Rabat DL Preview: A Fast Men’s 800, The Return Of Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad And Can Francine Niyonsaba Challenge Caster Semenya?
May 20, 2016
Another week, another Diamond League meet. This time it’s off to Rabat, Morocco, where the Diamond League visits Africa for the first time. The Meeting International Mohammed VI d’Atlétisme, which replaces New York’s adidas Grand Prix, has been around for eight years and during that span, competition hovered just below Diamond League quality — last year winners included such big names as Kirani James, Adam Kszczot, Jairus Birech, Allyson Felix and Almaz Ayana.
Kszczot, Birech and Ayana will all be back in 2016 to defend their crowns and they’ll be joined by a host of the world’s best athletes. The men’s 800 is intriguing with Kszczot battling fellow 2015 World Champs medallist Amel Tuka as well as 1:41 man Nijel Amos. Birech, as he did in Doha two weeks ago, will battle Conseslus Kipruto in the steeple, which also features the return of two-time Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France, who missed all of 2015 due to injury. Ayana goes in the 5k while the women’s 800 features Caster Semenya against perhaps the only woman who could stop her this year: Burundi’s World Indoor champ Francine Niyonsaba.
In the sprints, Elaine Thompson (100), David Oliver (110 hurdles), Jason Richardson (110 hurdles) and LaShawn Merritt (400) are the big names.
In the field events, the U.S.’s Erik Kynard will attempt to avenge his World Indoor defeat to Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi (making his outdoor debut), Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen and Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas will reprise their triple jump duel from Doha. NFLer Marquise Goodwin goes in the long jump.
We break down the mid-d and distance events for you below.
What: 2016 Meeting International Mohammed VI d’Atlétisme
Where: Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat, Morocco
When: Sunday, May 22. Meet program begins at 10:40 a.m. ET; DL track events (and the beIN Sports broadcast) begin at 12:00 p.m. ET.
How to watch: In the U.S., it’s live on beIN Sports from 12:00 p.m. ET to 2:00 p.m. ET. Don’t have beIN Sports? Here is some info on how to sign up for BeInsports. In Europe, you can watch the meet live on Eurosport.
Women’s 3000 steeplechase (11:30 a.m. ET)
|Etenesh Diro Neda||Ethiopia||9:14.07||10:10.5h|
|Fadwa Sidi Madane||Morocco||9:27.87|
With many of the top international steeplers racing in Shanghai last week and the best North American steeplers at Oxy on Friday, the field for this non-Diamond League event isn’t that strong — only one woman entered here made the World Championship final a year ago (Morocco’s Fadwa Sidi Madane, who finished 14th in Beijing). University of Florida alum Genevieve LaCaze, who is already qualified for this summer’s Olympics, is a familiar face for U.S. fans.
Men’s 1500 (11:45 a.m. ET)
|Fouad El Kaam||Morocco||3:33.71|
|Dumisane Hlaselo||South Africa||3:36.36||3:36.65|
Like the women’s steeple, this is a non-Diamond League event and it won’t be shown during the TV window. But there’s definitely some talent here. Silas Kiplagat was third in the Diamond League opener in Doha behind only the men who went 1-2 at Worlds last year, Asbel Kiprop and Elijah Manangoi. Fellow Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot, who finished two spots behind Kiplagat in Beijing last year (7th) should give him a run for his money. Cheruiyot is undefeated so far in 2016, running 3:36 at altitude in his last two 1500s in Kenya (Eldoret on April 16, Kenyan Prison Champs on May 7). He should be able to go even faster in his first race of the year outside of Kenya.
Ethiopian Dawit Wolde (5th at World Indoors but only 11th in Doha) and Australian Ryan Gregson (who confirmed his spot in Rio by hitting the Olympic standard of 3:36.20 in the Netherlands on Wednesday) are also entered.
Men’s 800 (12:25 p.m. ET): Beijing Medallists Adam Kszczot and Amel Tuka Headline Field
|Amine El Manaoui||Morocco||1:44.96|
|Amel Tuka||Bosnia & Herzegovina||1:42.51|
David Rudisha may be absent, but this 800 still has talent as three of the top five from last year’s Worlds are in this race plus Botswanan stud Nijel Amos and Olympic 1500 champ Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. Let’s hope there aren’t any starter issues this time around.
The race is bound to excite, but what makes it so fascinating is we have no idea what to expect. There are five guys who could realistically win it but because very few of them have raced recently, anything could happen. Pierre-Ambroise Bosse opened up with a 1:46.94 win in Bordeaux on May 8, but he’s the only one of the big boys to have run an outdoor 800 this year.
WC bronze medallist Amel Tuka has run and won a couple of 600s so far outdoors (1:16.09 and 1:15.21) and Nijel Amos has done some 400 work (he ran 46.96 in March and split 45.2 in a relay in Doha on May 6). WC silver medallist Adam Kszczot and Aman ran indoor seasons (Kszczot’s went well, with five wins and a world-leading 1:45.63; Aman’s not so much, as he was shut out of a medal at World Indoors) but neither have raced outdoors in ’16. And then there’s Makhloufi, who hasn’t raced at all since last year.
We’re tempted to go with Kszczot for the win here. Remember, in addition to his superb indoor season (five wins in five races, with the slowest at 1:46.23), Kszczot ended 2015 on fire with a silver at Worlds and wins in three of his four post-Worlds events, including the DL final in Brussels.
LRC Pick: Note, we aren’t making predictions for non-DL races. Here we said we’re tempted to go with Kszczot but are going with Amos. Amos leads their head to head matchups 11 to 3 and ran faster last year (1:42.66 to 1:43.45).
