2018 Pre Classic Saturday Preview: Christian Coleman & Noah Lyles Lead a Cavalcade of Stars in the Last Pro Meet at Hayward Field
May 24, 2018
No meet held on U.S. soil attracts more talent than the Prefontaine Classic. As the only Diamond League meet in the U.S., the fields are always going to be strong. But it’s the non-Diamond League events that set Pre apart and make it one of the best meets in the world year-in, year-out. A men’s 100 pitting world indoor champ Christian Coleman against world outdoor champ Justin Gatlin (Update: that was going to on the cards until Gatlin pulled out with an injury)? A Bowerman Mile featuring the Olympic champ (Matthew Centrowitz), the world outdoor champ (Elijah Manangoi), and the world indoor champ (Samuel Tefera)? Neither of those events count in the Diamond League points standings but both rank among the most exciting of a stacked 2018 Prefontaine Classic — the final Pre Classic before Hayward Field is torn down and rebuilt.
We’ll have tons of Pre coverage this weekend and will be on-site in Eugene beginning on Thursday. Earlier this week, we previewed Friday’s events, which include a loaded 800 and 2 mile featuring Edward Cheserek. You can read our full Friday preview 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)?
In this article, we’ll be looking at the Saturday events minus the Bowerman Mile, which gets its own article here: 2018 Bowerman Mile Preview: Centro Gets a Real Test as the World’s Best Milers Come to Eugene, which are just as good. There are stars in the sprints (Christian Coleman, Justin Gatlin, Noah Lyles, Allyson Felix, Shaunae Miller-Uibo), the distances (Caster Semenya, Ajee Wilson, Evan Jager, Conseslus Kipruto) and the field (Sandi Morris, Mutaz Essa Barshim, Christian Taylor, Ryan Crouser, Tom Walsh). You can pretty much point to an event at random and be guaranteed a good matchup, such is the talent on display in Eugene.
So let’s get to it. Meet details below, followed by a preview of Saturday’s best track events. For an IAAF preview that talks about field events, go here.
What: 2018 Prefontaine Classic
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon
When: Friday, May 25 – Saturday, May 26
Men’s International Mile (3:48 p.m. ET): Who will run the Pre Classic’s 400th sub-4:00?
|Fouad El Kaam||Morocco||3:54.21|
Since the Prefontaine Classic began in 1975, according to TFN, the meet has seen 399 sub-4:00 miles, from the first (Steve Scott 3:57.92, 1977) to the most recent (Asbel Kiprop 3:58.24, 2017). In between, there have been some fantastic moments, such as Alan Webb‘s 3:53 in 2001 and the ridiculous 2014 edition, which saw 26 sub-4:00 miles in one day, led by Ayanleh Souleiman‘s 3:47.32, the fastest mile ever run on American soil.
Whoever wins this race will almost certainly produce the 400th sub-4:00 mile. So who will it be? As we saw last week in Boston, Drew Hunter is in good shape right now. But while the guys Hunter beat in Boston (Chris O’Hare, Nick Willis, Charles Simotwo) have better resumes than the guys in this field, they may not be as ready to run fast right now. Colby Alexander has run faster than Hunter this season and was third in his heat at Oxy behind Matthew Centrowitz and Kyle Merber. Aussie Luke Mathews has some serious speed (1:45.16 800 pb) which he used to earn 800 bronze at the Commonwealth Games last month but we don’t expect him to contend for the win as he was only 12th in the Commonwealth Games 1500 final.
The two Kenyans in this race both bring questions as they’ve combined to race twice since the start of 2017. Jonathan Sawe won World Juniors on this track four years ago, and though he won both of his races last year in 3:36, both came in a five-day span in July and he hasn’t raced since. James Magut has easily the fastest PR in the field at 3:49 from 2014 Pre, but he hasn’t raced since June 2016.
High schooler Brodey Hasty, who ran 4:00.05 indoors, will be looking to go sub-4:00 here. If he succeeds, Hasty, who ran 4:07.19 at the Wingfoot Mile in Atlanta on Tuesday, would join Webb, Hunter, and Michael Slagowski as the only U.S. high schoolers to break 4:00 at Pre.
