Rome DL Preview: Will Almaz Ayana Break The 5K WR? Ajee Wilson Makes Her 2016 DL Debut In A Stacked Women’s 800, And Kipruto Vs. Birech Round 3 In The Men’s Steeple

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By LetsRun.com
June 1, 2016

We’ve been to Asia, Africa and the Americas, but the remaining 10 Diamond League meets will all take place in Europe, starting with Thursday’s Golden Gala in Rome. The distance fields aren’t as loaded as the ones at last weekend’s Prefontaine Classic, but there are still plenty of big names, including the first DL appearance of 2016 for American 800 star Ajee Wilson. She’ll take on 2016 world leader Caster Semenya, 2016 world indoor champ Francine Niyonsaba and all three of the medallsits from Worlds last year in the women’s 800, which is the strongest event of the entire meet. How good is that race? Laura Roesler could only make it into the B heat here. There’s also a men’s steeple featuring the latest installment of the Conseslus KiprutoJairus Birech rivalry, a men’s 1500 led by Elijah Manangoi and a possible WR attempt by Almaz Ayana in the women’s 5,000.

The sprint action should be hot. Americans Trayvon Bromell and Ameer Webb (DL winner in Doha) tackle Panama’s Alonso Edward in his specialty, the 200, while world champ Wayde van Niekerk will compete on the DL circuit for the first time this year in the men’s 400. Justin Gatlin takes on world leader Femi Ogunode in the men’s 100, though Ogunode could be tired as he’s also entered in the 200. On the women’s side, English Gardner, fresh off her 10.81 victory at Pre, takes on Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson.

The men’s long jump is the highlight of the field event action as all three medallists from Beijing last year (Greg RutherfordFabrice LapierreWang Jianan) are entered along with American world leader Marquise Goodwin. The men’s high jump should be thrilling as World Indoor champ Gianmarco Tamberi competes on home soil against Bohdan Bondarenko and Guowei Zhang. Caterine IbarguenYulimar Rojas will also resume their triple jump rivalry.

We break down the mid-d and distance events for you below.

What: 2016 Rome Golden Gala

Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy

When: Thursday, June 2. TV coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET.

How to watch: In the U.S., it’s live on beIN Sports from 2:00 p.m. ET to 4:00 p.m. ET. Don’t have beIN Sports? Here is some info on how to sign up for BeInsports.

Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information

Women’s 800 B Heat (12:45 p.m. ET)

NameCountryPBSB
Malika AkkaouiMorocco1:57.641:59.93
Tigist AssefaEthiopia1:59.242:00.66
Irene BaldessariItaly2:03.972:03.97
Angelika CichockaPoland1:59.55
Christina HeringGermany1:59.542:02.13
Maximillan ImaliKenya2:04.20
Shelayna Oskan-ClarkeGreat Britain1:58.862:01.04
Chanelle PriceUSA1:59.102:01.05
Jessica Roberti Da SilvaBrazil2:12.86
Laura RoeslerUSA1:59.042:00.15
Yuneysi SantiustiItaly1:58.532:03.00
Marta ZenoniItaly2:03.402:04.84

This race will be held before the TV window so you won’t be able to watch it on beIN Sports, but you won’t find many stronger B heats in any event around the world. Eight of the 12 entrants have broken 2:00, and that includes a 1:57 woman (Malika Akkaoui), a 2015 World Championship finalist (Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, who finished 5th in Beijing), a World Indoor champ (Chanelle Price) and the U.S.’s Laura Roesler, who took 4th at World Indoors in March and had been unbeaten at 800 outdoors this year until finishing a disappointing 7th at the Pre Classic on Friday.

Though every runner hopes to be in the top heat, the good news for Roesler and Price (who beat Roesler at Pre, finishing 4th) is that this is still a very competitive field. For either to get the win here (and in the process, perhaps the first sub-2:00 by an American this year) would require a strong effort.

Women’s 800 (2:25 p.m. ET): Should They Hand Out The Olympic Medals After This One?

NameCountryPBSB
Habitam AlemuEthiopia1:59.141:59.14
Marina ArzamasovaBelarus1:57.542:01.49
Melissa BishopCanada1:57.522:03.70
Selina BuchelSwitzerland1:57.95
Joanna JozwikPoland1:58.352:02.82
Renelle LamoteFrance1:58.841:58.84
Francine NiyonsabaBurundi1:56.591:57.74
Caster SemenyaSouth Africa1:55.451:56.64
Lynsey SharpGreat Britain1:57.711:59.51
Eunice SumKenya1:56.991:59.32
Ilona UsovichBelarus1:59.38
Ajee WilsonUSA1:57.672:02.60

As you may have guessed from looking at the names in the B heat, the top section of the women’s 800 in Rome is LOADED. We’re talking Olympic-final quality. All three medallists from Worlds last year (Marina ArzamasovaMelissa BishopEunice Sum) are entered, as is World Indoor champ Francine Niyonsaba, World Indoor silver medallist Ajee Wilson and the event’s current top dog, Caster Semenya.

