Women’s Preview: Great Mid-D Action on Tap with Sum vs. Wilson vs. Sharp, Rowbury vs. Hassan; Coburn Battles Ayalew in Steeple

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By LetsRun.com
September 12, 2014

Earlier today, we previewed the men’s mid-d/distance events at the IAAF Continental Cup, which will take place this weekend in Marrakech, Morocco. In that article, which you can read here, we also explained how the competition works and what’s at stake. The bottom line: there’s $2.9 million in prize money to be awarded, with the winners of each race receiving $30,000 and there is a also a team competition between Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe.

Below we preview the women’s mid-d and distance action which given the prize money features plenty of stars such as Ajee Wilson, Shannon Rowbury, Sifan Hassan, Genzebe Dibaba and Emma Coburn. The U.S. has an entrant in all 10 mid-d/distance events and that’s the most you can have as it’s only one entrant per country.

Full teams: Africa * Americas * Asia-Pacific * Europe

*TV/streaming *Schedule/results: The meet will be shown live on Universal Sports Network starting at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can also stream the meet on UniversalSports.com.

Talk about the meet on the messageboard here: MB: Continental Cup in Marrakech, Morocco 9/13-14

Women’s 800 (Saturday, 2:55 p.m. ET): Eunice Sum vs. Lynsey Sharp vs. Ajee Wilson

NameTeamPBSBComment
Tintu LukaAsia-Pacific1:59.172:00.56
Angela SmitAsia-Pacific2:00.032:00.595th at Commonwealth Games
Tigist AssefaAfrica1:59.241:59.24Won in Berlin, then 7th in DL Final in Brussels
Eunice SumAfrica1:57.381:57.92World/Commonwealth/African/DL champ was 3rd in DL Final
Sahily DiagoAmericas1:57.741:57.74World Junior silver medallist is #2 on world list
Ajee WilsonAmericas1:57.671:57.67World leader has struggled in last 2 DL meets: 6th + 9th, neither faster than 2:01.70
Marina ArzamasovaEurope1:58.151:58.15Euro champ has enjoyed breakout year; 2:00 in last 3 races since Euro triumph
Lynsey SharpEurope1:58.801:58.80Commonwealth/Euro silver medallist won Birmingham DL, 2nd in Final in Zurich
Sum, seen here winning in Rome on June 5, was dominant early in the season

Sum, seen here winning in Rome on June 5, was dominant early in the season

Even though Wilson has not run well in her last two races, this is probably the best women’s field of the meet (with the 1500 a close second). It features the four fastest women from 2014 — Wilson, 19-year-old Cuban Sahily Diago, 2013 World champ Eunice Sum and European champ Marina Arzamasova. There’s also Lynsey Sharp, who might be better than all of them right now as she won the DL 800 in Birmingham on August 24 and was second in the DL Final in Brussels last week. Based on current form, the favorite ought to be Sharp or Sum, who was right behind Sharp in Birmingham and finished with an identical time to Sharp in Brussels. Because this is a championship-style race, we’ll give the edge to Sum as she has a lot more experience in big races than Sharp. Sum won worlds last year and the first four Diamond League races in 2014. She also won titles at the Commonwealth Games and African Champs, defeating Sharp to win the former. Sharp has developed a habit of getting second in big races this year — she was runner-up at the Commonwealth Games, European Champs and the DL Final — so look for history to repeat itself with Sum in first and Sharp in second.

After she finished second-to-last last week in 2:02.89 in Brussels, we called from a performance standpiont for Ajee Wilson to end her season, but there is a lot of moeny to be made in this one. Since the DL resumed in late August, Wilson has looked like an entirely different runner from the one who won in Glasgow and set a world leader in Monaco. When she was winning, Wilson looked comfortable even at the end of the race when her competition was hurting. In Birmingham (where she was 6th in 2:01.70) and Brussels, Wilson couldn’t even get near the front and was never a factor. We can’t fault Wilson for racing here because the money is so good. All finishers are guaranteed prize money, and even if she has another bad race and finishes sixth, she’d take home $3,000. But based on how she’s looked in her last two races, it would be a real surprise to see Wilson contending for the win in this one.

