Track and Field / Athletics Fan’s Guide to the 2018 Commonwealth Games
April 5, 2018
The athletics portion of the 2018 Commonwealth Games begin this on Sunday in the Gold Coast, Australia, and run through the following Sunday and there are two ways of looking at it as a track & field fan.
“Why should I even care? Half the world can’t even compete. Only Olympics/Worlds matter.”
“This is great! It’s a championship track meet with plenty of big stars.”
Even though LetsRun.com isn’t in the Commonwealth, we are in the optimist’s camp. It’s world-class track and field, and what else are you going to watch next week? The Masters will be over, and the Boston Marathon isn’t until Monday April 16th.
Is the Commonwealth Games the world’s greatest track meet? No. Would it be better if every country could compete? Of course. But it’s one of the biggest meets of 2018 and it features several rising stars as well of a bunch of established names, including Yohan Blake, Isaac Makwala, Nijel Amos, Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot, Joshua Cheptegei, Tom Walsh, Luvo Manyonga, Elaine Thompson, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Caster Semenya, Hellen Obiri, and Valerie Adams.
That’s more than you thought, right? Several of those stars will cruise to victory (one of the problems with the Commonwealth Games is that event depth can fall off quickly), but every meet produces an upset or two, and in some cases, only one big name can win. Manangoi and Cheruiyot will be facing off in the 1500, as will Thompson and Miller-Uibo in the 200. Those will be must-watch events. There are also several rising stars, such as South Africa’s Clarence Munyai (19.69 200), Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo (World U20 XC champ), Kumari Taki (World U20 1500 champ), and Celliphine Chespol (8:58 steeple). All are 20 years old or younger and could break out in Gold Coast.
If you’re still not convinced that the Commonwealth Games are worth your time, maybe our crack preview below will get you excited. Let’s start with a few FAQs.
What is the Commonwealth Games?
It’s kind of like the Olympics, but smaller and less important. Like the Olympics, it takes place once every four years, and like the Olympics, there are way more sports than just track & field. This year’s event features 71 nations and 18 sports, including lawn bowls and netball.
Wait, who can compete in the Commonwealth Games?
Anyone in the Commonwealth of Nations (aka the British Commonwealth). So that means most of the countries that used to be territories of the United Kingdom (though not the USA), including Canada, Jamaica, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and, of course, the United Kingdom itself — though unlike the Olympics, the British team is fragmented, with England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all sending separate teams to the Commonwealth Games.
When is it on?
Track & field events will be contested April 8-15. Since the Commonwealth Games are being hosted by Australia, the schedule is great for Aussie viewers with event finals during primetime on weeknights (late afternoon on weekends). For UK viewers (nine hours behind Gold Coast), the evening finals will be contested around lunchtime while the late afternoon finals will take place in the morning UK time.
The meet is less convenient for U.S. viewers as the Gold Coast is 14 hours ahead of the US. The late afternoon finals will be on in the middle of the night in the U.S., while the evening finals take place in the early morning East Coast time/middle of the night West Coast time.
How can I watch?
In Australia, Channel 7 has the rights.
In the UK, the BBC has the rights.
In the U.S., ESPN has the rights. While ESPN doesn’t appear to be airing any Commonwealth Games coverage on TV, it looks like all of the track & field events will be streamed live on WatchESPN. And if you don’t want to get up early to watch, you should be able to watch archived coverage after the fact.
What to Watch For
Apart from the steeple (final April 13, 19:30 local, 5:30 am ET), all of the men’s track races are pretty interesting. Heck, even the steeple features reigning world/Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto (but not much else).
In the 800 (final April 12, 22:13 local, 8:13 am ET), defending champion Nijel Amos of Botswana is the clear favorite after dominating the Diamond League last year and running 1:44.65 last week at Stanford. Of the challengers, the Kenyans have the fastest PRs. All three Kenyans — Jonathan Kitilit, Wycliffe Kinyamal, and Cornelius Tuwei — ran under 1:45 at the Kenyan Trials in Nairobi on February 17, but the drawback is that none of them have global championship experience. The English team, meanwhile, boasts the last two 4th-placers at global champs (Kyle Langford at World Outdoors, Elliot Giles at World Indoors), but Langford has never broken 1:45 and Giles has only done it once (and that was a 1:44.99). The home nation, Australia, also has a shot at a medal. Luke Mathews has won all four of his races this year, including a 1:45.90 showing to win the Aussie champs. And 19-year-old Aussie Joseph Deng PR’d by almost a second to run 1:45.71 at the Aussie champs (he was in the B final).
