September 7, 2016
The 2016 IAAF Diamond League track and field season comes to a close on Friday at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels, Belgium. While we’re upset that this terrific year of track & field is almost over, all good things must come to an end. It’s almost fall, which means it will soon be time for cross country and big city marathons in Berlin, Chicago and New York.
But first, there are 16 Diamond League titles to be awarded and a few world records that the competitors in Brussels would like to see wiped from the books. In the men’s steeplechase, Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto will try to close out one of the greatest seasons in the history of the event by breaking Saif Saaeed Shaheen‘s 7:53.63 world record, set on this same track 12 years ago. In the same race, American Evan Jager will look to become the first non-African-born athlete to break 8:00. Earlier in the meet, Olympic 10k champ Almaz Ayana will look to add the 5,000 world record to the 10,000 mark she broke in Rio. Ayana has come close three times in the past 16 months to Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 14:11.15 mark, running 14:14 last year and 14:16 and 14:12 this year. Also watch out for Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who beat Ayana in the 5k in Rio.
In other distance events, the men’s 1500 is loaded with Asbel Kiprop, Elijah Manangoi and Taoufik Makhloufi plus Americans Robby Andrews and Ben Blankenship, while Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy takes on Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Alfred Kipketer in the men’s 800. The non-distance action has several tasty matchups including a deep men’s high jump (Bohdan Bondarenko, Mutaz Essa Barshim, Erik Kynard), Elaine Thompson vs. Dafne Schippers at 100 meters and Caster Semenya in the women’s 400. In the final event of the night, Belgian brothers Jonathan, Kevin and Dylan Borlee will square off in front of the home fans in the men’s 400.
This being the end of the season, there are several unique races on the schedule. On Sunday, there was a straight 200 and 200 hurdles held on the Boulevard Anspach in the heart of Brussels (the Netherlands’ Solomon Bockarie won the flat race in 20.48 while South Africa’s LJ Van Zyl won the men’s hurdles in 22.77 and Belgium’s Axelle Dauwens won the women’s hurdles in 26.61). Thursday’s women’s shot put will be held at Grand Place, Brussels’ central square. And on Friday, Kenya’s Nicholas Kipkoech will race 600 meters against a solar-powered car in the “Man against Machine” race.
We preview the meet below.
What: 2016 Memorial Van Damme
Where: King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium
When: Friday, September 9. The TV broadcast 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 beIN Sports.
Diamond Race Scoring — How it Works
There are 14 Diamond League meets per year. Each event is contested as a scored event seven times: six times at regular-season meets and once at one of the two DL finals. For the regular season meets, the top six places are scored as follows: 10-6-4-3-2-1. For the DL final, the points are doubled, so in Brussels the scoring will be 20-12-8-6-4-2. There are a few rules. First, to be eligible for the $40,000 grand prize, an athlete must participate in the Diamond League final. Also, in the case of a tie, the first tiebreaker is the number of 2016 Diamond League victories in that event; the second tiebreaker is head-to-head finish at the Diamond League final. Second place in the DL standings gets nothing, so if an athlete has a chance to win the jackpot on Thursday, they’ll be going after it very hard. Got it? Good.
The Year of World Records
Olympic years bring out the best in athletes and 2016 has been no exception. Six world records have been broken in five events this year, with Conseslus Kipruto and Almaz Ayana looking to raise those totals on Friday. Check out how it compares to the past decade in terms of outdoor world records broken (we’re only counting Olympic events):
|Year||Total world records||# of events||Events|
|2016||6||5||M400, W10K, Wsteeple, W100H, Whammer (x2)|
|2015||8||5||decathlon, Whammer (x2), W1500, M20K race walk (x2), W20K race walk (x2)|
|2014||4||4||Whammer, Mmarathon, M50K race walk, MPV*|
|2012||6||6||M800, M110H, decathlon, M4x100, W20K race walk, W4x100|
|2011||4||4||Mmarathon, M4x100, Whammer, W20K race walk|
|2010||3||2||M800 (x2), Whammer|
|2009||4||4||M100, M200, WPV, Whammer|
|2008||13||10||M100 (x2), M200, Mmarathon, M110H, M50K race walk, M4x100, Wsteeple, WPV (x3), WJavelin, W5000|
|2007||3||3||Mmarathon, M20K race walk, W5000|
*Renaud Lavillenie broke the pole vault world record indoors but the IAAF recognizes it as the world record as it is higher than the outdoor mark
The total number of world records in 2016 has not been astonishing, but it’s the quality, not quantity, that’s impressive. Michael Johnson‘s 400 world record was almost 17 years old when Wayde van Niekerk broke it; the women’s 10K mark was almost 23 years old, and the women’s 100 hurdles record was almost 28. Adding the men’s steeple (2004) and women’s 5,000 (2008) marks to that total would comprise a banner year for world records.
