2017 Memorial Van Damme Preview: Jager & Kipruto Chase Sub-8:00, Jenny Simpson Tries to Turn It Around, Amos & Obiri Look to Cap Dominant Seasons

By LetsRun.com
August 30, 2017

The sun is setting on the 2017 track season, and while a few smaller meets remain, the last major competition of the year is Friday’s Memorial Van Damme in Brussels, the second of two Diamond League finals. The meet will see 16 Diamond League champions crowned, and unlike in previous years, there’s no math involved: the winner of each event earns the title of Diamond League champion and $50,000 in prize money.

The prize money for all top 8 finishers is much higher than normal as well as each event features $100,000 in prize money as compared to the normal $30,000 in a regular DL meet as shown below.

Normal DL Meet Final DL Meet
Place Prize Money (USD) Place Prize Money (USD)
1st $10,000 1st $50,000
2nd $6,000 2nd $20,000
3rd $4,000 3rd $10,000
4th $3,000 4th $6,000
5th $2,500 5th $5,000
6th $2,000 6th $4,000
7th $1,500 7th $3,000
8th $1,000 8th $2,000

As a result, the fields are stacked across the board, with 13 London 2017 world champions in action. From a U.S. perspective, the two distance races to watch are the men’s steeple — where Evan Jager will look to challenge the 8:00 barrier once again against world champ Conseslus Kipruto — and the women’s 1500, which features Jenny Simpson going up against world champ Faith Kipyegon and world leader Sifan HassanNijel Amos and world silver medalist Adam Kszczot lead the men’s 800 field while Hellen Obiri will go for her sixth straight 5,000-meter victory. World champ Elijah Manangoi is entered in the non-Diamond League men’s 1500.

In non-distance action, Aries Merritt battles Sergey Shubenkov in the 110 hurdles (we have no idea where Omar McLeod is – wouldn’t you want to win $50,000? If you know, email us), Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs take on Tom Walsh in the shot put, Christian Taylor faces Will Claye in the triple jump, Elaine Thompson goes in the 100, Shaunae Miller-Uibo faces Salwa Eid Naser in the 400 and Brittney Reese faces Tianna Bartoletta in the long jump.

In addition, three athletes will look to close out perfect seasons in their specialty events: Ramil Guliyev in the 200, Katerina Stefanidi in the pole vault and Mariya Lasitskene in the high jump (where she’ll square off against home favorite Nafissatou Thiam, the world and Olympic heptathlon champ).

Article continues below player.

We preview the mid-distance and distance races below.

What: 2017 Memorial Van Damme

Where: King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium

When: Friday, September 1. DL track events (and the international TV broadcast) begin at 2:00 p.m. ET.

How to watch: This meet will air live in the United States on the Olympic Channel from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET (full field events are also available on the Gold package for a fee). In Europe, it’s on Eurosport. In Canada, CBC broadcasts all 14 Diamond League events and live streams them also. For full TV/streaming details, see below.

Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information *2016 LRC coverage

If you want to see the point totals of who qualified, go here.

London 2017 medalists listed in bold

Men’s 1500 (1:37 p.m. ET): Manangoi looks to close out golden year with another victory

Name Country PB SB
Reuben Bett Kenya 3:39.82
Adam Clarke Great Britain 3:38.35 3:38.35
Ismael Debjani Belgium 3:33.70 3:33.70
Jamal Hairane Qatar 3:37.92 3:37.92
Ali Hamdi Belgium 3:38.65 3:38.65
Isaac Kimeli Belgium 3:37.66 3:37.66
Jackson Kivuva Kenya 3:41.63
Vincent Letting Kenya 3:35.12 3:37.96
Elijah Manangoi Kenya 3:28.80 3:28.80
Adel Mechaal Spain 3:34.70 3:34.70
Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad France 3:33.12 3:35.56
Tarik Moukrime Belgium 3:35.96 3:38.56
Jordan Williamsz Australia 3:36.74 3:36.87

This is not a Diamond League event (the DL final was last week in Zurich), so the field isn’t as strong as the other distance events in Brussels, but with the first (Elijah Manangoi) and fourth (Adel Mechaal) placers from Worlds, there is still some quality. Manangoi was third in Zurich last week but that field was far stronger than the one he’ll face here; neither of the two guys who beat him (Timothy Cheruiyot and Silas Kiplagat) will be in Brussels. Really, there’s not much to analyze. Mechaal ran a terrific race to get third in London, but he, Manangoi and Jordy Williamsz were the only guys to even make it to the semis at Worlds. And considering Manangoi has run almost six seconds faster than Mechaal this year, we know who we’re backing in a rabbited Diamond League-style race.

LRC prediction: Manangoi FTW.

