May 24, 2017
Year after year, no U.S. track & field meet is as loaded as the Prefontaine Classic. But meet director Tom Jordan may have topped them all as the 2017 edition, to be held this weekend at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, is going to be bananas. There are so many storylines that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Matthew Centrowitz vs. Asbel Kiprop in the Bowerman Mile in a battle of Olympic champions. Anyone who’s anyone is lined up in a truly epic and huge men’s 5,000 (29 runners): 2016 Olympic medallists Mo Farah, Paul Chelimo, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Paul Tanui plus World XC champ Geoffrey Kamworor offer just a taste of that stacked field. All three Olympic medallists in the women’s 800. Genzebe Dibaba going for the world record in the women’s 5,000. Perhaps the greatest women’s 200 of all time. 17-year-old phenom Armand Duplantis taking on all three Olympic medallists in the men’s pole vault. And we haven’t even mentioned Andre De Grasse and Justin Gatlin in the 100, Christian Taylor in the triple jump or Omar McLeod in the 110 hurdles. This could very well be the greatest Prefontaine Classic ever.
There’s a ton of ground to cover, so we’re going to be rolling out multiple previews this week. This one will deal with Friday night, which this year will be women’s-only and has been named Joan Benoit Samuelson Night in honor of the 1984 Olympic marathon champ, who turned 60 last week. Come back to the site over the next few days as we’ll have plenty more previews and on-site coverage from Eugene.
What: 2017 Prefontaine Classic
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon
When: Friday, May 26 – Saturday, May 27, 2017
How to watch:
Friday, May 26
In the U.S.: Live on NBC Sports Network from 11:00 p.m. ET to midnight ET. If you want to watch it online, you need the NBC Sports Gold Track & Field Pass, which we explain how to get here. If you’re within driving distance of Eugene, we highly recommend you check it out in person as Friday’s events are free to attend.
Outside the U.S.: You can watch the event live through RunnerSpace +PLUS if you have a subscription.
Saturday, May 27
In the U.S.: Live on NBC from 4:00 p.m. ET to 6:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch it online, you need the NBC Sports Gold Track & Field Pass, which we explain how to get here.
In Canada: It’s live on CBC Sports from 4:00 p.m. ET to 6:00 p.m. ET.
In Europe: It’s on Eurosport (Eurosport 2 in the UK).
Friday night events
There are three non-distance events on Friday — the women’s javelin, girls’ high school 200 and women’s long jump, featuring Olympic champs Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese — but we’ll be dealing solely with the distance events in this preview.
Women’s National 800 (11:06 p.m. ET)
This race is close to the quality of a U.S. final, but given how strong the women’s 800 has become in recent years, it’s only the B heat at Pre (the A heat is Saturday). You could make a good case for several of these women, but we expect it to come down to Charlene Lipsey and Laura Roesler. Lipsey had a breakout indoor season — her 1:58.64 indoor SB is actually the fastest time by anyone in the field in 2017 –and she’s looked good in four outdoor races, most recently running 2:01.09 to defeat 2016 Olympian Chrishuna Williams at last weekend’s Jamaica Invitational. Roesler, meanwhile, ran her fastest 800 in three years at Mt. SAC in April (1:59.54), helped the U.S. win 4×800 gold (with Lipsey) at the World Relays and ran 4:12.93 in the 1500 last week at Oxy — a PR by over five seconds. Lipsey and Roesler have yet to race head-to-head this year, and with USAs less than a month away, this will be an important one. The winner will be in good position, but with Brenda Martinez, Raevyn Rogers, Ajee Wilson and potentially Kate Grace at USAs, making the Worlds team will be difficult.
Also, pay attention to high schooler Sammy Watson. The Texas A&M signee ran 2:01.78 indoors to break Mary Decker‘s national HS record. She should have a good shot at lowering that pb in Eugene, but it would take a huge effort to break Mary Cain‘s national outdoor record of 1:59.51. Still, Watson has produced huge efforts before — her 2:01.78 was a PR of 2.16 seconds. She’ll need to PR by 2.28 to get the outdoor record.
LRC Prediction: Lipsey FTW.
