August 22, 2017
ZURICH — The 2017 track season is drawing to a close, but before everyone sets off on their fall break, we get two last blowout meets: the Diamond League finals her in Zurich on Thursday and next Friday in Brussels (September 1). Each meet will see 16 Diamond League champions crowned, and unlike in previous years, there’s no math involved: the winner of each event earns the title of Diamond League champion and $50,000 in prize money.
The prize money for all top 8 finishers is much higher than normal as well as each event features $100,000 in prize money as compared to the normal $30,000 in a regular DL meet as shown below.
|Normal DL Meet||Final DL Meet|
|Place||Prize Money (USD)||Place||Prize Money (USD)|
As a result, the fields are stacked across the board. Mo Farah is running the Diamond League final for the first time since 2010, but he’ll have his hands full against world champion Muktar Edris and bronze medalist Paul Chelimo. The men’s 1500 features all three medalists from Worlds, headlined by world champ Elijah Manangoi. The women’s 800 field includes Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba, Sifan Hassan and American Charlene Lipsey, while world champ Emma Coburn leads a deep women’s steeplechase.
There will be plenty of stars in action in non-distance events as well. Sandi Morris and Katerina Stefanidi kick things off with the women’s pole vault at Zurich Main Station on Wednesday night before the action shifts to Letzigrund Stadium on Thursday. World champs Mutaz Essa Barshim, Sam Kendricks, Luvo Manyonga, Justin Gatlin and Johannes Vetter will all compete in their specialty events. The race of the night may be the women’s 200, which features all three medalists from London — Dafne Schippers, Marie-Josee Ta Lou, and Shaunae Miller-Uibo plus Olympic champ Elaine Thompson.
We’ll be on-site in Zurich all week to give you the scoop. So let’s jump right into our preview of the mid-d and distance races for you.
What: 2017 Weltklasse Zurich
Where: Letzigrund, Zurich, Switzerland
When: Thursday, August 24. DL track events (and the international TV broadcast) begin at 2:00 p.m. ET.
How to watch: This meet will air live in the United States on the NBC Sports Network from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET (full field events are also available on the Gold package for a fee). In Europe, it’s on Eurosport. In Canada, CBC broadcasts all 14 Diamond League events and live streams them also. For full TV/streaming details, see below.
London 2017 medalists listed in bold
Men’s 1500 (2:13 p.m. ET): Manangoi & Cheruiyot look to cap banner year for Kenya
|Jakub Holusa||Czech Republic||3:33.36||3:34.26|
|Jake Wightman||Great Britain||3:34.17||3:34.17|
Kenya has owned this event all year long, so it should come as no surprise that the field for the Diamond League final — which is determined by points earned across the first 12 DL meets — is 58% Kenyan (and that’s not counting rabbits Jackson Kivuva and Andrew Rotich). The two fastest men on the year, Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot, have gone 1-2 in their last two races, which happened to be the two toughest races of the year — the Monaco Diamond League on July 21 and the World Championship final on August 13. In both races, Cheruiyot and Manangoi won from the front, and we’d expect them to employ a similar strategy in Zurich for a few reasons.
First, they’re training partners, so running together comes naturally to them. Second, Cheruiyot and Manangoi have been a cut above the rest of the world this year. Manangoi has run 3:28.80, Cheruiyot has run 3:29.10 and no one else in this field has run faster than 3:31. Third, front-running is working for them. If they went 1-2 in Monaco and 1-2 in London, why would they change things up in Zurich? Try to run 3:28 again and dare the rest of the field to go with them.
Of course, that type of strategy carries risk as it’s awfully tough to run under 3:30. Cheruiyot and Manangoi will have had 11 days to recover since the final in London, but as we saw in Birmingham, it’s possible that they’ll suffer from a post-Worlds letdown. Remember, Cheruiyot won last year’s Diamond League final, and part of that was likely due to the fact that he was fresher than many of his opponents as he did not run the Olympics in Rio. If one or both of the top two falter, World Champs bronze medalist Filip Ingebrigtsen of Norway will be waiting to pick up the pieces.
