May 28, 2015
The 2015 Prefontaine Classic begins 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 Huddle. Nijel 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 Wilson, Brenda 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 Kiprop, Ayanleh Souleiman, Silas Kiplagat, Ronald Kwemoi, Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz. You won’t see a better two hours of track on American soil this year.
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 women’s mid-d/distance action and give you the lowdown on the meet. Our preview of the men’s mid-d/distance action is here: LRC 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.
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.
Women’s 800 (4:55 p.m. ET)
|Lynsey Sharp||Great Britain||1:58.80||2:01.93|
Based on 2014 form, Sum, Wilson and Martinez will be the women to beat here. Martinez ran 2:00.83 in her opener at Mt. SAC on April 18 and followed that up a week later with a 2:00.51 at Drake, losing only to Wilson. Sum won her first race of 2015, a 1500 in Kenya on April 18 in 4:09.7, and was victorious at the first DL meet, running 2:00.28 in Shanghai.The first DL 800 in Shanghai on May 17 felt like a “soft opener” as aside from defending world champ Eunice Sum, few of the world’s top women were in attendance. That won’t be the case at Pre as five of the top six from the 2013 World Championship final will be competing (only accused doper Mariya Savinova is missing). All four women to win a DL 800 in 2014 will run here as well (Sum, Wilson, Lynsey Sharp and Brenda Martinez).
But the hottest woman right now is Wilson, who has lost just once in 11 outings this year (and that only came because she faceplanted 250 meters into the 600 final at USA Indoors). She ran 2:01.09 in her 800 opener at Princeton on April 17 and sliced a second off that time with a 2:00.03 win over a stacked domestic field at Drake a week later. The following week she split a comfortable 2:00.08 as the U.S. broke the world record in the DMR at the World Relays. Finally, she ran 2:00.65 in Kingston on May 9 before taking a break from competition for the last three weeks.
Now that she’s back, expectations will be high for Wilson. She hasn’t exactly been going through the motions to this point in the season, but you get the sense that she has yet to show what she’s truly capable of in a fast race. Perhaps that doesn’t change on Saturday and Wilson wins in a ho-hum 1:59/2:00. But with a quality field and a large American crowd cheering her on, the hope is that she can go after a fast time and stamp herself as the top 800 woman in the world right now with a win.
Of course, victory isn’t guaranteed for Wilson. Along with Sum and Martinez, she’ll be challenged by 1:57 woman Yekaterina Poistogova (outdoor debut after taking second at Euro Indoors) and five-time U.S. champ Alysia Montaño, who flashed her pre-pregnancy form with a 1:58.90 split in the 4×800 at World Relays earlier this month. Finally, Sweden’s world indoor/outdoor 1500 champ Abeba Aregawi will contest her first 800 since 2013 after finishing a disappointing seventh in the DL 1500 opener in Doha.
Women’s 5,000 (5:12 p.m. ET)
There’s a lot going on in this race. Five of the women in this field have run 15:00 or faster so far outdoors, and that doesn’t even include Genzebe Dibaba (who ran 14:18 indoors) or Molly Huddle, who ran 14:50 on the roads. This race serves as the track opener for Huddle, who broke the American record at this distance a year ago (running 14:42.64), as well as the 5,000 debut of Kenyan 1500 record holder Faith Kipyegon. And it’s the first track race in almost three years for Vivian Cheruiyot, who swept the 5,000 and 10,000 at Worlds in 2011 before taking time off after the 2012 Olympics to give birth to and raise son Allan Kiprono.
But the storyline that dwarfs all others is the assault on Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 14:11.15 world record, which will be attacked by sister Genzebe. The younger Dibaba has already run a world indoor record of 14:18.86 in February and just missed the 5k road record by running 14:48 at the Carlsbad 5000 in March. Since then, she’s been focused on this race, where she will look to take down the mark her sister set in Oslo seven years ago.
Initially, this looked as if it would be a two-pronged attempt as Dibaba’s compatriot Almaz Ayana, who ran 14:14 (#3 all-time) in Shanghai on May 17, was entered at Pre as well. But, following in the Tirunesh Dibaba-Meseret Defar spirit, Ayana scratched earlier this week, ensuring that we won’t get a showdown between the top two Ethiopian talents. It’s a shame. The two raced seven times last year, including five times on the Diamond League circuit.
