Men’s 800 Preview: A Terrific Showdown Between the Big Three of Mo Aman, Nijel Amos & David Rudisha

August 21, 2015

The last time David Rudisha, Nijel Amos and Mo Aman raced at a global championship, King David mesmerized the world with a 1:40.91 WR. Track fans have had to wait three years for the rematch to mean something. At last, it’s upon us and it should be exciting.

In 2013, at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, with the Olympic gold and silver medallists David Rudisha and Nijel Amos out with injury, there was no doubt who the heavy favorite was. Ethiopia’s Mo Aman – who only lost once all year – was the favorite and delivered on that status. In 2015, Aman is back to defend his crown but this year Rudisha and Amos are both healthy. Which of the ‘Big 3’ wins gold?

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The crazy thing is it’s possible the answer is “none of the them.” The revelation of 2015 has been Amel Tuka, a 24-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who came into the year with a 1:46 pb but now leads the world after his 1:42.51 world-leading win over Amos, Aman and 2013 bronze medallist and previous world leader Ayanleh Souleiman in Monaco. That was Tuka’s only Diamond League race of his career, but he’s pretty much cleaned up against lesser competition in his other races, as he’s only lost once all year.

2013 World Champs top five
1. Mo Aman, Ethiopia 1:43.31
2. Nick Symmonds, USA 1:43.55
3. Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti 1:43.76
4. Marcin Lewandowski, Poland 1:44.08
5. Andrew Osagie, Great Britain 1:44.36
2015 five fastest performers (among men entered)
1. Amel Tuka, Bosnia & Herzegovina 1:42.51
2. Nijel Amos, Botswana 1:42.66
3. Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti 1:42.97
4. Adam Kszczot, Poland 1:43.45
5. Mo Aman, Ethiopia 1:43.56

But running fast once in mid-July with no pressure is one thing. Coming through three rounds on top at the end of August is a whole different ballgame. As a result, Tuka’s not the favorite in our eyes. While any of the Big 3 plus Tuka could win, the betting favorite in our eyes should be Botswana’s 21-year-old Nijel Amos. With all due respect to David Rudisha, it could be argued that Amos is the greatest 800 prospect in history. Remember, in London in 2012, he ran a ridiculous 1:41.73 for silver – at age 18. This year, he’s run great all season long on the circuit – finishing first or second in all of his races. He’s finished 2nd three times and won three times, including a narrow win over Rudisha in his last race in London.

Neither Rudisha nor Aman have run nearly as well or as consistently as Amos this year. Aman has two wins on the circuit this year but also a 9th, 8th and 8th as clearly the transition to Oregon has been less than smooth (Aman is part of Nike’s Oregon Track Club and is coached by Nick Symmonds’ old coach, Mark Rowland), which has been surprising to us. Over the years, we’ve often thought to ourselves, “Can you imagine how good the African runners would be if they had Western coaches?”  The answer so far has been far from what we would have expected. A win in Beijing will erase all of those negative thoughts.

Amos edged Rudisha in London on July 25

Amos edged Rudisha in Lausanne on July 9

King David has been far from unbeatable as well. Like Amos, he’s been first or second every time out, but he’s been second in his last three races on the year, including a shock loss at the Kenyan Trials to Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot.

A key reason why we like Amos a little more than Rudisha and Aman is the fact that Amos has run a lot faster than either of them this year. Amos’ 1:42.66 is .90 faster than Aman’s seasonal best and .92 faster than Rudisha’s. Here’s another key stat for you. For his career, Amos has beaten Rudisha six times and lost only once. Against Aman, he’s won 8 and lost 6. So when the Big 3 lineup against each other, Amos has the edge.

If anyone besides Tuka, Amos, Aman or Rudisha wins, we think it will be Ayanleh Souleiman. Many thought he’d run just the 1500 in Beijing but he’s twice run within .10 of 1:43-flat this year and his 1500 strength could help him feel a little fresher than everyone else when the final rolls around. We think he’s more likely a bronze medal contender, which is where he finished in 2013. 1:43-flat guys like himself (1:42.97 pb) or Nick Symmonds (1:42.95 pb) or even Rich Kenah (1:43.38 pb way back in 1997), snip a medal on a good day, but the 1:42-flat guys and faster (like Aman,Amos, Rudisha) generally get the gold.

The Amerians

Realistically the Americans – US second-placer Erik Sowinski, third-placer Cas Loxsom and fourth-placer  Clayton Murphy – don’t have a medal shot. Making the final would be a huge accomplishment for any of the three – all of whom are debuting for the first time at an outdoor championships as a senior (Loxsom won world junior silver in 2010).

All three of the US runners should be proud to be representing Team USA but they should also cherish the moment a little as it’s not going to be easy for them to do it again in 2016. It can easily be argued that none of the three best US 800 runners in 2016 are in Beijing. After USATF foolishly refused to clarify what official team function Nick Symmonds was expected to wear Nike to, he was left at home. And in our mind, despite his disaster at USAs, Boris Berian might receive the US #1 ranking if we were handing it out right now thanks to his 1:43.34 seasonal best and his runner-up showing at the New York Diamond League, where he also ran 1:43. And don’t forget Duane Solomon. He hasn’t run fast this year (1:45.56) but he’s won his last three races.

Making the final would be a real accomplishment for any of the Americans and then once you are in the final, anything can happen in the 800.

Our prediction

Tuka FTW. Just kidding. As fans of the  800, there is no way we are picking a guy we’d never heard of until the year started. We can’t wait for this final. Will Rudisha front-run? Or try to run in the pack? Who will win?

Amos is our pick. Rudisha for 2nd, Tuka for third.

Schedule of races (all times U.S. ET)
Heats: Friday, August 21 (11:50 p.m. ET)
Semis: Sunday, August 23 (8:15 a.m. ET)
Final: Tuesday, August 25 (8:55 a.m. ET)

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