2014 IAAF Continental Cup: Men’s Preview: Amos Vs. Aman, Jager Vs. Birech, Ndiku Vs. Lagat And A 1,500 Worthy Of The Olympics
September 13, 2014 to September 14, 2014
Move over, Diamond League finals. The 2nd annual Continental Cup in Marrakech, Morocco is the DL finals on steroids as this two-day meet has $2.9 million in prize money. There should be some great mid-d/distance matchups, including Nijel Amos vs. Mo Aman vs. Adam Kszczot in the 800, Bernard Lagat vs. Caleb Ndiku in the 3,000 and Jairus Birech vs. Evan Jager in the 3,000 steeple, but we’re most excited about the men’s 1,500, which one could argue is better than an Olympic final. Plus Duane Solomon will race for the first time in almost two months.
September 12, 2014
The 2nd IAAF Continental Cup will be held this weekend in Marrakech, Morocco. What’s the Continental Cup, you say?
Well it is a team competition held every four years between four team from various groups of countries – Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific (including Oceania) and Europe. This is the second edition of the Continental Cup, which was first held in 2010 as a replacement for the IAAF World Cup. The rules of the team competition are as follows:
– Each team will be allowed to enter two athletes in each event.
– Only one athlete from any one country may compete in each individual event.
– No athlete shall be allowed to double in the 3,000m and 5,000m.
– The various regions selected their teams differently. Africa and Europe selected their teams based on the African Championships and European Championships; the Americas and Asia-Pacific selected their teams based on world rankings, but any US citizen wanting to compete for the Americas had to compete at the US Champs in 2014.
There are 36 individual events. Unlike your typical Diamond League meet, which basically covers half the disciplines, the two-day Continental Cup covers all of the events in track and field save the multis for both genders.
– Individual events:
All 40 events are scored to determine a combined-gender champion. This would be a cool idea at the Olympics, where the teams actually mean something, but we doubt that an athlete is going to be devastated because they let their continent/group of continents down. For the record, Europe won the inaugural edition, followed by the Americas, Africa and Asia-Pacific.
So maybe it’s easier to think of it as being something close to an exclusive version of two Diamond League meets with team scoring. But here’s the biggie.
The prize money for the event is insane as compared to the DL meet. The Continental Cup offers $2.9 million in prize money, that’s more than 6 times what a DL event offers ($480,000) and more than three times as much what two DL events would offer. Each event pays out $73,000, plus four relays, each of which pays out $68,000, for a total of $2.9 million in prize money. All finishers are guaranteed prize money, which is allotted as follows:
$30,000 for 1st,
$15,000 for 2nd
$10,000 for 3rd
$7,000 for 4th
$5,000 for 5th
$3,000 for 6th
$2,000 for 7th
$1,000 for 8th.
That’s a HUGE increase from a Diamond League meet. In the DL, there’s a total of $30,000 in prize money in each event; in the Continental Cup, event winners gets $30,000 by themselves. First place in a DL event is worth $10,000, the same as a third-place finish in the Continental Cup. There’s also a $50,000 bonus for a world record.
Given the prize money, plenty of mid-d/distance stars have been selected to compete, including Nijel Amos, Asbel Kiprop, Ayanleh Souleiman, Leo Manzano, Bernard Lagat, Caleb Ndiku, Evan Jager, Ajee Wilson, Shannon Rowbury, Sifan Hassan, Genzebe Dibaba and Emma Coburn. The U.S. has an entrant in all 10 mid-d/distance events. We give you a quick primer on the event itself and then preview the men’s mid-d/distance events. The women’s preview will be posted later on Friday.
TV/Streaming: 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 message board here: MB: Continental Cup in Marrakech, Morocco 9/13-14
800 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET): Nijel Amos, Mo Aman, Duane Solomon And Adam Kszczot Battle
|Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla||Asia-Pacific||1:43.93||1:44.03||2nd in Rieti on Sunday in SB|
|Jeffrey Riseley||Asia-Pacific||1:44.48||1:45.81||5th at Commonwealth Games|
|Mohammed Aman||Africa||1:42.37||1:42.83||World indoor/outdoor champ won in Berlin 2 weeks ago; 2:15 1k for 2nd in Brussels DL|
|Nijel Amos||Africa||1:41.73||1:42.45||Commonwealth/African/DL champ coming off win in DL Final in Zurich|
|Duane Solomon||Americas||1:42.82||1:43.88||2-time defending U.S. champ hasn’t raced since DNF in Monaco on 7/18|
|Mark English||Europe||1:44.84||1:45.03||Self-coached athlete took bronze at Euros|
|Adam Kszczot||Europe||1:43.30||1:44.02||Euro champ won 1k in Brussels; 4th in Rieti 800|
Depending on how you look at it, one of the biggest drawbacks/best things about this meet is the fact that Africa is much stronger than every other continent in the distance events but it’s limited to just two entrants per event. It’s more pronounced in some events than others; in the men’s 800, eight of the top nine fastest runners in 2014 are from Africa. The Continental Cup is a boon for the African athletes who do make the team (Aman and Amos are essentially guaranteed at least $10,000 as there’s no way they lose to anyone except Adam Kszczot), but it also means that studs like David Rudisha are left out while guys like Jeffrey Riseley get to race.
