The Camel City Elite races keep evolving, and the pro athletes continue to flock to the JDL Fast Track.
Now in its fifth year, this weekend promises to be another outstanding two days of races in Winston-Salem. More than 1,500 high school, college and pro athletes will compete Friday and Saturday at the indoor track facility.
“It’s our Super Bowl,” said Craig Longhurst, the meet director and facilities manager of the JDL Fast Track. “And as it so happens this weekend it actually is Super Bowl weekend.”
Last year’s edition of the Camel City Elite races had its best field thanks to it being an Olympic year and the indoor world championships were being held in the United States. Many of the athletes who competed in the Olympics in Rio came to JDL to stay sharp, and compete for the prize money that totaled $52,000.
This year’s purse is again more than $50,000, and Longhurst said the races will likely be more competitive than last year.
“The field is still very strong,” Longhurst said. “I think there are six or seven past Olympians who have committed.”
Longhurst said last year’s races had such star-studded athletes that it was a given as to who would win. That’s not the case this weekend.
“I honestly think the races will be more exciting,” Longhurst said. “No disrespect to those in the races last year, but when you had (Matt) Centrowitz and (Shannon) Rowbury and Lolo Jones and those folks that were winning Olympic medals they were overwhelming favorites. This year, the races won’t be as predicable.”
The headliners this weekend will be Paul Chelimo, a silver medalist in Rio in the 5,000 meters and a former runner at UNC Greensboro. He’ll run the 3,000 meters on Saturday. Chelimo comes into the Camel City Elite races on a roll after winning the 3,000 meters last weekend at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston.
Also expected to compete is Melissa Bishop of Canada, a two-time Olympian who finished fourth in the 800-meter run in Rio. She won the 800-meter last year in the Camel City Elite races.
David Oliver also returns this year and competes in the men’s hurdles. Oliver competed in the 2015 Camel City Elite races but had to withdraw before last year’s races because of an injury. He is a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 110-meter hurdles.
Leo Manzano, who finished fourth in the Camel City Elite mile in 2015, is a two-time Olympian who won the silver medal in the mile in 2012 Olympics in London.
"The event is really top notch because of the organization that's involved in putting on such a big meet," Manzano said. "I'm really excited about competing this year in Winston-Salem. I love the track and even though it's a flat track you can still put up a great time."
Other pros expected to compete are Andy Bayer, Lee Emanuel, Kerri Gallagher, Stephanie Garcia, Edward Kemboi, Shalaya Kipp, Chad Noelle, Laura Roesler, Rachel Schneider and Erin Teschuk.
Also competing will be Winston-Salem’s Donnie Cowart, who just missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics in the steeplechase. Cowart will serve as a pace-setter in two of the pro races.
“He’s going to rabbit in both the 800 and the mile,” Longhurst said about Cowart. “We asked him if he didn’t want to rabbit this year but he wanted to so when you do that there’s a guarantee in money. But being a rabbit for those races helps the other runners who are competing.”
The meet begins at 1 p.m. Friday with several college events. Among the schools with athletes competing are Wake Forest, N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
The meet will continue Saturday morning starting at 9 a.m. with the elite races beginning at 2:15 p.m., starting with the women’s 3,000 meters.
What has made the Camel City Elite races successful are the corporate sponsors. David Shannon, the track owner, and Longhurst have steadily built the Camel City Elite races into one of the top meets in the busy indoor season.
“We’ve got some individual race sponsors; Champion is sponsoring the men’s mile,” Longhurst said about new sponsors for this year’s races. “Salem Sports is the men’s 3K sponsor and ‘visit Winston-Salem’ is the sponsor for the men’s hurdles.”
A little more than a year ago, the JDL Fast Track started a non-profit foundation that gives back to the local community.
“We started the Camel City Track Foundation and those who donate to that can use it as a tax deduction,” Longhurst said. “Some of that money from the foundation will be used to help bring in other events to JDL. There’s a bone marrow walk in April here and we’ll use some of the money to help defray their cost to rent the facility.”
The foundation also helps the Crazy Running program, a popular program that introduces children to the sport.
“Crazy Running is going to offer a weeklong camp in late June,” Longhurst said. “We’ll help them with that because they don’t know how many kids they will have and part of the foundation’s mission is to help stop childhood obesity.”
Admission to JDL this weekend is $12 for adults and $10 for students. Children 12 and under are free. For more information go to the JDL Fast Track web site at www.jdlfasttrack.com.