May 23, 2018
No meet held on U.S. soil attracts more talent than the Prefontaine Classic. As the only Diamond League meet in the U.S., the fields are always going to be strong. But it’s the non-Diamond League events that set Pre apart and make it one of the best meets in the world year-in, year-out. A men’s 100 pitting world indoor champ Christian Coleman against world outdoor champ Justin Gatlin? A Bowerman Mile featuring the Olympic champ (Matthew Centrowitz), the world outdoor champ (Elijah Manangoi), and the world indoor champ (Samuel Tefera)? Neither of those events count in the Diamond League points standings but both rank among the most exciting of a stacked 2018 Prefontaine Classic — the final Pre Classic before Hayward Field is torn down and rebuilt.
We’ll have tons of Pre coverage this weekend and will be on-site in Eugene beginning on Thursday. Our Saturday preview will come out later in the week but we’re kicking off our Pre previews with a look at Friday’s events, which are highlighted by two loaded distance races — the men’s 800 and the men’s 2 mile, both of which feature a ton of stars (Nijel Amos, Emmanuel Korir, Donavan Brazier, Paul Chelimo, Edward Cheserek, and Muktar Edris, just to name a few).
In addition to the 800 and 2 mile, there is a stacked men’s pole vault (Renaud Lavillenie, Sam Kendricks, Thiago Braz) and javelin featuring the German trio of Johannes Vetter, Thomas Rohler, and Andreas Hoffman, all of whom have thrown over 90 meters this year. Plus there are B heats of the women’s 800 and 1500 (as of Tuesday, those fields had not been announced. We wish they’d run the International mile for men as well on Friday night but they run it on Saturday).
We give you the meet details followed by in-depth previews of the men’s 800 and 2 mile below.
What: 2018 Prefontaine Classic
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon
When: Friday, May 25 – Saturday, May 26
Men’s 800 (10:52 p.m. ET): Korir vs. Amos vs. Brazier vs. Kszcot, Oh My!
|Kyle Langford||Great Britain||1:45.25||1:45.61|
This is the race everyone wanted to see at World Indoors, except better. Because in addition to US indoor champ Donavan Brazier, world indoor champ Adam Kszczot, and Emmanuel Korir (whose 1:44.21 at Millrose was the fastest time indoors for 17 years), there’s 2017 World #1 Nijel Amos and 2017 Worlds medalist Kipyegon Bett of Kenya. Neither Brazier (who was DQ’d in the prelims) nor Korir (who could not secure a visa in time) wound up running the final at World Indoors, where the indoor maestro Kszczot prevailed. Fingers crossed everyone makes it to the start line on Friday because this should be a good one.
The favorite has to be Korir, who smoked Kszczot and pretty much everyone else to win the Diamond League opener in Doha on May 4. Korir has only raced twice this year, so we’ll forgive you if you forgot how good he is. Here’s a refresher:
- Korir began his career as a 400 runner and only moved up to the 800 in 2016. Since then, he has lost just two 800s. The first was at the 2016 Kenyan Championships, when a 20-year-old Korir finished 8th in a pb of 1:46.94 in what, according to Tilastopaja, was just his third 800 ever. The second came at Worlds last year, when he failed to advance from the semis after picking up a hip flexor injury in the first round.
- Last year, as a freshman at UTEP, Korir didn’t run on a track for the final three weeks before NCAA indoors due to an ankle injury and still won the national title.
- Later in 2017, he ran a world-leading 1:43.10 in Monaco in his Diamond League debut.
- He ran 1:44.21 this year indoors. Only Wilson Kipketer and 2004 Olympic champ Yuriy Borzakovskiy have run faster.
Korir’s long, powerful build and incredible 400 speed (44.53 pb) are reminiscent of David Rudisha, who, like Korir, attended St. Patrick’s School in Iten and was coached by Brother Colm O’Connell (Korir is now coached by 1988 Olympic champ Paul Ereng). Korir has a long way to go to match Rudisha’s accomplishments but he is clearly special (in case you are wondering, Rudisha’s official 400 pb is nearly a full second slower 45.50).