While Aman and Kszczot both have a shot to win, the favorite has to be Amos. The 20-year-old from Botswana has the fastest time in the world this year (1:42.45 from Monaco) and has won every big race he’s been in — Pre, Monaco, Commonwealth Games, African Champs and the DL Final in Zurich. With $30,000 on the line, this qualifies as a big race, so expect Amos to take the victory once again. Kszczot and Aman should battle for second, and while Aman is 6-2 against Kszczot in 2014, Kszczot has won two of their last three matchups, most recently the 1000 in Brussels last week. Aman was just .03 seconds behind Kszczot in that race, however, so expect this one to come down to the wire again.
The most interesting name on this start-list is that of Duane Solomon, who was last seen stepping off the track with 100m to go in Monaco on July 18. When we spoke to Solomon at the Pre Classic and USAs, he told us both times that he was planning on taking a mid-season break from racing before heading back over to Europe for the end of the Diamond League season. That didn’t happen, as Solomon missed the final three DL meets. The reason for that remains unclear, but Solomon is entered in the Continental Cup and bears monitoring in Marrakech. Fourth place and $7,000 are there for the taking.
1,500 (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET): A Truly Great Field Has Got Us Excited
|Nick Willis||Asia-Pacific||3:29.91||3:29.91||Commonwealth bronze medallist has PR’d in 1500 + mile this year at age 31|
|Asbel Kiprop||Africa||3:27.72||3:28.45||2-time defending world champ was 12th in DL Final; 2nd in Great North City Games mile on Sat.|
|Ayanleh Souleiman||Africa||3:29.58||3:29.58||African champ was 3rd in Brussels 1500, 2nd in Zurich 800|
|Leo Manzano||Americas||3:30.98||3:30.98||U.S. champ ran ugly 3:42 in Brussels but bounced back with 1:46.12 800 in Rieti on Sun.|
|Henrik Ingebrigtsen||Europe||3:31.46||3:31.46||Euro silver medallist was 7th in Brussels|
|Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad||Europe||3:33.12||3:35.34||Euro champ was 2nd in Brussels steeple in 8:03|
On paper, this is a two-horse race between Asbel Kiprop and Silas Souleiman, who, along with Silas Kiplagat, have been a cut above everyone else in the 1,500 this year (Kiplagat did not run the African Champs, thus Kiprop got the nod over him for the second spot on the African team). Perhaps in a tactical race it’s possible to imagine Nick Willis threatening for the win, but he’s the only runner in this field who has come close to touching Kiprop or Souleiman in a race this year. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is clearly fit after running an 8:03 steeple last week, but that’s not enough to challenge two of the world’s best at 1,500. U.S. champ Leo Manzano has run well at times this year and will benefit from the fact that this race is unrabbited. Still, it’s a big ask for Manzano to beat Souleiman or Kiprop, against whom he is a collective 4-26 in his career.
Between Kiprop and Souleiman, Souleiman is the pick. Souleiman has proven his superiority in championship races in 2014, winning the World Indoor title in March and defeating Kiprop on this very same track in Marrakech at the African Champs last month. He’s also coming off a 2nd (Zürich 800) and 3rd (Brussels) in the two DL Finals, whereas Kiprop was 11th (Zürich 800) and 12th (Brussels 1,500). Kiprop is always capable of magic – remember how easy he made it look as he stormed past Souleiman in the home stretch in Birmingham three weeks ago? – but the evidence points to a Souleiman victory.
Quick Thought: This is the highlight of the men’s action for us. Kiprop versus Souleiman never gets old. Then you add in MMB, Willis and Manzano – all in a tactical race, and we always love championship 1,500s. This field is worthy of an Olympic final. It could be argued that it might be better for fans than an Olympic final as there are only 8 people in it and thus not too many bodies to get in the way. With only 8 people, no one can use positioning as an excuse for a loss.