Women’s 400 (2:22 p.m. ET): Caster Semenya Runs Her First Diamond League 400
|Stephenie Ann McPherson||Jamaica||49.92||50.04|
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||50.74||50.74|
Semenya’s personal best of 50.74 is only the sixth-best in the field (it’s 16th on the world list for 2016), but make no mistake, all eyes will be on her when the gun goes off. That’s because we don’t know what Semenya is truly capable of over the one-lap distance: estimates have ranged from anything from 48 seconds to the low-50’s (Marita Koch‘s world record is 47.60). Semenya set her pb on April 16, the day of her famous 400-800-1500 triple at the South African Championships in Stellenbosch. Though the 400 was first, she was totally unchallenged (second place was 53.30) and she had run two preliminary heats (in the 400 and 800) the day before. With competition to push her in Brussels (five of the Olympic 400 finalists are in the field, led by bronze medallist Jackson), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Semenya break 50 seconds. Jarmila Kratochvilova owns the 800 world record of 1:53.28 that many believe Semenya can beat; Kratochvilova has a 400 personal best of 47.99, #2 in history.
In terms of the DL jackpot, the standings among the entrants is as follows:
1. Stephenie Ann McPherson, Jamaica 31 points
3. Natasha Hastings, USA 28 points
McPherson is fortunate that Olympic champ Shaunae Miller, who trails her by only one point in the DL standings, is skipping this one. She merely needs to finish above Hastings to clinch the title, though Hastings can win it all with a win.
Women’s 5,000 (2:40 p.m. ET): Can Almaz Ayana Get the World Record?
|Etenesh Diro Neda||Ethiopia||14:37.51||14:37.51|
|Karolina Bjerkeli Grovdal||Norway||14:57.53||14:57.53|
|Susan Kuijken||The Netherlands||15:00.69||15:00.69|
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||15:09.94||15:09.94|
|Alice Aprot Nawowuna||Kenya||15:16.74|
|Stephanie Twell||Great Britain||14:54.08||14:59.00|
Diamond Race standings
1. Almaz Ayana, Ethiopia 30 points
3. Hellen Obiri, Kenya 16 points
6. Viola Kibiwot, Kenya 11 points
Scenarios: Technically there are six women with a chance to win the Diamond League title, but three of them — Mercy Cherono, Janet Kisa, and Vivian Cheruiyot — are not entered in Brussels, which reduces their chances to zero. Ayana would really have to bomb to lose the title (Obiri needs to win and have Ayana finish fifth or lower; Kibiwot needs to win and have Ayana finish seventh or lower), so even if she goes for the WR and comes up short, she’s likely to pocket at least $40,000 on Friday.
After Almaz Ayana broke the 10,000-meter world record on August 12, it seemed a no-brainer that she would claim the 5,000 world record as well. The only question was whether she would do it at the Olympics or in this meet.
Of course, Ayana lost the 5,000 final in Rio — she had to settle for bronze behind Kenyans Vivian Cheruiyot and Hellen Obiri — but she still has a great shot to break Tirunesh Dibaba’s eight-year-old mark of 14:11.15 on Friday. Ayana has already run 14:16 and 14:12 this year (the #6 and #2 performances in history) and her 29:17 10k WR at the Olympics was worth more than that — sub-14:00 according to John Kellogg‘s conversion chart and low 14:00’s according to other conversion calculators. If Ayana can summon the same kind of effort in Brussels, she won’t just break 14:11, she’ll smash it.
