2017 Müller Indoor Grand Prix Preview in Birmingham: Laura Muir Goes for UK 1K Record, Sifan Hassan vs. Hellen Obiri in 3K & the Return of Mo Farah

By LetsRun.com
February 16, 2017

On Saturday, the eyes of the track world will be on England, where Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena will host the 2017 Müller Indoor Grand Prix. As the final event in the IAAF World Indoor Tour, there will be wild card entries to next year’s World Indoor Championships (also in Birmingham) on offer to the series champions. The wild cards are important as in addition to paying out $20,000 they allow a country to send three athletes in an event to Worlds, rather than two.

However, we’re most interested in the big names that will be competing, highlighted by UK stars Laura Muir (taking on Kate Grace in the 1000) and Mo Farah in the 5000. There’s also Cas Loxsom vs. Erik Sowinski in the men’s 800, Sifan Hassan vs. Shannon Rowbury vs. Hellen Obiri in the women’s 3000, Melissa Bishop vs. Joanna Jóźwik in the women’s 800 and a men’s 1500 featuring Silas Kiplagat and three Olympic finalists (Ben BlankenshipNate Brannen and Ryan Gregson).

In non-distance action, Olympic champs Elaine Thompson (100/200), Jeff Henderson (men’s long jump) and Katerina Stefanidi (women’s pole vault) are in action, as are stars Dina Asher-Smith (women’s 60), Bralon Taplin (men’s 400) and Katarina Johnson-Thompson (women’s long jump). We preview all the action and tell you who is set to earn the wild card entries to World Indoors below.

What: 2017 Müller Indoor Grand Prix

When: Saturday, February 18, 7:11 a.m. ET to 11:30 a.m. ET

Where: Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham, England

How to watch: Live in the US on beIN Sports Connect from 8:00 a.m. ET to 11:30 a.m. ET. Live in the UK on BBC One and the BBC website starting at 13:15 GMT.

Schedule (with links to start lists)

18 February Draft Timetable
Time Event No Discipline Gender Stage Rounds
12:11 1 4 X 200 METRES UNDER 13 W 1 Final
12:17 2 SHOT PUT W 1 Final
12:25 3 4 X 200 METRES UNDER 13 M 1 Final
12:32 4 4 X 200 METRES UNDER 15 W 1 Final
12:39 5 4 X 200 METRES UNDER 15 M 1 Final
13:07 6 4 X 200 METRES UNDER 17 W 1 Final
13:07 7 4 X 200 METRES UNDER 17 M 1 Final
13:25 8 60 METRES W 1 Heats
13:32 9 LONG JUMP M 1 Final
13:40 10 POLE VAULT W 1 Final
13:44 11 60 METRES HURDLES W 1 Heats
14:02 12 3000 METRES W 1 Final
14:18 13 400 METRES M 1 Final
14:23 14 HIGH JUMP M 1 Final
14:29 15 800 METRES W 1 Final
14:36 16 60 METRES M 1 Heats
14:53 17 60 METRES W 2 Final
14:59 18 LONG JUMP W 1 Final
15:04 19 800 METRES M 1 Final
15:11 20 400 METRES W 1 Final
15:20 21 60 METRES HURDLES M 1 Final
15:29 22 60 METRES HURDLES W 2 Final
15:38 23 1500 METRES M 1 Final
15:50 24 1000 METRES W 1 Final
16:00 25 60 METRES M 2 Final
16:09 26 5000 METRES M 1 Final

Women’s 3000 (9:02 a.m. ET): A rematch between Obiri, Rowbury and Hassan

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Name PB / SB
Birtukan Adamu (ETH) 8:58.73 / none
Birkutan Fente Alemu (ETH) 9:04.87 / 9:05.94
Meraf Bahta (SWE) 8:43.08 / none
Sofia Ennaoui (POL) 8:49.07 / 8:51.50
Kalkidan Fentie (ETH) none/ none
Sifan Hassan (NED) 8:29.38 / 8:40.99
Elinor Kirk (GBR) 9:05.69 / 9:17.80
Maureen Koster (NED) 8:48.46 / 9:19.17
Genevieve LaCaze (AUS) 8:52.28 / none
Katie Mackey (USA) 8:46.58 / none
Eilish McColgan (GBR) 8:43.27 / 9:05.07
Hellen Obiri (KEN) 8:20.68 / 8:29.46
Shannon Rowbury (USA) 8:29.93 / 8:41.94
Dawit Seyaum (ETH) none / none
Stephanie Twell (GBR) 8:40.98 / 9:05.30

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Hellen Obiri, Kenya 17 points
3. Sifan Hassan, The Netherlands 7 points

The only way Obiri, the 2016 Olympic 5000 silver medallist, loses the series title is if she finishes outside the top four and Hassan wins the race and Hassan runs 8:29.45 or faster. That’s not happening.

