Rome Preview: A Totally Loaded Men’s 5,000, Aman Vs. Amos Round II, And Can Jenny Simpson Take Down Dawit Seyaum And Win Her Fourth Straight 1,500 On The Diamond League Circuit?

June 2, 2015

The first two weeks of June is one of the best times of the year to be a track and field fan. Saturday’s Prefontaine Classic kicked off a 15-day period in which there are a staggering five Diamond League meets. And next week brings the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships (June 10-13), annually one of the best meets on American soil. Add in Thursday’s Adrian Martinez Classic and track fans are spoiled for choice.

The next Diamond League meet on the calendar is Thursday’s Pietro Mennea Golden Gala in Rome, which will be headlined by several mid-d/distance showdown. Mo Aman and Nijel Amos will square off again after going 1-2 at Pre on Saturday. In the 5,000, Pre winner Yomif Kejelcha takes on two other young Ethiopian talents: Doha 3,000 winner Hagos Gebrhiwet and 2014 world leader Muktar Edris. In the 1500, Doha winner/World Junior champ Dawit Seyaum will face Pre winner Jenny Simpson for the first time this year.

In non-distance action, Justin Gatlin will look to improve on his world-leading 9.74 in the 100, Renaud Lavillenie goes in the pole vault, young Cuban star Pedro Pablo Pichardo takes on Will Claye in the triple jump and Jasmin Stowers looks to keep her winning streak alive against a loaded 100-meter hurdles field.

We preview the mid-d/distance events below and give you all the details on the meet.

What: 2015 Pietro Mennea Golden Gala

Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy

When: Thursday, June 4. Field events begin at 11:45 a.m. ET; TV broadcast begins at 2:00 p.m. ET.

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How to watch: Live from 2 to 4 pm ET. In the US, it’s on beIN Sports – detailed TV/streaming information (including how to get beIN Sports on your computer) here . In Europe, you can watch the meet live on Eurosport.

Schedule/entries/results *2014 LRC coverage

Men’s 800 (2:23 p.m. ET): Aman and Amos Clash Again

Name Country PB SB
Mo Aman Ethiopia 1:42.37 1:44.92
Nijel Amos Botswana 1:41.73 1:45.06
Giordano Benedetti Italy 1:44.57 1:46.26
Pierre-Ambroise Bosse France 1:42.53 1:44.95
Ferguston Rotich Cheruiyot Kenya 1:42.84 1:44.53
Job Kinyor Kenya 1:43.76 1:45.12
Timothy Kitum Kenya 1:42.53 1:46.2h
Adam Kszczot Poland 1:43.30 1:46.14
Artur Kuciapski Poland 1:44.89 1:47.67
Marcin Lewandowski Poland 1:43.79 1:45.46
Kevin Lopez Spain 1:43.74
Bram Som The Netherlands 1:43.45
Aman was back on top at Pre Aman was back on top at Pre

It’s a particularly busy time to be an elite men’s 800 runner. Many of the world’s top two-lap men ran a non-DL 800 on Saturday at the Pre Classic and this week brings two official DL 800s in a span of four days, with Rome on Thursday and Birmingham on Sunday. The five-day gap between Birmingham and the next DL 800 in New York seems like a massive break by comparison.

The top two men from Pre, Mo Aman and Nijel Amos — who also happened to be the top two men in the world last year — will be the favorites in Rome. Aman, who was a disappointing 9th in the DL opener in Doha, running 1:47.38 (positively glacial for him), showed that result was just a rust-buster and not a sign of some larger problem following his offseason move to the Oregon Track Club. On his new home track, he looked like the Aman we’re all used to, making a strong move with 200 to go and holding off Amos, 1:44.92 to 1:45.06.

That result was a good one for Amos as well, even if he couldn’t quite get his Ethiopian rival. Amos had to scratch from the 800 in Doha due to a quad injury, making Pre his first 800 of the year. Running 1:45.06 and almost winning the race shows that his recovery is going quite well. Furthermore, Amos lost to Aman in similar fashion in his DL opener last year (losing by .05 of a second in Doha) before proceeding to dominate the event the rest of the year. He should be ready to challenge Aman again on Thursday.

Amos’s tactics weren’t great at Pre so despite the loss, we’d say he’s the man to beat in Rome.

Besides the big two, there are several other men worth watching. Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, the second-fastest man of 2014, ran 1:44.95 for 4th in his season-opener in Doha, while Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot was second in that race in 1:44.53. Neither of them ran particularly great in their most recent races (Bosse ran 2:19.35 for 5th in the 1000 in Ostrava last week; Cheruiyot was dead-last in the 800 at Pre) but both could rebound here. If you’re looking for someone on a winning streak, your best bet is Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski. Lewandowski, who was 4th at the last two World Championships outdoors, has won his last four individual races:

Date Race Time Place
2/22/2015 Polish Indoor Champs 1:49.73 1st
3/8/2015 Euro Indoor Champs 1:46.67 1st
5/24/2015 Hengelo FBK Games 1:45.46 1st
5/26/2015 Ostrava Golden Spike 2:17.25 (1k) 1st
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Men’s 5,000 (2:48 p.m. ET): Kejelcha, Gebrhiwet Lead Loaded Field 

