Men’s 4 x 800 Preview: Can The US Men With Duane Solomon Takes Down An Inexperienced Kenyan Squad?

Duane Solomon And U.S. Will Have Their Hands Full Battling Kenya And Its 17-Year-Old Wunderkind Alfred Kipketer

May 22, 2014

One of the reasons why track and field as a sport suffers in terms of mass popularity is that it lacks team events. Think about – the events with a team aspect – Drake Relays, Penn Relays, Worlds, Olympics, etc – are the most popular events. Thus track and field fans are in for a real treat this weekend when a team-only event – the first-ever IAAF World Relays championships takes place on Saturday and Sunday in the Bahamas. The action should be riveting.

The first mid-distance race of the 2014 IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas is the men’s 4 x 800 relay on Saturday night (6:14 pm ET). The 9 entrants for the event are (in alphabetical order): Australia, Bermuda, Kenya, Mexico, Poland, Slovak Republic, Spain, Uganda and the US.

Just like the women’s race, the top two teams appear to be the U.S. and Kenya.

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Relays often come down to the anchor and the good news for US fans is Duane Solomon with his 1:42.82 PR and fourth-place finish in the Olympics is the most accomplished man in the field.  World record holder David Rudisha has been dealing with a variety of maladies and is out (and Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Kitum has yet to race this season), leaving the Kenyan team slightly depleted. The guy leading Kenya’s team is 17-year-old Alfred Kipketer, a young man who has only broken 1:48 twice in his life.

Sounds like a total mismatch, right? Think again. The Kenyans are a formidable bunch that remain favorites for the gold and a likely world record.

Alfred Kipketer after World Youths last year Alfred Kipketer after World Youths last year

Take a look at the results from the Kenyan trials on April 26 (all times are hand-timed):

1          Alfred Kipketer          1:44.2
2          Job Kinyor                  1:44.6
3          Ferguson Cheruiyot    1:44.9
4          Sammy Kirongo          1:45.3
5          Nicholas Kipkoech      1:45.7
6          Anthony Chemut        1:46.0

Those are some very strong early season times. How exceptional? Only one man on the US team – Solomon – has run faster this year than last-placer Anthony Chemut, and Chemut didn’t even make the team as an alternate.

Yes, the U.S. does have three guys with PRs under 1:45, just like the Kenyans, but Solomon is the only one close to PR shape right now. It’s going to be a tall order for anyone to topple Kenya.

The best chance for the U.S. is to hope that the pressure gets to the 17-year-old Kipketer and that he craters. In addition to having only broken 1:48 twice in his life, he’s never run on the pro circuit. He’s gone straight from running World Youths last year to dominating the Kenyan Trials.

How can a totally inexperienced 17-year-old hang with the big dogs?

Two years ago, another big young talent went straight from World Juniors to the Olympics, with no races ever on the Diamond League circuit. 18-year-old Nijel Amos of Botswana ended up doing pretty well, didn’t he (understatement)? He ran 1:41.73 and grabbed the silver.

Experience is far less important than talent and Kipketer while very young and very inexperienced but he also is a BIG talent. If he was an American 17-year-old, we’d be much more worried he’d over think things and pull a clunker.

Just last week at the Shanghai Diamond League, the surprise winner of the men’s 800 was Kenya’s 17-year-old World Youth champion in the 1,500 from last year, Robert Biwott. If an inexperienced 1,500 guy handled everyone at 800 in his first Diamond League race just fine, imagine what the 800 specialist Kipketer would have done.

Talent wise, the Kenyans have nothing to worry about with Kipketer. But there is reason for the Kenyans to be a little concerned. If we were them, we might not anchor Kipketer. Last year, at the World Youth competition, guess what he took the first 400 out in the 800 final?

Go ahead and guess.

48.32 –MB: 16-year old Kenyan goes out in 48.32 for 800, holds on and (barely) wins World Youth Gold.

That’s crazy. It might be safer for them to run him on leg say three and tell him, “If you get it with others, run with them until the last 150 and then pour it on.”