3,000 (Sunday, 2:15 p.m.): Bernard Lagat Races One Last Time Before Age 40
|Nick Willis||Asia-Pacific||7:36.91||7:36.91||Doubling back from 1500|
|Abrar Osman Adem||Africa||7:39.70||N/A||World Junior 5k silver medallist in ’12 took bronze in African Champs 5k|
|Caleb Ndiku||Africa||7:30.99||7:31.66||World leader has been top 3k/5k man on planet in ’14, with World Indoor + DL titles|
|Bernard Lagat||Americas||7:29.00||7:38.30||Defending champ has been up and down but did run 13:06 for 2nd in Berlin 2 weeks ago|
|Carlos Antonio dos Santos||Americas||7:58.50||7:58.50|
|Hayle Ibrahimov||Europe||7:34.57||7:39.73||Euro 5k silver medallist was 5th in DL 5k Final in Zurich|
|Richard Ringer||Europe||7:50.99||7:50.99||4th in 5k at Euro Champs|
Like Nijel Amos in the 800, Caleb Ndiku is the world leader at 3,000 and has won every big race in 2014, including World Indoors (3k), Commonwealths (5k), African Champs (5k) and the DL Final in Zürich (5k). Africa’s other entrant is little-known 20-year-old Abrar Osman Adem of Eritrea. While he was the African 5,000 bronze medallist earlier this year and a world junior 5,000 silver medallist in 2012, it would be unlikely for him to take down Ndiku given Osman’s 13:16 5,000 PR. Willis has run 7:36 this year and with his 3:29 1,500 speed, he would be dangerous in a tactical race, but he’ll be coming off the 1,500 less than 24 hours earlier.
That leaves Hayle Ibrahimov and Bernard Lagat, who won the 3,000 and 5,000 at the last Continental Cup four years ago. The Ethiopian-born Ibrahimov ran a PR of 13:09 to take 5th in the DL Final in Zurich, but hasn’t shown that he’s ready to topple one of the world’s best in Ndiku. Lagat, given his history of success in championship-style races and the fact he won the 3,000 and 5,000 in 2010 when one was allowed to do the 3,000/5,000 double, is the best bet to defeat Ndiku, but his chances still aren’t great. For one, Lagat and Ndiku have already met three times at 3,000 this year, with Ndiku coming out on top each time, including a victory in the final at World Indoors. Second, Lagat hasn’t run as often – or as well – outdoors in 2014 as he has in past years. After winning USAs in the 5,000, he was 12th in the DL 5,000 in Glasgow in 13:27 on July 11 before taking a month and a half off of racing. Since returning, he ran a nice 13:06 5,000 in Berlin on August 31 before getting 5th in the road mile at the Great North City Games, finishing behind British runner Jonathan Hay, who has PRs of 3:42 (1,500) and 13:57 (5,000). It’s hard to lose to a guy like that and come back to beat the world’s best 5,000 runner a week later.
Though Ndiku should win, we’ll leave you with this amazing tidbit about Lagat: of the nine male and female winners (Lagat won the 3,000 and 5,000) from the mid-d/distance events at the last Continental Cup four years ago, Lagat is the only one competing again in 2014. That’s more impressive when you consider that, at 35, he was over four years older than every other winner at the last Continental Cup.
Quick Thought #1: Can someone explain to us the logic of allowing 1,500/3,000 doubles but not 3,000/5,000? We guess the likelihood of someone winning both the 3,000 and 5,000 is way higher than both the 1,500/3,000?
QT #2: Is this Bernard Lagat’s last track race as a 39-year-old? He turns 40 in December.
5,000 (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET): Where Is Everybody?
