. As for Defar, she bettered the record of Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey (14:24.68) in 2004.

There was little rest for the wildly cheering crowd, as one riveting race was barely over before another began. In the space of 90 minutes, fans were treated to Chebii's record, Jones's first U.S. race in more than a year, a chance to watch the co-"World's Fastest Man" in action, and a World Record.

For Gatlin, who was born in Brooklyn and lived there until the age of 9, it was a homecoming, with 30 or so friends and family here to watch and cheer. Despite cool conditions in the low 60s after a huge downpour earlier in the afternoon - hardly a sprinter's dream - Gatlin ran a race to be proud of. Runner-up was American Tyson Gay, running a personal best in 10.04.