Semenya certainly is the heavy favorite as she handily won the first two DL 800s in Doha and Rabat and appears to be in PR shape, but she’s never been one to chase fast times; what she runs here will be determined by how fast the rest of the field goes out. That being said, we’re going to be very much focused on how Francine Niyonsaba does here. While Niyonsaba lost to Semenya by 1.30 seconds in Rabat, the world indoor champ stayed with Semenya for 730 meters. Niyonsaba’s time of 1:57.74 was a great time for an outdoor opener and was faster than Semenya’s DL opener in Doha (1:58.26) and Semenya has been racing outdoors since March. Will the gap between Semenya and Niyonsaba narrow here? That’s what we’ll be focused on as we aren’t willing to hand the gold medal to Semenya barring a court order just yet.

Wilson winning USAs indoors

Wilson winning USAs indoors

Semenya or Niyonsaba is going to win. That’s a near given. We’d rather talk about American Ajee Wilson, who will run her first DL event of 2016 after running well in her outdoor opener on May 16, clocking a 2:02.60 to win comfortably at Swarthmore. Aiming to beat Semenya right now is hopeless, but Wilson could be capable of something really fast. Last year, Wilson’s best 800 indoors was 2:01.57; she proceeded to run 1:57.87 in her DL opener at the Pre Classic. This year, Wilson enjoyed the best indoor season of her career, winning USAs, taking silver at Worlds and recording her two fastest indoor times ever (2:00.09 and 2:00.27). That doesn’t mean she’ll run 1:57 on Thursday, but it does mean that in the right race, a very fast time is possible. Can Wilson close the gap on Niyonsaba, who beat her for the world title in Portland in March?

Another North American to watch is Canada’s Melissa Bishop. After breaking through with Pan Am gold and WC silver in 2015, Bishop has carried over her fine form into 2016 and is undefeated on the year. She picked up good indoor wins in Athlone (2:00.60) and Glasgow (2:00.19), trouncing both fields, and ran a solid solo 4:09 in her first-ever outdoor 1500 two weeks ago. Like Wilson, she looks primed for a big race.

The reigning world champ Arzamasova was just 8th in Rabat so it will be interesting to see if she looks better here.

With the quality and size of the field (12 women), we could see something extremely fast on Thursday as no one is going to want to let the race bunch up and risk falling. Really, there should probably be three heats of eight at this meet rather than two heats of 12; 12 women is just too many for a world-class 800 such as this one.

LRC Prediction: We tried to find some European betting odds on this one as we imagine Niyonsaba would be listed at a very attractive price. We couldn’t find any. Semenya is our pick but we’d be tempted to bet on Niyonsaba if the odds were greater than 4 to 1.

Women’s 5,000 (2:45 p.m. ET)

NameCountryPBSB
Meryem AkdaTurkey16:27.7h
Almaz AyanaEthiopia14:14.3214:16.31
Gelete BurkaEthiopia14:31.2014:59.94
Yasemin CanTurkey15:32.6h15:32.6h
Juliet ChekwelUganda15:42.5115:42.51
Beatrice ChepkoechKenya
Mercy CheronoKenya14:34.1014:37.08
Dera DidaEthiopia15:28.8116:09.1h
Etenesh Diro NedaEthiopia15:19.77
Gotytom GebreslaseEthiopia14:57.33
Letesenbet GideyEthiopia14:58.4414:58.44
Karoline Bjerkeli GrovdalNorway15:15.18
Alemitu HaroyeEthiopia14:43.2814:43.58
Viola KibiwotKenya14:29.5014:29.50
Janet KisaKenya14:38.7014:38.70
Etagegne MamoEthiopia15:11.42
Senbere TeferiEthiopia14:35.0914:35.09
Tamara TverdostupUkraine
Stephanie TwellGreat Britain14:54.08
Genet YalewEthiopia14:48.43

The winner of the women’s 5,000 is virtually preordained: Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana will cross the line first, barring a fall or food poisoning. The more interesting battle is Ayana vs. the clock, a battle in which Ayana came up just over five seconds short of the WR her last time out in Rabat. Conditions look to be good. According to Weather.com, the temperature should be pretty good (67 or 68), the rain should have ceased by race time and the sun will have set a few minutes before Ayana toes the line. If the stadium can offer some protection from the wind (projected at 6-7 mph, which isn’t that much anyway), the stage will be set for a fast time.