But he too had to run three rounds in London. So perhaps we should keep an eye out for 3:27 man Silas Kiplagat, who won the Diamond League final in 2012 and 2013. Kiplagat was 2nd in the DL opener in Doha and 3rd in Lausanne in July and with no races in the last month, he should be well-rested for this one. The flipside, of course, is that after a month away from the scene, Kiplagat could come out rusty in Zurich.
Four-time global champ Asbel Kiprop is also entered, but considering he’s finished 13th, 4th and 11th in his three DL 1500/miles, was only 8th at Worlds and only 7th in the 800 in Birmingham on Sunday (in 1:46.05), he doesn’t look like a threat to win here.
LRC prediction: Manangoi and Cheruiyot have been dominant this year. It’s possible they struggle with post-Worlds fatigue, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt based on what they’ve accomplished already in 2017.
Women’s 3000 steeplechase (2:31 p.m. ET): World champ Emma Coburn battles a loaded field
|Fadwa Sidi Madane||Morocco||9:23.99||9:23.99|
Emma Coburn is the world champion, and though plenty of crazy things happened in that race, she didn’t fluke her way to the world title. Coburn ran 9:02.58, a meet record that put her #6 on the all-time list, in the most important race of the year. But Coburn was not the fittest woman in the field. That was Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, who cost herself almost 10 seconds by forgetting to run the first water jump and falling on a barrier 200 meters later and still ran 9:10. Considering the extra effort Chepkoech used to overcome that deficit, her performance in London was likely worth under 9:00 and in Zurich, she’ll get a chance to prove it. Remember, in the final DL race before Worlds in Paris, against a field we lauded as the greatest ever assembled in this event, Chepkoech was a runaway winner.
It’s for that reason that we’re picking Chepkoech, not Coburn, to win in Zurich (assuming she remembers to hurdle the first water jump). But this has been an extremely egalitarian event this year. In all, there have been six steeples contested at Diamond League meets (four counted in the DL standings), and those races produced six different winners — none of whom were the gold (Coburn) or silver (Courtney Frerichs) medalists at Worlds. We’re almost guaranteed a repeat winner in Zurich, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Chepkoech; Olympic silver medalist Hyvin Kiyeng is very consistent, taking second in Paris and third at Worlds, and she’s definitely in shape to challenge for the win in Zurich.
Considering world leader Celliphine Chespol and world record holder Ruth Jebet both looked cooked in London, we may not see another world record as we did in the first post-Olympic steeple in 2016. But Coburn, Kiyeng and Chepkoech are all very fit, and if they’re recovered from London (Coburn did not look great in running 8:48 for a flat 3k in Birmingham on Sunday), one or more of them could take a crack at sub-9:00.
US fans will be a little disappointed that Frerichs isn’t in this race but she didn’t qualify as she was sick before her only DL steeple of the season and finished last. She was 5th at Pre but that didn’t count in the standings as the women’s steeple wasn’t a Diamond League event at Pre and one fifth place showing wouldn’t have been enough points to qualify anyway. If the DL counted results from Worlds as a DL event (much like the Abbott World Marathon Majors does) then Frerichs would have qualified as a third place showing (6 points) would have been enough to qualify.
You can see the DL points for the season here.
LRC prediction: Chepkoech was in monster shape in London but didn’t get to prove it. She’ll take that opportunity in Zurich and run sub-9:00. We’ll take Kiyeng for second and Coburn third, though a sub-9:00 for Coburn may have to wait until 2018.