The best three women in the field are Obiri, Hassan and Rowbury, and as you’ll recall, we saw this race already three weeks ago in Boston: Obiri crushed Hassan and Rowbury over the final 400 meters to win in 8:39.08. Because the pace lagged early in that race, the time wasn’t particularly impressive, but Obiri proved her fitness one week later in Karlsruhe, clocking a Kenyan record of 8:29.46 to become just the 10th woman to break 8:30 indoors.

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Obiri is the favorite again here, but we’re not going to hand her the win just yet. Hassan and Rowbury both looked better in the Wanamaker Mile last week (Hassan was first in 4:19.89, Rowbury third in 4:23.05) than they did in Boston, and though part of that is due to the fact that Hassan and Rowbury are better milers than 3k runners, they’re both just fitter in general. Rowbury is peaking for USA Indoors and has had time to sharpen her kick after coming down from altitude. Hassan, meanwhile, has improved in each of her races so far in 2017 and if she can continue that trend on Saturday, she’ll be in contention for the win; only three women have ever run faster indoors than her 4:19.89 mile.

We’ll also be interested to watch the Netherlands Maureen Koster (fourth at World Indoors last year) and Olympic 1500 finalists Meraf Bahta of Sweden (6th in Rio) and 20-year old Dawit Seyaum (8th in Rio).

Seyaum is the most talented runner of the bunch, but she has never raced further than 2000m. If you are a fan of the sport, you really should pay attention to Seyaum as in many ways she’s what Mary Cain was trying to be. Both Cain and Seyaum are the same age (20) and remember Seyaum is the one Cain avoided when she opted for the 3000 instead of the 1500 at World Juniors in 2014. However since 2014, Cain has regressed, having not run faster than 4:09.08 after that year, while Seyaum has improved her 1500 pb to 3:58.09. The 27-year-old Bahta, who ran 4:06 last week, has more experience with the longer distances, taking European silver at 5000m in 2016. Finally, 18-year-old Kalkidan Fentie of Ethiopia is racing for the first time since winning the World U20 5000m title last year.

LRC prediction: 8:29 is extremely fast indoors, so we’re going to take Obiri for the win (again). But if Hassan is still there with 200 to go, we like her chances. As for Rowbury, we’ve got some bad news and good news. The bad news is now that 24-year-old Hassan and 32-year-old Rowbury are training under the same coach (Alberto Salazar), we’re not sure if Rowbury will ever beat Hassan again (Hassan already leads their head to head matchups 14-4). That doesn’t mean that Rowbury can’t still do great things. Only one American woman has broken 8:40 indoors this century (Shalane Flanagan) and we’ll be surprised if Rowbury doesn’t join that club on Saturday. She may also get Flanagan’s American indoor record of 8:33.25. Rowbury has run 8:29 outdoors.

Women’s 800 (9:29 a.m. ET): Melissa Bishop faces in-form Joanna Jóźwik in a battle of Olympic 4th and 5th placers

Name PB / SB
Melissa Bishop (CAN) 1:57.02 / 2:01.42
Kendra Chambers (USA) 2:00.76 / 2:08.44
Joanna Jóźwik (POL) 1:57.37 / 1:59.29
Lovisa Lindh (SWE) 1:59.41 / 2:03.12
Shelayna Oskan-Clarke (GBR) 1:58.86 / 2:03.54
Adelle Tracey (GBR) 2:01.10 / 2:04.04
Chrishuna Williams (USA) 1:59.59 / none
Noelie Yarigo (BEN) 1:59.12 / 2:03.52

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Joanna Jóźwik, Poland 30 points

Jóźwik has already scored the maximum 30 points and cannot be caught for the series title.

Had it not been for a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that suspended the IAAF’s rules on hyperandrogenism, Bishop and Jóźwik very well may have been battling each other for the Olympic title last year. In reality, they went 4-5, with Bishop (1:57.02) taking down Jóźwik (1:57.37). Both women’s fine form has carried over to 2017 as they’ve combined to go 5-0 so far. Bishop has collected wins at the Camel City Elite on February 4 (2:02.49) and the AIT Grand Prix in Ireland on Wednesday (2:01.42), while Jóźwik has been even better, winning the last three stops on the World Indoor Tour in Dusseldorf on February 1 (2:00.91), Karlsruhe on February 4 (2:01.26) and, most impressively, on home soil in Torun on February 10 (1:59.29).

