2018 Rabat DL Preview: Lyles vs. Baker vs. Coleman in the Best 100 of the Year; Centro & Chelimo Take Aim at First Career DL Victories

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By LetsRun.com
July 11, 2018

The World Cup is (almost) over, but the 2018 IAAF Diamond League season marches on. The next stop is in Rabat, Morocco, on Friday, and for the American fan, storylines abound. There’s a sensational men’s 100 meters on tap, and the headliners are all Americans: U.S. champ Noah Lyles, co-world leader Ronnie Baker, and world indoor 60 champ Christian Coleman. In the distances, U.S. stars Matthew Centrowitz (1500) and Paul Chelimo (3000) both have realistic shots at their first career Diamond League victories, while Molly Huddle returns for her first Diamond League in almost a year as she runs the 5,000 against a field that includes Genzebe Dibaba and world champ Hellen Obiri. There’s also a world record attempt by Caster Semenya in the 1000m and a loaded men’s steeple featuring Conseslus Kipruto and home favorite Soufiane El Bakkali (though no Evan Jager).

We preview all of those events and and a few more that we are excited about below.

What: 2018 Meeting International Mohammed VI d’Athlétisme de Rabat

Where: Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat, Morocco

When: Friday, July 13

How to watch: This meet will air live in the United States on the Olympic Channel from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday. In Canada, it’s on CBC, while in Europe, it’s on Eurosport. In the US, it will also be streamed live on NBC Gold (PPV).

Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information * All LRC coverage * 2017 LRC coverage

Women’s 800 (3:12 p.m. ET): Expect another victory for Francine Niyonsaba

NameCountryPBSB
Malika AkkaouiMorocco1:57.642:00.34
Habitam AlemuEthiopia1:57.051:57.17
Rababe ArafiMorocco1:58.551:59.20
Natoya GouleJamaica1:57.691:57.69
Blanka KeriHungary2:02.392:04.03
Francine NiyonsabaBurundi1:55.471:55.86
Laura RoeslerUSA1:59.042:00.84
Lynsey SharpGreat Britain1:57.692:01.02
Eunice SumKenya1:56.991:59.25
Emily TueiKenya1:58.041:58.04
Margaret WambuiKenya1:56.871:58.07

For the second week in a row, Caster Semenya will skip out on a Diamond League 800 in order to run another event (this time, she’s taking a crack at the 1000-meter world record). And considering Ajee Wilson is also skipping Rabat, that makes it even easier to predict that Francine Niyonsaba will win this race. Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu has enjoyed a fantastic season, running either 1:57 (twice) or 1:58 (twice) in her last four 800s. It’s not impossible for her to beat Niyonsaba — she finished just .01 behind in Oslo — but Niyonsaba has beaten her by over a second in each of their last two matchups. It’s more likely that Niyonsaba turns this into a blowout and wins by a second or more again than it is that she loses to Alemu, against whom she is 15-0 in her career.

LRC prediction: This one is easy: Niyonsaba FTW.

Men’s 1500 (3:21 p.m. ET): Could this be Diamond League victory #1 for Centro?

NameCountryPBSB
Mounir AkbacheFrance3:39.813:53.61
Matthew CentrowitzUSA3:30.403:37.96
Charles Da’Vall GriceGreat Britain3:33.603:35.72
Ismael DebjaniBelgium3:33.703:35.71
Fouad El KaamMorocco3:33.713:37.14
Youness EssalhiMorocco3:35.523:36.58
Ryan GregsonAustralia3:31.063:36.94
Jakub HolusaCzech Republic3:32.853:32.85
Filip IngebrigtsenNorway3:32.433:32.87
Brahim KaazouziMorocco3:34.463:35.58
Vincent KibetKenya3:31.963:36.44
Marcin LewandowskiPoland3:34.04
Hicham OuladhaMorocco3:36.613:37.60
Charles SimotwoKenya3:32.593:32.61
Ayanleh SouleimanDjibouti3:29.583:31.77
Taresa TolosaEthiopia3:34.473:35.07
Aman WoteEthiopia3:29.913:32.81
Centro finished second by .10 at the 2015 Pre Classic; it's the closest he's come to a DL victory

Centro finished second by .10 at the 2015 Pre Classic; it’s the closest he’s come to a DL victory