Marina Arzamasova could threaten Sum and Sharp up front as she beat Sharp to win Euros on August 16. She hasn’t run as well as Sharp since then, however, as Arzamasova has failed to break 2:00 in her three post-Euro races. One final name to watch is Sahily Diago. Her 1:57.74 from May still stands up as the #2 time on the year (she also has the 4th-fastest at 1:58.14), but she only raced in one DL meet (she was second to Sum in Rome on June 5). Diago took second at World Juniors in July and has tremendous potential as she is 15 months younger than Wilson. Diago won’t threaten the more experienced Sum and Sharp, but hopefully she runs a full Diamond League schedule next year as 1:57 at age 18 is remarkable (she turned 19 in August).

LRC Prediction: Sum gets back on track.

Women’s 1500 (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET): Can Shannon Rowbury Finally Get a Win?

NameTeamPBSBComment
Mimi BeleteAsia-Pacific4:00.084:00.08Highest DL 1500 finish was 5th in Shanghai in May; doubling back from 3k
Selma KajanAsia-Pacific4:13.164:13.16
Hellen ObiriAfrica3:57.053:57.05Hasn’t run great recently but did win African Champs; 4th in road mile in Newcastle on Sat.
Dawit SeyaumAfrica3:59.533:59.53World Junior champ was 2nd at African Champs
Shannon RowburyAmericas3:59.493:59.4929-year-old has run great in ’14; 2nd in Zurich 1500, 8:29 3k PR in Brussels
Nicole SifuentesAmericas4:04.654:04.87World Indoor bronze medallist hasn’t carried that form over to outdoors
Sifan HassanEurope3:57.003:57.00Euro champ hasn’t dominated recently, but still running well with 4th in Zurich 1500, 2nd in Brussels 3k
Renata PlisEurope4:03.504:05.40
Rowbury was thisclose to winning USAs on June 27

Rowbury was thisclose to winning USAs on June 27

Shannon Rowbury has enjoyed a career year, setting personal bests at 1500, 3000, 2 miles and 5000. Despite the success, however, Rowbury has just one win on the year, the 5000 at Oxy in May. That’s not meant as a shot at Rowbury — again, she’s had a great year and the women’s 1500 is a deep event right now — but we’re sure she’d like to end her season with a win after agonizing second-place performances in the 5000 at USAs and the DL 1500 Final in Zurich. Standing in Rowbury’s way is 2014 world leader Sifan Hassan, whom Rowbury defeated in Zurich but lost to a week later in the 3000 in Brussels. The two were close enough together in those races that it’s hard to proclaim either one a favorite but Hassan, given her many wins this year, deserves the nod.

Looking at the rest of the field, Hellen Obiri would be a threat to run this race were it held in May, but given her current form (9th in the DL Final in Zurich), she probably won’t be a factor. Eighteen-year-old World Junior champ Dawit Seyaum is an intriguing name, as she won World Juniors easily in July and has a season’s best just .04 behind Rowbury’s. Plus, Seyaum actually beat Rowbury — and Jenny Simpson — in the New York DL race in June. She’s still something of an unknown quantity, though, since she has only raced once since World Juniors, taking second behind Obiri at the African Championships. Like Diago in the 800, it’s unlikely Seyaum will defeat the favorites in this race, but she’s already very, very good at a young age.

Quick Thought: Jenny Simpson isn’t running at the Continental Cup because she’s in Saturday’s Fifth Avenue Mile in New York. Simpson probably got a nice appearance fee to run in New York and she’s run there each of the last three years, winning twice. Still, we can’t imagine the $5,000 she’d get for winning Fifth Avenue plus her appearance fee comes out to more than the $30,000 she’d get for winning in Marrakech. In the long-term, it’s certainly in her financial interest to remain in the good graces of the NYRR. And of course, Simpson already won $40,000 for taking home the DL title (plus $20,000 more for her wins in Stockholm & Zurich).

LRC Prediction: Rowbury gets denied again, Hassan FTW.

