2015 Pre Classic Men’s Preview: Can Centro And Leo Challenge In A Special Bowerman Mile? Can Evan Jager Challenge In His 2015 Steeple Debut? Plus Amos Vs. Aman At 800

By LetsRun.com
May 28, 2015

The 2015 Prefontaine Classic begins with Distance Night on Friday with a couple of great distance races — the men’s 5,000 and 10,000, which we previewed at length earlier this week. But the meat of the schedule takes place on Saturday, and as always, Pre promises to be a spectacular event. It’s really hard to pick a highlight as almost every event is loaded with talent.

Genzebe Dibaba will go for a world record in the women’s 5,000 against a field that also includes American record holder Molly HuddleNijel Amos takes on Mo Aman in a rematch of last year’s thrilling 800. Evan Jager will make his 2015 steeple debut against 2014 Diamond League champ Jairus Birech. Ajee WilsonBrenda Martinez and Alysia Montaño face 2013 world champ Eunice Sum in the women’s 800. Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury tackle Sifan Hassan in the women’s 1500. And the meet finishes off with the Bowerman Mile, which once again contains almost all of the world’s best milers, including Asbel KipropAyanleh SouleimanSilas KiplagatRonald KwemoiLeo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz. You won’t see a better two hours of track on American soil this year.

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The non-distance races should also be exciting as Sanya Richards-Ross – Allyson Felix square off for the first time since 2012 in the 400. Global stars Kirani James (400), Mutaz Essa Barshim (high jump), Renaud Lavillenie (pole vault) and Justin Gatlin (200) will also be in action.

Below, we preview Saturday’s men’s mid-d and distance action and give you the lowdown on the meet. Our preview of Saturday’s women’s action is here: LRC 2015 Pre Classic Women’s Preview: Will Genzebe Dibaba Get The 5000 WR? Will Molly Huddle Get The 5000 AR? Plus Jenny Simpson vs. Shannon Rowbury and A Totally Loaded 800.

What: 2015 Prefontaine Classic

Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.

When: Friday, May 29 – Saturday, May 30

How to watch: Friday events are live starting a 11 p.m. ET. Saturday events are live starting at 3:30 p.m. ET. Detailed Pre Classic TV/Streaming info here.

*Schedule/Entries *Full Coverage of 2015 Pre Classic in LRC Special Section * 2014 LRC coverage

Men’s International Mile (3:32 p.m. ET)

Name Country PB SB
Ben Blankenship USA 3:54.10
Federico Bruno Argentina
Pat Casey USA 3:52.62
Timothy Cheruiyot Kenya
Mac Fleet USA 3:56.77
Ryan Gregson Australia 3:52.24
Charlie Grice Great Britain 3:54.61
Garrett Heath USA 3:53.15
Jakub Holusa Czech Republic 3:56.75
Will Leer USA 3:51.82 4:02.23
Lopez Lomong USA 3:51.45
Julian Matthews New Zealand
Abdi Waiss Mouhyadin Djibouti
Jonathan Sawe Kenya
Andrew Wheating USA 3:51.74
Mark Wieczorek USA

One of the great things about the Pre Classic is that, in the spirit of its namesake, it is truly a celebration of distance running. Diamond League meets are only required to have four distance events (800, 1500/mile, 3000 steeple and 3000/5000) but Pre has 10, plus two elite high school miles. The Bowerman Mile is always incredibly tough to get into (this year’s edition has 12 men who have run under 3:51) so Pre puts on a B section of the mile that would be a headliner at almost any other meet in America. Consider that the “B” field contains:

  • The U.S.’s fastest man at 1500 this year (Ben Blankenship).
  • Three of the top four from last year’s U.S. Championships at 1500 (Pat CaseyLopez Lomong, Will Leer).
  • The winner of the last two NCAA championships at 1500 (Mac Fleet).
  • Two multi-time U.S. Olympians (Lomong and Andrew Wheating).
  • Last year’s World Junior champion, Jonathan Sawe of Kenya.
  • This year’s European Indoor champion, Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic.

Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz, who have been on the top of the heap in the 1500 in the U.S. over the past few years, will both run in the Bowerman Mile. Assuming those two make Team USA this year (they’ve both made every team since 2011), that leaves one spot. If one of the Americans in this race can win this race convincingly, he will immediately establish himself as the favorite for the third spot. Blankenship (3:35.48 for fourth in Shanghai two weeks ago) and Wheating (3:39.56 for second behind Manzano at Oxy) are the two that enter in the best form.

The one guy not in this race that we’d really like to see is Robby Andrews. He needs to decide soon if he’s doing the 800 or 1500 at USAs and hasn’t run a 1500/mile all year because his 1500 at the Hoka One One meet was cancelled due to a thunderstorm. Andrews considered going to Pre but stuck to his original plan of having a big training block after Hoka One One and will race against Leo Manzano at the Adrian Martinez meet in Mass. on Thursday.

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Men’s 800 (3:49 p.m. ET)

Name Country PB SB
Harun Abda USA 1:45.55 1:46.33
Mo Aman Ethiopia 1:42.37 1:47.38
Nijel Amos Botswana 1:41.73
Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla Qatar 1:43.93 1:46.14
Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot Kenya 1:42.84 1:44.53
Charles Jock USA 1:44.67 1:45.40
Job Kinyor Kenya 1:43.76 1:45.12
Alfred Kipketer Kenya 1:43.95 1:44.59
Adam Kszczot Poland 1:43.30
Taoufik Makhloufi Algeria 1:43.53
Andre Olivier South Africa 1:44.29 1:45.73
Amos will look to repeat at Pre

Amos will look to repeat at Pre

Normally  Nijel Amos, the Olympic silver medallist who was last year’ world leader (1:42.45) and world #1 in our year-end rankings, would enter as the favorite, but he had to scratch from the DL opener in Doha two weeks ago with a quad injury and there’s no telling if he’s back to 100% yet. Amos isn’t the only one facing questions.

Reigning world indoor/outdoor champ Mo Aman of Ethiopia joined the Eugene-based Oregon Track Club earlier this year but disappointed in his 2015 debut, running just 1:47.38 to take ninth in his season opener in Doha, his slowest non-championship 800 since February 2011. Was that just a hiccup or the sign of a larger problem? We’ll also get a first look at 2012 Olympic 1500 champ Taoufik Makhloufi, who will make his season debut on Saturday.This promises to be an intriguing race. Last year, the big storyline was the return of David Rudisha, but Nijel Amos stole the show with an impressive win in 1:43.63. He’s only raced at one meet so far this year, the South African Championships two weeks ago where he ran the 400 to gauge his fitness (he took sixth in the final, running 46.38). Saturday will show whether Amos has made any progress since then.

2012 NCAA champ Charles Jock is the top American in the field and he’s coming off a terrific race at the Ponce Grand Prix in Puerto Rico on May 23, running 1:45.40 to defeat a field that included Nick Symmonds, Mark Wieczorek and Cas Loxsom. That was Jock’s fastest time since 2013 and a good sign for his World Championships chances in what is shaping up as a wide-open men’s 800 at USAs. OTC teammate Harun Abda, who ran 1:46.33 to finish as the second American (fourth overall) in Puerto Rico is a late add to the field.

Given the questions surrounding Amos’ health and Aman’s poor opener in Doha, the favorites are Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot of Kenya (second in the DL opener in Doha) and Poland’s Adam Kszczot, who is coming off a 1:16.02 victory in the 600 on Tuesday in Ostrava.

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Men’s 3000 Steeplechase (4:11 p.m. ET)

Name Country PB SB
Roberto Alaiz Spain 8:24.53
Jairus Birech Kenya 7:58.41 8:05.36
Donn Cabral USA 8:19.14
Matt Hughes Canada 8:11.64 8:25.54
Dan Huling USA 8:13.29 8:24.61
Evan Jager USA 8:04.71
Ezekiel Kemboi Kenya 7:55.76
Conseslus Kipruto Kenya 8:01.16 8:14.59
Barnabas Kipyego Kenya 8:17.03 8:31.90
Paul Kipsiele Koech Kenya 7:54.31 8:11.39
Haron Lagat Kenya 8:15.80
Abel Mutai Kenya 8:01.67 8:20.38
Jonathan Ndiku Kenya 8:07.75 8:11.64
Bernard Nganga Kenya 8:05.88 8:15.66
Brahim Taleb Morocco 8:07.02 8:31.15
Hillary Yego Kenya 8:03.57 8:19.87
Birech has been unstoppable on the circuit since the start of 2014