But world records don’t just happen. They require a particular set of circumstances. Let’s run Ayana’s attempt on Friday through the checklist.
Ayana hasn’t raced since her bronze-medal performance in the 5,000 in Rio. After the 10,000, it was clear Ayana had the fitness to break the 5,000 world record too, but it’s not as clear right now. How hard did she peak for the Olympics? Did the double, with three races and 20,000 meters over the course of eight days, leave her fried? That’s possible. But it’s a good sign that Ayana took a few weeks off from racing to allow her body to recharge rather than returning to racing right away. And she did fine bouncing back from Worlds last year (granted, she only ran the 5,000 there), beating Genzebe Dibaba over 3,000 meters in the Diamond League final in Zürich. Ayana’s fitness likely won’t be the limiting factor on Friday.
The forecast looks good. The sun will have set by the time Ayana races at 8:40 p.m. local time and Weather.com says it should be in the 60’s and still during the race — the same conditions she faced during her 10,000 WR last month.
This is the big question. In Rabat on May 22, a rabbit took Ayana through 1600 meters and she ran 14:16. Two weeks later in Rome, the rabbit lasted 2200 and Ayana ran 14:12. Ayana’s problem in both races has been the fourth kilometer, hitting 69’s and 70’s. A rabbit can’t run that portion of the race for Ayana, but the longer the rabbit lasts, the easier it is for Ayana in the early stages of the race, allowing her to save her mental and physical energy for the latter portions. Ideally, Ayana would have a rabbit to take her through 3k on Friday, but to even-split a 14:10, you have to come through 3k in 8:30 and only four other women besides Ayana have broken 8:30 this year. To run 8:30 from the front as a rabbit is even harder. You can see why finding rabbits for Ayana is a problem.
Ayana has committed to going for the world record, and she wouldn’t do that if she didn’t feel she was recovered enough to take a shot at it. Given how close she’s come and her dazzling performance in Rio, we expect her to get it. She just needs to make sure that she’s at or ahead of pace once she gets to 3k. Ayana’s great at grinding out splits, but she’s not great at making sudden changes in pace. She may want to consider running slightly faster than WR pace while the rabbits are around to bank some time and give herself some margin for error for the final mile, which was her biggest problem in Rabat or Rome.
Ayana is not the only runner in this race, however. Kenya’s Hellen Obiri actually beat Ayana in Rio, running 14:29 there. Obiri’s odds at the world record aren’t as good as Ayana’s, but we’re not totally ruling it out. Remember, this is Obiri’s first year running the 5,000, and she ran 14:29 at the Olympics after going out in 8:51 (14:45 pace). She certainly has the potential to run much faster than 14:29. She’ll have a decision to make, however: chase Ayana from the gun and risk totally blowing up, or play it more conservatively and hope for second (or first if Ayana craters). Alice Aprot Nawowuna, fourth in the 10k in Rio in 29:53, should also be capable of something fast here, though Ayana would likely prefer that Nawowuna reprise her role as rabbit extraordinaire (her 14:46 opening 5k in Rio paved the way for Ayana’s world record).
American Shannon Rowbury isn’t going to be on screen for much of this race as 14:11 is well beyond her capability, but Molly Huddle‘s American record of 14:42.64 is possible. Rowbury’s best is 14:48.68, run in that same 2014 Monaco race where Huddle set the AR, but Rowbury is a better runner than she was two years ago. Her 1500 sb was 3:59.49 in 2014; in her last two races, Rowbury has run 3:58.00 and 3:57.78. Part of that is a byproduct of being in faster races, but running 3:57.78 to win the Diamond League 1500 final over studs like Faith Kipyegon and Laura Muir clearly shows Rowbury is super fit right now. The biggest concern with Rowbury is whether she still has the strength to run a fast 5k (she hasn’t run a 5k since that race in Monaco), but we think the answer is yes. Rowbury’s handling a bigger workload than she was in 2014, her first year under Alberto Salazar, and she was the bronze medallist at 3,000 at World Indoors in March. Rowbury wouldn’t bother running in Brussels if she didn’t feel she had the strength to run a fast 5k.