|Zane Robertson||Asia-Pacific||13:13.83||13:14.69||Commonwealth bronze medallist ran 3:34 1500 in Rieti on Sun.|
|Albert Rop||Asia-Pacific||12:51.96||13:06.12||#2 time in world in ’13 but hasn’t raced since June 11|
|Isiah Koech||Africa||12:48.64||13:07.55||World bronze medallist was 2nd at Commonwealths + African Champs; 11th in DL Final|
|Amlosom Tesfalset Nguse||Africa||14:43.2h||N/A||African 10k champ took 5th at World Half Marathon champs in March|
|Andrew Bumbalough||Americas||13:12.01||13:13.67||U.S. runner-up hasn’t broken 13:25 since June 11|
|Ali Kaya||Europe||13:31.39||13:34.83||Euro bronze medallist in 10k|
|Bouabdellah Tahri||Europe||13:11.13||13:12.22||35-year-old was 6th in Euro Champs 5k|
The 5,000 is the weakest men’s event by far on the distance side. The top entrant based on season best is Bahrain’s Albert Rop, but he is still only #11 on the 2014 list and hasn’t raced since June 11. Kenya’s Isiah Koech won bronze at Worlds last year, but he hasn’t been nearly as successful this season, as he’s only run 13:07 this year (#15 in the world) and hasn’t finished higher than 5th in four DL races (though he was 2nd at the Commonwealth Games and African Champs). Africa’s other entrant, Amlosom Tesfalset Nguse of Eritrea, is more of a half marathon/10k type. Andrew Bumbalough‘s last good race was two and a half months ago at USAs. Zane Robertson took bronze at the Commonwealth Games and is probably the third-best guy in this field, though he could finish second if Rop isn’t in shape. Bouabdellah Tahri has run 13:12 this year but was just 6th at the European Championships.
So why is the field so weak? Well, there is a 3,000 and a 5,000 at the Continental Cup and the IAAF prohibits any athlete from entering both (this rule obviously didn’t apply four years ago when Lagat won both races). Additionally, athletes from Africa are selected based on their performance at the African Championships and the 10,000 champ gets to run here. Plus top 5,000 guys like Muktar Edris and Thomas Longosiwa didn’t run at the African Champs and thus weren’t eligible to compete here. Other potential entrants such as Ndiku and Ibrahimov are in the 3,000 instead, while Galen Rupp and Mo Farah chose not to compete in Marrakech. The result is a weak field in which Koech has the best chance for the win.
Quick Thought: While we don’t know exactly how the selection criteria works (we assume Rupp could run this event even though he ran the 10,000 not 5,000 at USAs), it’s surprising that Galen Rupp wouldn’t want to run this as he’d had a great shot at first place and would likely win $30,000 or $15,000.
3,000 Steeplechase (Sunday, 1:15 p.m. ET): Expect Birech And Jager To Shine
|Ali Abubaker Kamal||Asia-Pacific||8:15.80||8:31.24||Only 8:31 this year.|
|John Koech||Asia-Pacific||8:16.96||8:19.99||Barely under 8:20 on theyear.|
|Jairus Birech||Africa||7:58.41||7:58.41||DL/African Champ set world leader in Brussels; has won 8 of last 9 races|
|Chala Beyo Techo||Africa||8:40.02||8:40.02||4th at African Champs|
|Matt Hughes||Americas||8:11.64||8:12.81||Former NCAA champ at Louisville was 4th in Monaco DL & Commonwealth Games|
|Evan Jager||Americas||8:04.71||8:04.71||Broke his own American record with PB in Brussels last week|
|Krystian Zalewski||Europe||8:16.20||8:16.20||Euro silver medallist was 10th in Brussels|
Kenya’s Jairus Birech has dominated the event all year and enters having won eight of his last nine steeples. Birech is unquestionably the fittest steeple runner on the planet right now, as evidenced by his world-leading 7:58.41 solo effort to win the DL Final in Brussels last week. When you’re clearly the best guy in the steeple, it makes sense to push the pace as it’s easier to break up a steeple field than it is in a flat race and running from the front gives you a clean look at every barrier. Birech has consistently done that this year, taking off early and turning the Diamond League season into a series of glorified time trials. Look for him to do the same in Marrakech.
The only question is whether Evan Jager tries to hang with Birech or settles for a near-guaranteed second and the $15,000 payday that accompanies it. By going with Birech, Jager gives himself the opportunity to double that amount ($30,000 for first) and possibly approach the American record time of 8:04.71 he set last week in Brussels. Could he also “pull a Solinsky” and become the first non-African under 8:00?
It makes sense for Jager to go for it as Jager has run at least eight seconds faster than everyone else in the field this year. If he goes with Birech, gets to 2k and feels like he can’t hold on over the last k, Jager should have a big enough gap on the rest of the field that he can take second fairly comfortably. And if he somehow hangs with Birech, he could end up with a big payday or a PR. In this case, the reward outweighs the risk.
Quick Thought #1: With Souleiman and Kiprop and Willis in the 1,500, we wish MMB was in the steeple, not the 1,500 at this meet. Then this race would be a lot more interesting. Of course he has to run the 1,500 here since Europe picks its team based on the European Championships and Mekhissi-Benabbad was DQed in the steeple at Euros after stupidly removing his singlet in the homestretch.
QT #2: We’re happy to see Jager racing two weekends in a row as he hardly ever races.