Name Country PB SB
Antonio Abadia Beci Spain 13:30.91
Yenew Alamirew Ethiopia 12:48.77
Aweke Ayalew Bahrain 13:05.00 13:29.03
Geofrey Barusei Kenya
Sindre Buraas Norway 13:15.91 13:39.63
Muktar Edris Ethiopia 12:54.83
Jesus Espana Spain 13:04.73
Ilias Fifa Spain 13:14.89
Dejen Gebremeskel Ethiopia 12:46.81 13:23.72
Hagos Gebrhiwet Ethiopia 12:47.53
Yasin Haji Ethiopia 13:26.21
Ali Kaya Turkey 13:31.39 14:25.47
Yomif Kejelcha Ethiopia 13:10.54 13:10.54
Isiah Koech Kenya 12:48.64
Ismael Kombich Kenya
Lawi Lalang Kenya 13:00.95 13:16.11
Thomas Longosiwa Kenya 12:49.04 13:45.8h
Imane Merga Ethiopia 12:53.58
Richard Ringer Germany 13:25.24
Paul Tanui Kenya 13:00.53 13:18.54

This race is unquestionably the highlight for distance fans. Though you never know when a fast race is going to erupt on the Diamond League circuit, this race has the essentials: a fast field (six men who’ve broken 13:00) and decent conditions (high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but it should be closer to about 77 degrees by the time the race starts at 8:48 p.m. local time which is pretty warm for a 5k). There is some wind in the forecast (6-7 mph), but if the top guys stick to the rabbits, there’s enough talent here that chances are someone is going to run really fast.

Kejelcha will go for two wins in a row in Rome Kejelcha will go for two wins in a row in Rome

Picking the winner is a tough ask, but we can certainly narrow the field down. Yomif Kejelcha is the hot name on people’s tongues after he dusted everyone over the final 300 meters in the 5,000 at Pre on Friday. Kejelcha is still only 17, and has yet to develop the tactical nous required to win consistently on the Diamond League circuit (he moved too early in the Doha 3,000 and faded from 1st to 5th over the final lap). But his talent is unquestionable. Kejelcha ran 7:36 for 3,000 last year, allegedly at age 16. Even if his official August 1, 1997, birthday is wrong, a look at his face suggests that he is still very young – no more than 20. Every race on the DL circuit is an important lesson for him, and even if he doesn’t win in Rome, racing such a high-quality field will only help his development as a runner.

If this race offered odds, Hagos Gebrhiwet would likely be the slight favorite as he took on the best 3k/5k field of the year so far in Doha and beat them all, including the three-time defending global champ at 5,000, Mo Farah. Gebrhiwet was 4th at World XC in March in his other major race of 2015 and is the reigning silver medalist from Worlds. Having just turned 21 himself, he’s still very young, though he offers far more top-level experience than Kejelcha.

Rome will also be the 2015 Diamond League debut for two more Ethiopian studs, 2014 world leader Muktar Edris and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel. Edris, like Gebrhiwet, ran exceptionally well at World XC, placing third overall, but has only raced once since then, a 28:22 road 10k on April 6, which he lost by two seconds to Victor Chumo. We know more about Gebremeskel’s fitness as he raced last week in Ostrava, though his dominant win (13:23.72, over three seconds ahead of second) came against a much weaker field than the one he’ll see in Rome.

While there are several talented Kenyans in the field as well — 2013 World bronze medalist Isiah Koech, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Thomas Longosiwa, two-time defending NCAA champ Lawi Lalang and Paul Tanui, coming off a 26:51 10,000 at Pre — much of the intrigue will center on the Ethiopians in this one as this race will be important in selecting their team for Worlds. Ethiopia’s federation picks the top three fastest runners on the year for its Worlds team. With almost all of the top Ethiopians entered (Yenew Alamirew and Imane Merga are also on the start list) and only three Worlds spots available, a win plus a fast time here would certainly be a huge boost to any Ethiopian’s candidacy.

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Women’s 1500 (3:18 p.m. ET): Jenny Simpson Goes for Her Second Win in Six Days

Name Country PB SB
Rababe Arafi Morocco 4:02.71 4:04.12
Angelika Cichocka Poland 4:06.50 4:09.70
Axumawit Embaye Ethiopia 4:02.35 4:03.00
Sofia Ennaoui Poland 4:07.34
Luiza Gega Albania 4:02.63 4:02.63
Heather Kampf USA 4:06.16
Viola Kibiwot Kenya 3:59.25 4:11.4h
Maureen Koster The Netherlands 4:04.59 4:04.59
Anna Mishchenko Ukraine 4:01.16 4:01.95
Laura Muir Great Britain 4:00.07
Dawit Seyaum Ethiopia 3:59.53 4:00.96
Anna Shchagina Russia 4:05.58
Jenny Simpson USA 3:57.22 4:00.98
Gudaf Tsegay Ethiopia 4:02.83 4:03.09
Tamara Tverdostup Ukraine 4:07.43 4:13.57
Lydia Wafula Kenya 4:12.95

Jenny Simpson ended 2014 by winning the final two Diamond League 1500s in Stockholm and Zurich to seal her first Diamond League title. On Saturday at Hayward Field, in a race that didn’t count in the Diamond League standings unfortunately, she picked up right where she left off, winning the 1500 at the Prefontaine Classic in 4:00.98 to defeat a deep international field that included Sifan HassanShannon Rowbury and Axumawit Embaye, three of her chief rivals for gold at Worlds in Beijing later this summer.