How fast Rowbury runs may be dictated by what the other women in the race do. Ideally, she finds herself in a situation similar to the one that produced her 1500 American record last summer: she has a pack of women to draft off to help make the work easier. That’s certainly possible — assuming everyone else lets Ayana go, she’ll have four women with PBs between 14:29 and 14:37 to follow. However, if they decide to work together to run a fast time, they may wind up trying to run 14:30 pace, which may be too hot for Rowbury to handle and could strand her in no-man’s-land. As with any time-trial-type effort, how the race breaks will have a major effect on how fast Rowbury runs in Brussels.
Men’s 1500 (3:12 p.m. ET): Asbel Kiprop Looks to Bounce Back From Olympic Disappointment
|Charlie Grice||Great Britain||3:33.60||3:33.60|
Diamond Race standings
1. Asbel Kiprop, Kenya 31 points
2. Elijah Manangoi, Kenya 28 points
Scenarios: Kiprop merely needs to finish ahead of Manangoi to win. If Manangoi is first or second, he merely needs to beat Kiprop. If he’s third, fourth or fifth, he needs to beat Kiprop by two places. If he’s sixth or lower, Kiprop wins.
Asbel Kiprop was only sixth at the Olympics, but he’s been dominant on the Diamond League circuit and enters this race as the favorite. He’ll certainly be motivated to win as he needs to defeat countryman Elijah Manangoi to clinch his second straight DL title and the $40,000 prize that goes with it. If you look at the 1500/miles Kiprop has run this year, the only ones he’s lost have been races in which he’s beaten himself. In Monaco on July 15, Kiprop went out hard (1:50 at 800) in search of a blazing time but couldn’t hold on and wound up fading to sixth place. The next month, Kiprop spent energy surging during the middle of the race on multiple occasions during the Olympics final, only to immediately lose the position he had fought for. When it came down to the final 200 meters, he could not match the kick of the top guys. That’s not meant as a slight to Matthew Centrowitz, who ran a brilliant tactical race for gold, or the other medallists. But a smarter race by Kiprop almost certainly would have put him on the podium, if not on top of it.
When Kiprop’s on his game, he’s the best in the world, and he’s won more often than not on the circuit the past two years. Kiprop can also win multiple styles of races. He’s crushed the field early this year (Doha, Birmingham, Oslo) and also waited and prevailed with his kick (Pre Classic). His talent is so great that it’s often — but not always — enough to overcome tactical mistakes. Assuming he doesn’t make a big blunder, he will be favored in Brussels.
He’ll have plenty of competition, however, starting with the man who has taken first and second at the past two Olympics, Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. After nabbing a pair of silvers in Rio, Makhloufi looked good in running 1:42.98 for second in Paris on August 27 and should be in the thick of things here as well. Abdelaati Iguider (5th in Rio) also figures to be in the mix. Plus there’s the return of Elijah Manangoi, who had consistently run #2 to Kiprop on the circuit this year only to scratch from his semifinal in the Olympics with a reported hamstring injury. If healthy, Manangoi is among the best in the world. Is he rushing back too soon to try to win the DL title or is he truly ready to go again?
From an American perspective, Ben Blankenship looked great in taking eighth in Rio and though he only wound up eighth at the Fifth Avenue Mile, he still ran 3:53.9 and can’t be faulted for his approach. A strength runner, Blankenship tried to win it from the front and simply came up short against a strong field. Blankenship is in shape to lower his 3:35.02 pb, but after racing in New York on Saturday, it will be tough to turn it around and produce another fast performance six days — and 3,600 miles — later in Brussels.
The other American, Robby Andrews, has bombed his last two races — he was dead last at Fifth Avenue (4:02.5) and ran just 3:42 for 12th in Zagreb three days later. Brussels will be his third race in seven days. But it’s an opportunity to run fast in a Diamond League race, and Andrews has rebounded from a few stinkers this year to run well in his next race. He doesn’t have anything to lose; the worst thing that happens on Friday is that he runs poorly again.