Women’s 5000 (2:18 p.m. ET): Obiri aims to complete perfect 5000m season

Name Country PB SB
Sofia Assefa Ethiopia 14:56.37 14:56.37
Beatrice Chepkoech Kenya
Etenesh Diro Ethiopia 14:33.30 14:40.29
Letesenbet Gidey Ethiopia 14:33.32 14:33.32
Margaret Kipkemboi Kenya 14:43.89 14:43.89
Caroline Kipkirui Kenya 14:51.87 14:51.87
Susan Krumins The Netherlands 14:53.35 14:53.35
Genevieve LaCaze Australia 15:06.67
Eilish McColgan Great Britain 15:00.38 15:00.38
Hellen Obiri Kenya 14:18.37 14:18.37
Lilian Rengeruk Kenya 14:36.80 14:36.80
Senbere Teferi Ethiopia 14:29.82 14:31.76
Agnes Tirop Kenya 14:33.09 14:33.09
Tamara Tverdostup Ukraine

Hellen Obiri has lined up for six 5000-meter races in 2017 and she’s won six 5000-meter races in 2017. And Obiri hasn’t just won those races; she’s destroyed her competition. Just look at her margin of victory in those races (we didn’t count her prelim at Worlds): 8.4 seconds, 9.29 seconds, 14.72 seconds, 1.82 seconds and, finally, 5.49 seconds in the World Championship final. She can go a perfect seven-for-seven on Friday in Brussels, and will be expected to do so.

Based on all of that, you’d think Obiri is a lock, especially when you factor in her 4:16 mile in London (#2 in the world) and her 8:23 3k in Monaco (#1 in the world). But Obiri actually lost her most recent race in Birmingham, and she didn’t just lose — she finished fourth. Usually Obiri, who owns a 3:57 1500 pb and has run 8:20 for 3k (likely the fastest non-doped time ever), is just as dominant over 3k as she is over 5k, but she was not herself in Birmingham, as Sifan Hassan destroyed her over the final 200 with Konstanze Klosterhalfen and Margaret Kipkemboi edging her out in the homestretch as well.

Hassan and Klosterhalfen aren’t running the 5k in Brussels, but Kipkemboi (5th at 2017 Worlds in 5k) is, and if she’s close on the final lap, she could to challenge the world champ. 10k bronze medalist Agnes Tirop and sub-9 steepler Beatrice Chepkoech are also entered, as is Senbere Teferi, the 2015 5k silver medalist and world #3 this year (14:31). But considering how dominant Obiri has been in 2017, we’re willing to chalk that Birmingham result up to a post-Worlds hangover and expect her to return with a vengeance in Brussels.

LRC prediction: Obiri takes it, but with no one to chase and a big prize for first place, the time will not be super fast.

PS. If you are wondering where 10k WR holder Almaz Ayana is, she didn’t qualify for this event as Worlds was her first race of 2017. It’s a shame she and Obiri won’t square off in a rabbited 5000 this year as if the rabbits were great and the WR bonus big enough, one of them might break it.

Men’s 3000 steeplechase (3:00 p.m. ET): Will we see the world’s first sub-8:00 in over two years?

Name Country PB SB
Andrew Bayer USA 8:14.46 8:14.46
Nicholas Bett Kenya 8:10.07 8:14.52
Jairus Birech Kenya 7:58.41 8:07.68
Soufiane El Bakkali Morocco 8:05.12 8:05.12
Yemane Haileselassie Eritrea 8:11.22 8:11.22
Evan Jager USA 8:00.45 8:01.29
Stanley Kebenei USA 8:08.30 8:08.30
Abraham Kibiwott Kenya 8:09.25 8:10.62
Benjamin Kigen Kenya 8:11.38 8:11.38
Conseslus Kipruto Kenya 8:00.12 8:04.63
Amos Kirui Kenya 8:08.37 8:08.37
John Koech Bahrain 8:09.62 8:33.14
Haron Lagat USA 8:15.80 8:25.73
Sebastian Martos Spain 8:18.31 8:20.43

The world’s longest sub-8:00 steeplechase drought lasted around 4.5 billion years, from the creation of the Earth until Moses Kiptanui became the first man under 8:00 on August 16, 1995.

The world’s second longest sub-8:00 drought lasted two years, two months and 14 days, from May 8, 2009, to July 22, 2011.

The world's last sub-8:00 steeple: Birech breaks down after passing Jager in the home straight in Paris The world’s last sub-8:00 steeple: Birech breaks down after passing a downed Jager in the home straight in Paris

The world’s third longest sub-8:00 drought is happening right now; when the men’s steeple goes off on Friday night in Brussels, it will have been two years, one month and 28 days since Jairus Birech ran 7:58 in Paris on July 4, 2015. And if it doesn’t happen on Friday, that drought is likely to grow substantially longer, with no major meets on the calendar until next spring. It would also mark the first time since Kiptanui broke the 8:00 barrier in 1995 that the world has gone two straight calendar years with no one under 8:00.

