2018 Bowerman Mile Preview: Centro Gets a Real Test as the World’s Best Milers Come to Eugene
May 24, 2018
If you’ve been on LetsRun.com this week, you’ve likely clicked through some of our coverage of this weekend’s Prefontaine Classic.
We began by taking a look at Friday’s events, which include a loaded 800 and 2 mile featuring Edward Cheserek. You can read that article here: LRC 2018 Pre Classic Friday Night Preview: King Ches Returns to Hayward As A Pro; Are You Ready for Two LOADED Men’s Races (800 & 2 Mile)?
On Wednesday, we recorded an in-depth Pre Classic podcast where we debated whether Noah Lyles or Christian Coleman has a brighter future, if Caster Semenya is unbeatable (and whether she can get the world record one day), and how Cheserek will fare in his return to Hayward Field against a stacked field featuring Paul Chelimo and world champ Muktar Edris. You can stream/download that podcast here.
We also wrote a lengthy preview of Saturday’s events here: LRC 2018 Pre Classic Saturday Preview: Christian Coleman & Noah Lyles Lead a Cavalcade of Stars in the Last Pro Meet at Hayward Field.
We also have boots on the ground in Eugene, where we’ll be scoping out Track Town Pizza & the Wild Duck for gossip (and watching some track in the final pro meet at Hayward Field as well).
But this article is all about the Bowerman Mile, which is the final event at Pre every year. Pre always brings in a top-notch field, and even though this is not a Diamond League points event, there are a ton of stars, including Olympic champ Matthew Centrowitz, world champ Elijah Manangoi, world indoor champ Samuel Tefera (officially just 18), and 17-year-old phenom Jakob Ingebrigtsen. It’s going to be epic, and we break it down from all angles below.
Men’s Bowerman Mile (5:51 p.m. ET): Centro takes on the world’s best (and Jakob Ingebrigtsen)
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What a way to end the meet. Not only has Pre assembled the world’s best milers, but they’ve also grabbed several intriguing Americans and 17-year-old phenom Jakob Ingebrigtsen and thrown them all in the same race. It should be some spectacle.
It has been 14 years since an American won the Bowerman Mile, and we don’t see the drought ending in 2018. Ben Blankenship, Johnny Gregorek, Craig Engels, and Clayton Murphy aren’t good enough, and though Centrowitz is the Olympic champ (and was second here in 2015), he’s still rounding into form. Other than Centrowitz, whom we don’t think will win, there are five guys who could realistically win this race: Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot, Samuel Tefera, Silas Kiplagat, and Ayanleh Souleiman.
Kiplagat and Souleiman have the two fastest PRs in the field and if they’re close to their best, they could win here. But while both showed flashes of brilliance recently (Souleiman ran 3:35 indoors, Kiplagat was second at last year’s DL final), they were much better runners two or three years ago. We don’t think either wins on Saturday.
So now we’re down to three.
That leaves the two training partners, Manangoi and Cheruiyot, and Tefera, the World Indoor champ. Last year, Kenya dominated the Diamond League circuit and were particularly good at Pre, where they swept the top four places. Last year’s champ Ronald Kwemoi is out (still recovering from a stress fracture, as explained by his coach Renato Canova) but Manangoi (2nd) and Cheruiyot (3rd) return, and they have a shot to go 1-2 in Kwemoi’s absence.
Remember, in 2017 Manangoi and Cheruiyot weren’t just the best two 1500 runners in the world. At their best, they were significantly better than everyone else, finishing over three seconds ahead of everyone else in Monaco and going 1-2 at Worlds in dominant fashion. Obviously it’s hard to do that every single time out, but the early returns in 2018 have been good. Manangoi and Cheruiyot went 1-2 at the Commonwealth Games in April, and since then Manangoi has run 1:45.60 for 800 (finishing second in Doha) and Cheruiyot has run the world leader (3:31.48) in Shanghai. They will be the men to beat, and recent history has shown that Manangoi, who possesses the superior kick, is the guy to bet on among those two (he is 5-3 against Cheruiyot since the start of ’17, including the two biggies at Worlds and Commonwealths).