2016 U.S. Olympian Chrishuna Williams will run her first 800 of the year; Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, fresh off a British title last week, is also entered.

LRC prediction: It’s very hard to give an edge to either woman here as Bishop hasn’t faced the same level of competition as Jóźwik, but 1:59.29 indoors is really fast. That being said Bishop was 4-1 against Jóźwik last year, including a win at this meet. In the end, we’ll go with Jóźwik, but expect it to be close.

Men’s 800 (10:04 a.m. ET): Cas Loxsom takes on Erik Sowinski

Name PB / SB
Elliot Giles (GBR) 1:45.54 / none
Guy Learmonth (GBR) 1:46.65 / 1:47.04
Casimir Loxsom (USA) 1:44.92 / none
Andrew Osagie (GBR) 1:43.77 / none
Bram Som (NED) 1:43.45 / none
Erik Sowinski (USA) 1:44.58 / 1:46.80
Amel Tuka (BSH) 1:42.51 / 1:47.75

This is not a World Indoor Tour event.

Loxsom and Sowinski aren’t the most accomplished guys in this field (Osagie was an Olympic finalist in 2012, while Tuka earned bronze at Worlds in 2015), but from an American perspective, they’re the two most interesting men in the field and this could serve as a prequel to a potential 600-meter showdown at USA Indoors next month. Even though Loxsom set a world indoor best for 600 three weeks ago (1:14.91), we’re inclined to give the advantage to Sowinski over 800. For one thing, Sowinski, last year’s World Indoor bronze medallist, is a strong indoor runner and has shown good fitness so far in 2017, running in the 1:46’s all three times out, including a 1:46.80 PR in Karlsruhe on February 4. Though his 600 on Wednesday (1:16.15 in Ireland) was slower than Loxsom’s, Sowinski has been based in Europe the last few weeks, so the travel won’t affect him as much as Loxsom.

LRC prediction: We like Sowinski to beat Loxsom. Considering Sowinski also beat Tuka in Dusseldorf earlier this month, he might win the whole ting. But don’t ignore Brit Guy Learmonth, who was only .24 behind Sowinski in Karlsruhe and won the British indoor title last weekend. Learmonth FTW.

Men’s 1500 (10:38 a.m. ET): Ben Blankenship looks to rebound against Kenyans Bethwell Birgen & Silas Kiplagat

Name PB / SB
Kalle Berglund (SWE) 3:40.81 / 3:40.81
Reuben Bett (KEN) 3:39.82 / none
Bethwell Birgen (KEN) 3:30.77 / 3:37.63
Ben Blankenship (USA) 3:34.26 / none
Nathan Brannen (CAN) 3:34.22 / none
Ryan Gregson (AUS) 3:31.06 / 3:41.43
Garrett Heath (USA) 3:34.12 / none
Vincent Kibet (KEN) 3:31.96 / 3:38.42
Dale King-Clutterbuck (GBR) 3:38.65 / none
Silas Kiplagat (KEN) 3:27.64 / 3:38.51
Tom Lancashire (GBR) 3:33.96 / 3:39.96
Hillary Ngetich (KEN) 3:32.97 / 3:44.06
James West (GBR) 3:40.0 / 3:42.81

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Bethwell Birgen, Kenya 20 points
1. Silas Kiplagat, Kenya 20 points
3. Vincent Kibet, 15 points

UPDATE: Silas Kiplagat is no longer listed on the start list

Birgen is in the driver’s seat as he has the fastest time on the year among those in contention for the title (3:37.63 in Torun). As a result, if the standings were to remain tied, he would win the title and the all-important bye into Worlds. In addition, because each athlete may only score three events and Birgen, Kiplagat and Kibet have already run three each, the math could get a little tricky. For instance, if Kibet wins, Kiplagat places second and Birgen places third, the three men would wind up in a three-way tie (each with one first, one second and one third), in which case the win would go to the man with the fastest SB. If either Birgen or Kiplagat wins, however, they clinch the title.

As you may have gathered, the three men above have already raced a few times this year. Birgen beat Kiplagat in Dusseldorf on February 1, but Kiplagat beat Kibet and Birgen in Karlsruhe three days later, only for Birgen to come back and beat Kiplagat again in Torun on February 10. That win, in 3:37.63, was the fastest anyone in this field has run so far this year indoors, and gives Birgen a slight edge, though no man is a clear favorite. Canadian Nate Brannen won at the Camel City Elite meet in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, running 4:00 for the mile on a flat track, while Rio Olympic finallist Ryan Gregson picked up three mile wins in a week, earning a pair of victories in the elimination mile at the Nitro Athletics meets down under before running 3:56 in Ireland on Wednesday. With a few more days to recover from the travel, we expect Gregson to put up a good fight, but this field will be better than any he’s faced so far in 2017. Blankenship, who finished one spot ahead of Gregson in Rio last year, didn’t look great in his 2017 opener last weekend (8:27 for 9th in the Millrose 2-mile) but will have a chance for redemption here.