Oh my goodness. Just as we were about to hit publish on this piece, we uncovered a video of Kipketer’s World Youth win. Please close your other browsing tabs, stop being distracted and watch this race. It’s one of the GREATEST 800s we’ve ever seen:

(MB Discussion: Is this the most entertaining 800 run in the last year (possibly ever)?)

How much fun will it be if we get to see that raw talent and desire matched up on the anchor against Solomon with gold on the line?

The Americans

The good news for the U.S. is that they have the best runner in the field on paper in Solomon. The 29-year-old has been on fire so far in 2014, winning all four of his 800s. He ran 1:44.79 to win in Puerto Rico last weekend and a world-leading 1:43.88 at Mt. SAC last month for the fastest time EVER in the month of April. Solomon is gearing up for an American record attempt at Pre next weekend, so you know he’s close to a peak. If Solomon runs anchor and the U.S. gets him the lead or close to it, the Americans could win gold.

Even if that happens, we’re not putting it past Kipketer to pull it off for Kenya. And the US faces a tall order in keeping it close until the final leg.

Here’s how the US and Kenya stack up against each other on paper:

Men’s 4×800
Team USA DOB PR 2014 SB Comments
Brandon JOHNSON 02.03.1985 1:43.84 1:46.67 Former 400H man had great 2013 to make first Worlds team. Not great in ’14 — last in Doha DL, 7th in Shanghai DL.
David TORRENCE 26.11.1985 1:45.14 1:47.25 Likely running 4 x 1,500
Duane SOLOMON 28.12.1984 1:42.82 1:43.88 5th at ’12 OG, 6th at ’13 WC. His 1:43.88 at Mt. SAC was fastest 800 ever run in month of April.
Mark WIECZOREK 25.12.1984 1:45.36 1:47.27 Hasn’t done much outdoors so far: 1:47.27 last weekend in Puerto Rico, 1:48.94 at Payton Jordan.
Michael RUTT 28.10.1987 1:45.08 1:46.71 Won heat 2 of the 800 at Oxy; part of 4 x 800 team that helped break old indoor WR in Boston in February.
Robby ANDREWS 29.3.1991 1:44.71 1:46.35 2-time NCAA champ was 3rd in 800 at Oxy. Enjoying nice year after sub-par 2013.
Top 4 PR avg = 1:44.11
Top 4 SB avg = 1:45.90 (7:03.61)
Team Kenya DOB PR 2014 SB Comments
Alfred KIPKETER 28.12.1996 1:44.2h (alt.) 1:44.2h (alt.) 17-year-old won Kenyan trials and was last year’s World Youth champ.
Ferguson Rotich CHERUIYOT 30.11.1989 1:43.22 1:44.82 3rd at Doha DL; DQed at semis of Worlds last year.
Job Koech KINYOR 02.09.1990 1:43.76 1:44.6h (alt.) 4th at Doha DL; bronze at All-Africa Games in ’11
Nicholas Kiplangat KIPKOECH 22.11.1992 1:45.01 1:45.7h (alt.) Likely alternate was 3rd at World Youth Champs in ’09.
Sammy Kibet KIRONGO 10.10.1993 1:45.3h (alt.) 1:45.3h (alt.) 20-year-old was 4th at Kenyan trials.
Top 4 PR avg = 1:44.05
Top 4 SB avg = 1:44.73 (6:58.92)
Kenyan team is top 5 from Kenyan trials on April 26

As you can see, based on personal bests, Kenya and the US are basically dead even. But based on 2014 times, Kenya has a decided near-5-second advantage.

Job Kinyor was second behind Kipketer in the Kenyan trials in 1:44.6h; he and Ferguson Cheruiyot (1:44.82) were fourth (1:44.95) and third (1:44.82), respectively, at the DL meet in Doha and both are ranked among the top 10 in the world this year. Contrast that to the US’s Brandon Johnson, who was last by over a second-and-a-half in Doha, running 1:47.59. Yes, he’s brought that down slightly in recent races in Tokyo (1:47.37) and Shanghai (1:46.67). Still, none of those results are great for a guy who ran 1:43 last summer.

Duane hopes to be #1 on Saturday. Duane hopes to be #1 on Saturday.