So can Dibaba do it? Here’s what’s working in her favor:
brokesmashed the world record indoors, running 14:18.86. That took over five seconds off Defar’s 14:24.37 from 2009 and was almost nine seconds faster than Tirunesh ever ran indoors (14:27.42). Traditional logic dictates that if Dibaba is significantly faster than everyone else indoors, that should carry over to outdoors too.
- She almost broke the world record on the roads (and probably would have had the pacer gone out faster for the first mile). On a warm, breezy day in Carlsbad, Dibaba still only missed the world record by two seconds despite a 4:50 first mile. Combine that with her indoor performance (her only two races of the year) and Dibaba is clearly in spectacular shape in 2015.
- Dibaba is good at breaking records. She already owns world marks at 1500, 3,000, 2 miles and 5,000 indoors, many of those achieved mostly alone over the second half of the race. If Dibaba wants to run 14:10, she’s going to have to do it alone for 5+ laps, which is both physically and mentally demanding. Dibaba has the experience and the mental toughness for a serious record attempt.
- Her PRs are better than Tirunesh’s when she broke the record. When the elder Dibaba ran 14:11.15, her PRs were 8:29.55 and 14:27.42 (indoors). Genzebe’s are 3:55.17 (indoors), 8:16.60 (indoors) and 14:18.86 (indoors).
- She’s in her prime. As fast as Dibaba has run in the past, she may not have peaked yet as she’s still only 24 years old. Tirunesh was 23 when she set the record, and Defar was 24 when she ran 14:12 (#2 all-time). Ayana, who ran 14:14 two weeks ago, is 23. This is the right time for Dibaba to take a run at the record.
And here are the reasons why she might not do it:
- Dibaba has always been a better indoor runner than outdoor runner. For whatever reason, Dibaba’s indoor PRs are significantly faster than her outdoor PRs. Just look at the comparison in the chart below:
|Distance||Indoor PR||Outdoor PR|
- If you judge off of her outdoor PBs, she still has a shot at the record as they’re comparable to what Tirunesh had run at the time of her WR. But the best way at getting a WR on Saturday is to transplant indoor Dibaba onto the outdoor track.
- The forecast calls for 82 degrees in Eugene on Saturday per Weather.com, which is MUCH hotter than you’d prefer for a record attempt. Thankfully, it’s supposed to be mostly cloudy with wind of just 6 mph, which means we shouldn’t have a repeat of last year’s men’s 5,000 where no one broke 13:00 (and no American broke 13:15) thanks to the warm, windy conditions. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: if meet organizers really want a world record, they should move this race to Friday night (though it’s too late now).
- World records are tough to break. Though the 5,000 is probably the easiest women’s track record to break as it’s one of the few women’s track records that isn’t clouded by significant drug suspicion, it’s still a world record. To break any world record, you need the right combination of athlete and conditions and while Genzebe Dibaba has the talent to do it, a time like 14:11 is still incredibly rare — that time was a major outlier for Tirunesh, whose second-best time is only 14:23.
When betting on whether a WR will occur, the safe bet is always to say “no,” but Dibaba’s history of fast times and fast start to 2015 suggest she might be the woman to do it. Still, the weather forecast plus her track record of running faster indoors than out don’t help her chances. Perhaps Ayana’s 14:14 in Shanghai provides the requisite motivation for Dibaba to take down the WR, but if we had to bet, we’d go with a winning time in the 14:10s — but not a WR.
There are 18 other women in this race, though we haven’t discussed them at length to this point because it’s just not feasible for any of them to keep up with Dibaba if she is trying to run 14:10. If Vivian Cheruiyot was in peak shape (her 14:20 pb is fourth all-time), she’d be a threat to run with Dibaba. She told Ethiosports, “I’m close to my best shape but it will take maybe two months to peak. I hope I will have peaked by the time the Trials come and hopefully, challenge for the title in Beijing.” Cheruiyot is coming off a win at the Cape Town FNB OneRun 12k on May 17, which she won comfortably in 38:22 (5:08 pace) but this will be her first major test on the track for two and a half years. It’s hard to imagine that she can just step right back in at age 31 and run sub-14:20.
