May 31, 2014
EUGENE, Ore. — An incredible 2014 Pre Classic is in the books. Over the span of just 2.5 hours, there were close to 10 events that were comparable to (or even in some cases better) than an Olympic final.
Right now, we don’t have time to recap all of the six mid/d-distance events held today (men’s 800, mile, and 5k, women’s 1500, steeple and 2-mile). Hopefully, we’ll find time to do a men’s race recap and women’s race recap later but in the meantime, we give our 5 Quick Takeaways from the 2014 Pre Classic.
Update on 6/2: Our recaps our done:
Ayanleh Souleiman Runs 3:47; Manzano Returns To Winner’s Circle – 9 Takes From 2 Great Miles At 2014 Pre Classic A ridiculous 22 men broke 3:55 on Sunday in Eugene. We give you the scoop.
David Rudisha And Mo Aman Lose As Nijel Amos Wins; Caleb Ndiku Outkicks Alamirew As The Americans Struggle David Rudisha had a tough last 100 in the 800 and the American men had a tough last half in the 5,000.)
1. What an incredible Bowerman Mile
Save the best for last. The Bowerman Mile is always the last event at Pre Classic and often the highlight of the Pre Classic, and though the other distance races were loaded as well in 2014, Ayanleh Souleiman ensured that the four-lap race delivered once again.
Souleiman made a big move with 300 to go, and Silas Kiplagat was the only man in the field to respond. Kiplagat, who won here last year, would end up second in 3:47.88 as Souleiman set a meet record, running 3:47.32.
Let’s put that 3:47.32 in perspective for you. That’s the fastest time in the world since Alan Webb’s American record of 3:46.91 in 2007.
But Souleiman wasn’t the only good guy to run well here. Just how good was this race? Well World silver medalist Matt Centrowitz set a new personal best of 3:50.53 and that only placed him 8th.
In all, 10 of the 14 runners set PBs, and four set national records (Souleiman for Djibouti, Aman Wote for Ethiopia, Johan Cronje for South Africa and Henrik Ingebrigtsen for Norway). The race had six men under 3:50 and four more under 3:52, as all-time records were set for the sixth through 11th finishers in this one.
Surprisingly, two-time defending world champion Asbel Kiprop was one of the guys who didn’t have a good race. He was nowhere to be seen once the move was made with 300 to go and almost looked as if he gave up once he realized he wasn’t going to win. Kiprop told us later that he thought the leaders would make their move with 200 to go and was caught off guard when they went earlier. He also added that he still plans on challenging on the world 1500 record of 3:26.00 later in the summer in Monaco on July 18.
While Centrowitz set a PB, he told us he was a bit disappointed to be so far from the lead and disappointed that he didn’t break 3:50.
2. Rudisha and Aman both lose/Amos wins
Coming in, the men’s 800 meters received a lot of attention and rightly so. It featured the return of Olympic champ and world-record holder David Rudisha against quite possibly the greatest 800 field ever assembled. The Hayward Field crowd loved Rudisha, and he got the loudest applause of the day when he was introduced prior to the race.
We saw flashes of the old Rudisha for the first 600 on Saturday, but when the race was over, it wasn’t Rudisha or world indoor/outdoor champ Mo Aman of Ethiopia celebrating. No, it was Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana, who used a strong last 100 to pull away for the win over Aman in 1:43.63.
The most interesting part of this race came with 200 to go when Aman accelerated rapidly in an attempt to pass Rudisha for the lead. Rudisha responded quickly, and the two were close to an all-out sprint as they began to gap the field.
Their impatience would cost them, however, as they both ran out of steam over the last 100, especially Rudisha. Aman held on for second behind Amos, who timed his move perfectly, while Rudisha fell all the way back to seventh, giving several guys a much-prized scalp.
Rudisha and Aman were so focused on beating each other that they ended up handing the race to Amos. It was a classic case of each guy focusing on a single opponent rather than the field, and they couldn’t afford to do that against such a stellar group of runners. Think about it: entering the meet, Aman was the only man to beat Rudisha since 2010. And Aman himself was riding a 13-race win streak entering Pre. They both saw each other as their biggest threats, and by countering each other with 200 to go, they left the door wide open for Amos.
You’ve only got one move in an 800 and an all-out acceleration 200 meters out from the finish is foolish when there is a third guy in the field who ran 1:41.73 as an 18-year old at the 2012 Olympics. After the 2012 Games, we wondered if moving forward if Rudisha would be able to handle the young upstarts in Aman and Amos. Amos, like Rudisha, was gone for most of 2013, but he was right with Aman in his first 800 of 2014 and ahead of them both in his second here.
For the time being, Amos is the new #1 in the 800.
3. Big days for Jenny Simpson and Hellen Obiri
Hellen Obiri has had an incredible last few weeks.
On May 9th, she ran what was likely a clean outdoor world record of 8:20 for 3k in Doha, last week she set a world record in the 4×1500 at the World Relays and today she broke the meet record at Pre for the second year in a row, running a world-leading 3:57.05.
More importantly, she’s beaten the two women who indoors were viewed as unbeatable in women’s distance running except if they raced each other – Abeba Aregawi of Sweden (who was second today in 3:57.57) and Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia.