Matthew Centrowitz has accomplished a ton during his career in the 1500 meters: Olympic and World Indoor gold, World Championship silver and bronze, five U.S. titles. But the 28-year-old has yet to win a Diamond League race, and Friday’s clash in Rabat represents his best opportunity to do so in years. Part of the reason for Centrowitz’ lack of success on the DL circuit is that he excels in tactical races — he may not be able to run 3:28, but his positioning and racing instincts are second to none. But another part is the fact that Centrowitz simply hasn’t raced many Diamond Leagues in recent years. In 2015, Centrowitz appeared to be on the verge of a DL breakthrough as he finished second in Eugene and London. But in 2016, his best year, he didn’t race a 1500/mile on the DL circuit at all — an injury kept him out of the Pre Classic, and he chose to stay in the U.S. over the summer rather than head to Europe and back to the Americas for the Olympics. Last year, Centrowitz was either hurt or sick for most of the season and finished just 7th and 9th in his two DL races.

What that means is that this is the first time in almost three years that Centrowitz heads into a DL race with a realistic shot at the win. Earlier this year, Centro finished sixth at the Pre Classic, but his chances are much better in Rabat than they were in Eugene. For one thing, Centro is in better shape than he was in Rabat (witness his victory at USAs last month). For another, all five guys who beat him in Eugene are absent from Rabat, including the top 1500 man in the world right now, Timothy Cheruiyot, as well as reigning world champ Elijah Manangoi, both of whom are presumable getting ready for next week’s Monaco race. Two others are actually at World Juniors (Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Samuel Tefera) and Clayton Murphy seems focused on the 800 now.

With that said, it still won’t be easy for Centrowitz to earn just the second DL 1500/mile victory for an American man (Leo Manzano owns the other, in London in 2011). Ayanleh Souleiman is coming off his best DL showing in years, running 3:31 for second in Paris; Charles SimotwoAman Wote, big kicker Jakub Holusa, and World Champs bronze medalist Filip Ingebrigtsen all ran 3:32 there, a time Centrowitz hasn’t touched since 2015. But Centro beat Souleiman and Wote in Eugene in May; if he was in Paris, who’s to say he wouldn’t have run 3:31?

LRC prediction: Offer us Centrowitz vs. the field and we’re definitely taking the field — though Cheruiyot and World Indoor champ Tefera are absent, there are still a bunch of quality guys in this race. Souleiman may be the slight favorite on paper as he’s improved with every race, but Centrowitz has been improving as well. The American drought on the DL continues.

Men’s 3000 (3:39 p.m. ET): Could this be Diamond League victory #1 for Chelimo?

NameCountryPBSB
Mohammed AbidMorocco7:55.40
Hicham AkankamMorocco8:08.20
Birhanu BalewBahrain7:38.257:38.25
Bethwell BirgenKenya7:32.48
Soufiyan BouqantarMorocco7:38.657:41.04
Paul ChelimoUSA7:31.57
Rabia DoukhanaMorocco7:53.097:53.09
Muktar EdrisEthiopia7:32.317:46.98
Hagos GebrhiwetEthiopia7:30.367:46.20
Jesus GomezSpain8:15.57
Abadi HadisEthiopia7:39.107:39.10
Ryan HillUSA7:30.93
Abdelaati IguiderMorocco7:30.09
Eric JenkinsUSA7:40.36
Yomif KejelchaEthiopia7:28.19
Stephen KissaUganda
Vincent LettingKenya8:09.51
Stewart McSweynAustralia7:47.65
Mouhcine OutalhaMorocco8:13.73
Cyrus RuttoKenya7:37.577:45.64
Chelimo taking on Selemon Barega at the Pre Classic

Chelimo taking on Selemon Barega at the Pre Classic

Similar story to the 1500 here: an American stud, Paul Chelimo, will be looking for his first Diamond League win — and just the second ever by an American man in the 3k/5k, after Ben True‘s victory in New York in 2015. Chelimo has come close several times recently. He was second in Zurich in 2016 and Doha in 2017 (he was also second against strong fields in Shanghai and Eugene this year, but neither of those were official DL events) and probably should have won in Zurich last year but found himself boxed in at the end of the race and wound up getting DQ’d. And like Centrowitz, he’ll benefit from a high-profile absence in Lausanne as Selemon Barega, the winner in Eugene and Stockholm this year, won’t be running (he’s doing World Juniors instead).

But Chelimo will still have to face Birhanu Balew, who outkicked Chelimo to win in Shanghai in May and is coming off a win in Lausanne last week. And he’ll also have to face Yomif Kejelcha, who may well have won in Lausanne (he definitely would have beaten Balew) had Barega not clipped him from behind, leading to one of the strangest finishes to a race we’ve ever seen.