Andrews’ camp wasn’t sure if he’d get into this race after he failed to make the Olympic final (after a DQ) but he did get in as a few guys who would get in ahead of him (bronze medallist Nick Willis for example, gold medallist Centrowitz) decided not to race.
Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase (3:30 p.m. ET): Conseslus Kipruto Aims to Close Out Near-Perfect Year with World Record
|Soufiane El Bakkali||Morocco||8:14.35||8:14.35|
Kipruto, with five victories and 50 points, has already clinched the Diamond League title.
There are several storylines in this one. The biggest is Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto’s assault on the world record, but there’s also Evan Jager’s quest to become the first non-African-born man under 8:00 in the steeple (he’d be the 12th overall, or 13th if Kipruto beats him to it). Finally, this will serve as the last race in the career of Paul Koech, who has broken 8:00 more times (9) than anyone in history apart from WR holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen (10 times) and sits #3 on the all-time list (7:54.31 pb).
Kipruto has never broken 8:00, but he’s got a real shot at the world record. Early in the season, when Kipruto was routinely running in the low-8:00’s, he would slow to celebrate in the home stretch; only when he realized he had a real shot at sub-8:00 in Birmingham did he run all the way through the line (he finished in 8:00.12). Then in Rio, Kipruto broke the Olympic record (running 8:03.28) despite starting his celebration with 100 meters to go and practically walking across the line.
Kipruto has shown signs that he’s capable of well under 8:00, and though a world record would represent a big personal best (5.49 seconds), that’s not unprecedented. When Shaheen set the current WR, he PR’d by 3.75 seconds and when Jager set his PR last year in Paris, he PR’d by 4.26 seconds — and that would have been a lot more had he not fallen on the final barrier.
Plus, Brussels is a great track for steepling. Three of the fastest five steeples have been run at the King Baudouin Stadium, including the current world record. It’s also where Jairus Birech ran the fastest time of the past four years (7:58.41 in 2014; Jager broke the American record in the same race).
With Kipruto in terrific shape and motivated to run hard all the way to the finish and good conditions forecast, we could be in for a truly fast race. Jager, the only man to go with the rabbits in the 5k in Zürich last week, could take advantage. Given how well he ran in Paris last year (he likely would have clocked 7:56 or 7:57 without the fall), it’s not inconceivable that he could beat the old world record too. That’s obviously the best-case scenario, but Jager has been so smooth and consistent this year that sub-8:00 would not be a remote surprise. He’s certainly got the fitness (his 8:04 in Rio was under the old Olympic record); if the race breaks right, he should dip under.
Outside of the big two, Olympic bronze medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is also entered (though he likely missed his chance to break 8:00 earlier in his career), as is American Hillary Bor, who ran 8:22 to PR in the Olympic final (he was seventh) and should go even faster here.
Men’s 800 (3:45 p.m. ET): Clayton Murphy Tries to Cap Off His Season in Style in His First Career DL Race
|Bram Som||The Netherlands||1:43.45||1:51.64|
|Amel Tuka||Bosnia & Herzegovina||1:42.51||1:45.23|
Diamond Race standings
1. Ferguson Rotich, Kenya 33 points
2. Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, France 27 points
3. Alfred Kipketer, Kenya 14 points
Scenarios: Rotich needs to finish above Bosse (and finish sixth or higher) to clinch the title. Bosse can win the title with a victory, while Kipketer needs a win and a lot of help.
With no David Rudisha and Makhloufi in the 800, American Clayton Murphy, the bronze medallist in Rio, is the top returner from the Olympic final in this race. It’s been a long year for the 21-year-old. Back when his track season started with an 8:18 3,000 at Penn State on January 16, Murphy was beginning his junior year at the University of Akron. It seems crazy to think about now, but at that point Murphy had never even won an NCAA title. Since then, he’s won NCAAs twice, turned pro, won USAs, won bronze at the Olympics and become the third-fastest American ever. Not a bad year.
Amazingly, there is one thing Murphy hasn’t done – run in a Diamond League race.