Likewise, Kipyegon, a two-time World Junior XC champ (2011, 2013) who has run 3:56.98 and 8:23.55 over the past two years, possesses the talent to one day run sub-14:20, but it’s foolish to expect that kind of performance until she proves herself — and this is her first race of 2015 and her first 5,000 ever.
Though Dibaba will likely run unchallenged, this is still a talented field — Viola Kibiwot ran 14:40 in Shanghai and World Junior champ Alemitu Haroye ran 14:43. Sentayehu Ejigu, Sally Kipyego and Betsy Saina have also broken 14:40 in their careers. That could be good news for Molly Huddle. In Huddle’s two American record runs at 5,000 on the track, she’s been dragged to fast times by top competition (she was ninth when she ran 14:44 in 2010 and sixth when she ran 14:42 last year). The worry is that Dibaba will run so fast that the rest of the field will spot her a huge lead and settle into a tactical race for second. But if someone commits to pushing the pace in the second pack, Huddle has a shot at her own AR and could become the first American under 14:40. Already in 2015, Huddle has won the NYC Half Marathon (68:31) and broken the American record at 5k on the roads (14:50). With six more weeks of training under her belt after that 14:50, Huddle could definitely slice 10 seconds off on the track in the right race (of course, as we already mentioned, conditions may not be ideal for a record attempt).
Women’s 1500 (5:40 p.m. ET)
|Hannah England||Great Britain||4:01.89|
|Sifan Hassan||The Netherlands||3:57.00||4:01.40|
The women’s 1500 at Pre (a non-DL event) offers a nice preview of USAs and also includes some world-class talent (2014 world leader Sifan Hassan, 2014 DL 3k/5k champ Mercy Cherono). For American fans, the biggest matchup is Jenny Simpson vs. Shannon Rowbury, as the two haven’t met since squaring off in the 3,000 in Brussels last September. Both of their last two races against each other were very close as Simpson prevailed in Brussels, 8:29.58 to 8:29.93 a week after edging Rowbury by .01 in an epic 1500 in Zurich.
Simpson appears to have the edge in this one, as both she and Rowbury ran the 800 at the Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic two weeks ago. While Simpson posted the second-fastest time on the night (2:00.79), almost taking down Maggie Vessey, Rowbury struggled, running 2:03.46 to finish last in her heat. Rowbury doubled back for the 1500 in that meet, but that too went poorly as she fell 500 meters in, ruining her race. Rowbury did have a terrific indoor season, winning U.S. titles at one mile and two miles, and she ran a nice 4:27.92 anchor leg to help the U.S. to a world record in the DMR at the World Relays. One bad meet isn’t anything to worry about.
This race will be important in determining the current 1500 hierarchy in the U.S. as Simpson has the option of skipping the 1500 at USAs with a spot to Beijing already locked up (since she’s the Diamond League champ). Beyond just the top, though, most of the contenders for a Team USA berth will be on the line, including Katie Mackey, Sarah Brown, Treniere Moser and Aisha Praught. There’s also high schooler Alexa Efraimson, who is something of a wild card. Efraimson ran 4:09.43 in her outdoor opener at Mt. SAC and on May 17 ran 2:01.13 for 800 to put her #4 on the all-time high school list. She’s already #2 on the 1500 list (4:07.05 from last year) and though it will be tough to catch Mary Cain at #1 (4:04.62), she could close the gap with a good run on Saturday.
Some, even her coach Mike Hickey, have suggested that Efraimson could even break 4:00 this year (Hickey said the main goal for trhem is 4:02): MB: Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowbury and Alexa Efraimson – But Not Mary Cain – Will Race in Women’s 1500 at 2015 Pre.
Though a few women are missing (Gabriele Grunewald and Heather Kampf to name two), whoever finishes as the third American in this race (assuming Simpson and Rowbury are the top two) will be in good position to make the team a month from now.
Up front, expect a battle between Simpson and Hassan, who dueled frequently during the 2014 season. Watch carefully to see what kind of tactics Simpson employs. Last year, she led many races in order to chase fast times. With Beijing her sole priority in 2015, will Simpson still seek to control races from the front or will she go back to relying on her kick?
Discuss the women’s messageboard on our running fan forum: MB: Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowbury and Alexa Efraimson – But Not Mary Cain – Will Race in Women’s 1500 at 2015 Pre.