Kejelcha represents the bigger problem for Chelimo as he’s a total stud over 3,000 meters. Kejelcha has won the last two World Indoor titles at that distance and he’s the only guy in this field who’s broken 7:30 (he ran 7:28 to win the Paris Diamond League in 2016). Though Kejelcha got a late start on his 2018 season — his first race was last week — he did not look rusty at all in Lausanne. What’s more, Kejelcha ran like a savvy veteran, saving energy before making his move on the final lap. It was a similar story at World Indoors, where he controlled the final Mo Farah-style over the last few laps to cruise to victory. Tactics is one area where Kejelcha could have an advantage over Chelimo, though Chelimo did run a few smart tactical races this past indoor season and beat Kejelcha in the 3k in Glasgow. That race in Glasgow was Chelimo in a nutshell: he was the best guy in the race, showing tremendous talent and skill in holding off Kejelcha over the final lap, but he looked back a ton and wound up getting beat after Justus Soget caught him by surprise at the finish.

LRC prediction: Kejelcha looked great in Lausanne, and with no Barega to trip him from behind, he’ll get the win in Rabat.

Women’s 5,000 (4:05 p.m. ET): Dibaba vs. Obiri — can we get a close race for once?

NameCountryPBSB
Meraf BahtaSweden14:49.9515:10.20
Eva CheronoKenya15:09.4215:09.42
Genzebe DibabaEthiopia14:15.4114:26.89
Kaoutar FarkoussiMorocco15:52.3315:52.33
Kalkidan FentieEthiopia15:29.64
Letesenbet GideyEthiopia14:30.2914:30.29
Sifan HassanNetherlands14:41.24
Molly HuddleUSA14:42.64
Caroline KipkiruiKenya14:27.5515:55.24
Gloriah KiteKenya15:06.8415:06.84
Eilish McColganGreat Britain14:48.4915:17.01
Rina NabeshimaJapan15:10.9115:10.91
Hellen ObiriKenya14:18.3714:35.03
Lilian RengerukKenya14:36.8015:01.15
Dominique ScottSouth Africa15:10.2315:10.23
Senbere TeferiEthiopia14:29.82
Agnes TiropKenya14:33.09
Tamara TverdostupUkraine
Stephanie TwellGreat Britain14:54.0815:18.77
Dibaba won at Pre last year by seconds. We hope this one's closer.

Dibaba won at Pre last year by 11 seconds. We hope this one’s closer.

There has been a lot of talent to come through the women’s 5000 in recent years: the six fastest women of all time are still currently competing (though Tirunesh DibabaMeseret Defar, and Vivian Cheruiyot have all since moved up to the roads). Unfortunately, that has not translated to exciting Diamond League races. Check out the last six DL 5,000s. Only one has been remotely close.

2018 Pre Classic: Genzebe Dibaba won by 3.40 seconds; only two women within 24 seconds of her
2017 Brussels: Hellen Obiri won by 1.67 seconds, only one woman within 4 seconds of her
2017 Rome: Hellen Obiri won by 14.72 seconds
2017 Pre Classic: Genzebe Dibaba won by 11.58 seconds (non-DL points race)
2017 Shanghai: Hellen Obiri won by 9.19 seconds
2016 Brussels: Almaz Ayana won by 6.89 seconds

There are a few reasons for that. First: the very best women haven’t always raced each other. Right now, there should be three studs in the 5000: Dibaba, Obiri, and Almaz Ayana. But Ayana was hurt for the first half of 2017 and didn’t race at all on the DL circuit, and hasn’t raced at all in 2018. As a result, the six races above have only seen three head-to-head matchups between any of those three women (and none where all three featured). In addition, even when Dibaba/Obiri/Ayana do race, they’re rarely all in great shape at the same time. Obiri and Dibaba raced in Eugene this year, but Dibaba spanked her by over eight seconds. They raced in Rome last year, but Obiri spanked Dibaba by 23 seconds.

Finally, the depth is not the same as on the men’s side, though part of that is because the women at the top are historically good. When Dibaba or Obiri or Ayana are at their best, they know no one else can hang with them and will not hesitate to try to break the field early. No one in the men’s 5000 has the confidence to make that kind of move, mainly because no one on the men’s side is miles better than anyone else. The result is competitive (albeit slower) men’s races and uncompetitive (but comparatively faster) women’s races.