That doesn’t mean the event is bereft of talent. At the age of 22, Conseslus Kipruto already had two golds and two silvers at global championships and has run between 8:00.00 and 8:04.00 nine times in his career; it’s only a matter of time before he dips under the barrier. Fellow London 2017 medalists Evan Jager (8:00 pb, 8:01 sb) and Soufiane El Bakkali (8:05 pb/sb) have also been threatening the mark. Birech has already broken 8:00 twice in his career.

All of those men are entered in Brussels, which should make for a compelling race. The question is, with $50,000 on offer for the winner, does anyone chase 8:00?

If we were Jager, we’d forget about the money and go for sub-8:00. Here’s why:

1) Jager is in the shape of his life (or close to it) – use it or lose it

Jager has run three steeples this year and the worst of the three was an 8:15 to take bronze at Worlds (he ran a second slower at USAs, but he also closed that race in a ridiculous 56.70 for his final lap). He ran 8:01 in Monaco even though he only started going all-out over the final 100 meters. Jager is 28 years old, and while he should have a few more years of quality steepling in his legs, the future is never a given. He’s fit, so why not take a shot at sub-8:00? “Strike while the iron is hot” is the appropriate phrase here.

2) Making it a fast race may be the best way for Jager to win anyway

At Worlds, Jager tried pushing the pace with a mile to go and still couldn’t break Kipruto or El Bakkali, who dusted him on the final lap. He could take his chances and hope that he outkicks them this time, but we don’t think he wants any part of Kipruto’s kick if he can avoid it. Therefore it may make sense for Jager to try to make it an 8:00 race or faster (the winning time at Worlds was 8:14). That may not work either (Kipruto closed just fine in an 8:03 race at the Olympics last year), but at least it’s different from how Jager got beat in London. Plus he’ll have help in the form of pacers for at least the first few laps.

It’s possible, however, Jager may not have to do any leading at all. After Worlds, Kipruto said he was planning on trying for a fast time in Brussels and if Kipruto is the one pushing the pace, that role reversal may be what Jager needs to finally beat the Kenyan (Kipruto holds a 9-3 advantage head-to-head and hasn’t lost to Jager in almost two years). In fact, Kipruto said that he’d like to break Saif Saaeed Shaheen‘s 7:53.63 world record one day, though he acknowledged that it may not happen in 2017 considering how much training Kipruto missed with his ankle injury this summer. We should also note that Brussels is a good track for steepling as the last two world records were set there.

We hope that someone takes it out fast. Worlds was a great race to watch, but 8:00 is such a round number (literally) that it would be awesome to see the top guys take a serious crack at it. And it’s a very exclusive club; only 11 men in history have ever done it, and if Jager manages it, he’d be the first non-African-born man to ever accomplish the feat. Of course, there’s a reason why no one, even the great Kipruto, has broken it in the past two years: it’s really, really hard. Check out how it compares to some of the other big milestones in running:

Feat # of men who have accomplished it
Sub-9.80 100 7
Sub-44 400 16
Sub-1:42 800 5
Sub-3:30 1500 32
Sub-12:50 5000 16
Sub-2:04 marathon 8
Sub-8:00 steeple 11

The other concern: how much do these guys have left in the tank? The World Championship final was on August 8, and neither Kipruto nor El Bakkali have raced since then (Jager ran 3:57 for the mile in Birmingham on August 20). Are they still in the same shape they were in at Worlds? Kipruto and Jager were both in terrific shape at the 2016 Olympics, but there were 23 days between the Olympic final and the DL final last year and the winning time was 8:03 in the latter race. By the time they line up in Brussels this year, 24 days will have passed since the World Championship final.

LRC prediction: Kipruto FTW. If the field makes a concerted attack on sub-8:00, we think Kipruto can do it. If Jager is in the same shape he was in a month ago, he could do it on a perfect day as well, but it’s hard to hold top fitness for that long. Jager doesn’t break 8:00 is our prediction.

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Women’s 1500 (3:23 p.m. ET): After sneaking into the final, Simpson takes on Kipyegon & Hassan

Name Country PB SB
Malika Akkaoui Morocco 4:03.36 4:03.36
Rababe Arafi Morocco 4:01.75 4:01.75
Meraf Bahta Sweden 4:00.59 4:00.59
Winny Chebet Kenya 3:59.16 3:59.16
Angelika Cichocka Poland 4:01.61 4:01.61
Sifan Hassan The Netherlands 3:56.05 3:56.14
Faith Kipyegon Kenya 3:56.41 3:57.51
Jennifer Meadows Great Britain 4:19.36
Besu Sado Ethiopia 3:59.47 4:00.98
Dawit Seyaum Ethiopia 3:58.09 4:00.52
Jenny Simpson USA 3:57.22 4:02.57
Gudaf Tsegay Ethiopia 3:59.55 3:59.55
Emily Tuei Kenya 4:12.47
Laura Weightman Great Britain 4:00.17 4:01.95
Anyone remember this? Simpson winning the Diamond League title in 2014 Anyone remember this? Simpson winning the Diamond League title in 2014