Ayana in Paris last year

Ayana in Paris last year

The question is, will Ayana chase one? She went after the WR in Rabat, but runners only have so many all-out 5,000 efforts in them per year, even one as magnificent as Ayana. Go to the well too often and you may come up dry when it really counts in Rio.

Last year, Ayana raced three times before Worlds — a 5k on May 17 in Shanghai, a 3k on June 14 in Rabat and a 5k on July 4 in Paris. This will be Ayana’s third race in four weeks in 2016, and you can expect to add a 10,000 to that as Ayana has said she wants to do the double in Rio and she doesn’t have a 10k qualifier (of course Ayana could tempo a 32:15 qualifier). Ayana’s front-running style has yet to show any ill effects, and she could very well break the world record on Thursday and go on to win Olympic gold in August. But it’s hard to imagine her running many more high-level 5,000s between now and Rio.

Which makes Thursday’s race that much more interesting. Of course the WR is on the table, but as Ayana and Genzebe Dibaba have shown in their (so far) fruitless attempts, breaking Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 14:11.15 mark requires good conditions and, above all, a pacer who can stick with them for more than the first five laps. There are several such women in this race, but we imagine most of them will have every intention of finishing rather than setting the pace for Ayana.

LRC Prediction. We think Ayana is in world-record shape. We think she’ll get it if she goes for it and has a good rabbit that can last 3k but that’s way easier said than done. If someone ran 14:11.15 perfectly even, they’d hit 3k in 8:30.69. That’s super fast. According to tilastopaja.org, only 45 women in history have broken 8:30 for 3000. #44 is Jenny Simpson (8:29.58 pb) and #45 is Shannon Rowbury (8:29.93). Good luck getting someone of that quality to rabbit for you.

AYANA FTW but we want to wait for more info to come out from the press conference before we make a WR prediction.

Men’s 1500 (3:15 p.m.)

NameCountryPBSB
Moh Abdikadar Sheik AliItaly3:47.663:51.99
Morhad AmdouniFrance3:34.053:39.32
Bethwell BirgenKenya3:30.773:33.94
Robert BiwottKenya3:30.103:34.68
Florian CarvalhoFrance3:33.473:36.64
Collins CheboiKenya3:30.343:37.82
Ryan GregsonAustralia3:31.063:34.43
Henrik IngebrigtsenNorway3:31.463:38.33
Nicholas KipkoechKenya3:44.07
Silas KiplagatKenya3:27.643:33.68
Elijah ManangoiKenya3:29.673:33.67
Chris O’HareGreat Britain3:34.833:36.58
Charles Philibert-ThiboutotCanada3:34.233:38.39
Homiyu TesfayeGermany3:31.983:35.05
Dawit WoldeEthiopia3:33.823:36.95
Aman WoteEthiopia3:29.913:34.58

With two marquee miles taking place on either side of this meet (the Bowerman Mile at the Pre Classic and the Dream Mile in Oslo next Thursday), the 1500 in Rome comes up on the short end of the stick, though this unlike the mile at Pre is a Diamond Race event. That’s not to say there isn’t talent in this field. There are two World Championship silver medallist in the race. With no Asbel Kiprop or Abdelaati Iguider, who went 1-2 in Eugene on Saturday, 2015 World Champs silver medallist Elijah Manangoi, is the favorite here. Not only did Manangoi take third at Pre, but he was second in the Diamond League opener in Doha as well. His 3:33.67 sb is also tops in this field.

After that, Ethiopian Aman Wote should also be a threat. The 32-year-old was 6th at World Indoors, 6th in Doha and 6th at Pre but all three performances came against stronger fields than the one he’ll face here. One man worth keeping an eye on is Nicholas Kiplangat Kipkoech. His PR is 3:44.07, but he’s only run the 1500 once, when he was 18 years old. He’s 23 now and coming off a 1:43.91 800 win at the Kenyan Champs (not the Olympic Trials) last weekend. Kipkoech has now run 1:43.37 and 1:43.91 in Kenya this year, but has never broken 1:45 outside of Kenya (perhaps because timing at Kenyan meets is not 100% reliable). In his two non-Kenyan races this year, he ran 1:45.56 in Doha to take second in the non-DL 800 and then ran 1:46.83 to finish third at the adidas Boost meet in Germany on May 14. His 1500 ability is untested (he may even be the rabbit here — we’re not entirely sure) but he certainly has potential.

