February 27, 2018
3/2 update: Emmanuel Korir is out of the meet with Visa problems. Discuss here.
The only senior global track championship of 2018 is upon us as the IAAF World Indoor Championships will be held this week in Birmingham, England. We’re previewing the distance events this week at LetsRun.com, and now it’s time to take a look at the men’s 800 meters.
If you go simply by credentials, this isn’t a field that blows you away. Yes, Emmanuel Korir and Donavan Brazier have run really fast this year, but neither has ever made a World Championship final. In fact, there’s only one man in the field who made the 2017 World Championship final (Adam Kszczot) and only one who made the 2016 Olympic final (Marcin Lewandowski — and he may not even be running the 800 as he’s also entered in the 1500).
But what makes this a fascinating event — even more fascinating than a typical indoor 800, which is a wild four-lap dash with no room for error — is the clash of styles. Korir and Brazier both thrive by running at or near the front and forcing a pace that no one can match. Kszczot, on the other hand, likes to leave it late — sometimes very late — to make his move, but you can’t argue with his results. He’s earned a silver medal in the last three World Championships he’s appeared at — 2014 indoors, 2015 outdoors, 2017 outdoors. Add in a bronze at World Indoors in 2010 and five European titles between indoors and outdoors and he’s the most decorated man in the field, though he has yet to claim global gold. Plus he’s won a ridiculous 16 of his last 17 indoor 800s — a staggering level of consistency in such an unpredictable event. American Drew Windle — whose 1:45.53 SB ranks him #5 in the world — is another man who, like Kszczot, loves to roll up guys in the final 200. Could he sneak onto the podium?
In Birmingham, something has to give. Can Korir or Brazier run away with it, or will Kszczot’s veteran savvy propel him to the title? Whatever happens, we’ll have a first-time champion as no one in this field has ever won a global title.
Meet details below, followed by a preview of the race. We’ll have boots on the ground in Birmingham to give you the scoop from the pros, so be sure to check back all week for our coverage. Our special World Indoor section with all of our content can be found here. But before you read anything, be sure to enter our free prediction contest: Running Warehouse $200,018 World Indoor Prediction Contest and then get your firends to sign up as well as you can play in a group.
What: 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships
When: March 1-4, 2018
Where: Arena Birmingham, Birmingham, England
Men’s 800 (prelims Friday, 2:13 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 2:35 p.m. ET)
|Emmanuel Kipkurui Korir||KEN||1:44.21||1:44.21||World leader by a ton, gets his first chance healthy to shine on world stage.|
|Donavan Brazier||USA||1:45.10||1:45.10||Should definitely contend for the medals if he makes final. Can he get gold?|
|Alvaro De Arriba||ESP||1:45.43||1:45.43||Huge pb in Salamanca but then well-beaten 3rd in Madrid behind Kszczot and Smaili|
Hasn’t won an 800 this year but now is #3 all-time in USA at 800. Can he come from behind to make final?
|Mostafa Smaili||MAR||1:45.96||1:45.96||6th at last World Indoors, only 8th in his last race.|
|Adam Kszczot||POL||1:44.57||1:46.47||Undefeated this year. 3 World silvers including 1 indoors. Can he challenge Korir?|
|Marc Reuther||GER||1:46.51||1:46.51||2nd at New Balance Boston meet|
|Andreas Kramer||SWE||1:46.86||1:46.87||Ran 1:45.13 outdoor last year|
|Marcin Lewandowski||POL||1:45.41||1:46.90||Also entered in 1500|
|Alex Amankwah||GHA||1:48.03||1:49.26||Former Alabama runner|
|Antoine Gakeme||BDI||1:46.65||2016 silver medalist|
One question we have: how will they divide up the heats? The IAAF’s target number of athletes for this event is 18, but right now, there are 14 guys entered, and that could go down to 13 if Lewandowski scratches to focus on the 1500. With a full 18-man field, it’s simple — three heats of six. But if there’s 14, that complicates things. In 2016, when there were 15 guys, the IAAF ran three heats of five. This year, it would make the most sense to run two heats of seven, with the top two in each heat advancing automatically plus the next two times (or even three auto spots and no times). That’s a lot better than two heats of five and a heat of four, with only the heat winners advancing automatically. In that scenario, there’s way more pressure to win the heat and the last heat has a massive advantage with three time qualifiers available. So here’s our advice to the IAAF — go with two heats, not three with the slowest four guys sharing a lane. We (and the athletes) will thank you for it.
Okay, on to the racing. Two years ago, Boris Berian won the World Indoor title by hammering from the gun. He hit 400 meters in 49.73 to open up a big gap on the field and was never caught, coming home in 1:45.83 for a wire-to-wire victory. If we were Korir’s coach Paul Ereng, we’d show him the video of Berian’s victory in Portland and tell him: do that, but faster. Remember, earlier this year, Korir ran 1:44.21 at Millrose, the fastest indoor time in 17 years and #3 all-time. His outdoor PR of 1:43.10 is also #1 in the field. He’s the best guy in the field, and the last thing he should want is for the pace to go slow. That lets more people into the race, and places a greater emphasis on tactics, something Korir has yet to prove adept at. Remember NCAA indoors last year? Korir won that race on talent, but left himself a lot of work to do late in the race. Korir should want a 1:44-1:45 race at Worlds. Leading a race from the gun can be challenging, but it also offers a big advantage (running the shortest line, not having to deal with traffic) to those bold enough to do it. And it’s easier to do indoors than out given that there isn’t any wind.
Ironically, while going wire-to-wire is the best strategy for Korir, his coach Paul Ereng actually ran more like Kszczot and Windle when he won World Indoors in 1989. Check out the incredible video below:
That’s right. Ereng was in a distant 5th at the bell and still broke the world record. (He closed his last 200 in sub-26).