Women’s 800 (2:58 p.m. ET): Caster Semenya goes for 20th straight win at 800 meters
|Sifan Hassan||The Netherlands||1:56.81||1:56.81|
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||1:55.16||1:55.16|
|Sanne Verstegen||The Netherlands||1:59.55||1:59.55|
You know the deal by this point. It’s an 800, so Caster Semenya isn’t losing. The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s 2015 decision to suspend the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism guidelines has led to total dominance by Semenya, who has won 19 straight 800s dating back to September 2015, and though she has been challenged more frequently in 2017, she remains undefeated on the year. We see no reason to expect anything to change in Zurich.
One interesting storyline is whether Semenya can run any faster than the 1:55.16 personal best she clocked to win the world title in London. That time puts her #8 on the all-time list, but considering she achieved it through a big negative split (58.53/56.63) and most athletes run their fastest 800s by running a positive split, her run in London suggests she’s capable of running well under 1:55 and perhaps challenging Jarmila Kratochvilova‘s controversial world record of 1:53.28. However, aside from her runs in Monaco in 2016 and 2017, Semenya has been reluctant to challenge for a fast time from the front, and in Zurich we expect she’ll do just enough to win.
Just enough to win could still be pretty fast, though, as Francine Niyonsaba is in the field, and were it not for Semenya, Niyonsaba would be the one grabbing all the headlines. Since the start of the 2016 season, Niysonaba, whom many also believe is hyperandrogenic, has run 16 800’s. In 15 of those 16, she’s either won or finished second to Semenya. In the 16th, at the Pre Classic in May, she was third behind Semenya and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui. Niyonsaba likes to run from the front and ran 1:55 in both Monaco and London. If she does the same in Zurich, Semenya may have to run close to 1:54 just to earn the victory.
Niyonsaba’s front-running may also have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the field by dragging them to fast times. Melissa Bishop would have two more medals were it not for Semenya and Niyonsaba, but their fast runs at Rio 2016 and Monaco 2017 paved the way for Bishop to run Canadian records of 1:57.02 and 1:57.01. After an impressive fifth-place finish at Worlds, Bishop will be hoping to cap her season with her first career 1:56 in Zurich.
Charlene Lipsey is the only American in the field. She struggled on Sunday in Birmingham, running just 2:00.97, explaining that she was still “numb” after the World Championships. Lipsey did say that she expects to bounce back in Zurich, but against a field this stacked, we’re not that optimistic; Lipsey has had a very long season. We can’t blame her for extending it, however, as the payouts in Zurich are very nice. Eighth place still gets $2,000, which means Lipsey only has to beat one woman on Thursday (Sanne Verstegen is the rabbit) to pocket a cool two grand.
Sadly for Americans, Ajee Wilson — who has emerged as the top challenger to Semenya and Niyonsaba — will not be running the Diamond League final. While we understand that the Diamond League changed the format this year to encourage participation in its early-season meets, it’s unfortunate that World Championship medalists like Wilson don’t get a chance to compete. After her positive test for Zeranol in February, Wilson was instructed by USADA not to compete until the matter was settled (Wilson was not found at fault and did not have to serve a ban). As a result, she missed the first four DL 800’s (out of six total), only debuting outdoors at USAs in late June. Wilson then skipped Lausanne on July 1. And though she ran 1:55.61 in her only DL appearance in Monaco — the fastest non-Semenya/Niyonsaba time of 2017 by over a second — she only finished third, which did not give her enough points to qualify for the final.
As mentioned above, maybe a solution would be to offer DL points for Worlds/Olympics (much like the Abbott World Marathon Majors do) but then again, that would result in more people avoiding the early season meets.
LRC prediction: Semenya wins, Niyonsaba second and Bishop breaks 1:57.