If someone is to break them up, it’s going to be Ethiopia’s teen phenom Samuel Tefera. He gave Cheruiyot all he could handle in Shanghai (he finished just .15 behind) and showed his speed by winning a tactical 1500 final at World Indoors. If the pace really gets going, he has a shot at the Ethiopian mile record of 3:48.60, set by Aman Wote in this race four years ago.
With the most successful Bowerman Miler in history, Asbel Kiprop (4-time champ), testing positive for EPO, those guys are the best in the world right now at 1500 and Pre will serve as a great test to see how close the Americans are to that level. Matthew Centrowitz looked good in winning his heat at Oxy last week while doubling back from the 800. But after a bumpy winter, does he have the strength to run 3:49 — something no American has ever done at Pre? Probably not at this point in the year. At his best, Centro will want to be contending for the win in these Diamond League races, and he may be doing just that by the end of the season. But at the moment, that’s too much to ask. The Bowerman Mile will be a good measure of his progress.
Blankenship hasn’t raced since taking 5th at World Indoors, but he’ll have a shot to challenge his 3:53 pb here. The Nike Oregon Project’s Craig Engels said he’s been struggling with altitude training but he won the 800 at Oxy last week so he could do something if this turns into a kicker’s race. His teammate Clayton Murphy, after a rough start to the season, showed progress by running 1:45 in Shanghai and given the training he’s been doing recently, may be more suited to the mile than the 800 at this point anyway.
“[Murphy] has been in a heavy base phase, and now he’s moving into speed training,” Salazar told Ken Goe after Shanghai. “He’s super strong now. The speed is coming back gradually.”
Apart from Centrowitz, the one American who could make some noise is Johnny Gregorek. He’s won both of his 1500/miles this year in convincing fashion, most recently clocking 3:36 at Oxy last week. The win is certainly beyond him at this point, but Gregorek can run — remember he was a World Championship finalist last year. One number he’ll have his eye on is 3:51.34 — that’s the family mile record, set by father John at the 1982 Dream Mile in Oslo (Johnny’s pb is 3:53.15 indoors).
Finally there’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who made history last year by becoming the youngest person to break 4:00 in the mile. On May 3, he impressively defeated Centro, Engels, and Paul Chelimo to win the 1500 at Payton Jordan, a result that earned him an invite to the big boy race at Pre. Ingebrigtsen is a monster talent, but he’s still only 17 and to contend against this field would require a massive breakthrough (remember, his winning time at Payton Jordan was only 3:39). Ingebrigtsen would be better served following the approach Alan Webb took as a high schooler back in 2001, playing it conservative and trying to pick guys off on the final lap. Webb famously ran 3:53.43 in that race, a performance no American schoolboy has approached since, but Ingebrigtsen certainly has the ability to challenge that mark (though it would still require a significant effort).
This race is fascinating as it actually contains three different storylines for us.
1) Who wins?
2) How will the Americans do?
This actually has three subplots to it. i) Will Centro look like he could contend for an American record later in the summer? ii) Can Johny Gregorek get the family mile record (3:51.34)? iii) How will Blankenship, Murphy,and Engels look?
3) Can Jakob Ingebrigsten at 17 run faster than Alan Webb did at Pre at age 18 (3:53.43)?
As far as winning the race is concerned, Manangoi really impressed by taking down almost all of the 800 specialists in Doha, and as Monaco and Worlds last year showed, his kick is still there even in a fast race. He’s the best miler on the planet at the moment and as a result, we expect him to win this race. We’ll take Cheruiyot for second ahead of Tefera and Centro fourth. Ingebrigtsen runs 3:54, just short of Webb’s legendary 3:53.
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More: Full Saturday Preview: 2018 Pre Classic Saturday Preview: Christian Coleman & Noah Lyles Lead a Cavalcade of Stars in the Last Pro Meet at Hayward Field Plus can Evan Jager win at Pre for the first time ever and might the men’s steeple produce the first sub-8 in US history?
Friday Night Preview: 2018 Pre Classic Friday Night Preview: King Ches Returns To Hayward As A Pro; Are You Ready for Two LOADED Men’s Races (800 & 2 Mile)?
IAAF Preview That Includes Field Events
MB: Official 2018 Pre Classic Discussion Thread