The 1500 (final April 14, 16:10 local, 2:10 am ET) features a battle between Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot. If you paid attention to the 1500 last year, that should come as no surprise as the two men, training partners under coach Bernard Ouma of the Rongai Athetlic Club, dominated the world all season, culminating in a 1-2 finish at Worlds in London. Manangoi was 4-2 against his friend last year, including the all-important victory at Worlds, but Cheruiyot has won their last two meetings, most recently the Kenyan Trials on February 17.
Whenever you’ve got the two best guys in the world in an event squaring off, it’s exciting, but there’s more to the Manangoi-Cheruiyot showdown than that. There are contrasting styles — Cheruiyot is a natural front-runner, while Manangoi’s greatest strength is his kick — plus the history of last year. At Worlds, Cheruiyot made a hard, sustained move at 400 meters that allowed the two Kenyans to run away with the top two places, but Manangoi overhauled him in the home stretch to take the gold. A similar strategy in Gold Coast would likely result in another 1-2 — once again, Cheruiyot and Manangoi figure to be the class of the field — but will Cheruiyot be content to do the work once again and run the risk of Manangoi sitting on him and stealing the glory? Our guess is that yes, he will. As good as Manangoi is, Cheruiyot has shown the ability to hold him off from the front (see last year’s Diamond League final). If Cheruiyot is a little stronger this year, even Manangoi may not be able to hang with him.
There are several other men in the medal hunt. The third member of Kenya’s team, Kumari Taki, is the reigning the World U20 champion. Luke Mathews is in good form and will be doubling back from the 800 although he may be out of gas at that point (it will be his fifth race in five days if he makes both finals). Fellow Aussie Ryan Gregson was an Olympic finalist in 2016, as was England’s Charlie Grice and Uganda’s Ronald Musagala. Scotland’s Jake Wightman was the only non-Kenyan to beat the world champ Manangoi in a 1500/mile last year outdoors, but he’s also entered in the 800. That’s a tough double and it may sense for Wightman to scratch the 800 in favor of his stronger event, the 1500. Fellow Scot Chris O’Hare looked formidable early this year but he did not look like the same guy at World Indoors because of a foot injury. If he’s fully healed by Gold Coast, he’s a threat, but his one post-World Indoor race (1:49 800 in Brisbane last week) was not a good sign.
The 5k (final April 8, 16:40 local, 2:40 am ET) and 10k (final April 13, 21:10, 7:10 am ET) should serve as a two-act battle between Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, the 10,000 runner-up at Worlds last year (see: Joshua Cheptegei Is Primed to Succeed Gebrselassie, Bekele, and Farah as the World’s Next Great 10,000-Meter Runner), and Canada’s Mo Ahmed. Though Cheptegei owns the fastest PR in both events (12:59/26:49), Ahmed should be favored in the 5k — he was 6th at Worlds last year and 4th at the Olympics the year before (though Cheptegei did beat him in their only head-to-head 5k matchup at the Pre Classic). That race won’t be much fun for anyone, however, as it will be held in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday (forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 79 degrees Fahrenheit). In the 10k, Cheptegei holds the advantage as he finished 12+ seconds ahead of Ahmed at Worlds.
While Cheptegei and Ahmed are the most accomplished athletes in the field, there will be plenty of familiar faces, including former NCAA champs David McNeill (5k/10k) and Patrick Tiernan (10k), current Wisconsin runner Morgan McDonald (5k), and New Zealand’s Robertson twins, Jake and Zane (both 10k). There may also be some future world-beaters in the fields. Jacob Kiplimo, who won the U20 race at World XC last year as a 16-year-old, is entered in the 10k. Kenya’s Edward Zakayo (5k), is officially only 16 years old but won the Kenyan trials and took silver at World Youths in the 3k last year.
Also keep an eye on Rodgers Kwemoi (10k), the 2016 World U20 10k champ from Kenya. After Geoffrey Kamworor won the World Half Marathon champs in Valencia we spoke with Kamworor’s agent, Valentijn Trouw, on the phone. Trouw manages the famed Global Sports Communication camp in Kaptagat from afar and we asked him if there was anyone in the camp now who had the potential to become the next Kamworor or Eliud Kipchoge. Kwemoi’s was the name he mentioned.
“We need to give him time and he needs still to show it and he’s just starting, but [he is] somebody I can mention that is showing the potential — and it’s up to him if he’s using his potential,” Trouw said.