Rutt (1:47.21, won second heat) and Andrews (1:46.37 for third in the first heat) both ran okay at Oxy last week, but those results pale in comparison to their Kenyan counterparts, each of whom ran 1-2 seconds faster at altitude at the Kenyan trials last month.

The key will be putting Solomon in a position where he has a chance to win it for the US.

It will be a real challenge for Johnson, Rutt and Andrews to stay within striking distance of Kenya and give Solomon a chance to win it for the US. Giving Solomon a chance would be a lot easier if last year’s world silver medalist Nick Symmonds was on the team and in top form, but Symmonds is out with a knee injury (Erik Sowinski, who was second to Solomon at Mt. SAC in a PR of 1:44.58 (#5 in the world this year), isn’t on the team either. Since then, Sowinski hasn’t run as well (1:46.89 at the Shanghai DL, 1:45.68 Beijing) but he’d definitely help this team).

Here’s a thought , ‘Might the US’s best chance for gold be to run Solomon on leg two or three to keep them in it?’

And then maybe roll the dice with Robby Andrews, who has always excelled in relays and has a super kick in tactical races. That might be a risky roll of the dice that US should consider.

It certainly will be interesting to see how they choose to play it strategically. The US can always hope the inexperienced Kipketer blows it but it’s hard to expect that from a guy who just ran 1:44 to beat a field of the top Kenyans.

The World Record

The top eight teams in each event win prize money, from $50,000 for first to $30,000 for second down to $4,000 for eighth. But there’s also a $50,000 bonus for a world record, and the men’s 4 x 800 record is certainly attainable: 7:02.43 by Kenya in 2006 (1:45.60 per man). If the Kenyans push the pace early, it essentially becomes a race for $100,000, not $50,000, because of the potential for a world record. Plus, even if the Kenyans get a new world record, the Americans still have a shot at the national record of 7:02.82 from 2006.

Remember how exciting it was when the U.S. All-Stars just edged out NJ*NY Track Club for the American indoor 4 x 800 record at Boston in February? Imagine that, plus national pride, plus more prize money and you get an idea of what is at stake in the Bahamas.

It should also be noted that four of the six guys on the U.S. squad were in that race: Solomon and Torrence on the victorious U.S. All Stars and Andrews and Rutt on the second-place NJ*NY TC. The problem is that this Kenyan team is better than either of those American squads.

The Other Medal Threats

Poland is the best of the rest, with a great top two in World Indoor silver medalist Adam Kszczot and two-time outdoor worlds 4th-placer Marcin Lewandowski. The other two legs are more problematic, as Poland’s other three entrants haven’t raced much in 2014 and have PRs of 1:47, 1:48 and 1:49. They’d need Kszczot and Lewandowski to run like studs and the other two to have great races to steal the silver from the U.S.

Battling Poland for the bronze is Spain, led 23-year-old Kevin Lopez. Lopez is definitely legit, as he’s got the fourth-fastest PR in the field (behind Solomon, Kszczot and Cheruiyot). Behind him, Spain has 1:45 guy Luis Alberto Marco and a couple of question marks. This puts them in a similar position to Poland and it should be a good race between these two for bronze.

Australia entered the same six guys in the 4 x 800 and 4 x 1,500 and though the 4 x 800 is first, this is definitely a team geared toward the longer race. 1:45 man Joshua Ralph and 1:47 man Jared West are the only real 800 guys on the squad. Ryan Gregson is a talent but hasn’t broken 1:48 since 2010, collegians Sam McEntee and Jordan Williamsz are in over their heads here and there is simply no way 5k/10k guy Collis Birmingham runs this race. Still, this is a shallow field and if Australia catches a break or two they could definitely win bronze.

Sadly, No Ethiopians

It would have been great to see an Ethiopian team with reigning world indoor/outdoor champ Mo Aman and 1:44 man Aman Wote here, but the Ethiopians have chosen only to run the 4 x 1,500 (Wote is entered in that, but not Aman). Aman is the best 800 runner on the planet right now and not having him here is disappointing. The depth behind him isn’t great (only four Ethiopians broke 1:47 last year), but that’s the case with every team apart from the U.S. and Kenya. You’d have to think an Ethiopian team with Aman and Wote would be good for third or fourth for sure, possibly second, and those payouts ($20,000 and $12,000, respectively) would certainly justify the Ethiopian federation entering a team.

