Friday Night at Pre: Emmanuel Korir Stays Undefeated, Selemon Barega Impresses, King Ches Disappoints
May 25, 2018
EUGENE, Ore. — Despite a cool night ideal for distance running (59 degrees), the times were slow on day 1 of the 2018 Prefontaine Classic, as in the two marquee races, the runners didn’t go with the rabbits. But that didn’t stop the young stars from shining brightly as Emmanuel Korir showed he’s a superstar in the men’s 800 with a dramatic victory.
The 22-year-old Kenyan, who was undefeated last year until an injury limited him at Worlds, and is undefeated this year, lost nearly all momentum as he was clipped from behind at the start of the final turn by Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos. But he miraculously figured out a way to come back and win in 1:45.16.
Then in the final event of the night, the men’s 2 mile, Selemon Barega of Ethiopia, who has an official listed age of just 18, ran a tactically perfect race before outkicking the field — including Olympic silver medallist Paul Chelimo — over the final 200 in 26.1 to win in 8:20.01, as Edward Cheserek, the sensation of the indoor season was only 15th.
We recap those two races and all the Friday night action below.
Men’s 800: Emmanuel Korir is a Beast
The men’s 800 and men’s 2 mile were the two “A” races on Friday night featuring world-class fields (there were also “B” women’s 800 and 1500s).
The racers has no interest in going with rabbit Harun Abda who hit 400 in 49.85 as the first racer was Kenyan Ferguson Rotich in 51.85. While any potential fast times were thrown out the window early, this race, like virtually all 800s, was going to come down to the last 200.
Then this happened.
— LetsRun.com (@letsrundotcom) May 26, 2018
The leader who almost went down and lost a ton of momentum was Korir, who was clipped from behind by Amos. Despite losing a little ground and a ton of momentum and taking six steps inside of the rail on the turn as he tried to stabilize himself, Korir then did the unthinkable. He gunned down Amos and got the win in 1:45.16 to Amos’ 1:45.51.
|1||Emmanuel Kipkurui KORIR||Kenya||1:45.16||51.94 [51.94]||1:45.16 [53.23]|
|2||Nigel AMOS||Botswana||1:45.51||52.17 [52.17]||1:45.51 [53.35]|
|3||Wycliffe KINYAMAL||Kenya||1:46.14||52.04 [52.04]||1:46.14 [54.11]|
|4||Kipyegon BETT||Kenya||1:46.46||52.42 [52.42]||1:46.46 [54.05]|
|5||Kyle LANGFORD||Great Britain||1:46.53||52.12 [52.12]||1:46.53 [54.41]|
|6||Adam KSZCZOT||Poland||1:46.64||52.63 [52.63]||1:46.64 [54.01]|
|7||Ferguson ROTICH||Kenya||1:46.90||51.85 [51.85]||1:46.90 [55.06]|
|8||Erik SOWINSKI||United States||1:46.91||52.05 [52.05]||1:46.91 [54.87]|
|DNF||Harun ABDA||United States||–||49.85 [49.85]|
Quick Take: Korir is REALLY good
Neither us nor NBCSN announcer Craig Masback could ever remember an 800 elite winning a race after coming to a near stop at the 600-meter mark. In case you didn’t already know it simply due to the fact that he has pbs of 44.53 and 1:43.10, Emmanuel Korir is the REAL DEAL. Last year he was undefeated in his freshman year at the University of Texas El Paso, but he was only racing collegiate runners. Then he won the Kenyan Trials which turned a few heads, and then in the first Diamond League race of his life ran 1:43.10 to win in Monaco.
He didn’t make the final at Worlds after he picked up an injury in the prelims, and many people didn’t get to see how good he really was.
This year Korir has only run 3 races. Indoors he ran once and ran the fastest time in the world indoors in 17 years to win Millrose. Visa problems, however, prevented him from getting to compete at World Indoors, and once again the world didn’t get to see how good he is. Korir said that he was very frustrated about World Indoors as he was finally given his visa the week after the meet. He told us he was “100%” sure he would have won in Birmingham.
