Paris Preview: Team USA’s Steeplers Take On The World’s Best; Makhloufi, Kiplagat And Souleiman To Battle At 1,500
July 3, 2015
USAs may be over, but the IAAF Diamond League is back, with five meets spread across the next four weeks. The action commences on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, with the Meeting Areva. With Usain Bolt a scratch, the headliner is the Genzebe Dibaba–Almaz Ayana duel/world record attempt in the women’s 5,000, which we’ve broken down in a separate article. There are plenty of other storylines, however. The men’s 1500 should be special, with Silas Kiplagat and Ayanleh Souleiman taking on 2012 Olympic champ Taoufik Makhloufi, who is coming off a 2:13.08 1000 on Wednesday, the fastest time in the world in 16 years. Americans Evan Jager, Donn Cabral and Dan Huling will take on big boys Ezekiel Kemboi and Jairus Birech in the men’s steeplechase, while Eunice Sum takes on Americans Molly Ludlow and Chanelle Price in the women’s 800.
Non-distance action includes local favorite Renaud Lavillenie in the pole vault, Mutaz Essa Barshim taking on American champ Erik Kynard in the high jump, Kirani James in the 400, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in a stacked women’s 100 field and David Oliver vs. Pascal Martinot-Lagarde in the 110 hurdles. Asafa Powell, who ran 9.84 to win the Jamaican championships last week, will run in the men’s 100, the final event of the night.
So fire up the grill and settle in for some Fourth of July track and field. We’ll resist using a fireworks pun here, but it should be a great meet.
What: 2015 Meeting Areva
Where: Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France
When: Saturday, July 4. Field events begin at 12:25 p.m. ET; DL track events (and the beIN Sports broadcast) begin at 2:05 p.m. ET.
How to watch: Live on beIN Sports Connect from 1:45 p.m. ET to 4:00 p.m. ET. According to the beIN Sports website, the meet will only be broadcast online (not on TV) as the Copa America final is also on Saturday afternoon. In Europe, you can watch the meet live on Eurosport.
Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase (2:24 p.m. ET): Team USA Takes On the World
Fresh off the most competitive steeplechase ever in a USA final, the top three finishers in that race — Evan Jager, Donn Cabral and Dan Huling — will head across the Atlantic to see how they measure up against the world’s best. Those three comprise Team USA for Beijing, and though the Kenyan team is not yet set, several of the guys in this race — Jairus Birech, Ezekiel Kemboi, Conseslus Kipruto — figure to be the Americans’ stiffest competition at Worlds. With all three Americans in great form, this race will be an important test. For Jager, it’s a chance to see if he’s narrowed the gap to Birech and Kemboi (it stood at 3.5 seconds at the Pre Classic). For the other two, it’s a chance to see how they match up against the fourth Kenyan finisher (Kenya can only send four to Worlds) and France’s Yoann Kowal (8th at Worlds in 2013).
There are still two more Diamond League steeples after Paris (in London on July 25 and Stockholm on July 30), but there’s no guarantee what the fields for those races will look like, especially considering they’re only five days apart. Paris could be the best chance before Worlds for the Americans to see where they stand.
Don’t expect Jager to finish lower than fourth. He doesn’t race frequently on the Diamond League circuit, but when he does, he almost always races well. Check out his career DL steeples:
Aside from his race in Monaco last year, Jager has run well every time out, and given that he ran 3:32.97 for 1500 (a 3+ second PR) won his fourth straight U.S. steeple title, both in the last three weeks, he appears poised for another successful outing in Paris. A PR (and another American record) is certainly in the cards and sub-8:00 isn’t out of the question if the pace is fast enough up front. The problem is the weather. It’s supposed to be 91 degrees and sunny during the steeple on Saturday night, which is not ideal record weather. Even if the time isn’t there for Jager, though, it will be important to see how he compares to Birech, Kemboi and Conseslus Kipruto, the three men who beat him at the Pre Classic. He obviously has to beat at least one of them to medal in Beijing, and if he can take down one (or more) of them in Paris, it will show he’s on the right track.
Cabral ran a massive PR of 8:13.37 to finish second at USAs and it will be interesting to see how aggressive he is in this one. If the leaders go out on sub-8:00 pace, that doesn’t help Cabral, who isn’t in position to run that kind of time at this point in his career. But if they’re more conservative due to the heat — say, 8:10 pace — that works nicely for Cabral. Ditto for Huling, who just missed his PR of 8:13.29 in finishing third at USAs.
It’s unlikely Cabral or Huling wins a medal in Beijing, but there aren’t a ton of people standing in their way. You’ve got the top four Kenyans (whoever they wind up being) and Jager. After that, it’s wide open. Just look at the 2015 world list (we crossed off the fifth and sixth Kenyans as Kenya can only send four to Worlds):
|8:01.71||1.||1.||Ezekiel KEMBOI||82||KEN||F||1.||Eugene (USA)||30.05||1250|
|8:01.83||2.||2.||Jairus Kipchoge BIRECH||92||KEN||F||2.||Eugene (USA)||30.05||1250|
|8:05.20||3.||3.||Conseslus KIPRUTO||94||KEN||F||3.||Eugene (USA)||30.05||1234|
|8:05.28||4.||4.||Evan JAGER||89||USA||F||4.||Eugene (USA)||30.05||1234|
|8:11.39||5.||7.||Paul Kipsiele KOECH||81||KEN||F||2.||Shanghai (CHN)||17.05||1206|
|8:13.37||8.||14.||Donald CABRAL||89||USA||F||2.||Eugene (USA)||28.06||1196|
|8:14.11||9.||16.||Daniel HULING||83||USA||F||3.||Eugene (USA)||28.06||1193|
|8:14.75||10.||18.||John KOECH||95||BRN||F||3.||Beijing (CHN)||20.05||1190|
2013 bronze medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is out for the year. Cabral’s college rival, Matt Hughes of Canada (sixth in ’13) remains formidable, but he was just 10th at Pre in 8:20.34. He’s beatable.
