Shanghai DL Preview: Nick Symmonds Races An 800 For First Time In 10 Months and Faces David Rudisha; American Jenny Simpson Faces Faith Kipyegon & Dawit Seyaum In Tough 1,500; Yomif Kejelcha Headlines Ethiopian-Heavy 5000

May 12, 2016

Are you ready for some Saturday morning cartoons track and field?

The Diamond League will make the second and final stop of its Asian leg on Saturday as it touches down in Shanghai, China. Last week’s season opener in Doha didn’t disappoint and there are plenty more big names in action in Shanghai. David Rudisha and Nick Symmonds will make their 2016 DL debuts in the men’s 800, while Jenny Simpson faces 2015 Worlds silver medallist Faith Kipyegon and 2016 World Indoor silver medallist Dawit Seyaum in her first DL 1500 of the season. The final distance event of the night is the men’s 5,000, which promises to be fast and competitive with World Indoor 3k champ Yomif Kejelcha leading a slew of Ethiopians including two-time World Championship medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet and Olympic silver medallist Dejen Gebremeskel.

Justin Gatlin, who ran 10.02 to win in Japan last week, leads the non-distance action in the 100. 2015 world champs Joe Kovacs (shot put) and Tianna Bartoletta (long jump) will also be in action, as will Olympic champ Renaud Lavillenie (pole vault) and 110 hurdles world leader Omar McLeod.

What: 2016 IAAF Diamond League Shanghai

Where: Shanghai Stadium, Shanghai, China

When: Saturday, May 14. Meet program begins at 4:55 a.m. ET; DL track events (and the beIN Sports broadcast) begin at 7:00 a.m. ET.

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How to watch: In the US, it’s live online on beIN Sports Connect from 7:00 a.m. ET to 9:00 a.m. ET. Click here for info.  In Europe, you can watch the meet live on Eurosport. You can also watch the pre-meet press conference live online on Friday (late Thursday night) at 2:00 a.m. ET.

Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information2015 LRC coverage

Women’s 1500 (7:12 a.m. ET): Jenny Simpson Takes on Stacked Field in DL Opener

Name *2015 World Rank Country PB SB
Zoe Buckman Australia 4:04.09 4:13.82
Nancy Chepkwemoi Kenya 4:03.09
Sofia Ennaoui Poland 4:04.26
Lauren Johnson USA 4:04.17 4:08.18
Faith Kipyegon *2015 #2 Kenya 3:56.98
Violah Lagat Kenya 4:04.10 4:10.54
Ingvill Makestad Bovim Norway 4:02.20 4:10.22
Hellen Obiri Kenya 3:57.05 4:16.1h
Besu Sado Ethiopia 4:00.65 4:08.2h
Dawit Seyaum *2015 #4 Ethiopia 3:59.53
Jenny Simpson *2015 #7 USA 3:57.22 4:06.44
Gudaf Tsegay Ethiopia 4:02.83
Tamara Tverdostup Ukraine 4:07.43
Jing Zhao China 4:10.67 4:18.38
Xiaoqian Zheng China 4:18.31 4:24.67
Simpson's last trip to China didn't end well as she lost her shoe in the World Championship final Simpson’s last trip to China didn’t end well as she lost her shoe in the World Championship final

Jenny Simpson made her season debut two weeks ago at the Drake Relays and looked fantastic, separating herself from the field over the final 100 meters to win comfortably in 4:06.44. However, it will be a far greater challenge for Simpson to repeat that feat on Saturday. Though the Drake field was strong by domestic standards, it pales in comparison to Shanghai. Genzebe Dibaba and Sifan Hassan may be missing, but all the other medallists from the last two world champs (’15 outdoors, ’16 indoors) are present: Faith Kipyegon (’15 outdoor silver), Dawit Seyaum (’16 indoor silver) and Gudaf Tsegay (’16 indoor bronze). In addition, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who ran 3:57.05 two years ago, is back after missing last season due to pregnancy.

We know that Seyaum and Tsegay are in shape. Though both lost to Hassan at World Indoors, they were both well ahead (almost four seconds) of the rest of the field in Portland. Of the two, we like Seyaum, who is 4-1 against Tsegay over the course of their brief careers (they’re both only 19 years old, officially) and has beaten her at both of the major championships in which they’ve squared off (2014 World Juniors, 2016 World Indoors). Seyaum has already run 4:00 and 4:01 indoors this year and likes to start fast — recall she won the DL opener in Doha last year. She has earned favorite status in this race.