He won the Diamond League opener in Doha, and then tonight stayed undefeated despite nearly falling on his face with 200m to go against the best 800m runners in the world.
In his post-race interview, Korir said that he was initially worried after the contact, but figured that he had nothing to lose and decided to race as hard as he could.
“I said no, I’m going to try my best,” Korir said. “I wasn’t even expecting to beat Amos, but I was just running anyway.”
Korir said that there hasn’t been much difference for him training as a pro compared to last year — he’s just on a slightly different schedule with no NCAAs to peak for. He added that he feels he is fitter than he was last year and plans on running “a lot of Diamond Leagues” and that he plans on breaking 1:43 soon (his pb is 1:43.10).
QT: Not DQing Korir was the right call
Although Korir took 6 steps inside of the rail on the turn after nearly falling, the rules are pretty clear that when an athlete is pushed inside of the rail, they are only to be DQ’d if they gain a material advantage. We hope even the Brits wouldn’t have DQ’d Korir.
QT: Wycliffe Kinyamal ran like an amateur
20-year-old Wycliffe Kinyamal, the Commonwealth champ who won the Shanghai DL in 1:43.91, needs to work on his tactics. After the tactical first lap, American Erik Sowinski, who ended up last in 1:46.91, decided to shake things up and pass some people including Kinyamal at the start of the turn. Kinyamal freaked out and immediately responded by running way wide out into lane 2 to try to regain his position.
That’s just not smart. Our favorite motto about the 800 is, “You have one move, use it wisely.” Deciding to make a big move and running an ton of extra ground 350 meters out from the finish is stupid. Nonetheless, Kinyamal ended up third in 1:46.14.
Men’s 2 Mile: Barega Impresses
The race was tactical from the start as the rabbits gapped the field on the first 400. Barega ran his first mile in 4:15 low (his official first 1618 split was 4:16.60). Given that modest start, the finish was far from crazy fast as Barega ran his last mile in 4:04 high with his last 4 laps being 64.35, 62.54, 61.70, 54.83. At the bell, nearly the entire field was still in contact with the lead group as it consisted of 14 of the 17 racers but there was a huge name missing – Edward Cheserek. The former Oregon star, now running for Skechers, started to fade on the penultimate lap of his 2018 outdoor opener.
Barega never relinquished the lead on the lap. As he entered the final turn, the race quickly became a three-person affair as Barega, Chelimo and Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew, the Shanghai DL winner in 13:09, separated themselves from the pack. Heading into the final 100, the race was a 2-person affair as Barega and Chelimo pulled clear and halfway home it was clear that Barega was going to be the winner.
|2||Paul CHELIMO||United States||8:20.91|
|3||Birhanu Yemataw BALEW||Bahrain||8:21.54|
|6||Ryan HILL||United States||8:22.36|
|7||Eric JENKINS||United States||8:23.50|
|8||Ben TRUE||United States||8:23.76|
|9||Emmanuel BOR||United States||8:23.96|
|10||Hassan MEAD||United States||8:24.09|
|14||Shadrack KIPCHIRCHIR||United States||8:28.38|
|17||Paul Kipngetich TANUI||Kenya||8:33.44|
|Lopez LOMONG||United States||DNF|
|Kirubel ERASSA||United States||DNF|
Final laps: 54.83 Barega, 55.51 Chelimo, 55.88 Balew (more splits here)
Quick Take: This race was a disappointment
Full credit to Nike and the Prefontaine organizers for putting this field together, but this is not what the fans came to see. Great conditions and nobody breaks 8:20? Times aren’t everything, but combine that with Cheserek bombing and much of the pre-race hype went unrealized.
Quick Take: Selemon Barega could be a big star
Barega ran very well tonight and was clearly the class of the field over the final 200, closing in 54.83 for his final lap (26.1 last 200). Equally as impressive for Barega was how he ran the race. At the beginning of the race, he was up front in the lead – a smart move considering there were 17 racers. At the end of tactical race, when everyone else was wasting energy jostling for position, he was once again perfectly positioned in the lead ready to battle
We’re going to pump the brakes and not anoint Barega the next Haile G or Bekele (although maybe we should as a messageboard poster says Haile G has anointed Barega as the next big Ethiopian star). And he’s almost certainly not his listed 18 years old — Race Results Weekly’s David Monti told us that number is “totally bogus.” But he’s made good progress at the world stage, winning World Juniors in 2016, running 12:55 and taking 5th at Worlds last year and earning World Indoor silver in March. That’s a terrific progression.