Women’s National 1500 (11:14 p.m. ET)
|Marta Pen Freitas||Portugal||4:06.54||4:08.11|
The top U.S. talent in this event — Grace, Martinez, Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury — are all racing in Saturday’s 1500. But assuming Grace and Martinez run the 800 at USAs, that leaves at least one spot open from last year’s Olympic squad in the 1500, and one of the women in this race could be the one to claim it. Alexa Efraimson is a big talent, running 4:03 at this meet as an 18-year-old two years ago, but she hasn’t come within two seconds of that time since. Emily Lipari, the 2014 NCAA mile champ at Villanova, is finally making some headway as a pro, with wins at the TC Mile on the roads in Minnesota and a four-second PR of 4:08.98 at Oxy last week — her first 1500 PR since her junior year of college. Katie Mackey won the U.S. road mile champs and has already run 4:07 this year. Sara Sutherland was a U.S. finalist last year; Rachel Schneider beat Sutherland at Oxy. None of these women have ever made a World/Olympic team, but a breakthrough at Pre could send them on their way. They’re certainly more well-known than Kerri Gallagher and Lauren Johnson were at this point two years ago, and both of those women went on to make the 2015 Worlds team.
In terms of the overall win, Sheila Reid has looked good this spring and won the fast heat at Oxy, though fellow Canadian Gabriela Stafford didn’t run much slower to win the B heat at that meet. We like Reid to win on the track where she trains as a member of the Oregon TC, but this should be a competitive race.
Gabe Grunewald deserves a special mention as she’s delaying the start of her cancer treatment to try and qualify for USAs.
Women’s 3,000 Steeplechase (11:25 p.m. ET)
|Gesa Felicitas Krause||Germany||9:15.70||9:15.70|
Officially, this isn’t a Diamond League event but it certainly is Diamond League quality, as it features four of this year’s five fastest women — Kenyans Beatrice Chepkoech and Celliphine Chespol, world record holder/Olympic champ Ruth Jebet and American Emma Coburn. After losing to Chepkoech and Hyvin Kiyeng in her season opener in Doha, Jebet was back to her dominant self in Shanghai on May 13. Last year, Jebet made a significant jump between Shanghai (9:13) and Pre (8:59). Can she make another leap in 2017?
But we already know Jebet is a gold-medal contender at Worlds. We’re more interested in seeing how fast she can run and what the Americans can do. Jebet will attack the race from the front and normally runs around 9:00, which means she’s got a great shot at breaking her own fastest mark ever recorded on US soil of 8:59.97. No one has talked about a world record (8:52.78) attempt but nothing would surprise us with Jebet running in good conditions.
Given that she’ll be running fast, the pack will string out quickly behind her; fast times will be there for the taking. For Coburn, the question is whether she can close the gap to Chepkoech and Chespol, both of whom beat her soundly in Doha. We think that she will. Eugene is a much easier trip for her to make than Doha, and Coburn set the American record (9:07.63) here in her first steeple last year. With one steeple already under her belt in 2017, we wouldn’t be surprised if she breaks 9:10.
How the other Americans finish will give us a good look at the current U.S. pecking order as only Colleen Quigley is missing among the big names. Stephanie Garcia ran two solid steeples in Doha and Shanghai, but will have to go faster to make her third Worlds team. Courtney Frerichs was sick in Doha so her run here will give a much better picture of her fitness than that ugly 9:54. And don’t forget about Leah O’Connor. The Michigan State grad ran 9:18 here last year — #3 on the all-time U.S. list — but was derailed by a foot injury at the Olympic Trials. This is her first steeple of 2017 and she should be in the thick of the battle for a spot for London.
LRC Prediction: Jebet FTW and US All-Comers record but no WR. Coburn takes top American honors in a SB.
Women’s 5,000 (11:41 p.m. ET): Genzebe Dibaba chases the world record
|Sifan Hassan||The Netherlands||14:59.23||15:13.15|
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||15:05.00||15:22.12|
The schedule makers have saved the best for last as Joan Benoit Samuelson Night will conclude with a world record attempt in the women’s 5,000. In its 42-year history, the Pre Classic has seen four world records: Jamaica’s Don Quarrie in the 220-yard dash in 1975 (19.92), Mary Decker Slaney, who later would serve a drug suspension, in the 5,000 in 1982 (15:08.26) and Kenya’s Moses Mosop in the 30k in 2011 (1:26.47.4; he also set the 25k mark of 1:12:25.4 en route). Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba will attempt to make it five by replicating Slaney’s feat in the 5,000 35 years later.
The women’s 5,000 record has been around for almost nine years (Genzebe’s sister Tirunesh Dibaba holds it, with her 14:11.15 from 2008) and during that span it has survived several close calls, the first of which — Meseret Defar‘s 14:12.88 — came less than seven weeks after it was set. Since the start of 2015, it has been under assault by Genzebe Dibaba and Almaz Ayana, who have combined to break 14:20 seven times (70% of the sub-14:20 clockings in history), but the two women have come up just short, with Ayana’s best at 14:12.59 and Dibaba’s at 14:15.41. Given those runs and their world records at other distances (3:50 1500 for Dibaba, 29:17 10,000 for Ayana), it seems clear that both women have been in shape to break 14:11, they just haven’t found a race with ideal conditions.