One More Bummer

In addition to the Ethiopians not being here, the only negative about this race is it won’t be on live TV. Someone, thought it was wise to put this final at 6:14 pm when the live television window doesn’t start until 6:30 pm. We’re sure it will be shown on the telecast but wouldn’t an international TV audience rather see this live than heats of the 4 x 400? (For information on how to watch World Relays live on Universal Sports in the US click here)

Stats for other medal contenders appear below.

Team Poland DOB PR 2014 SB Comments
Mateusz DEMCZYSZAK 18.1.1986 1:49.05 1:50.30 (2013) Ran steeple at Worlds last year. 7:57 3k from February is only 2014 result.
Karol KONIECZNY 05.05.1993 1:48.60 1:48.60 5th at Polish indoor champs. No races since February.
Szymon KRAWCZYK 29.12.1988 1:47.06 1:48.33 (2013) 3:38 1,500 man has yet to race in 2014.
Adam KSZCZOT 02.09.1989 1:43.30 1:45.19 World Indoor silver medalist in March; bronze at world indoors in 2010.
Marcin LEWANDOWSKI 13.06.1987 1:43.79 1:45.56 4th at ’11 and ’13 Worlds; crossed line third at world indoors but DQed for curb violation. 5th at Shanghai DL in 1:45.92.
Top 4 PR average = 1:45.69
Top 3 SB avg = 1:46.45
Team Australia DOB PR 2014 SB Comments
Collis BIRMINGHAM 27.12.1984 1:50.90 N/A 5k/10k man is likely alternate – hasn’t run an 800 since ’06. Did just take down Rupp at Oxy 5k, though.
Ryan GREGSON 26.04.1990 1:46.04 1:49.08 (2013) 3rd at Oxy 1,500 in 3:36. Part of AUS DMR that got 2nd to U.S. at Penn Relays.
Sam MCENTEE 03.02.1992 1:53.53 1:53.53 (2013) Villanova runner was 2nd at Big East 5k outdoors; part of 4 x Mile squad that got 3rd at Penn.
Joshua RALPH 27.10.1991 1:45.80 1:45.80 Former 400 runner took up 800 last year and won Australian champs in April.
Jared WEST 14.07.1988 1:47.04 1:47.04 25-year-old has PRed in the 800 every year since 2010.
Jordan WILLIAMSZ 21.08.1992 1:47.34 1:48.24 (2013) Villanova runner was 8th at NCAA mile indoors; part of 4 x Mile squad that got 3rd at Penn.
Top 4 PR average = 1:46.56
Top 2 SB average = 1:46.44
Team Spain DOB PR 2014 SB Comments
Jose Alberto ESTESO 25.8.1990 1:47.93 1:51.13 Not in good form. Ran 1:52.97 last weekend.
Kevin LÓPEZ 12.06.1990 1:43.74 1:45.69 2-time European indoor medalist. Went out in heats at world indoors; made it to semis at worlds in ’13.
Luis Alberto MARCO 20.08.1986 1:45.14 1:45.44 (2013) European indoor silver in ’09. Went out in semis in last 3 global outdoor champs. No races since Feb.
Alejandro RODRÍGUEZ 01.05.1989 1:45.97 1:48.05 Raced seven times in February but no other races in 2014.
Álvaro RODRÍGUEZ 25.05.1987 1:45.8h 1:50.04 (2013) Hasn’t raced since March 2013.
Francisco ROLDÁN 26.05.1990 1:47.19 1:50.04 3rd at Spanish indoor champs
Top 4 PR average = 1:45.16
Top 4 sb average = 1:48.74

More: MB Discussion: Is this the most entertaining 800 race (possibly ever) but definitely in the last year?*Move over Penn Relays: Men’s and Women’s 4 x 800 at the pro level is here – Can the US win gold over Kenya?

Streaming / TV Info (6:15 pm ET) *Schedule / Results *Entries

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