One of the disappointments of 2017 was that Korir never got to face World #1 Nijel Amos, but we’ll finally get that matchup on Friday. Though Amos began his career with an impressive medal haul (World Junior gold & Olympic silver in 2012, Universiade gold in 2013, Commonwealth & African gold in 2014), he has faltered at the major championships in recent years. He failed to make the final at Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016, and finished out of the medals as the favorite at London 2017. Despite failing to medal in 2017, the Eugene-based Amos was still the #1 ranked 800-meter runner in the world according to both LetsRun.com and TFN.
Most recently, he finished in last place at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, though that poor result has been attributed to a calf injury. According to the Portland Tribune, Amos took three weeks off after the injury, which would mean he returned to training around May 3. Pre will be his first race back, and in our mind, it’s too much to ask him to defeat a field of this caliber.
Of the men entered, Brazier is the only one who has yet to race this year outdoors, but he was tremendous indoors, crushing the field to win USA indoors in 1:45.10 and scaring Johnny Gray‘s US indoor record of 1:45.00 on multiple occasions. Brazier handled himself well in his three DL appearances last year (3rd Rome, 2nd London, 3rd Rabat), but a win here, against this field, would put him in rare company as in the past 10 years only two Americans (Nick Symmonds in 2009 and Boris Berian in 2016) have won the men’s 800 at Pre.
LRC prediction: With Amos on the mend and Shanghai winner Wycliffe Kinyamal sitting this one out, Korir is the clear pick FTW. If Korir commits to following the rabbit, he could well take down Amos’ 1:43.63 meet record from 2014.
Men’s 2 Mile (11:06 p.m. ET): King Ches returns to Hayward Field for the first time as a pro against a stellar field
|Mo Ahmed||Canada||Commonwealth 5k/10k silver|
|Birhanu Balew||Bahrain||Won Shanghai DL 5k|
|Selemon Barega||Ethiopia||World Indoor silver at 3k|
|Emmanuel Bor||USA||Ran 7:44 for 3k indoors|
|Paul Chelimo||USA||US indoor 1500/3k champ|
|Edward Cheserek||Kenya||Ran 3:49 mile indoors|
|Muktar Edris||Ethiopia||5k world champ|
|Ryan Hill||USA||Has made last 3 US World outdoor teams|
|Henrik Ingebrigtsen||Norway||Won Payton Jordan 5k|
|Eric Jenkins||USA||2nd at USAs in 5k last year|
|Shadrack Kipchirchir||USA||27:07 10k pb|
|Jacob Kiplimo||Uganda||World U20 XC champ|
|Lopez Lomong||USA||Two-time Olympian|
|Hassan Mead||USA||USA 10k champ|
|Albert Rop||Bahrain||12:51 5k pb|
|Abbabiya Simbassa||USA||4th at USAs in 10k last year|
|Paul Tanui||Kenya||Has medalled in last 4 global champs at 10k|
|Ben True||USA||Won 2 mile at Millrose last year|
|Richard Yator||Kenya||Coming off 13:20 pb in Japan|
We’re a little hesitant to call this the “best” event at the 2018 Pre Classic because, if you study the fields, you’ll see that almost every event is full of stars. But as distance fans, this is certainly the race we’re most intrigued by, mainly because we’ll get a chance to see what Edward Cheserek can do against the strongest field he’s ever faced.
Cheserek set the world on fire this winter, clocking the world’s second-fastest indoor mile ever (3:49.44) before coming back one night later to run 7:38 for 3k and destroy Olympic medalist Hagos Gebrhiwet in the process. But, as we all know, Cheserek is not yet a U.S. citizen and does not want to delay that process by competing for Kenya. That two-day double in Boston was the last anyone saw of Cheserek on a track as he did not compete at World Indoors.
Now Cheserek is back for his first outdoor track race as a pro, and there’s no more appropriate spot for it than Hayward Field, Cheserek’s home track in college where he won five NCAA titles for the Oregon Ducks. Everyone is eager to see how King Ches will do in his first Prefontaine Classic. (Yes, this time he’s actually running at Pre – it’s not an April Fool’s joke that fooled the media).