Men’s 5,000 (3:14 p.m. ET): Mo Farah looks to avenge London loss to Muktar Edris in his final race on the track
|Mo Farah||Great Britain||12:53.11||13:00.70|
The men’s 5000 in Zurich has a proud history, with Haile Gebrselassie twice setting the world record on this track, most notably his epic 12:44.39 in 1995 that blew a full 10 seconds off the old world record. If you haven’t seen the video of that race, take five minutes and watch it now, if only to hear the announcers gradually lose their minds as they realize Geb is going to smash the WR:
Zurich also offers fond memories for U.S. fans. Bob Kennedy ran his pb of 12:58.21 here in 1996, and 13 years later, Dathan Ritzenhein broke Kennedy’s American record by running 12:56.27 on the same track.
Unfortunately for fans of fast running, we may not get a chance to see another historically quick race on Thursday as the $50,000 winning prize means that place, not time, is the priority in Zurich. That’s a shame, as this is a very strong field that includes the top six finishers from Worlds, led by Muktar Edris and Mo Farah. Edris has run a world-leading 12:55 this year, and Farah has said that he’s in PR shape (12:53), but Farah suggested after his win in Birmingham on Sunday that he’ll only go for a fast time if he has to chase competitors like Edris.
“There’s a lot of money up front, so I don’t know how they’re going to do,” Farah said.
Farah’s not the only one who could miss out on a fast time as American Paul Chelimo is in terrific shape as well. Chelimo, who earned bronze in London, is capable of running well under 13:00 and were this a strict time-trial-style race, he would have a shot at Bernard Lagat‘s 12:53.60 American record. With Ethiopians Edris, Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega in the mix, there’s still a chance that this one goes quick, but will anyone be willing to keep pushing the pace in the second half of the race once the rabbit drops out?
As far as who wins, usually it’s a given to pick Farah, but Edris has been in better form of late; in addition to his head-to-head win over Farah at Worlds — in which Edris closed in a blistering 52.3 for his last lap — he also took down top-notch fields in Paris and Lausanne. But Farah’s loss at Worlds was his first over 5,000 meters in over four years; he’s certainly got a good chance to win here in what will be the final track race of his storied career.
Don’t discount Chelimo, either, who was just .08 behind Farah at Worlds. Though an American record will take a concerted effort to chase a fast time, Chelimo could still sneak under 13:00 if they get out quick enough and someone winds up the pace from far enough out at the end. That in itself would be impressive as no American has broken 13:00 since Bernard Lagat in September 2013.
It’s a bit of a surprise to see Ronald Kwemoi on the start list here. The Kenyan was brilliant early on this year, racking up DL wins in Doha (3k) and Eugene (mile), but he picked up an injury last month and has not been able to shake it, going out in the semis at Worlds in the 1500. Kwemoi qualified to run the 1500 in Zurich but chose the 5000 instead, perhaps believing that he has a better chance to outkick the distance guys than to take down speedsters Manangoi and Cheruiyot in the shorter event. If that’s the case, the field should be wary of allowing the pace to slow too much — though if Kwemoi isn’t 100%, he may not be able to kick with the likes of Edris and Farah anyway.
American Ben True is also entered by virtue of sixth-place finishes in Paris and Lausanne, and though he can run with anyone at his best, he could struggle against a stacked field here. True was second in his last race as Stephen Kibet outkicked him to win the Beach to Beacon 10K road race, 27:55 to 27:56, on August 5.
LRC prediction: Farah is one of the best ever, but Edris is in better form. As London 2017 showed, no one is guaranteed a perfect ending. Edris wins as Farah’s track career comes to an end with a defeat.
Talk about the meet on our fan forum: The Zurich DL final is Thursday – Will Mo Farah end his track career as a winner? Will the 5k AR fall?
Correction: The article initially stated Kennedy first broke 13:00 in Zurich. Kennedy first broke 13:00 in Stockholm in 1996 and then did it again in Zurich.
More: Zurich coverage: A big tidbit from Zurich: Mo Farah thinks he could have run a 5,000 in 12:45 (and an 800 in 1:44-5) had he time trialed one in his prime Plus Emma Coburn gives her thoughts on whether the 9:00 barrier is breakable.
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