After struggling home to a seventh-place finish in Birmingham on August 20, World Championship silver medalist Jenny Simpson appeared to be on the outside looking in when it came to the Diamond League final. Only the top 12 in the points standings qualified for Brussels, and Simpson sat in 16th place, needing four women to scratch in front of her to have a chance. Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened, as Hellen Obiri, Laura Muir, Konstanze Klosterhalfen (she ran a 3:58 pb in her native Germany on Sunday and called it a season on a high note) and Brenda Martinez all turned down their spots, leaving Simpson as the next invitee. Talk about lucky.

Simpson showed once again in London that when she gets it right, she’s one of the very best in the world. And more often than not, she gets it right in the biggest races. In addition to her four medals in global championships, she’s finished 1st, 4th and 4th in the last three Diamond League finals. The bad news for Simpson is that she enters Brussels on the back of two rough races — that seventh in Birmingham and an eighth-place 2:01 800 in Zagreb on Tuesday.

Can Simpson turn it around in the span of 72 hours? Well, the 800 has never been her strong suit anyway. And she told us in Birmingham that she had had some good workouts after Worlds. It’s not like Simpson to string together multiple poor races, so we expect her to halt the skid in Brussels.

That almost certainly won’t be enough for the win, however, as Faith Kipyegon and Sifan Hassan have both been outstanding this year. Hassan has run the faster times across the board, with the three fastest 1500’s on the year as well as a 1:56 800 and a 14:41 5k. She’s also looked great post-Worlds, defeating Obiri to win the 3k in Birmingham in 8:28 and running 1:57 last week in Zurich to finish fifth in the DL 800 final. But Kipyegon has run 3:57 this year, beat Hassan at Worlds, and though she hasn’t gone on a post-Worlds tear like Hassan, that also means she may be better rested. Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum, who was injured earlier this year, is also a threat as she was brilliant in Birmingham, winning that race by almost a second.

LRC prediction: Hassan is crazy fit right now, and seems to be on a mission. But Kipyegon is the Olympic and world champ and she’s well-rested. We’ll take her FTW — even though she was only ninth in last year’s DL final after winning in Rio.

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Men’s 800 (3:35 p.m. ET): Can the favored Amos stop Kszczot’s winning streak?

Name Country PB SB
Nijel Amos Botswana 1:41.73 1:43.18
Kipyegon Bett Kenya 1:43.76 1:44.04
Robert Biwott Kenya 1:43.56 1:45.05
Elliot Giles Great Britain 1:44.99 1:44.99
Alfred Kipketer Kenya 1:42.87 1:45.40
Asbel Kiprop Kenya 1:43.15 1:44.43
Adam Kszczot Poland 1:43.30 1:44.95
Marcin Lewandowski Poland 1:43.72 1:45.33
Ferguson Rotich Kenya 1:42.84 1:44.37

Under the old DL scoring system, Nijel Amos, who has won the last four DL 800’s, would have already clinched the title at this point. But in 2017, he has to earn it in the final, and though he’ll be favored to do just that, he’ll have to work for it

Or will he? After all, Amos is the same guy who, after winning handily in Birmingham two weeks ago, told us “it was not a tough race for me.”

The most likely outcome in Brussels is that Amos gets to the lead early and holds it the rest of the way. That’s how he has won in Paris, London, Rabat and Birmingham, and it would be foolish to run any other way.

So if Amos does that, can anyone else come out and run 1:44 or faster and challenge him? You’d think that in a Diamond League final, that wouldn’t be that much to ask for, but the 800 was an underwhelming event at Worlds and Amos is the only guy in the field this year who’s broken 1:44. If he breaks 1:44 again in Brussels, he likely wins this race.

His biggest challengers figure to be World Championship medalists Kipyegon Bett and Adam Kszczot. Kszczot, in particular, will be dangerous, as he’s won the past two Diamond League finals. But Kszczot is at his best when the pace is a bit slower — though he was second at Worlds, that was the only race all year where he broke 1:45, and even then he only ran 1:44.95. If Amos can burn him off early, he may not have to worry about Kszczot — or anyone else — late.

The final medalist from London, world champ Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, didn’t qualify for the DL final, but he wouldn’t have been able to race anyway as he said he was shockingly attacked over the weekend.

LRC prediction: Amos takes it and is left wondering how he won five Diamond Leagues but didn’t even medal in a weak year at Worlds.

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