Kiplagat won in Rome two years ago and could use a win on Thursday

Kiplagat won in Rome two years ago and could use a win on Thursday

Normally when Silas Kiplagat is in a Diamond League 1500, we’d have mentioned him by now, but Kiplagat has not been himself recently. Taking third in the DL opener in Doha wasn’t bad, but he was only second in the non-DL 1500 in Rabat and just ninth at Pre in 3:56.60 — the slowest mile of his life. Entering 2016, Kiplagat’s average finish over his past 16 DL races was 2.6. That’s ridiculously consistent. It’s not time for Kiplagat to start panicking — after all, he was .14 away from a medal at Worlds just nine months ago — but the start to his campaign has been a bit worrying. DL events have always been the strong part of Kiplagat’s game — he’s better at closing well off a fast pace than changing gears and running a really hard last 150 as he would in a championship final. If Kiplagat isn’t succeeding in his specialty events, that makes him less likely to be a factor in Rio unless he has magically reinvented himself into a big-time closer.

At 26 (officially), Kiplagat is only two months older than Matthew Centrowitz, but he’s been on the circuit longer, as he broke onto the scene in Year 1 of the Diamond League back in 2010. It’s hard to stay at the top for that long in an event. Perhaps Kiplagat is banged up. Perhaps he’s just taking longer than usual to round into form. Perhaps he’s just focused on being ready for Rio (although with the Kenyan Trials later this month, he needs to be ready to go soon). Whatever’s going on, Kiplagat will have a chance to work on it in Rome.

LRC Prediction: Manangoi picks up DL win #1.

Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase (3:45 p.m. ET)

NameCountryPBSB
Hailemariyam AmareEthiopia8:21.108:21.10
Nicholas BettKenya
Jairus BirechKenya7:58.418:03.90
Stanley KebeneiUSA8:22.858:22.85
Ezekiel KemboiKenya7:55.768:14.19
Brimin KiprutoKenya7:53.64
Conseslus KiprutoKenya8:01.168:02.77
Lawrence KipsangKenya8:17.798:17.79
John KoechBahrain8:09.628:09.62
Paul KoechKenya7:54.318:12.33
Yoann KowalFrance8:12.538:18.48
Cory LeslieUSA8:19.128:19.12
Taylor MilneCanada8:19.908:34.00
Jonathan NdikuKenya8:07.75
Bilal TabtiAlgeria8:21.158:31.92
Jigisa TolosaEthiopia8:41.4h8:41.4h
Hillary YegoKenya8:03.578:30.57
Krystian ZalewskiPoland8:16.20
Ala ZoghlamiItaly8:32.208:32.20
Kipruto's unorthodox hurdle form on display in Beijing last year

Kipruto’s unorthodox hurdle form on display in Beijing last year

Kenya’s two-time World Champs silver medallist Conseslus Kipruto has been the man to beat this year and we don’t expect that to change in Rome. He’s looked great in each of the two DL steeples so far this year, winning comfortably enough that he had time to celebrate in both. In fact, had he not started waving to the crowd on the final turn in Rabat two weeks ago, Kipruto could well have broken 8:00 for the first time in his career.

The best bet to stop him is Jairus Birech, who dominated the DL in 2014 and 2015. Birech got dropped by 2k in the DL opener in Doha, losing to Kipruto by 3.15 seconds in that race, but he cut down on that gap significantly in Rabat, hanging with Kipruto until 300 to go and losing by just 1.13. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him prevail in Rome, but Kipruto will be tough to beat as we haven’t seen him go all-out to the line yet in a race this year.

World champ Ezekiel Kemboi is in this race, but he’s been poor on the DL circuit in recent years (he was only 12th in Doha, though he did win the IAAF World Challenge meet in Beijing on May 18). 2015 World Champs bronze medallist Brimin Kipruto will also make his season debut here, and though he has six career DL wins, the most recent came in July 2013.

Americans Cory Leslie and Stanley Kebenei should be competitive and could score some DL points (top six score). Both men have runs PRs already this year (8:19.12 at Oxy for Leslie, 8:22.85 at Payton Jordan for Kebenei) and it took 8:19.31 to score in Rabat. Obviously it won’t be easy, but after Kenya, the U.S. is the next-best steeple country in the world and Leslie and Kebenei are among the best American steeplers right now.

LRC Prediction: Kipruto wins and gets his first career sub-8.

Talk about the meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Rome Golden Gala Diamond League Discussion Thread.