Murphy will have his hands full with this field. 18-year-old world junior champ Kipyegon Bett ran 1:43.76 to finish second to Rudisha in Berlin on Saturday and fellow Kenyan youngsters Alfred Kipketer (1st, 1:42.87) and Jonathan Kitilit (3rd, 1:43.05) are coming off PBs in Paris on August 27. Olympic finalists Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Ferguson Rotich and 2015 Worlds medallists Adam Kszczot and Amel Tuka round out the field.
Murphy, who ran 3:52.3 for fourth at the Fifth Avenue Mile on Saturday, certainly has a shot to win, but anything he does at this point is gravy. The American record (1:42.60) is cool to dream about, but Murphy has already exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations this season. Whether he’s first or last on Friday, his season will go down as an unqualified success. American distance pros historically run their entire careers dreaming of a medal – Murphy has one in year #1.
For the other 12 Diamond Race events, we’ve outlined the scenarios for the Diamond League title, listing current standings where appropriate.
Women’s shot put: Valerie Adams wins $40,000 by showing up
Olympic silver medallist Valerie Adams of New Zealand has 46 points and cannot be caught as long as she competes in the shot put in Brussels, which will take place at Grand Place, the city’s central square, on Thursday.
Women’s javelin: Palameika wins $40,000 by finishing 4th or higher
1. Madara Palameika, Latvia 39 points
2. Kathryn Mitchell, Australia 25 points
Scenarios: Palameika, who was only 10th in Rio, merely needs to finish fourth or higher to clinch her first Diamond League title. If she’s fifth or worse, that opens the door for Mitchell, who needs to win to have any chance.
Men’s discus throw: Piotr Malachowski wins $40,000 by finishing 5th or higher
1. Piotr Malachowski, Poland 42 points
2. Robert Urbanek, Poland 25 points
Scenarios: Urbanek, who didn’t make the final in Rio, needs to win and have Malachowski, who won silver in Rio, finish sixth or lower. In all other scenarios, Malachowski wins his third straight DL title.
Women’s triple jump: Caterine Ibarguen wins $40,000 by showing up
Olympic champ Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia has won five of the six DL meets so far this year and will win the title as long as she competes in Brussels.
Women’s pole vault: Katerina Stefanidi wins $40,000 by showing up
Olympic champ Katerina Stefanidi of Greece has the Diamond League title sewn up.
Men’s high jump: 4 Men can win $40,000 by winning
1. Bohdan Bondarenko, Ukraine 29 points
2. Erik Kynard, USA 26 points
3. Mutaz Essa Barshim, Qatar 24 points
4. Robert Grabarz, Great Britain 23 points
Scenarios: Bondarenko is in pole position, but any of the top four can win the title simply by winning in Brussels.
Women’s 400 hurdles: Doyle vs. Tate
1. Eilidh Doyle, Great Britain 36 points
2. Cassandra Tate, USA 30 points
Scenarios: Doyle simply has to beat Tate. Meanwhile, Tate can clinch the title with a win.
Women’s 100: Thompson wins $40,000 by finishing top two
1. Elaine Thompson, Jamaica 30 points
2. Dafne Schippers, The Netherlands 22 points
Scenarios: Olympic champ Thompson is undefeated at 100 meters this year, but for her to lose the DL title, she’d have to finish worse than 2nd (and have Schippers win).
Men’s 110 hurdles: Ortega has won the jackpot
Spain’s Orlando Ortega leads the standings with 40 points. With Olympic champ Omar McLeod, the only man who can catch him, absent in Brussels, Ortega will win the DL title simply by showing up.
Men’s long jump: It’s tight up top
1. Xinglong Gao, China 24 points
1. Fabrice Lapierre, Australia 24 points
5. Damar Forbes, Jamaica 17 points
Scenarios: Nine men are still mathematically alive for the DL crown, but only the three listed above will compete in Brussels. Any of the three can win the title by winning in Brussels. Otherwise, whichever of Gao/Lapierre places higher wins the title (unless they totally bomb, in which case Forbes could win by placing second or third).
Men’s 200: Edward has won the jackpot
Panama’s Alonso Edward cannot be caught and will win his third straight Diamond League title.