Women’s 3000 (Saturday, 4:20 p.m. ET): Genzebe Dibaba Should Win Easily

NameTeamPBSBComment
Mimi BeleteAsia-Pacific8:30.008:30.00Also running 1500
Yuika MoriAsia-Pacific9:05.579:05.57
Genzebe DibabaAfrica8:16.608:16.60World Indoor champ ran 8:29 to take 2nd in Brussels last week
Janet KisaAfrica8:32.668:32.66African bronze medallist at 5k was 8th in Brussels
Gabe GrunewaldAmericas8:42.648:52.39Most recent efforts were 4:06 1500 in Zagreb on 9/2 and 2:02 800 in Rieti on Sunday
Jessica O’ConnellAmericas8:54.878:54.87
Meraf BahtaEurope8:57.068:57.06Euro 5k champ is much better than 3k PR suggests
Susan KuijkenEurope8:36.088:36.0813th in Brussels
Dibaba won World Indoors at 3000 in March

Dibaba won the 3000 at World Indoors in March

Indoor 3000 world record holder Genzebe Dibaba is the heavy favorite in this race. How unlikely would it be for her to lose? Well she’s raced the other seven women in this field a total of 27 times, and her record in those races is 25-2 (the two losses both came in 1500s; neither came in the past two years). Dibaba is coming off a third-place showing in the 3000 in Brussels where she ran 8:29.41, handily beating Mimi Belete and Janet Kisa, the two women with PRs even moderately close to Dibaba’s 8:16.60. The only woman who would definitely be favored over Dibaba at 3000 right now is Kenya’s Mercy Cherono, but Cherono was only 5th in the African Champs 5k, which meant that Kisa, who was 3rd, got priority for selection. Meraf Bahta, who beat Sifan Hassan to win gold in the 5000 at Euros, has a small chance to challenge Dibaba, but she has been beaten badly in her two matchups against Dibaba this year in the 3000 in Lausanne and the 1500 in Stockholm. Dibaba is far enough ahead of the rest of the field that she can win with any strategy, so it would be a major upset if she were to lose this race.

Quick Thought/What About The Sport?: The Continental Cup already suffers from a lack of depth because of the limits on entries (two per continent, one per country) and it exacerbates this problem in the longer-distance races by holding both a 3000 and a 5000. Look at the start lists for the men’s and women’s 3000 and 5000. On their own, none of the four races are that compelling. But if the IAAF were to combine the 3000 and 5000 into a single 16-person race, suddenly the fields would be a lot better. One problem is that the meet is team-scored — every event has eight entrants, with points going from 8 for first down to 1 for eighth. Our solution would be to just score the top eight places in the new event and double the prize money. By combining the 3000 and 5000 into a single race, the meet would end up with two good races rather than four average ones. And with $60,000 on the line for first place, all the top athletes would be sure to run. Make this happen, IAAF.

To add intrigue, we think they could even draw out of a hat right before the start line whether they’d run a 3000 or 5000.

LRC Prediction: Dibaba FTW.

Women’s 5000 (Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET): Almaz Ayana, Then Who?

NameTeamPBSBComment
Tejitu DabaAsia-Pacific15:05.5915:15.74No races since 8:52 3k on June 21
Eloise WellingsAsia-Pacific14:54.1115:14.995th in Commonwealth Games; 18th in Brussels 3k
Almaz AyanaAfrica14:25.8414:29.19WC bronze medallist & African champ was 9th in Brussels 3k
Joyce ChepkiruiAfricaN/AN/ACommonwealth/African champ at 10k
Brenda FloresAmericas15:30.8715:30.87
Katie MackeyAmericas15:04.7415:04.74Has only run one 5k this year; ran 4:13 1500 on 9/2 in Italy
Clemence CalvinEurope15:07.5815:07.58Euro 10k silver medallist
Jo PaveyEurope14:39.9615:04.87Took bronze at Commonwealths 5k, gold at Euros in 10k; turns 41 next weekend