With that said, there are several women capable of beating Seyaum, though we know less about their 2016 fitness. Tops among them is last year’s World Championship silver medallist Faith Kipyegon of Kenya. While Dibaba got all the attention last year, Kipyegon put together a fine season of her own. Check out her results at 1500/mile in 2015:

Date Location Time Place
6/11/2015 Oslo 4:00.94 2nd
7/9/2015 Lausanne 4:03.38 2nd
8/1/2015 Nairobi (WC Trials) 4:01.85 1st
8/25/2015 Beijing (WC) 4:08.96 2nd
9/11/2015 Brussels 4:16.71 (mile) 1st (African record)

Kipyegon hasn’t raced yet this year on the track, but her early returns in cross country were good: two wins in Sevilla (8k) and San Vittore Olona (6.45k) in January. Last year, Kipyegon eased into the 1500 by working on her strength first (she didn’t run a 1500 until June 11). This year, she’s jumping straight into the 1500, so it’s possible her kick might not be all there at this point. But given her pedigree and outstanding 2015 season, she should be a major factor on Saturday.

Obiri (left) on the podium after her silver at World Indoors with fellow medallists Genzebe Dibaba and Maryam Yusuf Jamal. Obiri (left) on the podium at World Indoors in 2014

Then there’s Kipyegon’s countrywoman, Hellen Obiri. From 2012-2014, Obiri was one of the planet’s top 1500/3k runners, earning a global medal each year (gold at ’12 World Indoors in the 3k, bronze at ’13 World Outdoors in the 1500, silver at ’14 World Indoors in the 3k). How good was Obiri? Well in the span of three months in 2014, she earned World Indoor silver, ran 8:20.68 for 3,000 in Doha (defeating Almaz Ayana and Dibaba to run the fastest non-Chinese outdoor time ever) and memorably won a loaded 1500 at the Pre Classic in 3:57.05, topping Kipyegon, Hassan, Simpson and defending world champ Abeba Aregawi.

Still only 26, Obiri should be a force in this Olympic year and her comeback from pregnancy (she gave birth last July and was out for all of 2015) has been decent so far: she ran 15:28 in Nakuru in March and 15:21 to win the Kenyan Defense Forces Championship in Nairobi on April 27 (she also ran 4:16 for 1500 20 minutes later). Given that those performances were at altitude, Obiri seems to be quite fit right now.

LRC Prediction: Kipyegon FTW.

Does Simpson have a chance against these women? Of course. She’s more accomplished than any of them at major championships, with a gold and silver at Worlds, her PR is #3 in the field and she’s been very consistent on the Diamond League circuit over the past three years. But Kipyegon showed last summer that she’s capable of reaching a level Simpson has yet to achieve (closing her WC run in 1:57.6 last year) and both Seyaum and Obiri have beaten Simpson multiple times in the past. Simpson certainly has a chance in Shanghai, but given that she may have been injured over the winter while Seyaum was taking silver at World Indoors, the safe pick might be Seyaum since Kipyegon has yet to compete internationally on the track so far this year. But Kipyegon is more accomplished and beat Seyaum all three times that they raced last year.

American mid-d fans, Seyaum and Kipyegon are probably what Alberto Salazar envisioned Mary Cain becoming. Kipyegon won world juniors in 2012 (over Cain) and Seyaum won it in 2014 (when Cain moved to the 3000, quite possibly to avoid her).