LRC prediction: Given his success in 2017 and win last weekend, we’ll go with Birgen, but several guys could win this race.

Women’s 1000 (10:50 a.m. ET): Laura Muir goes for the British record against Kate Grace

Name Status
Zoe Buckman (AUS) Invited
Winny Chebet (KEN) Invited
Kate Grace (USA) Invited
Sarah McDonald (GBR) Invited
Jenny Meadows (GBR) Invited
Laura Muir (GBR) Invited
Sanne Verstegen (NED) Invited
Revee Walcott-Nolan (GBR) Invited

Are the meet organizers trying to engineer a victory for Laura Muir here? It sure looks like it although as good as Muir is she doesn’t need it. That’s not to say that Kate Grace — who has been on fire in 2017 — couldn’t beat Muir, but it’s crazy that we’ve got two of the best 800 runners in the world (Bishop and Jóźwik) entered in the meet and instead of putting all four women in the same race, they’re separated into two different races, Bishop and Jóźwik in the 800 and Muir and Grace in the 1000. Plus there’s Genzebe Dibaba, who wants to break the 1000 world record but will go for it next weekend in Madrid rather than against some of the world’s best in Birmingham.

As far as the actual race is concerned, it should still be a dandy. Muir has broken British records in her first two races of 2017 (14:49.12 5k on January 4, 8:26.41 3k on February 4) and will be going for another on Saturday: Kelly Holmes‘ 2:32.96 in the 1000. Maria Mutola‘s 2:30.94 world record isn’t totally out of reach, either, while Grace has a real chance to take down Jen Toomey‘s 2:34.19 American record.

Muir is planning on attempting the 1500-3000 double at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade from March 3-5 and views this weekend’s race as both a tuneup and a chance to break another record.

“It’s important that we get a bit of speed in before European Indoors so it is not too much of a shock to the system,” Muir told Athletics Weekly. “We did a more race pace session on Monday, which was a bit different. Going off Monday’s session, that bodes really well for the weekend. I will probably ease up a little bit over the next couple of days and have fresh legs for Saturday.”

Per the McMillan running calculator, Muir’s 8:26 3k is worth about 2:31 for 1000m, while Grace’s 4:22.93 mile at Millrose is worth about 2:35 flat for 1000 meters. Both women certainly appear capable of breaking their respective national records. As an 800/1500 runner, 1000m is right in Grace’s sweet spot; it could be a more challenging distance for Muir, who is more of a 1500/5000 runner (although she does have a 2:00.42 800 pb) and hasn’t raced anything close to that fast this year, but she’s insanely fit which obviously helps her chances. Muir actually has run a 1000 already this year — she anchored Team GB’s 4x1k relay at the Great Edinburgh XC meet back in January — though her 2:53 split over uneven terrain doesn’t tell us anything about her chances to break the record in Birmingham.

Head-to-head, it should be an exciting race, and we fully expect the front-running Muir to take it from the front. That plays nicely into the hands of Grace, who can just go out there and hang onto Muir for as long as possible.

LRC prediction: We’ll go with Muir over Grace FTW. Both women get national records, but the WR will have to wait.

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Farah's last race on this track resulted in a world record Farah’s last race on this track resulted in a world record

Men’s 5000 (11:09 a.m. ET): Mo Farah returns to the track

Name PB
Morhad Amdouni (FRA) 13:14.19
Kedir Besher (ETH) N/A
Andrew Butchart (GBR) 13:08.61
Adam Clarke (GBR) 13:44.47
Yemaneberhan Crippa (ITA) 13:36.65
Jonathan Davies (GBR) 13:23.94
Soufiane El Bakkali (MAR) 13:47.76
Mo Farah (GBR) 12:53.11
Mason Ferlic (USA) 13:37.56
Nick Goolab (GBR) 14:39.6
Andrew Heyes (GBR) 13:53.41
Nelson Kipkosgei Cherutich (BRN) 13:56.61
Albert Rop (BRN) 12:51.96

UPDATE: Butchart has withdrawn from the meet.
*MB: Is the fix in? Andrew Butchart suddenly has to withdraw from Birmingham GP – Mo Farah’s path to victory just got way easier

There are three legitimate studs on the start list, but only one of them has raced on the track so far in 2017: 25-year Andrew Butchart, who was 6th in the Rio 5000 and has a 13:06 pb, has already run 3:54 (mile), 7:42 (3k) and, most recently, 8:12 for two miles this year to take third at last weekend’s NYRR Millrose Games. Two-time defending Olympic champ Mo Farah has only raced once since September, and it was one he’ll want to forget as he finished a well-beaten seventh at the Great Edinburgh XCountry on January 7. The other stud, Albert Rop of Bahrain, was seventh in the 5k in Rio (one place behind Butchart), but hasn’t raced at all this year.