The marathon (April 15, 08:15 local, 6:15 pm ET on April 14th in the US) field features interesting names like defending champ Michael Shelley of Australia, Scotland’s Callum Hawkins (4th at Worlds), and 44-year-old Kenneth Mungara of Kenya, the masters world record holder. It will get much more interesting if Zane Robertson, who has never completed a marathon, runs. Zane is on the start list as well, though he’s also entered in the 10k, which takes place just two days earlier.
The women’s distance events aren’t as intriguing as the men’s with the 1500 (final April 10, 22:04 local, 8:03 am ET) standing out as the headliner. Last year’s World Champs bronze medalist Caster Semenya is the biggest name on the start list and will go off as the presumptive favorite, but she could be challenged by Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech (you remember her as the woman who missed the first water jump in last year’s World Champs steeple final). On paper, they’re close — Chepkoech ran 4:02.21 this year indoors while Semenya’s PR is 4:01.99 from 2016 — but this could also turn into a Semenya blowout. Though Chepkoech ran fast indoors, she was only 7th at World Indoors, over six seconds back of medalists Genzebe Dibaba, Laura Muir (skipping Commonwealths to finish her vetinarian studies) and Sifan Hassan — all of whom Semenya beat at Worlds last year. And Semenya medalled last year in the 1500 at Worlds even though it was very clear she was still learning how to race the 1500. She’ll only be better prepared this time around and won’t have nearly as much competition. And the 1500 is before the 800 (which Semenya is also running), so she will be fresh.
Semenya will obviously be the heavy, heavy, heavy favorite to win the 800 (final April 13, 20:45 local, 6:45 am ET) since she hasn’t lost at that distance since 2015, though we are interested to see how Kenya’s Emily Tuei fares. Tuei, the 2001 World Youth champ, went almost exactly 12 years between competitive races from 2003 to 2015.
That’s right. Per Tilastopaja, she ran 2:09.90 to finish 4th in her 800 semifinal at World Youths on July 12, 2003, and did not race again until clocking 54.14 for 400 to take 3rd at the Kenyan Champs on July 11, 2015.
But earlier this year, Tuei broke 2:00 for the first time by running 1:58.25 to win the Kenyan trials and now she’s running the Commonwealth Games. If she bags a medal, it would be a terrific story. For more on Tuei, we featured her in the Week That Was in February.
In the steeple (final April 11, 19:45 local, 5:45 am ET), a Kenyan romp is likely. 19-year-old Celliphine Chespol leads the way in that event, and some may view her as the world record holder since only Ruth Jebet has run faster than Chespol’s 8:58.78 pb. Jamaica’s Aisha Praught-Leer is also entered and will look to build on a breakout indoor season. The 5k (final April 14, 15:20 local, 1:20 am ET) should come down to world champ Hellen Obiri against her Kenyan countrywoman Margaret Kipkemboi (5th at Worlds last year, 14:32 pb), with Obiri the strong favorite. Neither the 10k nor the marathon will hold much interest for the neutral fan.
Overall, the men’s sprints at this meet are more interesting, but the single greatest matchup in the sprints — and perhaps the entire track & field program — comes in the women’s 200 (final April 12, 21:38 local, 7:38 am ET). That race features a showdown between Olympic 100/200 champ Elaine Thompson of Jamaica and Olympic 400 champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas. And both women will enter the Commonwealth Games with chips on their shoulder after disastrous showings at last year’s World Championships.
In case you forgot how these women did last year, let us jog your memory. Thompson was almost as dominant over 100 meters in 2017 as she was in 2016. She ran 10.71 — a full tenth faster than anyone else in the world — and lost just once all year. That loss just happened to come at Worlds, where Thompson ran her worst race at the worst time, finishing out of the medals in 5th. Miller-Uibo, meanwhile, looked set to cruise to the world title in the 400 in London before completely tying up and fading to 4th (though she did come back to take bronze in the 200).
Now the two sprint titans are set to square off at 200 meters, an ideal crossover distance. And amazingly, they’ve never raced each other in a championship setting (they’ve only raced twice over 200m, with Miller-Uibo winning both last year).
Miller-Uibo looks to be fit — she tied the indoor 300m WR in her only race of 2018 at Millrose. Thompson was 4th in the 60 at World Indoors, and though she ran just 11.72 in her only 100 this year, last week in Brisbane, it came into a big headwind and she still won the race. While Miller-Uibo and Thompson are the biggest names, don’t overlook England’s Dina Asher-Smith. She missed a good chunk of last year with a broken foot but still came back to finish 4th in the 200 at Worlds. Now that she’s healthy and a full-time pro (only 22, she graduated college last year), she could be even better. She beat Thompson over 60m in Glasgow in February, and ran 11.31 at the same meet in Brisbane where Thompson ran 11.72 (they were in different heats; Asher-Smith had a 1.0 headwind compared to 1.7 for Thompson).