Dibaba was viewed as untouchable indoors, setting world records at 1500, 3000 and two miles before winning the world indoors 3k. The other runners were so intimidated by Aregawi at the world indoors 1500 that they let her go early, essentially ceding the gold medal and allowing Aregawi to win by over six seconds. Obiri beat Dibaba handily in the Doha 3k and added a win over Aregawi here. She’s the best women’s distance runner on the planet on the track right now.
The US’s best women’s distance runner on the track – 2011 world champ Jenny Simpson – had a good day today as well as she finally set a 1500 PB for the first time in five years. Simpson ran 3:59.90 at Pre in 2009 while in college at Colorado, and after running 4:00 in Shanghai two weeks ago she finally got under 4:00 again at Pre, finishing fourth in 3:58.28 (Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon in third in 3:58.01). Simpson moves up to #3 on the U.S.’s all-time list behind Mary Decker-Slaney and Suzy Favor-Hamilton.
Convicted doper Decker-Slaney’s American record is 3:57.12 and Simpson said that she’d love to break it if possible. Rather than billing up a certain race as a record attempt, Simpson said she’d just like to get in great shape for some of the later European races and hope that the pacing and competition is good enough for her to run a really fast time.
4. It was a tough day for the Hayward Field P.A. announcer
Hayward Field P.A. announcer Gary Hill is a legend in track and field circles, but he wasn’t at his best on Saturday at the Pre Classic. Hey, even Babe Ruth went 0-for-4 every once in a while.
Glaring mistakes happened one after the other and he misidentified race winner after race winner. In the women’s 1500, he said that Faith Kipyegon was battling Abeba Aregawi for the win when it was in fact Hellen Obiri that got the win. Then in the men’s 800, Hill said that Alfred Kipketer was pulling away to win the race when it was actually Nijel Amos. Kipketer was way back, next to last.
Finally, in the Bowerman Mile, Hill repeatedly told the crowd that Silas Kiplagat was leading on the final lap. But it was actually Ayanleh Souleiman in front, with Kiplagat in second.
We can sympathize to a point as often multiple athletes will be wearing the same singlet and it can be hard to pick them out from the top of the bleachers. But you’ve got to think Hill had a spotter helping him and a monitor nearby, and it was easy to see on the monitors that it was Souleiman, not Kiplagat, who was leading the race.
It must have been very confusing for the casual fan to follow the races when the P.A. announcer didn’t know who was winning. Normally we’d give Hill a pass, but it’s unacceptable to screw up three of the biggest races of the meet.
After the race, we asked Hellen Obiri if she was offended by Hill’s mistake. To her credit, she laughed it off and said that she looks like Kipyegon.
5. Order is restored in the women’s steeple.
American Emma Coburn pulled off a surprise victory at the last Diamond League meet in Shanghai, and though Coburn set another PB here at Pre (9:17.84) to take third, she lost out to Ethiopians Sofia Assefa and Hiwot Ayalew, who were simply too good over the final two laps.
Coburn led most of the way and was actually speeding up toward the end of the race, running a penultimate lap of 72 seconds, her fastest of the day. But Assefa and Ayalew moved past her on the second-to-last lap and really hammered it home. Assefa’s winning time of 9:11.39 was a world leader and meet record.
The fact that Assefa and Ayalew beat Coburn makes sense as Assefa and Ayalew were second and third behind Coburn in Shanghai two weeks ago. There they simply spotted her too much space and couldn’t close hard enough. They stayed closer to Coburn this time out and beat Coburn handily at the end.
To her credit, Coburn tried to gap them early once again today and at times had a little gap. Coburn was happy after the race was finished, and rightfully so. It’s another PB for her (and the conditions weren’t ideal as it was a little windy) and more proof that she is now one of the world’s best steeplers.
Defending world champ Milcah Chemos, who said she wasn’t in great shape heading into Shanghai, where she ran just 9:38, was even worse today as she didn’t even finish.
6. The Americans should be thankful that Kenya only gets three entries at worlds/the Olympics.
While there were a number of strong American mid-d/distance performances today, no American came close to winning an event. In fact, only one was top 3 (Coburn). Simpson was near the front in the 1500, but no American man threatened in the 5000, 800 or Bowerman Mile. Galen Rupp ran and won yesterday, but apart from him and the injured Nick Symmonds, all the big-name Americans were here.
Because there are no country limits on entries at Diamond League meets, you can sometimes get better fields at a meet like this than you might get at a world/Olympic final. For instance, in the Bowerman Mile the three medalists from the Moscow 1500, Kiprop, Centrowitz and Cronje, went 7-8-9 here, with three Kenyans in front of them. Five Kenyans were in top 10 today and all ran 3:51.12 or better here. In the Olympics, two of them wouldn’t even be able to get into the meet.
Moreover, one of the disadvantages that elite Kenyan runners face in championship years is that they have to run fast times early and approach near-peak fitness for the Kenyan trials whereas runners for lesser countries can focus entirely on peaking for the championship meet. Imagine if someone like James Magut, who was fifth in the Bowerman Mile in 3:49.43, was from Belgium, not Kenya.
He’d be able to focus completely on worlds/Olympics and time his peak perfectly. But since he’s Kenyan, he has to do really well at the start of the season to even have a shot at making the Kenyan team. By the time he reaches the championship meet, he might not be in the same shape he was early in the year.