A fit Mo Farah wins this race, and Farah has shown up to this meet in shape the last two years. In 2016 (when the meet was in Glasgow), he ran 7:39 to defeat Augustine Choge (who would earn World Indoor bronze a month later) and in 2015 he ran an indoor world record of 8:03.40 for two miles. With Farah following the same plan this year as in 2016 — Great Edinburgh XCountry followed by a training stint in Ethiopia — we expect him to be ready to go again on Saturday.

He’ll have to be, as Butchart has been crushing it recently and told us in Boston he thinks he may be in even better shape than when he took sixth at the Olympics last summer. Butchart couldn’t kick with Ryan Hill or Ben True last week at Millrose, but his 8:12.63 2-mile puts him second all-time among Brits, indoors and out. If Farah’s not ready, Butchart will make him pay. And while a loss by Farah wouldn’t be disastrous (all he cares about is Worlds in August), it would be a nice feather in the cap for Butchart, who figures to take over as Britain’s top distance runner once Farah moves up to the roads next year. Butchart is 0-4 lifetime against Farah and may not get many more chances to beat him on the track. Rop, who ran 7:40 indoors last year and 13:04 outdoors for 5k, will be a factor as well if he’s in shape, but we don’t know anything about his fitness as he hasn’t raced since September.

Farah owns the British indoor record of 13:10.60, set at this meet in 2011.

LRC prediction: Farah has earned the benefit of the doubt at this point in his career so he’s our pick for the win, but it would be foolish to overlook Butchart.

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Sprint/field events

Men’s 400 (9:18 a.m. ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Bralon Taplin, Grenada 17 points
1. Pavel Maslak, Czech Republic 17 points

In this event, it’s simple: whoever finishes higher between Taplin and Maslak wins the title. Taplin won when the two went head-to-head in Torun a week ago, but Maslak is the two-time defending World Indoor champion.

Men’s 60 hurdles (10:20 a.m. ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Orlando Ortega, Spain 27 points

Ortega is not competing in Birmingham because he doesn’t need to: he’s already wrapped up the series title and unlike the Diamond League circuit, athletes do not need to compete in the final event to win the title.

Men’s high jump (9:23 a.m. ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Donald Thomas, Bahamas 15 points

There are eight men within 10 points of Thomas, but none of them are competing in Birmingham, meaning that he will claim the title and $20,000 and the bye into World Indoors (the bye means a lot less than the money for people from small countries that are unlikely to send 3 people).

Men’s long jump (8:32 a.m. ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Fabrice Lapierre, Australia 10 points
1. Godfrey Mokoena, South Africa 10 points
3. Michel Torneus, Sweden 7 points

Any of these three could win it. In the case of a tie, the winner is the one with the best mark during the Tour. As of now, that’s Mokoena (8.05m in Karlsruhe).

Women’s 60 (semis 8:25 a.m. ET, final 9:53 a.m. ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Barbara Pierre, USA 17 points
2. Gayon Evans, Jamaica 15 points
3. Ezinne Okparaebo, Norway 12 points
6. Dina Asher-Smith, Great Britain 7 points

These are the four women who could win it, with World Indoor champ Pierre in the driver’s seat. Olympic 100/200 champ Elaine Thompson of Jamaica is also entered.

Women’s pole vault (8:40 a.m ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Nicole Buchler, Switzerland 17 points
2. Mary Saxer, USA 12 points
3. Katerina Stefanidi, Greece 10 points
3. Lisa Ryzih, Germany 10 points
3. Minna Nikkanen, Finland 10 points

Buchler is the series leader and has the best shot to win, but Olympic champ Stefanidi, coming off a world-leading 4.82m clearance at the Millrose Games, will be dangerous here and is a threat to steal the series title.

Women’s shot put (7:17 a.m. ET)

World Indoor Tour standings

1. Anita Marton, Hungary 17 points
1. Christina Schwanitz, Germany 17 points

Marton and 2015 world champ Schwanitz are currently tied for the series lead, and if things remain that way, Schwanitz will take the title. But Marton gets the bye as long as she finishes in the top four in Birmingham (not hard as the field is only six women) or throws 18.41m or farther.

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