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Men’s 800 (7:43 a.m. ET): David Rudisha and Nick Symmonds Make Diamond League Debuts

Name *2015 World Rank Country PB SB
Robert Biwott Kenya 1:43.56 1:51.4h
Antoine Gakeme Burundi 1:44.09
Job Kinyor Kenya 1:43.76 1:48.3h
Alfred Kipketer Kenya 1:43.95 1:51.1h
Thijmen Kupers The Netherlands 1:45.28
Michael Rimmer Great Britain 1:43.89
Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich *2015 #6 Kenya 1:42.84 1:46.1h
David Rudisha *2015 #1 Kenya 1:40.91 1:44.78
Bram Som The Netherlands 1:43.45 1:51.64
Erik Sowinski USA 1:44.58 1:45.92
Nick Symmonds USA 1:42.95
Rynhardt van Rensburg South Africa 1:45.40 1:46.58
Rudisha won his DL opener in New York last year Rudisha won his DL opener in New York last year

The headliner for this race — and indeed, any race that he’s in — is David Rudisha. That’s the reward when you’re the reigning world and Olympic champion as well as the world record holder. Rudisha reinvented himself at Worlds last year, transforming himself from a runner who blasted the pace from the gun to one who controlled the race until the final 200, when he used his superior speed to destroy the field.

The question on everyone’s minds is whether Rudisha can get back to his 2012 Olympic form and threaten the world record once again in Rio. That appears unlikely. Rudisha entered 2012 on the strength of two world records in 2010 and a near-perfect 2011 season that saw him win 10 of 11 races and run 1:41, 1:42 and 1:42. Since returning from the knee injury that sidelined him for a year from May 2013 to May 2014, Rudisha has yet to come within two seconds of his 1:40.91 world record. Last year, he lost four times and his season best of 1:43.58 was his slowest since 2008 (not counting his injury-shortened 2013, in which he ran just two races).

Rudisha remains the world’s premier 800 runner, but the gap between him and the competition has shrunken considerably. World record talk needs to halt until he can consistently run in the 1:41-1:42 range, something he has not shown since returning from injury two years ago.

With that said, he deserves to be the favorite here. He opened up 2016 in much the same way as last year, winning two races Down Under (1:44.78 in Melbourne on March 5; 1:44.89 in Perth on March 12). While 1:44 in March is blazing for any other human, it’s ho-hum for Rudisha, who has run much faster in the past:

Fastest times ever run in the month of March

  1. David Rudisha, 1:43.15 Melbourne 3/4/10
  2. David Rudisha, 1:43.88 Melbourne 3/3/11
  3. David Lelei, 1:43.97 Melbourne 3/2/00
  4. David Rudisha, 1:44.33 Melbourne 3/3/12

(FYI: Rudisha unsurprisingly also owns the fastest times ever run in the months of July, August and September)

Symmonds has agreed to wear this in the race Symmonds has agreed to wear this in the race

From an American standpoint, this race is very much about the return to action for Nick Symmonds, who hasn’t raced an 800 since getting booted from U.S. World Championships team last summer (his last 800 was July 12th). Symmonds and his T-Mobile tattoo almost certainly won’t contend for the win here, and it’s possible he may not even break 1:46 (he didn’t in either of his pre-USAs races last year, though his 1:49 at Oxy is understandable given his race was thrown off by a fall). Though Shanghai is Symmonds’ season debut, we do have some information about his current fitness as he’s been posting his workouts on the Sweat Mobile app.

Many of the winter/spring workouts were unimpressive. Symmonds missed several weeks of training due to a small calf tear in February, and it took him a little while to get back in shape. On March 25, he ran 7 x 1k in 3:30 (1 min recovery) followed by 3 x 200 in 32. That’s a workout that many high schoolers could complete without a sweat. Less than a month ago, on April 15, he ran 5 x 300 (4 min recovery) with the following times: 43.4, 41.4, 40.7, 39.0, 40.3, which he termed “very disappointing.”

Symmonds and training partner Cas Loxsom (credit: Brooks Running) Symmonds (right) and training partner Cas Loxsom (credit: Brooks Running)

But just a week later, after a sprint workout, Symmonds wrote, “Now this isn’t a record setting workout by any means, but it is a BIG step in the right direction. After doing this for 20 years I know that my body sharpens up REALLY fast. It typically only takes me a few races and a few good sprint sessions to be championship ready. This workout suggests that I am right where I want to be for April.”

Indeed, last week Symmonds ran a workout that suggested he’s trending in the right direction. Here’s the breakdown:

3 sets of 3 x 300, 6 mins rest between sets
Set 1: 45, 46, 45 (1 min rest between reps)
Set 2: 42, 42, 42 (2 mins rest between reps)
Set 3: 38, 38, 36 (5 mins rest between reps)

At this stage in his career, Symmonds has earned the benefit of the doubt. His races before USAs last year were mediocre but he ran a season’s best in all three rounds. Racing in Shanghai is part of the process for Symmonds to make his third Olympic team at age 32. But given how last year unfolded, we’re not going to read too much into the result.