American steepling is stronger than it’s ever been and the next step is to get another man under 8:10 (only four men have done it). That may not happen in Paris on Saturday, but it’s something to watch for as the remainder of the season unfolds.
In terms of non-Americans, Birech vs. Kemboi is the matchup to watch. Kemboi, the four-time defending global champion, took down Birech at Pre in 8:01.71 but struggled in his next outing in Oslo, running 8:30.07 for 10th (Birech won handily in 8:05.63). Was Oslo a blip on the radar or a sign of bigger struggles to come for Kemboi? We’ll get an answer in Paris.
Women’s 800 (2:42 p.m. ET): Eunice Sum Leads the Field As the Top 3 Americans Stay at Home
|Rose Mary Almanza||Cuba||1:58.99||1:58.99|
The top three Americans from last week’s U.S. Championships — Alysia Montano, Brenda Martinez and Ajee Wilson — won’t be in action here, and while there is a three-strong U.S. contingent in Molly Ludlow (4th at USAs), Chanelle Price (5th) and Stanford junior Claudia Saunders (2nd at NCAAs, our in heats at USAs), the biggest matchup is world leader/defending world champ Eunice Sum of Kenya vs. Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza, who just ran a PR of 1:58.99 in Nancy on Wednesday to become the 4th sub-1:59 woman on the year.
As impressive as Almanza’s time was, it’s still over a second behind Sum’s 1:57.82 world leader from the Pre Classic. It’s very difficult to PR twice in four days and that’s likely what it would take to beat Sum in Paris. Sum remains undefeated in 2015, including three DL victories (Shanghai, Eugene, Birmingham) and there’s no reason not to back her here.
For Ludlow and Price this race represents a chance to put the heartbreak of USAs behind them. Ludlow and Price both ran well but were beaten by three very talented runners — if they were any other nationality, they’d be going to Worlds. Mentally, it might tough to transition and adjust to new goals without the carrot of Worlds dangling in front of them, so we’ll see how they fare while the wounds from Eugene are still fresh.
For Saunders, this race will serve as a learning experience — her first DL appearance. USAs went poorly for Saunders (she bombed out in the first round, running 2:07.33) but with a 2:00.63 pb from NCAAs, the 21-year-old has great potential in the two-lap event.
Men’s 1500 (3:02 p.m. ET): Return of the Makh
|Ilham Tanui Ozbilen||Turkey||3:31.30||3:37.81|
|Bram Som||The Netherlands||3:42.75|
Taoufik Makhloufi is one of the most enigmatic individuals in track and field. The best comparison for him is a tornado. You never know when he’s going to show up, but when he does, he leaves a trail of destruction in his path. He laid waste to the field in the 2012 Olympic final and also won last year’s Diamond League final in Brussels. But he raced only once in 2013 and until Wednesday, had only raced once in 2015. Then the tornado rolled into town, with Makhloufi ripping a 2:13.08 1000 in Nancy, the fastest time in the world since 1999. Whatever reason you give for Makhloufi’s inconsistent racing schedule — bad injury luck or something more sinister — there’s no denying the dude is fast.
Now Makhloufi is lining up for his first 1500 since that win in Brussels last year, and the 27-year-old Algerian faces quite a test. Two of the three men who dominated the circuit in recent years, Ayanleh Souleiman and Silas Kiplagat, will be in action and both have been running well in 2015. Souleiman blitzed a 1:43.78 800 at the DL opener in Doha on May 15 and followed that up with a repeat victory in the Bowerman Mile at Pre over a loaded field (though he was only fourth in his most recent race in Oslo). The ever-consistent Kiplagat won the DL 1500 opener in Shanghai on May 17 and posted a pair of seconds in Oslo (3:51.72 mile) and Rabat (3:34.84 1500). As good as they are, however, it will take a big effort to defeat a fit Makhloufi, and based on his 1000 on Wednesday, Makhloufi is very fit indeed. It should be a terrific race.
Another man who’s tough to beat at his best is Kenya’s Ronald Kwemoi, who ran 3:28.81 (T-7th all-time) last year at age 18. 2015 started off well for Kwemoi, as he won all six of his races in Japan (where he’s based), including a 13:16 5,000 on May 9. But on the circuit, he’s yet to live up to the potential he flashed in 2014. Here’s what he’s done so far:
That’s certainly not an awful string of results, as there are a lot of quality 1500 runners in the world today. But if you run 3:28 — especially if you do it at age 18 — more is expected of you. It took until July last year for Kwemoi to break out in Lausanne so perhaps he’s simply timing his peak for Beijing. No matter what, his will be a crucial month for Kwemoi, culminating in the Kenyan trials for Worlds (which begin on July 31). Even with four spots (Asbel Kiprop has a bye as the defending world champ), the Kenyan 1500 team is one of the toughest to make in any event and Kwemoi is no lock. But his chances remain good, and a strong month — beginning with a strong run in Paris on Saturday — will help his cause.