Birech has been unstoppable on the circuit since the start of 2014

The first Diamond League steeple in Shanghai on May 17 showed that the status quo has not changed in the steeple. Just as he did throughout the 2014 season, 22-year-old Kenyan Jairus Birech dominated, winning in 8:05.36, over six seconds ahead of runner-up Paul Koech. That is a positive sign for the medal chances for American Evan Jager, who will run his first steeple of 2015 in Eugene on Saturday. While it’s a tough ask of Jager to run consistently in the low-8:00s and challenge Birech, he is firmly entrenched in the next tier of global steeplers.

Birech is obviously the favorite for Worlds right now, but beyond him there’s much uncertainty in the event. Take a look at the podium from the most recent Moscow World Championships:

1. Ezekiel Kemboi — battled injuries in ’14, breaking 8:19 just once
2. Conseslus Kipruto — broke 8:10 once in ’14 (6th in LRC rankings); 8:14 for 3rd in Shanghai
3. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad — out for 2015 season with foot/Achilles injuries

Kipruto still has a solid shot to medal, but he’s not in his 2013 form, when he won the first three DL events of the season. Kemboi, who has won the last four global titles, always peaks well, but at 33 years old, will he be able to get back to his best after a disappointing 2014 season?

After those three, Koech was fourth and Jager fifth in Moscow.

We’ll get some answers about the steeple pecking order on Saturday as Kemboi and Jager both make their 2015 steeple debuts. Kemboi has raced just once this year, a 14:02 5,000 in Kenya on April 17 in which he was sixth overall (winner 13:45). Jager has been busier, as he spent his indoor season working on his speed, finishing third at USAs in the 2-mile behind Ryan Hill and Ben Blankenship, a solid performance but one that he was not content with. Jager opened his outdoor season at Payton Jordan on May 2 with a 3:39.40 1500, again losing to Hill and 1500 specialist Ford Palmer. That’s not close to his 3:36.34 PR, but given the relatively slow pace (Hill won it in 3:38.79), it was a solid performance.

In the past three years, Jager has run his best late in the season so don’t expect a PR on Saturday. But if he can finish second or third behind Birech, and beat the likes of Koech, Kemboi and/or Kipruto, that will register as a good sign for his progress toward a medal in Beijing.

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Men’s Bowerman Mile (5:49 p.m. ET)

Name Country PB SB
Matthew Centrowitz USA 3:50.53 4:00.54
Collins Cheboi Kenya 3:49.56
Johan Cronje South Africa 3:50.70
Abdelaati Iguider Morocco 3:49.09
Henrik Ingebrigtsen Norway 3:50.72
Vincent Kibet Kenya 3:52.15
Silas Kiplagat Kenya 3:47.88
Asbel Kiprop Kenya 3:48.50
Ronald Kwemoi Kenya
James Magut Kenya 3:49.43
Hillary Maiyo Kenya 4:02.91
Leo Manzano USA 3:50.64 4:00.05
Andrew Rotich Kenya
Ayanleh Souleiman Djibouti 3:47.32
Aman Wote Ethiopia 3:48.60

Before we discuss this year’s Bowerman Mile, let’s pause and appreciate for a moment how special last year’s race was.

Ayanleh Souleiman’s 3:47.32 was not only a meet record but the fastest time in the world in seven years — when Alan Webb set his American record of 3:46.91. He led six men under 3:50 (tied for the most in history) and four more under 3:52 as all-time marks for place were set for places 6 through 11. Truly, it was a special race to witness.