Her biggest foe at Worlds assuming Genzebe Dibaba doesn’t attempt the 5000/1500 double which is very doable, however, may be the young woman she faces on Thursday in Rome Dawit Seyaum. The reigning world junior champ Seyaum, who, unlike Simpson, won’t have had to make the almost 6,000-mile trip from Eugene to Rome, has yet to lose in 2015, taking wins at the B.A.A. Invitational Mile on April 18 (4:35.4) and at the DL opener in Doha on May 15 (4:00.96 — almost exactly the same as Simpson ran at Pre). Seyaum is still only 18 years old, but her potential is vast as she defeated Simpson in their only head-to-head matchup last yaer in New York on June 14 (Seyaum was second in 4:00.66, Simpson third in 4:02.54).

Will Simpson have anything left in the tank for Thursday? Simpson generally doesn’t race twice in quick succession outside of rounds at championship meets. Here are the last three times she’s run two non-prelim races in a six-day span:

Simpson, shown here in Paris last year, looked great in her 1500 opener at Pre Simpson, shown here in Paris last year, looked great in her 1500 opener at Pre

Race #1 (August 30, 2012): Zurich DL 1500 (7th, 4:08.38)
Race #2 (September 4, 2012): Rovereto Palio Citta della Quercia 1500 (2nd, 4:04.07)

Race #1 (February 25, 2012): USA Indoors 3000 (1st, 9:19.15)
Race #2 (February 26, 2012): USA Indoors 1500 (1st, 4:15.04)

Race #1 (September 16, 2011): Brussels DL 1500 (13th, 4:03.68)
Race #2 (September 18, 2011): Tangier Meeting d’Athletisme Moulay El Hassan (1st, 4:15.07)

The lack of rest hasn’t been a problem for Simpson in the past, though we probably shouldn’t read too much into those stats as the most recent race is from three years ago (and none involved a journey as long as the one she is making from Eugene). Simpson is good enough that she should still contend for the win despite the long trip, but if Seyaum is close to Simpson’s level right now (and it appears that she is), it might make more sense to back the Ethiopian given that she will be better-rested.

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Women’s 3,000 Steeplechase (9:38 p.m. ET): Virginia Nyambura Won’t Surprise Anyone This Time

Name Country PB SB
Birtukan Adamu Ethiopia 9:20.37 9:41.91
Birtukan Alemu Ethiopia 9:28.27 9:34.19
Sofia Assefa Ethiopia 9:09.00 9:35.32
Hiwot Ayalew Ethiopia 9:09.61 9:21.54
Amina Bettiche Algeria 9:29.20 9:42.97
Lidya Chepkurui Kenya 9:12.55 9:27.62
Salima El Ouali Alami Morocco 9:21.24 9:38.28
Charlotta Fougberg Sweden 9:23.96
Ann Gathoni Kenya
Tigest Getent Bahrain 9:27.07 9:27.07
Madeline Heiner Austria 9:28.41 9:28.41
Daisy Jepkemei Kenya 9:38.16 9:38.16
Hyvin Kiyeng Kenya 9:22.05 9:22.11
Sanaa Koubaa Germany 9:43.08 9:46.81
Katarzyna Kowalska Poland 9:26.93
Gesa Krause Germany 9:23.52
Sviatlana Kudzelich Kenya
Virginia Nyambura Kenya 9:21.51 9:21.51
Natalya Vlasova Russia 9:34.16 9:51.21

Sometimes, the women’s steeplechase can seem like a crapshoot. Who would have predicted prior to Doha that rabbit Virginia Nyambura, a 21-year-old Kenyan whose previous PR was 9:58, would not only finish the race but win the darn thing in 9:21.51? Likewise, prior to 2014, an American medal in the event seemed like a pipe dream, but American steeplers have improved rapidly since then — three U.S. steeplechase specialists (Emma CoburnAisha Praught and Stephanie Garcia) have already broken 4:06 in the 1500 this year.

So it would seem that Nyambura and Hiwot Ayalew (the 2014 World #1 who lost out to Nyambura by just .03 in Doha) would be the favorites on Thursday in Rome, but who knows for sure? In a field this large (19 athletes), there’s bound to be a surprise or two. The biggest question entering this race is this: How good is Nyambura? Primarily a rabbit prior to this year, how much better can she get now that she’ll be following the pace, not setting it?

One thing that is likely to happen is that someone sets a world leader. The steeple in Doha was run in scorching temperatures and Nyambura’s 9:21.51 was the slowest winning time on the DL circuit since May 2013, when Lidya Chepkurui ran 9:30.82 in cold, damp conditions in New York.

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