March 18, 2014
By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation
Steve Keith witnessed the speedy times, the jaw-dropping jumps and the boisterous crowds.
It was early, but Vanderbilt’s track coach felt confident enough to crack a smile.
“Just off that first Friday night, I could tell we had something pretty special,” Keith said. “It is definitely one of the better venues around.”
At the epicenter of Vanderbilt’s new $31 million multipurpose indoor facility, circling the pristine football practice field, is the Mondo Super X 720 300-meter track.
It is one of a few in the nation — when Sacramento State finishes installation of its track in April, only four universities in the country will boast that surface: Arkansas, Sacramento State, UCLA and Vanderbilt.
Of those, Vanderbilt is the only indoor track with the Super X 720—one of the fastest surfaces for indoor and outdoor track competitions.
“Mondo is an Italian-based company, and you have a 2014 Lamborghini,” said Doug Hill, sports consultant for Mondo. “Vanderbilt has built the premier track in the United States right now for indoor competition.”
Sophomore Jennifer Cannon has already seen improvement in her performances.
At the Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational in January she set personal records, while placing fourth in the high jump and third in the 60-meter hurdles. Cannon, who competes in the hurdles and pentathlon, says having a home track to defend motivates her.
“It is definitely a great surface,” Cannon said. “It is good for racing, and it always produces fast speeds. The biggest deal is it’s our home track. We get really excited, and it turns out good times.”
Modern technology plays a part in faster times and higher jumps.
A springy rubber surface with hexagon-style backing provides a higher energy return when runners accelerate down the stretch.
“The hexagon backing is an improved shock absorbency layer, as well as provides better energy return,” Hill said. “When the foot hits the track, it doesn’t go left and right. It goes forward more. It provides a little mechanical advantage.”
The Commodores aren’t the only ones excited about the track. At the Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational, former Olympic two-time silver medalist Terrence Trammell ran unattached in the 60-meter hurdles. After winning with a blistering time of 7.65, he told Keith he’d like to come back.
“I knew that it had the potential to be really successful right off the bat,” he said. “I kept telling (senior administrator) Steve Walsh, whether we like it or not, we’re getting into the indoor track business.”
Already, the Commodores are reaping some rewards.
They have been practicing indoors these frigid winter months, and they’ve hosted two college meets and a high school invitational.
After the initial Music City Challenge in December, the Commodores welcomed 21 college teams—12 men’s and nine women’s—and more than 550 athletes to the Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational. The very next weekend, nearly 600 high school athletes from nine states and approximately 900 spectators were on hand for the Vanderbilt High School Indoor Invitational.
“These first two (larger) meets showed us the potential,” Keith said. “There are a lot of things we can do in there. Almost 900 spectators, and it didn’t feel overwhelming.”
Plenty of room for growth remains.
Keith hopes to tinker with managing the space, possibly adding second-level seating and bringing the public closer to the horizontal jumps. A state-of-the-art video board also lets spectators see portions of races that would otherwise be obstructed.
He wants to bring larger invitationals to campus, possibly hosting the unofficial Tennessee high school indoor state championships and the Ohio Valley Conference indoor championships.
By the time the Commodores host the 2017 SEC Indoor Championships, Keith wants to see crowds of 2,000 and 3,000 fill the facility.
“Indoors, you are allowed more access to be right on top of it,” Keith said. “I think the athletes like it, and the spectators obviously enjoy it. Watching what happened the last two weekends (in January), I have complete confidence we can put on as good an SEC meet as possible.”