Souleiman had reason to celebrate after a big win last year

Souleiman kicked to a big 3:47.32 victory in last year’s Bowerman Mile

It will be a tall order for this year’s edition to live up to last year’s fireworks, but all six men who broke 3:50 are back; in fact, the top nine men from last year’s race will all return. The only one of the top men missing is 2012 Olympic champ Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria, who will run the 800 at Pre instead. Apart from him, every medalist from the past three global championships will be on the line, plus the reigning world indoor champ/world leader (Souleiman) and the world junior record holder at 1500 (Ronald Kwemoi, who ran 3:28.81 to tie for seventh all-time last summer).

In picking a winner, it makes sense to go with one of the three men who have dominated the mile on the DL circuit in recent years. Souleiman (2014), Kiplagat (2013) and Kiprop (2012, 2010, 2009) have all won this event in recent years and both Souleiman and Kiplagat enter in fine form. Souleiman won the 800 at the DL opener in Doha on May 15, just missing his pb by running 1:43.78, an exceptionally quick time this early in the season. Kiplagat continued his fine DL form in Shanghai as he won the 1500 there in 3:35.29 (a substandard time for him, but a win is a win). Those two have a better chance than Kiprop based on 2015 performances (Kiprop was 5th behind Souleiman in Doha, running 1:45.11, and then lost to Adam Kszczot at 1000 in Ostrava on Tuesday, running 2:17.38) but his track record both in this meet and on the Diamond League record is spectacular, meaning this mini-slump could end at any time.

With eight other men at 3:50 or faster, there is the potential for an upset, but if someone is to conquer the Big Three, the most likely candidate is 19-year-old Ronald Kwemoi. Kwemoi is undefeated in six races so far this season but relatively untested as five of those six races were in Japan (the sixth was a World Relays trials race in Kenya on March 21 that he won, 3:37.1 to 3:38.3). Most recently, Kwemoi pulled off a 3:38.07/13:19.33 two-day double in Japan, winning both races (by 3.05 seconds in the 1500 and 3.58 in the 5,000). That’s a good sign for Kwemoi, who ran 13:16.14 on May 9, as Souleiman ran 13:17.97 on April 27 and is clearly very fit right now.

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The Americans

Centrowitz and Manzano’s struggles on the DL circuit have been covered in this space before. Both excel in championship races (one of the two has medalled at each of the last three global championships), but neither has shown an ability to consistently contend in top Diamond League races. A Bowerman Mile win by an American is a pipe dream right now, but a good target for both of them to shoot for would be top five — no American has managed that in the Bowerman since Andrew Wheating was fifth in 2010.

No American has gone sub-3:50 since Webb in 2007

No American has gone sub-3:50 since Webb in 2007

More than anything, this race represents an opportunity for each of them to lower their PRs. One athlete will finish higher than the other on Saturday; that is inevitable. But how Centrowitz and Manzano fare in a fast, rabbitted race doesn’t tell us much about their potential in a championship race like USAs or Worlds. It’s obviously not a good sign if one of them totally bombs, but Manzano totally bombed three weeks before USAs last year and still rebounded to win the national title. Manzano’s win at Drake last month (in a slower 4:00.05) probably tells us more about who has a better shot at USAs than Pre will, because Manzano and Centro were the two best guys in that race, as they will be at USAs (of course Centro beat Manzano in the Drake road mile four days earlier, so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that result). That’s not the case at Pre.

Centrowitz PR’d last year, running 3:50.53, while Manzano got the win in the International Mile in 3:52.41, a season best. The dream scenario is for one — or both — to add their name to this list:

Americans Who Have Broken 3:50 in the Mile
1. Alan Webb, 3:46.91 (2007)
2. Steve Scott, 3:47.69 (1982)
3. Bernard Lagat, 3:48.38 (2005)
4. Sydney Maree, 3:48.83 (1981)
5. Joe Falcon, 3:49.31 (1990)
6. Jim Spivey, 3:49.80 (1986)

The last time the club welcomed a new member was in 2005, when Lagat and Webb accomplished the feat in the same race. Before that, there was a 14-year gap between American sub-3:50s, with Spivey the most recent to do it in 1991. It’s been over seven years (eight in July) since Webb’s 3:46. Can Centrowitz or Manzano put an end to the drought?

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