Brazier’s game plan should be similar to Korir’s. In fact, Brazier’s best chance is to do exactly what Korir did to him at Millrose — sit in second through 600 meters and explode into the lead at the bell. That’s great in theory. But in practice, it could take a time in the 1:44s to do that. Is Brazier capable of running that? Well, he has PR’d in his last three races, from 1:45.35 at Millrose to 1:45.11 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix to 1:45.10 at USAs. And he’ll have had a chance to rest since USAs; the first round of the 800 takes place 12 days after the USA final. Brazier also felt he that he could have (and should have) closed harder at Millrose than he did. But still…Korir beat him by a lot in that race — 1.14 seconds. That’s a large gap to close in a month.
Brazier is one of the two men capable of beating Korir. Adam Kszczot is the other, and he’s a totally different kind of runner. Kszczot is fine hanging back in the pack and shooting gaps on the final lap. Check out his win in Torun on February 15, which played out very similarly (albeit more slowly) to Ereng’s win at World Indoors:
The 5’10” Kszczot is clearly more suited to the indoor style of racing than the long-striding Korir and Brazier. But does that matter if one of those guys runs 1:44? Kszczot has shown an incredible ability to win races indoors — again, he’s won 16 of 17 since the start of 2016 — but he hasn’t broken 1:46 indoors in over two years. Meanwhile, the slowest Brazier has run in his three finals is 1:45.35. Of course, Kszczot hasn’t needed to run faster than 1:46 to win any of his races this year, and he’s shown the ability to turn it over indoors — his PR of 1:44.57 ranks him fifth all-time, though it does date back to 2012. In a slow race, we’re banking on Kszczot’s superior positioning to win the day. But if Korir and/or Brazier push the pace in the final as expected, we don’t know quite what to expect from Kszczot. That’s what makes this race so compelling.
One other concern about Kszczot is that from February 6-25, he ran six races in 20 days. 800 runners are used to racing a lot, but it’s possible all that racing could take its toll in Birmingham. Korir is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s only raced once all season. Will he be sharp enough for two races in two days?
Korir, Brazier, and Kszczot are the medal favorites, but this being the indoor 800, there are a ton of guys who could wind up standing on the podium. Remember, if you make it to the six-person final, you already have a 50% chance of medaling. (We should also note that, with only six people making the final, there’s a chance that one or two studs don’t even make it). Spain’s Alvaro de Arriba, last year’s European indoor bronze medalist, ran a big PR of 1:45.43 (#4 in the world this year) on February 3, though since then he’s lost to Kszczot in both Madrid and Lievin. Kszczot’s Polish countryman Marcin Lewandowski, the reigning European indoor 1500 champ, won in Karlsruhe on February 3 but didn’t look good in Dusseldorf (4th in his section in 1:46.93) and lost to Kszczot last week in Glasgow. Both of those guys have a shot at medaling. Burundi’s Antoine Gakeme is the reigning silver medalist but was a well-beaten 7th in Glasgow in 1:51 and based on that performance, looks unlikely to be a factor at Worlds.
Drew Windle, the other American in the field, is also a bona fide medal contender. While Brazier’s best bet for gold is to run like 2016 Boris Berian, Windle’s best bet for a medal is to run like 2016 Erik Sowinski, who was in 5th midway around the final turn in Portland but used a late burst of speed to snag the bronze. 2018 Windle compares very favorably to 2016 Sowinski. Both men were coming off their first World outdoor team, both men were second at USA Indoors, both men have near-identical PRs (1:44.58 for Sowinski, 1:44.63 for Windle). Unfortunately for Windle, the field at 2018 World Indoors is tougher than the field at 2016 World Indoors, but that won’t faze Windle. It took Windle, a 25-year-old alum of DII Ashland University, a year to adjust to the professional lifestyle, but he came into his own last year and gained valuable experience at Worlds. What’s more, he’s clearly very confident in his kick, as he showed at USA Indoors by holding off Clayton Murphy in the prelims and making a late charge for second in the final. He also ran 1:45.53 at Millrose to show he can handle a hot pace, and while he was only third in that race, there’s also a decent chance that the two men who beat him (Korir and Brazier) go 1-2 at Worlds.
Windle is in a great spot heading into Birmingham and that kick could well deliver him a medal. But it’s very unlikely to be gold. Brazier spanked Windle by 1.19 seconds at USAs, which is about the same margin that Korir spanked Brazier by at Millrose. Windle is talented — you don’t make U.S. teams without talent — but not nearly as talented as Korir and Brazier, who are three and five years younger than Windle, respectively. If the final goes fast as expected, the most likely scenario is Windle trying to run someone down for third rather than contending for gold.
LRC prediction: Brazier has been on fire this year, but he and Korir have already raced this year and it wasn’t even close. When we’re picking races, it always feels good when you’ve got the guy with the highest upside in the field, and that’s Korir. If he loses, he loses, but we’d rather go down swinging with him instead of picking against him and kicking ourselves when he runs 1:43 or 1:44. America won two medals last time, including gold, and while that’s possible again in 2018, the more likely scenario is one medal. We’ll say silver for Brazier and 4th place for Windle.
Mostly, we’re just really excited for this race. Korir and Brazier are both huge talents and it will be a ton of fun to see how their front-running style matches up against kickers Kszczot and Windle.
Talk about the 800 on our world famous messageboard: MB: Who you got in the men’s 800 at 2018 Worlds – Kenya’s Korir, America’s Brazier or Poland’s Kszczot?
Be sure to enter our free prediction contest: Running Warehouse $200,018 World Indoor Prediction Contest and then get your firends to sign up as well as you can play in a group.