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Men’s 3000 steeplechase (12:33 p.m. ET): Birech vs. Kemboi and the return of Mekhissi-Benabbad
|Tafese Soboka Jimma||Ethiopia||8:25.56||8:38.6h|
Conseslus Kipruto and Jairus Birech, who went 1-2 in the DL opener in Doha two weeks ago, are back here to duel again. It’s a treat to watch them race now that both men are in good form. When the two men started out on the circuit in 2012, they were fairly even: in their first five meetings, Kipruto won two and Birech three. But from September 2012 to August 2013, Kipruto won six in a row, which was immediately followed by a prolonged stretch of dominance by Birech, who won nine in a row from August 2013 to July 2015.
Now they’re arguably the two best steeplers in the world (at least until Ezekiel Kemboi turns it on at the Olympics) and they’ve alternated wins over each other in their past six meetings. If the pattern holds, it’s Birech’s turn on Sunday.
In addition to the Kipruto-Birech rivalry, this race is also notable for the return of France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who will be looking to upgrade to gold in Rio after Olympic silvers in Beijing and London. Mekhissi-Benabbad was in great form when we last saw him in 2014, winning the steeple and 1500 at the European championships — though he was eventually DQ’d from the steeple for acting like an assclown on the home straight. He missed all of last year with foot/Achilles injuries, but as the fastest non-African-born steepler of all time (yes, his 8:00.09 pb is slightly better than Evan Jager‘s 8:00.45) he’s a formidable opponent. Jager might want to hope Mekhissi-Benabbad still isn’t 100% as if he’s fit, it will be that much harder for the American to medal: Mekhissi-Benabbad has medalled at four of the last five global championships at which he’s competed (’08 Olympics, ’11 Worlds, ’12 Olympics, ’13 Worlds).
LRC Prediction: Birech wasn’t close in the DL opener but since he’s been alternating wins with Kipruto, we’re picking him FTW. It’s a shame Jager isn’t in this one but with Pre Classic next week (Jager is in the Bowerman Mile), we understand why it’s easier for him to race at the Hoka One One meet.
Men’s 3000 (1:00 p.m. ET)
|Ben St. Lawrence||Australia||7:40.48|
As a non-Diamond League event, this race isn’t stacked, but there are a few men worth watching. Home favorite Abdelaati Iguider was fourth at World Indoors over this distance and earned a bronze at Worlds last year in the 1500; this is his outdoor opener. Azerbaijan’s Hayle Ibrahimov was ninth at the 2012 Olympics in the 5000 while Emmanuel Kipsang is coming off a 27:22 10k last week in Germany.
Women’s 800 (1:25 p.m. ET): Can Caster Semenya Be Stopped?
|Shelayna Oskan-Clarke||Great Britain||1:58.86||2:01.04|
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||1:55.45||1:58.26|
|Lynsey Sharp||Great Britain||1:57.71|
Caster Semenya showed two weeks ago in Doha there isn’t much hope for the other women in the women’s 800 – well at least those not impacted by the Court of Arbritration for Sport – toying with the field for the first 600 before destroying them in the home stretch.
If anyone’s going to beat Semenya — in Rabat, Rio, or anywhere else this year — it’s probably going to be Francine Niyonsaba. Niyonsaba ran some ridiculous times early in her career (1:56.59 as a 19-year-old in 2012) but then spent almost two years (July 2013-April 2015) away from the sport and when she returned, she could barely break 2:10. But once the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism requirements, Niyonsaba started dominating again, running 1:57 at the end of last year and storming to victory at World Indoors in March despite never having raced indoors and not being totally prepared.
Niyonsaba, who’s now working with the Oregon Track Club’s Mark Rowland, explained her absence and ineffectiveness from mid-2013 to early 2015 was due to a hamstring injury and lack of training partners. We’ll see if she has any better chance at challenging Semenya than the other runners in this field.
Defending world champ Marina Arzamasova of Belarus is also in the field, but we don’t give her much of a chance as Arzamasova is someone who saves her best for major championships. In nine career Diamond League races, here are her finishes: 5th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 4th, 7th, 7th, 7th, 5th. Not exactly inspiring.
LRC Prediction: Semenya FTW.
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Women’s 5000 (1:45 p.m. ET):
Beijing Gold and Silver Medallists Battles – The Almaz Ayana Show
Ethiopian world champ Almaz Ayana destroyed the field in the season-opening women’s 3000 in Doha and you should expect more of the same over her specialty distance in Rabat. Really, the question isn’t whether she’ll win, but how much she will win by. Countrywoman Senbere Teferi, who took silver behind Ayana in Beijing last year, is coming off a world-leading 14:46 in Germany last week; Ayana should be able to go well under 14:30 should she choose to do so. Conditions aren’t ideal for a super-fast time (Weather.com says it will be lows 70s degrees on Sunday night, but that’s with 13 mph winds and lows 60s humidity) but Ayana has already clocked an 8:23 3k in the heat of Doha in 2016, so a time in the 14:10s isn’t out of the question if she wants it.
Kenya’s Mercy Cherono, who ran 8:26 for second behind Ayana in Doha, should put up a good fight for second against Teferi, but right now there’s only one woman who can hope to compete with Ayana in a 3k/5k (Genzebe Dibaba) and she may not race Ayana until Rio.
It’s a real shame for the sport that Ayana isn’t racing Dibaba either here or at the Pre Classic next week. That being said, it needs to be remembered that Teferi beat Dibaba at Worlds last year.
LRC Prediction: Ayana FTW in 14:20 +/- 3 seconds.