One more reason to be scared of Barega: though his English is not great (we applaud him for giving it a go in the mixed zone), we did catch one word. His response when asked how it felt to win the race: “Easy.”
Quick Take: Paul Chelimo decided to can his American record attempt but is happy with his consistency this year
This race was billed as an American record attempt for Chelimo, but it quickly became apparent that Matt Tegenkamp’s 8:07.07 from the 2007 Pre Classic would not go down tonight.
So what happened?
Well, Chelimo, the guy who many expected to be leading the charge behind the pacemakers, did not go with the pace early. Chelimo explained that he didn’t feel great today and that “conditions were not that great.” As a result, he did not want to be the “sacrificial lamb” and run at the front of the pack only to have someone gun him down at the end of the race.
Were conditions really that bad? No. There was some humidity (66%), but for many runners, this would be close to ideal. But Chelimo explained that he prefers to race in the heat and that there was some wind on the backstretch (8 mph).
Chelimo said that he did not have “the sting” in his legs over the final 100 meters (perhaps due to Shanghai — Barega was better rested as he hadn’t raced since April), but he was happy with his performance and his overall consistency this year.
“A good race,” Chelimo said. “Coming in second after Shanghai, 13:09 two weeks ago, I can’t complain.”
For those on sub-13:00 watch — it’s been almost five years since an American has done it — keep your eyes on the Lausanne Diamond League on July 5. Chelimo is going back to altitude to train for a month until USAs, but said that he’ll be rested and ready to chase sub-13:00 in Lausanne.
Quick Take: Edward Cheserek’s return to Hayward Field goes off script
Cheserek didn’t experience much failure during his Oregon career, and his first indoor season as a pro was exceptional. But Cheserek was far from exceptional tonight in his return to Hayward Field. As a collegian, if Cheserek was off his game, he’d usually still win — or at least contend for it. But this was the best field he’s ever been in, against many of the world’s best runners. Have an off night against those guys and you finish 15th.
We did not get a chance to talk to Cheserek as he declined our interview request in the mixed zone. We did, however, manage to get in touch with his agent/coach Stephen Haas. This is what Haas told us, via text:
“He is healthy, a few weeks ago we had to take a week off with a calf strain and we have been going well since. He is in better shape than what was indicated tonight but we didn’t get a chance to do a few things I wanted to do before this race. I think that played a role into not performing up to his capabilities tonight.”
On the boards: Ches does not talk to media after 15th place at Pre
“B” Distance Races
There were 2 developmental races on Friday, the women’s 1500 and women’s 800 (there are “A” versions of these races on Saturday).
Women’s 1500: Colorado redshirt Dani Jones impresses
The best women’s 1500 runner in the NCAA wasn’t running regionals this weekend. She was at the Pre Classic, and her name is Dani Jones. Jones, the NCAA mile runner-up indoors this year who won the 3k and DMR last year, is healthy but decided to redshirt for a couple of reasons: 1) despite her runner-up finish at NCAAs, she battled Achilles tendonitis indoors and 2) she wants to run the 2020 Olympic Trials as a Colorado Buffalo, which necessitates taking a fifth year.
Jones wasn’t racing the best US pros tonight (they’re in tomorrow’s Diamond League 1500), but she beat some solid runners and her win was the result of a strong, gutsy move that she made at the bell, holding everyone off thanks to a 63.96 final 400.
Jones, whose previous best was 4:08.42, was happy with the time but thinks she can go even faster. 4:07.76 is still pretty fast as the top time in the NCAA this year was just 4:10.03.