Symmonds isn’t the only American in the field. Indoor world championship bronze medallist Erik Sowinski is also racing. Sowinski won in Japan last week in 1:45.92.

If anyone beats Rudisha, it likely will be a fellow Kenyan as there are four others in the field. The three most likely to take down Rudisha are 2015 World Championship finalists Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich and Alfred Kipketer or Robert Biwott (who won this race two years ago). Of that bunch, Rotich, who was fourth at Worlds last year and has already run 1:46.1 this year, has the best chance of defeating Rudisha — remember, he did just that at the Kenyan World Championship Trials last summer. Rotich is the only other person in the field that was ranked in the top 10 in the world last year in our 800 world rankings. Biwott, the 2013 World Youth champ at 1500, is more of a 1500 guy (3:30.10 pb from 2015, 7th in Doha last week) and Kipketer only ran 1:48 indoors this year.

World Indoor silver medallist Antoine Gakeme of Burundi is also in the field and can’t be discounted.

LRC Prediction: Rudisha FTW. We’re picking Rudisha until he gives us a reason not to.

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Women’s Steeple (7:52 a.m. ET): Who Will Step Up?

Name (*2015 World Rank) Country PB SB
Birtukan Alemu Ethiopia 9:24.91
Sofia Assefa *#4 2015 Ethiopia 9:09.00
Hiwot Ayalew *#5 2015 Ethiopia 9:09.61
Lalita Babar India 9:27.09 9:27.09
Peruth Chemutai Uganda
Beatrice Chepkoech Kenya 9:41.1h 10:41.3h
Lidya Chepkurui Kenya 9:12.55
Roseline Chepngetich Kenya 9:25.91 9:35.90
Celliphine Chespol Kenya 10:18.3h
Madeline Hills Australia 9:21.56 9:34.44
Ruth Jebet Bahrain 9:20.55
Purity Kirui *#8 2015 Kenya 9:17.74 9:39.1h
Hyvin Kiyeng *#1 2015 Kenya 9:10.15 9:36.8h
Virginia Nyambura *#3 2015 Kenya 9:13.85 9:47.1h
Lydia Rotich Kenya 9:18.03 9:43.2h
Sudha Singh India 9:31.86 9:31.86
Caroline Tuigong Kenya 9:31.30 9:31.30
Xinyan Zhang China 9:28.54 9:28.54

In recent years, it’s proven hard for any woman to stay on top for long in the steeplechase. Since the event was introduced at global championships in 2005, only one woman — Russian doper Yulia Zaripova — has successfully repeated at a global championship (winning the ’11 Worlds and ’12 Olympics). It’s also an event that tends to see breakthroughs that are bigger and more frequent than other distance races, which makes sense given how young the event is. That’s how you wind up with someone like Virginia Nyambura, who began 2015 as a rabbit with pb of 9:58 and ended it at 9:15 as the Diamond League champion.

So any prognostications have to be taken with a lump of salt, and that’s especially true in the Diamond League opener. Last year, Nyambura was supposed to rabbit the first DL meet in Doha and wound up winning the darn thing. Two years ago, in the first DL women’s steeple in Shanghai, Emma Coburn shocked the world by dropping the field early and hanging on to win. Neither of those races were flukes; it just so happened that nobody knew how good Nyambura and Coburn really were at that point in the season. So while it feels more comfortable backing someone like world champ Hyvin Kiyeng or an established DL stud like Hiwot Ayalew on Saturday, we could just as easily be looking at a no-name victor.

The field is strong, however, as it includes 5 of the top 8 steeplers from our 2015 World Rankings.

LRC Prediction: We’ll start with a prediction we are very confident in. The world leader, currently 9:27.09 by India’s Lalita Babar (who is in this race), will be smashed. As for the winner, we’ll go with Kiyeng. Her 9:36 win in Nairobi converts to a 9:17 at sea level.