Note: this race occurs before the broadcast window so the only way to see it is from the stands.
LRC prediction: Hunter has been hot and we were tempted to pick him to keep winning, but there are half a dozen guys in the field who could take this one. If the Kenyans show up in form, we think one of them will dominate but we’ll go with Alexander, who has a 3:34 pb in the 1500, as our pick otherwise.
Women’s 800 (4:10 p.m. ET): Ajee Wilson gets another crack at Caster Semenya
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||1:55.18||1:56.68|
Nobody has beaten Caster Semenya in an 800 since the start of 2016, and based on her form so far this year, it’s not likely to happen in 2018, either. Already Semenya has won the Commonwealth Games in 1:56.68, run a 1500 pb of 3:59.92 to win the Doha Diamond League, and clocked 51.84 in the 400 for good measure. Nothing has changed from the last two years, during which Semenya has made beating the world’s best professionals look about as difficult as beating the world’s best middle schoolers.
Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, who is based in Eugene as she runs for the Oregon Track Club, has been right behind Semenya all that time; she has lost just one 800 to someone not named Semenya since July 2015. In March, Niyonsaba ran 1:58.31 — the fastest indoor time in seven years — to win World Indoors. She will almost certainly finish second in this race.
Really, the big question is whether Wilson has closed the gap at all to Semenya and Niyonsaba. Last year, she ran them close in Monaco (and actually beat Niyonsaba in a 600 in Berlin) but as we saw at World Indoors, she’s still not on their level. Wilson ran a perfect race in the World Indoor final and it still wasn’t enough to overcome Niyonsaba’s natural advantages. Wilson looked good in running 1:59.27 to hold off Natoya Goule in Boston last week, but the fact that Goule was even close shows that she still has work to do to catch Semenya, who beat Goule by 2+ seconds in the Commonwealth final.
We’ll also get a chance to see Charlene Lipsey in her first serious 800 of the year. She is clearly fit, as witnessed by her huge 4:04 1500 pb in Boston last week.
LRC prediction: This is the women’s 800, so you know how this is going to go. Semenya 1, Niyonsaba 2. After that, we’ll take Wilson for third over Margaret Wambui.
Men’s 100 (4:18 p.m. ET): Christian Coleman returns
|Ben Youssef Meite||Ivory Coast||9.96|
|Reece Prescod||Great Britain||10.03||10.04|
|CJ Ujah||Great Britain||9.96||10.08|
In Christian Coleman‘s last trip to Hayward Field, he crushed the NCAA 100-meter record in the prelims en route to winning national titles in both the 100 and 200. Initially, the 22-year-old had planned to attempt another double at Pre as he was entered in the 100 and 200. But just hours after it was announced, those plans fell through as he withdrew from a much-anticipated 200 showdown with Noah Lyles to focus on the 100.
“Mgmt considered a 100/200m double,” wrote his agency, HSI Sports, on Twitter, but “being his first race of the season, it is more prudent to only contest the 100m. His opening 200m will occur in Bislett Games (in Oslo on June 7).”
If Coleman is anything close to resembling the shape that saw him run 6.34 seconds for 60 meters indoors, he will win the 100. But there are still a few doubts about his health following his withdrawal from the Shanghai Diamond League meet two weeks ago (organizers cited only “physical issues” as the reason), and if Coleman is not at 100%, the 100 could be anyone’s race. Ronnie Baker, who is quietly having a career year, won here last year and is the world leader at 9.97. In the post-Bolt era, if you can run under 10 seconds, you’re in contention to win any race in the world. Six of the guys in this field have done that, and one of the guys who hasn’t is Reece Prescod — who, ironically, is the only guy this year to have won on the Diamond League circuit (he earned the win in Shanghai).
LRC prediction: Even if Coleman isn’t quite at 100%, his PR is still significantly faster than the rest of this field. If he makes it to the start line, he’s our pick FTW.
