Albuquerque: The Training Ground for the World's Best Track & Field Athletes

Aug. 14, 2012

By Mike Mulcahy

Albuquerque is known for many things—green chile, hot air balloons, a tram—but not very often for sports.

No doubt, the Duke City has sports. But on a professional level, Albuquerque has as many top-tier athletes in its city limits as it does water.

Yet despite the fact Albuquerque may not be home to high-profile sports, Albuquerque is renowned in the world of athletics for one thing that not every city can lay claim to: runners love it.

It might be the breathtaking scenery. It could be the rigorous altitude. It might even be the weather.

Whatever it is, some of the world's best athletes have found Albuquerque to be a reliable and rewarding place to train.

And it shows.

At the London Olympics, over a dozen world-class athletes trained in Albuquerque. Nearly half of those athletes medaled.

And it's not just a case of a few no-name athletes working out in Albuquerque. The elite of the elite have trained here.

Names like Great Britain's Mo Farah and the United State's Galen Rupp are just a few examples of the talent that has come through Albuquerque. A pair of runners that earned two gold medals (Farah, 10,000-meter run and 5,000-meter run) and a silver medal (Rupp, 5000) in London have trained in Albuquerque.

The Duke City has also hosted some of the world's best 1500 runners, including the 2012 silver medalist Leo Manzano of the United States. Matthew Centrowitz (United States), Nick Willis (New Zealand), Shannon Rowbury (United States) and Hilary Stellingwerff (Canada) have also come through Albuquerque en route to the Olympics.

Albuquerque's influence on 1500 runners can even be found in the past, when Noureddine Morceli took home gold in the metric mile for Algeria in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and Romanian runner Gabriela Szabo claimed silver in Atlanta and bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Long distance runners have also trained in Albuquerque both past and present. For the most recent Olympics, the United State's Dathan Ritzenhein and Ireland's Fionnuala Britton trained in Albuquerque prior to competing in London in the 10K.

In the past, Albuquerque has served as a training ground for Morocco's Khalid Skah (gold in the 10K at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics) and Great Britain's Liz McColgan (silver in the 10K at the 1988 Seoul Olympics).

French steeplechaser Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad also had a stop in Albuquerque before taking silver in the 3000 steeplechase in London, as did the aforementioned Szabo before her gold in the 5000 at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Marathon runners have also taken advantage of the unique climate of Albuquerque while training, including Risa Shigetomo of Japan for the London games and Josia Thugwane of South Africa for the Atlanta games.

Even homegrown talents like Albuquerque-native and New Mexico grad Jarrin Solomon have trained in Albuquerque. One of four athletes to combine for a bronze in the men's 4x400 relay for Trinidad and Tobago, Solomon has been seen competing at a few Lobo home meets.

Yet, it's as much the athletes that make Albuquerque such a burgeoning track scene as it is the competitions that are hosted here.

The Albuquerque Convention Center has hosted the USATF Indoor Championships the since 2010 and will continue in 2013 and 2014.

Despite not having the richest of histories or a true track and field venue, Albuquerque has done pretty well for itself in securing high-profile track and field meets.

The Albuquerque Convention Center has hosted the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships for the past three years, and is scheduled to host it again for the next two in 2013 & 2014.

The preeminent stateside track and field meet, the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships has attracted some of the nation's premier athletes to Albuquerque, including a number of Olympians.

Out of the 29 medals Team USA won at the London Olympics, 14 of those athletes competed in Albuquerque for the 2012 edition of the  USATF Indoor Championships.

A number of gold medalists—including Justin Gatlin, Erik Kynard, Christian Taylor, Ashton Eaton, Sanya Richards-Ross, Jenn Suhr and Brittney Reese—have come through the City of Albuquerque on their way to the top of the medal stand.

These big-time meets don't just exist at the professional level, either. The University of New Mexico has sent in a bid to host the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

This move, while still pending, could bring the nation's finest collegiate athletes to Albuquerque.

In what could be a preview of the next generation of track and field glory, the 2014 NCAA Championships could be another example for an Albuquerque's impressive ability to bring in the best of the best to train and compete.

Granted, Albuquerque might not be known for sports, but it doesn't mean it hasn't seen the best of it.