We’re hoping for a fast and competitive race in Rabat. Dibaba is clearly very fit — in addition to her 14:26 world leader at Pre, she has also run a world-leading 3:56 for 1500 — but Obiri has been trending upward (she won the Kenyan champs on June 23 by almost five seconds), Sifan Hassan medalled at Worlds last year, and Caroline Kipkirui has already had a big year, running 65:07 at the Houston Half Marathon, 30:28 on the roads for 10k in Prague, and 8:29 to win the Doha Diamond League 3,000. American Molly Huddle is also entered, though given her focus is on the marathon now, she’ll just be happy to break 15:00.

LRC prediction: Dibaba has shown the best fitness here so we’ll pick her FTW. We just hope the outcome is in doubt on the final lap as the women’s 5,000 has not been competitive in recent years.

Men’s 100 (4:30 p.m. ET): The best 100 of the year (so far)

NameCountryPBSB
Ronnie BakerUSA9.889.88
Arthur CisseIvory Coast9.949.94
Christian ColemanUSA9.8210.06
Yoshihide KiryuJapan9.9810.15
Noah LylesUSA9.889.88
Abdullah Abkar MohammedSaudi Arabia10.0310.03
Reece PrescodGreat Britain10.0310.04
Mike RodgersUSA9.859.89
CJ UjahGreat Britain9.9610.08
Lyles was great at USAs; he'll need to be again if he is to win in Rabat (photo by Phil Bond)

Lyles was great at USAs; he’ll need to be again if he is to win in Rabat (photo by Phil Bond)

This race contains the three fastest Americans of 2018, and those three men — Noah Lyles (9.88), Ronnie Baker (9.88), and Mike Rodgers (9.89) — just so happen to be the three fastest men in the world this year as well. Plus world indoor 60 champion/world indoor 60 record holder Christian Coleman will race for the first time since May 31. Even with the absence of world champion Justin Gatlin, this is the best 100 of the year so far.

Lyles and Baker have already raced each other this year at USAs, and it was a thriller, with Lyles edging Baker just before the line after the latter got out to his traditional fast start. Baker responded by heading to Paris a week later and tying Lyles’ world leader with a 9.88 personal best, his third straight win on the DL circuit. Baker has also beaten Coleman head-to-head at the Pre Classic (9.78 to 9.84, though the times were aided by a 2.4 tailwind). Rodgers withdrew from USAs after running 9.89 in the first round, but Baker has beaten him convincingly three times already in 2018, the latter two, in Rome and Paris, by margins of .20 and .22, respectively.

Coleman owns the fastest PR and is the unknown quantity in this race. He was dealing with a hamstring injury when he raced Baker at Pre and Rome, and while he ran respectably in both races, he did not look like the man who took silver at Worlds last year. If Coleman is fully fit, he’s the favorite in this race, but if the hamstring is still bothering him, he could easily finish fourth or fifth. British champ Reece Prescod should not be ignored either; he has wins in Shanghai and at the British champs (where he defeated 9.91 man Zharnel Hughes), and his only defeat was to Baker and Coleman at Pre (where he ran a windy 9.88). Should he get some favorable conditions in Rabat, he should finally break 10.00 wind-legal for the first time.

LRC prediction: Several guys could win this race, but Baker and Lyles have been the most consistent in 2018. As good as Baker has been, Lyles has been on fire this year, with a pair of 19.69s and a 9.88 win at USAs in his last three meets. We say he keeps the hot streak going and picks up his first DL 100 win in Rabat.

Women’s 1000 (4:38 p.m. ET): Caster Semenya goes for the WR

NameCountryPBSB
Khadija BenkassemMorocco
Ce’aira BrownUSA
Winny ChebetKenya
Kaela EdwardsUSA
Esther Guerrero PuigdevallSpain
Siham HilaliMorocco
Nelly JepkosgeiKenya
Eglay NalyanyaKenya
Winnie NanyondoUganda
Caster SemenyaSouth Africa
Sanne Verstegen-WoltersNetherlands
Chrishuna WilliamsUSA

Caster Semenya is going to win this race; the only question is whether she can break Svetlana Masterkova‘s 2:28.98 world record from 1996. That’s a tough mark to get. Masterkova was not as good as Semenya in the 800, but she was still damn good — a month before setting the 1000 WR, she won the Olympic 800 title; two weeks before, she ran a pb of 1:56.04 (her lifetime best would end up at 1:55.87). And Masterkova was a better 1500 runner than Semenya — she was also the 1996 Olympic 1500 champ, and she owns the mile world record at 4:12.56 (her 1500 pb of 3:56.77 is a split from that mile WR; without the extra 109 meters, she may have been able to break 3:56). The 1000 was Masterkova’s perfect event.