Men’s steeple (4:26 p.m. ET): Jager’s back, baby!
|Soufiane El Bakkali||Morocco||8:04.83|
Last year, the steeplechase all year was a three-man battle between America’s Evan Jager, Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali, and Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto. Between them, they split the five DL steeples (two each for El Bakkali and Kipruto, one for Jager), and while Jager wound up as the world leader at 8:01.29 (the first time an American has done so since Henry Marsh in 1985), he was the third of the Big Three to cross the finish line at the World Championships in London.
To be honest, the way we wrote the previous paragraph is misleading and does a disservice to Kipruto. Kipruto may not have been the fastest steepler in the world last year, but he was clearly the best as he won all of the steeples he ran last year that he finished (there was one DNF in Morocco) and all that he tried to win in 2016 (he lost once in 2016 when he was joking around in the final 100 of the Kenyan Olympic Trials where the top 3 were well clear).
|Month||# of sub-8:00s|
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from this race. With no global championship this summer, all three men will want to take some cracks at the 8:00 barrier as none have ever broken it (Jager and Kipruto have run 8:00, El Bakkali 8:04). But to do so at Pre would be very impressive. Of the 36 sub-8:00 steeples in history, none have come on U.S. soil. And it’s not as if there’s some chemical in the Hayward Field water pits that makes everyone run slower: Celliphine Chespol ran 8:58.78 in the women’s steeple at Pre last year, which would stand as the women’s world record if you throw out the times by doper Ruth Jebet.
The bigger factor is that it’s still early in the season for the best guys in the world. Jager has raced once on the track this year (not in the steeple) and El Bakkali hasn’t raced at all outdoors. Kipruto has run one steeple, winning Commonwealth Games gold in April in 8:10, but he dropped out of the 5k in Shanghai two weeks ago. Jager has opened up fast in the steeple before (he ran 8:08 and 8:05 in his last two Pre Classic steeples), but these guys will be running their fastest in July and August, not May.
While the race itself should be great, we’re looking forward to the celebration almost as much. Kipruto is well-known for celebrating really early, and El Bakkali was celebrating with 150 to go when he won in Rabat last year. Could we see a similar celebration by Jager if he wins on home soil on Saturday?
“If I’m ahead by like 20 meters or whatever he was ahead by, I might a little bit,” Jager told us last year. “I probably wouldn’t do it until after the water jump for sure. And I know if I did it before the last barrier, [coach] Jerry [Schumacher] would probably rip my head off. So it might have to wait until after the last barrier.”
LRC prediction: Given Kipruto has the best kick (by far), has already run 8:10 and is the world/Olympic champ, we’ll pick him even though he dropped out in Shanghai.
We know one thing. Evan Jager had better run more than three international steeples this year (that’s what he ran last year). There are no Worlds to peak for so he needs to hit the DL circuit.
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Women’s 1500 (4:50 p.m. ET): Jenny Simpson & America’s best battle Laura Muir
|Laura Muir||Great Britain||3:55.22|
|Laura Weightman||Great Britain||4:00.17||4:05.89|
The women’s 1500 has been one of the world’s deepest events in recent years, which explains stats like this one: since June 2015, Jenny Simpson has more Olympic medals (1) and World Championship medals (1) than Diamond League victories. But many of the women who have beaten her on the DL circuit in recent years will not be in this race. Faith Kipyegon is taking the year off to have a baby. Genzebe Dibaba is in the 5k. Sifan Hassan isn’t running Pre at all (Does that mean she’s injured?). Caster Semenya, who won the DL opener in Doha, is in the 800.
Which means this is as good a chance as any for Simpson to win her first DL 1500 since June 2015 in Rome. Her biggest competition comes in the form of Brit Laura Muir, who earned 1500 silver and 3000 bronze at World Indoors in March but has yet to race outdoors as she has been finishing up veterinary school (she just found out on Wednesday that she passed her finals — congrats Laura!). One might expect Muir to be tired out after cramming for finals, but she’s been balancing school and running for some time. If she wasn’t a Nike athlete, we’d assume she was in shape and would say we wouldn’t think she’d fly all the way out to Eugene just for a vacation (Or would she? Looks like Muir had some fun in LA earlier this week) but she is a Nike athlete and Nike basically puts in their athletes’ contracts that they have to run Pre.