Jones’ performance tonight reminds us a little of another Colorado runner who broke out at the Pre Classic: Jenny Simpson, who broke 4:00 at Pre as a senior in 2009. Obviously there’s a big gap from 4:07 to 3:59, but Jones has flashed the closing ability (remember her DMR/3k double at NCAAs last year) that suggests that she could be winning U.S. titles one day. Jones said that since she’s redshirting, she’s been working out with Simpson a lot this season, but she usually finishes well behind her during reps.
|1||Dani JONES||United States||4:07.74||PB|
|2||Alexa EFRAIMSON||United States||4:08.70|
|3||Cory MCGEE||United States||4:09.09|
|4||Rachel SCHNEIDER||United States||4:10.10||SB|
|5||Shannon OSIKA||United States||4:11.09|
|6||Stephanie GARCIA||United States||4:11.52|
|7||Lauren JOHNSON||United States||4:11.55||SB|
|8||Ce’Aira BROWN||United States||4:13.21|
|9||Dana MECKE||United States||4:13.91|
|10||Eleanor FULTON||United States||4:15.05|
|11||Katie MACKEY||United States||4:16.37|
|12||Kate VAN BUSKIRK||Canada||4:17.67|
|Emily LIPARI||United States||DNF|
|Sara VAUGHN||United States||DNF|
|Hannah FIELDS||United States||DNF|
QT: Alexa Efraimson is very consistent at Pre
Three years ago at Pre, at age 18, Alexa Efraimson ran her pb for the 1500 of 4:03.31. Tonight, Efraimson was the runner-up in the 1500 in 4:08.70. That time is remarkably similar to what she’s run at Pre the last two years – 4:09.03 in 2017 and 4:08.81 in 2016.
Women’s 800: Natoya Goule wins it
There weren’t many big names in action in this one. Goule, who ran 1:58 to take Commonwealth bronze last month, was the favorite on paper and she backed up that status, holding off American Stephanie Brown for the win, 2:00.84 to 2:01.84.
|2||Stephanie BROWN||United States||2:01.84|
|4||Carly MUSCARO||United States||2:02.44|
|5||Laura ROESLER||United States||2:02.68|
|6||Cecilia BAROWSKI||United States||2:04.43|
|McKayla FRICKER||United States||DNF|
For the second Diamond League in a row, Olympic champ Thomas Rohler won. And for the second Diamond League in a row, Rohler led a German 1-2-3. In fact, the order was identical to Doha three weeks ago as Rohler won with a winning heave of 89.88 meters — a Hayward Field record — ahead of world champ Johnnes Vetter (89.34) and Andreas Hoffman (86.45).
|1||Thomas ROHLER||Germany||89.88m (294-10 )||MR|
|2||Johannes VETTER||Germany||89.34m (293-1 )|
|3||Andreas HOFMANN||Germany||86.45m (283-7 )|
|4||Jakub VADLEJCH||Czech Republic||85.40m (280-2 )|
|5||Magnus KIRT||Estonia||83.13m (272-9 )|
|6||Neeraj CHOPRA||India||80.81m (265-1 )|
|7||Ahmed Bader MAGOUR||Qatar||78.16m (256-5 )|
|8||Petr FRYDRYCH||Czech Republic||69.67m (228-7 )|
With a wind on the backstretch and cool conditions, the men’s vaulters struggled tonight as a third of the field no-heighted and only three men cleared 5.71 — and that didn’t include World Indoor champ Renaud Lavillenie, who could only manage 5.56. Your winner was American Sam Kendricks, who needed three attempts to get over 5.71 before sailing over 5.81 on his first attempt.
It’s a good thing he did, because 18-year-old phenom Mondo Duplantis was actually in the lead through 5.71 meters. He did not win his first Diamond League, but finishing second against the best in the world as a high school senior is still mighty impressive.
|1||Sam KENDRICKS||United States||5.81m (19-¾ )|
|2||Armand DUPLANTIS||Sweden||5.71m (18-8¾ )|
|3||Piotr LISEK||Poland||5.71m (18-8¾ )|
|4||Pawel WOJCIECHOWSKI||Poland||5.56m (18-3 )|
|5||Renaud LAVILLENIE||France||5.56m (18-3 )|
|6||Shawnacy BARBER||Canada||5.41m (17-9 )|