Plug Semenya’s 1:54.25 800 pb from a few weeks ago into the Purdy running calculator and it’s worth 2:28.70 for 1000 meters, just under the record. That, of course, assumes that Semenya is equally good at the 800 and 1000 (in reality, she’s stronger in the 800) and that she can replicate her PR-level of performance in this race, even though she’s only broken 1:55 once in her life.

How fast do you have to be in the 800 to run 2:28? Well, according to Tilastopaja, there were 36 men who ran between 2:28.00 and 2:28.50 this year indoors (Tilastopaja’s list cuts off at 2:28.50). Of the 29 guys on that list who also had 800 pbs listed (for the other 7, 1000m was the shortest distance they had raced), four of them (14%) had PRs slower than Semenya’s 1:54.25. That’s not a perfect comparison (Semenya has raced the 800 more than most of those athletes) but it’s probably an accurate summation of her chances — low, but not impossible. We could definitely imagine her coming through in 1:58 and holding on for a 30-second 200.

It would help if Semenya has some good rabbitting — if Chrishuna Williams is pacing again, she needs to do better than she did in Lausanne, where she went out in 55.61 for the first 400. But Semenya may not need a rabbit. She tends to ignore rabbits on the DL circuit and instead run whatever pace she feels comfortable with, and her 800 pb came in a race with no rabbits at all.

LRC prediction: Semenya wins, but no WR. Let’s say 2:30.

Men’s 3,000 steeplechase (4:46 p.m. ET): Everyone’s here (except Jager) in a Monaco preview

NameCountryPBSB
Andy BayerUSA8:14.468:24.66
Abdelkarim Ben ZahraMorocco8:21.088:21.08
Nicholas BettKenya8:10.078:13.18
Chala BeyoEthiopia8:11.228:11.22
Hillary BorUSA8:11.828:21.51
Fernando CarroSpain8:21.788:22.06
Soufiane El BakkaliMorocco8:04.838:20.97
Ibrahim EzzaydounyMorocco8:18.508:25.98
Yemane HaileselassieEritrea8:11.228:19.61
Matthew HughesCanada8:11.648:12.33
Abraham KibiwottKenya8:09.258:10.62
Benjamin KigenKenya8:09.078:09.07
Conseslus KiprutoKenya8:00.128:08.40
Lawrence KipsangKenya8:15.078:15.07
Amos KiruiKenya8:08.378:12.24
Cleophas MeyanKenya8:30.438:30.43
Mounaime SassiouiMorocco8:27.2h8:27.2h
Hicham SigueniMorocco8:16.548:19.51
Mohamed TindouftMorocco8:20.288:20.30

Next week’s steeple in Monaco figures to be one of the highlights of the summer as Evan Jager has zeroed in on that race as his best chance this year to break 8:00, while Olympic/world champ Conseslus Kipruto has spoken about attacking the world record. But before that one, there’s another steeple in Rabat, and the field is almost as good (though we imagine the pacing targets are a bit more modest). Kipruto has been the world #1 in each of the past two years, and he will start as the favorite in Rabat. Yes, he was upset by Benjamin Kigen at the Pre Classic in May, but Kipruto beat Kigen in their most recent matchup, at the Kenyan champs on June 23, by over four seconds (Kipruto said he was sick heading into Pre). Still, Kigen bears watching, as does Amos Kirui, the 2016 world junior champ who finished .32 behind Kipruto at the Kenyan champs.

And of course there is the home favorite, Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali. Last year, El Bakkali won this race handily by over five seconds (it helped that Kipruto was not 100% healthy and dropped out). Perhaps even more impressive was the celebration — he began saluting the crowd at the start of the final turn. That’s right — he hadn’t even made it over the last water jump yet and was already whooping it up. Something tells us he won’t have it as easy on Friday. El Bakkali’s fitness is also something of a question mark as he has only raced once outdoors in 2018 — an easy 8:20 win at the Mediterranean Games on June 27.

LRC prediction: When Kipruto is on his game, he’s been impossible to beat. Even with the home crowd behind El Bakkali, we’re taking Kipruto FTW.


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