Outside of Muir, Beatrice Chepkoech (Commonwealth silver) and Angelika Cichocka (7th at Worlds last year) could threaten, as could Dawit Seyaum, who won the adidas Boost Boston Games last week. And don’t forget about the other Americans (remember, Simpson was just the third American in this race last year), led by US indoor champ Shelby Houlihan. Houlihan was 4th at World Indoors and has gone up a level in 2018 even after winning USAs in the 5,000 last year. She is in line for a pb (her 4:03.39 dates back to this meet two years ago) and if she can get close to 4:00, that would put her in contention for the win. If she’s in the race with 200 to go, watch out.
LRC prediction: Simpson has the most impressive credentials of anyone in the field and she ran well in Doha earlier this month (8:30). She also has a good history at Pre (except for last year), dating back to her 3:59 in her Pre debut back in 2009 as a collegian. Simpson FTW.
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Women’s 5,000 (5:10 p.m. ET): The Genzebe Dibaba Show returns
|Dominique Scott||South Africa||15:20.10||16:55.05|
While Dibaba bombed at Worlds last year (12th in the 1500 final), she showed indoors that she remains a force to be reckoned with, going undefeated and winning World Indoor gold in the 1500 and 3000. This will be her outdoor opener, and considering she won the 5k handily in her two previous Pre Classic appearances (14:19 in 2015, 14:25 in 2017), we expect her to do the same on Saturday.
Hellen Obiri is the reigning world champ, but she has not looked like herself in 2018 and was 14th at the Doha Diamond League 3k in 8:53. That’s just 14:49 5k pace, and Dibaba can run 14:49 in her sleep.
Letesenbet Gidey has run 14:33 and clocked a solid 8:30 on Doha, while Alice Aprot earned World XC silver (and was 4th in the 10k at World Outdoors) last year, though the 10k is her better event. Lilian Rengeruk was second here last year in 14:36.
LRC prediction: Gidey, Aprot, and Rengeruk have a chance if Dibaba is off her game, but the most likely outcome is a repeat of 2015 and 2017, with Dibaba dropping the rest of the field early and winning by 10+ seconds.
Women’s 400 (5:31 p.m. ET): Allyson Felix takes on Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world champ Phyllis Francis
|Stephenie Ann McPherson||Jamaica||49.92||50.80|
|Shaunae Miller-Uibo||The Bahamas||49.44|
This should be a good one. Two of the three medalists from last year’s Worlds are in action and that doesn’t count Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo who totally rigged up in London and finished 4th. Gold and silver medalists Phyllis Francis and Salwa Eid Naser have yet to race the 400 this year outdoors, but the attention will be on established stars Miller-Uibo and Felix. Miller-Uibo, in particular, may be set for something special. Already she’s run 22.06 to win the 200 in Shanghai and last week clocked a straight 150m world record of 16.23 in Boston. This will be her first 400 of the year and given those two performances, a time well below 50 seconds would not come as a surprise.
Then there’s Felix. She’s had an outstanding career, but she’s 32 now and has been a professional track & field athlete for almost half her life (this is her 16th professional season). She ran 49.65 last year, but how long can she stay at this level?
LRC prediction: Miller-Uibo wins this one.
Men’s 200 (5:44 p.m. ET): Noah Lyles races at Hayward Field for the first time as a pro
|Anaso Jobodwana||South Africa||19.87||20.07|
|Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake||Great Britain||19.95||20.37|
|Jereem Richards||Trinidad & Tobago||19.97||19.99|
Even when Coleman was entered in the 200, we were still going to pick Noah Lyles in the 200. Lyles is a pure 200 runner and looked fantastic in winning the DL opener in Doha in 19.83. Last week, he won the 150 in Boston and told us that he wants to get close to 19.4 by the end of this season. Who are we to doubt him?
LRC prediction: Lyles wins, and if he gets a friendly tailwind he powers down the lightning-fast home straight at Hayward to run a PR.
More: Bowerman Mile Preview: 2018 Bowerman Mile Preview: Centro Gets a Real Test as the World’s Best Milers Come to Eugene,
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