Even though she was just 9th in the DL 3000 in Brussels last week, it’s hard to imagine 2013 World 5000 bronze medalist Almaz Ayana losing to anyone in this field over 5000 meters. Joyce Chepkirui is a fantastic road runner (she won the Beach to Beacon 10k and Falmouth Road Race in 2013) and was the Commonwealth Games and African champion at 10,000 meters. However, 5000 is probably too short for her to hope to contend with the 14:25 woman Ayana (#6 all-time). According to All-Athletics.com, Chepkirui has never run a race shorter than 10,000 meters as a pro. Because the field is so weak, Chepkirui could still finish as high as second, but Ayana — who won the African Champs by 10 seconds against a field that included Genzebe Dibaba and Mercy Cherono — is the heavy favorite.

Soon-to-be 41-year-old Jo Pavey is a great story, as she earned her spot here by finally winning gold at Europeans in her fourth attempt. She should battle Chepkirui for second but won’t be able to touch Ayana. American Katie Mackey has the second-best SB of anyone in the field, but her most recent race (4:13 for 1500 in a race won in 4:05) isn’t encouraging.

LRC Prediction: Ayana wins going away on paper but she struggled last week. Chepkirui has 30,000 reasons to pull off the upset here.

Women’s 3000 steeple (Sunday, 12:50 p.m. ET): Hiwot Ayalew, Emma Coburn and Wunderkind Ruth Jebet

NameTeamPBSBComment
Ruth JebetAsia-Pacific9:20.559:20.55World Junior champ was 4th in DL Final in Zurich; won in Berlin 2 weeks ago
Stella RadfordAsia-Pacific10:19.2910:19.29
Salima Alami AloualiAfrica9:21.249:21.24Bronze at African Champs
Hiwot AyalewAfrica9:09.619:10.64World leader/DL champ had won 5 straight races before 2nd in Zurich DL
Emma CoburnAmericas9:11.429:11.42Struggled (for her) at recent DL races in Stockholm + Zurich: 5th + 3rd
Jessica FurlanAmericas9:33.459:33.45
Charlotta FougbergEurope9:23.969:23.96Euro silver medallist
Sviatlana KudzelichEurope9:27.959:27.95Belarussian coming off PR in Berlin

Diamond League/African champion and world leader Hiwot Ayalew has only lost once since May 31, finishing second in the DL Final in Zurich on August 28. The woman who beat her there, Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia, was only fifth at the African Championships and didn’t get a spot in the Continental Cup, leaving American Emma Coburn and 17-year-old Ruth Jebet of Bahrain (born in Kenya) as her main competition.

Coburn’s accomplishments are well-known to American fans. She went from a solid international steepler to one of the very best in the world in 2014, dropping her PR from 9:23.54 all the way down to 9:11.42 and breaking training partner Jenny Simpson’s American record in the process. Coburn hasn’t run as well over the last few weeks as she did earlier in the season (she was 1st, 3rd, 2nd and 2nd in her first four DL races with PRs in each; in her last two DL races, she was 3rd and 5th), but that was to be expected as it’s nearly impossible to PR every time out as Coburn was doing. Beating Ayalew will be difficult as Coburn hasn’t been able to do it since the DL opener in Shanghai.

One woman who could challenge Ayalew is Ruth Jebet, the World Junior champion who competes for Bahrain. Jebet was fourth in the DL Final in Zurich — her first-ever DL appearance — and in that race, she was closer to Ayalew (1.24 seconds ahead of Jebet) than she was to Coburn (3.34 behind Jebet). Jebet’s time of 9:20.55 was the fastest time ever by a runner younger than 19 and only .18 off Birtukan Adamu‘s World Junior record from 2011 (which Jebet still has another year to go after). Jebet followed that up with a 9:26.94 win in Berlin on August 31 and should contend for the win in Marrakech. Even if she doesn’t, watch the clock as Adamu’s World Junior record of 9:20.37 is very much in jeopardy.

LRC Prediction: Ayalew’s lucrative 2014 continues.

More: LRC Men’s Preview: Amos vs. Aman, Jager vs. Birech, Ndiku vs. Lagat and an 1500 Worthy of the Olympics 


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