Could the 2017 Pre Classic be that race? Maybe. The last time Dibaba raced here, in 2015, she was probably in world record shape, and though she ran the fastest time ever run on U.S. soil (14:19.76), she missed the world record by over eight seconds. Dibaba was less than three seconds off WR pace through 3200m (9:07) but faded over the final mile for two main reasons. First, the race was foolishly scheduled for the middle of the afternoon, which meant that it was 70 degrees and sunny during the attempt. Fortunately, the meet organizers have learned from their mistake (well at least on the women’s side, we’re majorly bummed the men’s 5k isn’t Friday night as well) as this race will take place at 8:41 p.m. local time. That’s still not perfect — the sun actually won’t set until 8:43, which means the temperatures could be closer to Friday’s high – which is going to be an unseasonably warm of 82 degrees Fahrenheit rather than the low of 50 (we think it will be low to mid 70s when the race is run) — but it’s the best they can hope for. Staging the race an hour later would mean the race would air at 12:41 a.m. on the East Coast. Still, it’s definitely much better than having the race on Saturday afternoon when it would both be sunnier and windier.
The second reason Dibaba struggled late in her 2015 attempt was that the pacer only took her to 1800 meters. We don’t know if that issue will be resolved in 2017, however. Fact is, it’s tough to find anyone to rabbit much longer than that (WR 5k pace is 8:30 for 3k). We don’t know who will be handling pacing duties for Dibaba (we reached out to the Pre Classic press chief, who told us he didn’t know), but chances are she will have to do most of this on her own. And even though Dibaba has done a lot of solo work in setting her indoor WRs, outdoor WRs are harder to come by. She had World Indoor champ Chanelle Price to take her through 800 when she ran 3:50. When Ayana broke the 10k world record at the Olympics, Kenya’s Alice Aprot served as the de facto rabbit. Dibaba may not have someone of that caliber to help her out on Friday night.
Finally, there’s the small matter of Dibaba’s fitness. Right now, we simply don’t know what kind of shape she’s in for 5,000 meters. Yes, indoors, she ran a world record for 2000 meters (5:23.75), but that was all the way back on February 7. Her only outdoor race was a 1:59.37 800 in Doha, which tells us nothing. If she’s in her 2015 shape, which she wasn’t last year, the record could definitely go down if the weather and pacing are better. But we really won’t know until she toes the line.
No one else in the field has broken 14:30 in their career, so we’d be surprised if anyone tries to go with Dibaba. But we imagine times will be fairly fast behind her, even though most of the world’s top 5,000 runners won’t be here. Molly Huddle doesn’t show up to these races to play sit and kick; she likes to run hard from the gun and, at 32 with a move up to the marathon looming, she won’t have many more chances at a fast 5,000 on the track. She’s spoken about wanting to wrest back the American record from Shannon Rowbury, who ran 14:38.92 last year (Huddle’s best is 14:42.64) and that will definitely be a target. But it’s late May, and though Huddle ran 14:56 on the roads in Boston in April, she won’t reach peak fitness until later in the summer (her three ARs on the track all came in July or August). There are three more Diamond League 5,000’s on the schedule — Rome (June 8), Birmingham (August 20) and Brussels (September 1) — so if she is to break the record, it will more likely come at one of those venues.
Meraf Bahta, Dera Dida and Belaynesh Oljira all ran in the 14:40s last year and should battle Huddle in the non-Dibaba division. So too should the Nike Oregon Project’s Sifan Hassan, who ran 15:13 with 62-second last lap to win at Payton Jordan. Hassan, who has run 3:56 for 1500, has a PR of 14:59 from 2014 but should be capable of running in the 14:40s in a race like this.
Behind Huddle, Americans Kim Conley, Marielle Hall and Emily Sisson will be looking to expand the U.S. sub-15 list beyond its current 14 members. Though Conley and Hall were Olympians last year, it’s Sisson who is the best bet to do it: she ran 15:02 indoors in February and since then has run PRs of 31:32 (10,000) and 68:21 (half marathon). Conley (31:35) was just behind Sisson in the 10,000 at Payton Jordan, while Hall ran an impressive 15:08 on the roads at the B.A.A. 5K — but only 15:55 on the track at PJ.
LRC Prediction: No WR for Dibaba. An American record for Huddle won’t shock us but we don’t think she’ll get it. Plus it’s better to set your expectations low and be pleasantly surprised. We definitely think Sisson will crush 15:00.
Talk about the meet in our fan forum / messageboard. MB: Official 2017 Prefontaine Classic live discussion thread – Is this the best Pre meet ever?