The most exciting men’s sprint event is the 200 (final April 12, 21:56 local, 7:56 am ET). 20-year-old phenom Clarence Munyai is the man to watch — after running 20.18 in his 200 opener on March 1, he clocked 19.69 to win the South African champs on March 16. While the performance came at slight elevation in Pretoria (4,400 feet), it also came into a headwind and put him 10th on the all-time list. Now Munyai will get the chance to prove himself against some real competition as he’ll face the last two World Champs bronze medalists: Jereem Richards of Trinidad & Tobago and Anaso Jobodwana of South Africa, who beat Justin Gatlin over 150m last month (see this week’s Week That Was for more on the charismatic Jobodwana).
The men’s 400 (final April 10, 21:48 local, 7:48 am ET) is almost as compelling as the 200 and should be even deeper. Six of the eight finalists at Worlds last year were from Commonwealth nations, and while world record holder Wayde van Niekerk won’t be competing due to a torn ACL, fans will finally get to see two athletes that didn’t get a chance to shine in their most recent World Championship appearances. Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, the 43.72 man who pushed van Niekerk to the limit in Monaco last year, didn’t run the World Championship final in London after he was barred from entering the stadium due to illness. He’ll face Grenada’s Bralon Taplin, who entered last month’s World Indoors as the world leader (44.88) only to be DQ’d from his heat for a lane violation. Let’s hope both men can make it to the start line for the final.
In the men’s 100 (final April 9, 22:10 local, 8:10 am ET), Jamaica’s Yohan Blake (4th at 2016 Olympics/2017 Worlds) faces South African record holder Akani Simbine (9.89 pb, 5th at Worlds last year). Also keep an eye on Trae Williams of Australia. Only 20 years old, he ran 10.10 to win the Aussie champs on February 16, the fastest time by an Australian in 11 years. No Australian has ever medalled in the 100 or 200 meters at the Commonwealth Games — you have to go back to Michael Cleary‘s bronze in the 100 yards in 1962. In the men’s 110 hurdles (final April 10, 19:45 local, 5:45 am ET), England’s World Indoor 60H champ Andrew Pozzi leads the way.
The field events aren’t deep at all but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a watch as they feature a few humongous talents but not much else. Let’s run through them quickly.
- Men’s long jump (final April 11, 20:32 local, 6:32 am ET): South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga went undefeated last year en route to claiming the world title in London, including a ridiculous early-season streak in which he jumped at least 8.60 meters in four straight competitions. His PR is still 30 cm short of Mike Powell‘s 8.95-meter world record, but Manyonga, who earned silver at World Indoors last month, has been talking about going after the WR this year and has the talent to threaten it. His countryman Rushwal Samaai (bronze at Worlds last year) will be his top competition in Gold Coast.
- Men’s shot put (April 9, 20:25): After winning the Olympic title and going undefeated in his first eight meets of 2017, American Ryan Crouser looked as if he might own the shot put for some time, but Tom Walsh of New Zealand upset Crouser to win gold at Worlds last year and has continued tossing bombs since then. In March, he set a championship record of 22.31 to win his second straight World Indoor title. Three weeks later, he unleashed a heave of 22.67 meters in Auckland, a toss we consider the clean world record.
Before World Indoors, Walsh made a bet with his coach that he would win gold and PR, and since he accomplished both, his coach now has to spend the next nine months growing muttonchops on his face. We wonder if the two have any bets riding on the Commonwealth Games…
- Women’s shot put (final April 13, 20:40): Speaking of Kiwi shot putters, one of the best ever (not just in NZ, but the world) is Valerie Adams, and the double Olympic champ is back in action after missing all of 2017 to give birth to daughter Kimoana in October. She returned to competition on March 9 and has gotten better every time out, going 17.83-18.06-18.48 in her three competitions. The latter mark puts her #2 on the 2018 world list, tied with Canada’s Brittany Crew, her biggest competition in Gold Coast. If Adams wins, she’ll be the first woman to win the same individual event at four straight Commonwealth Games. Interestingly, the only other woman to have won three straight is also a shot putter from New Zealand named Valerie, Valerie Young.
- Women’s heptathlon (April 12-13): England’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson isn’t as accomplished as Manyonga, Walsh, or Adams, but she could claim the second leg of a multi-event triple this year if she wins in Gold Coast. She already claimed the World Indoor pentathlon title in Birmingham and could add the European title in Berlin in August.
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