More info: 2015 Steeple Rankings

Men’s 5,000 (8:20 a.m. ET): Yomif Kejelcha, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Dejen Gebremeskel Highlight Ethiopian-Heavy Field

Name *2015 World Rank Country PB SB
Yenew Alamirew Ethiopia 12:48.77
Aweke Ayalew Bahrain 13:05.00
Joshua Cheptegei Uganda 13:28.50
Augustine Choge Kenya 12:53.66
Bujie Duo China 13:55.53 14:18.78
Muktar Edris Ethiopia 12:54.83 14:13.1h
Abadi Embaye Ethiopia 13:13.17
Dejen Gebremeskel Ethiopia 12:46.81
Hagos Gebrhiwet *2015 #3 Ethiopia 12:47.53
Yasin Haji Ethiopia 13:10.67
Yomif Kejelcha *2015 #2 Ethiopia 12:53.98
John Koech Bahrain
Birhanu Legese Ethiopia 13:08.88
Thomas Longosiwa *2015 #8 Kenya 12:49.04 13:30.3h
Imane Merga Ethiopia 12:53.58
Geoffrey Rono Kenya
Albert Rop Bahrain 12:51.96
Edwin Soi *2015 #10 Kenya 12:51.34

The good news: Shanghai has put together a terrific men’s 5000 field. The bad news: there’s no Mo Farah and there are no Americans. Understandably, that might make it a tough sell for LRC Nation to get up for on a Saturday morning (the gun goes off at a reasonable 8:20 a.m. for East Coasters but a painful 5:20 a.m. for those on the West Coast).

The biggest implication this race has is on the selection for the Ethiopian Olympic team. Ethiopia traditionally uses season bests to select its teams for global championships and all of the top Ethiopians — nine in total — will be in Shanghai. There are five DL 3k/5ks before the Olympics, but Shanghai is either the first- or second-most important in terms of Ethiopian selection. Here are the others:

Pre Classic (May 28) — The 5k at Pre is rarely fast because it’s held in the middle of the day.
Oslo (June 9) — This could be the last DL race for Ethiopia’s 5k runners to state their cases for Rio.
Stockholm (June 16) — Right now, this meet is scheduled to be a 3,000 (subject to change).
London (July 22-23) — Deadline for Olympic entries is July 18, so this race is too late.

Kejelcha claimed World Indoor gold in March Kejelcha claimed World Indoor gold in March *Full 2016 World Indoor Coverage

What that means is if you’re someone like Yomif Kejelcha (coming off a World Indoor title at 3,000 meters) or Dejen Gebremeskel (world leader at 3k indoors, winner of B.A.A. 5K on April 16) and you’re fit right now, you have an incentive to follow the rabbits and try to lay down a truly fast time. Of course, once the rabbits drop out, someone will have to carry the pace, and anyone who’s leading during the third and fourth kilometers runs the risk of being run down at the end. So they’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to try to run in the low 12:50s to chase a place in Rio or be more cautious and race for the win.

Perhaps the top Ethiopians will wait until June and a race like Oslo or Stockholm (should Stockholm run a 5k instead of a 3k). If that’s the case, we could end up with a super-fast race such as the 2012 Paris Diamond League, when six men broke 12:50 (and yes, all three Ethiopians who broke 12:50 in that race wound up on the Olympic team).

Kejelcha is the favorite here and Gebremeskel should challenge him. Augustine Choge, who took bronze at World Indoors in the 3k, will also be a factor. But like the U.S.’s Ryan Hill, Choge’s best distance is 3,000 meters; can he handle the step up in distance? Choge hasn’t run the 5,000 at a major championship since 2006, when he won defeated Craig Mottram in the epic Commonwealth Games final in Melbourne.

Another Ethiopian, Hagos Gebrhiwet, is among the top entrants. Gebrhiwet, who turned 22 on Wednesday, has medalled at the last two global champs in the 5,000. But with Kejelcha, Gebremeskel, Muktar Edris and others all in the mix, it will be a challenge just to make the Ethiopian team. Kenyans Thomas Longosiwa and Edwin Soi, veterans of the DL circuit, should also be in the mix in Shanghai.

LRC Prediction: Kejelcha was #2 in our world rankings last year and he’s just 18. He’s our pick.

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We want you to be fans of the rest of the sport and follow all of the events. Check out the front page as we’ll be sure to link to the IAAF full meet preview when it comes out.

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