As strong as this field is, Cheserek absolutely has a chance to win here. 3:49 is some serious mile speed, but Cheserek’s best distance is probably somewhere between 3k and 5k, which makes this a great event for him. We should also remind everyone that it’s not as if Cheserek was backing off training much indoors as he was grinding out 100-mile weeks in Flagstaff even as he ripped off super fast miles. We have no idea if Cheserek is in the same kind of shape that he was in February, but with the volume he put in and the benefit of training at altitude for the first time, he could be an even better runner now than the last time we saw him.
But Cheserek is not in college anymore, where he could play sit and kick every time, knowing his speed would always win out. It’s different in the pros. Yes, having a big kick is still important, but to be the best in the world, you have to possess the tactical ability to deploy that kick — something Cheserek never really needed in college. More than anything, that’s what this year should be about for Cheserek: learning how to race at the highest level so that once he’s allowed to compete in global championships, he’s ready to contend for medals.
This field might not quite be on par with a World Championship/Olympic final (Yomif Kejelcha is notably absent), but it’s close. It will take a big effort to win this race as one or two guys are bound to be in monster shape. Cheserek could well be the winner, but let’s not forget that many of the guys he’ll be facing are studs in their own right.
Like Paul Chelimo. The dude was on fire indoors and could well have won World Indoors had he not been DQ’d in the prelims. He’s not a finished product — he looked over his shoulder 12 times in the final 200 in Shanghai, which may have cost him the win (we should point out Cheserek had a habit of looking back in college as well) — but his result there showed he is fit.
On paper, the biggest stud entered is world champ Muktar Edris, but he was only 5th in Shanghai and 3rd in the 3k at the adidas Boost Boston Games last week, which is not good enough to win here. Other than him, we see two other big contenders for the win: Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew and Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega. Balew beat Chelimo two weeks ago in Shanghai, while Barega was 5th at Worlds last year and 2nd at World Indoors behind Kejelcha. For everyone who just assumes Cheserek will be a world beater for USA if he gets his citizenship, please realize that Barega is 18 — nearly six full years younger than Cheserek (13 days short of six years) and has better pbs at 3000 (7:36 vs 7:38) and 5000 (12:55 vs 13:18). And we don’t want to hear that you have doubts about his listed age as there are also similar doubts about Cheserek’s age. And oh yeah, a messageboarder claims Haile G has anointed Barega as Ethiopia’s next big star.
Okay, maybe we should throw in Canada’s Mo Ahmed in for the win as well as he earned Commonwealth silver in the 5k and 10k last month and has pbs of 13:01 an 27:02 but we just don’t think a guy who never won an NCAA title is going to win this race, particularly when his 1500 pb is over 3:40.
Because this is a 2 mile, we’ll obviously be keeping an eye on the clock. Only one man, Kenya’s Daniel Komen, has ever broken 8:00 (7:58.61) and we’d be shocked if anyone did it on Friday. The meet record is also pretty damn good. Remember when Craig Mottram ran 8:03.50 in 2007 and then credited his victory to “the size of [his] balls”?
The one time that could go is Matt Tegenkamp‘s American record of 8:07.07, which also comes from that 2007 race. Chelimo is certainly capable of challenging that mark, but it won’t be easy. Remember, Tegenkamp missed a medal at Worlds by .03 the year he set the record, and his time is faster than many all-time greats have ever run for two miles.
Recent winners of the men’s 2 mile at the Pre Classic
While we’re on the subject of times, thumbs up to the Pre Classic organizers for running this race on Friday night rather than the middle of the day on Saturday, which should result in better conditions for running fast.
LRC prediction: Maybe there’s some recency bias at play but what Cheserek did indoors was as impressive as what any of these guys have done all year. Plus how cool would it be to see him win at Hayward in his first professional outdoor race? We’ll say Cheserek FTW in 8:08 with Chelimo close behind (but missing out on the American record). But that’s really just a guess more than anything. Without knowing what workouts guys have done, it’s impossible to predict when guys like Cheserek and Barega haven’t raced at all outdoors. We are also a little nervous that Cheserek was initially entered in Oxy last week but ended up not racing.
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