May 30, 2018
On Thursday, the 2018 Diamond League tour will make its way to Europe where, with the exception of a brief trip to Rabat on July 13, it will stay through the conclusion of the season in Brussels on August 31. Yes, the Pre Classic may still be fresh in our memories, but the athletes are moving on to Rome for the 2018 Golden Gala Pietro Mennea.
While there will be several Pre rematches in the Italian capital (Timothy Cheruiyot vs. Samuel Tefera vs. Elijah Manangoi in the 1500, Conseslus Kipruto vs. Benjamin Kigen in the steeple, Wycliffe Kinyamal vs. Adam Kszczot in the 800), there is one event we’ll see that was not held in Eugene: the women’s steeple. For American fans, that’s a biggie as the United States has the reigning gold and silver medalists in that event. And while Courtney Frerichs is not running Rome, world champion Emma Coburn will be in action in her first steeple of the year, and she’ll face a field that includes sub-9:00 steeplers Beatrice Chepkoech and Celliphine Chespol. It should be some matchup.
In non-distance action, Ronnie Baker and Christian Coleman will square off again in search of wind-legal times after their duel in the 100 at Pre, world champ Karsten Warholm runs his first 400 hurdles race of the year, Sam Kendricks headlines the pole vault, Marie-Josee Ta Lou tries to stay hot in the 200, and Vashti Cunningham gets a shot at Mariya Lasitsekene in a battle of the World Indoor high jump gold and silver medalists.
We break down the distance events (plus the men’s 100) below.
What: 2018 Golden Gala Pietro Mennea
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
When: Thursday, May 31
How to watch: This meet will air live in the United States on NBC Sports Network from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday. In Canada, it’s on CBC, while in Europe, it’s on Eurosport.
Women’s steeplechase (2:23 p.m. ET): World champ Emma Coburn runs her outdoor opener
|Rosie Clarke||Great Britain||9:32.10||9:36.29|
|Maria Jose Perez||Spain||9:40.51|
|Fadwa Sidi Madane||Morocco||9:23.99|
None of the first three Diamond League meets of the year featured a Diamond League women’s steeple (there was a women’s steeple in Shanghai, but it did not count in the DL standings). That changes in Rome, where world champ Emma Coburn of the U.S. will run her first steeple — indeed, her first outdoor race, period — of 2018.
The women’s steeple is in an interesting place right now. Times in the event have been dropping rapidly in recent years. In May 2016, there were just two sub-9:05 performances in history; two years later, there have been 22. But the woman leading that charge, Olympic champion and world record holder Ruth Jebet, has reportedly failed a drug test, and while she has yet to be sanctioned for the offense, she has not competed since January. That creates a power vacuum at the top of the event.
There are several women who could fill that gap, and in all likelihood, it will be a combination of them rather than one woman rising above the rest. The most promising are a pair of Kenyans, Celliphine Chespol (8:58 pb) and Beatrice Chepkoech (8:59 pb). Chespol, 19, has been in the news recently as she’s had difficulty leaving her agent Marc Corstjens (who is also Jebet’s agent), even blaming his agency for two drug-testing whereabouts failures. The reason Corstjens wants to hold onto Chespol is clear as, assuming she’s clean, she’s a mega talent. If you remove Jebet’s times, Chespol would be the world record holder thanks to the 8:58.78 she ran as an 18-year-old at last year’s Pre Classic. Chepkoech, 26, only turned to the steeple seriously in 2016, but finished that year 4th at the Olympics before running 9:01 or faster four times last year, including an 8:59 in Zurich.
Both of those women have tremendous upsides; it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine them challenging Jebet’s 8:52.78 world record at some point over the next few years. But neither has a global medal. Chespol finished 6th at Worlds last year, while Chepkoech entered as the favorite but could only manage 4th after shockingly forgetting to run the first water jump. Among the Kenyans, it’s actually 26-year-old Hyvin Kiyeng (9:00 pb) who has been the most consistent, with gold at 2015 Worlds, silver at the 2016 Olympics, and bronze at 2017 Worlds.
Of course, the world champion is an American — Emma C0burn. Coburn has been remarkably consistent since announcing herself on the world stage with a win at the Shanghai Diamond League in 2014. But until London, the knock on Coburn — who has not won a DL steeple since Shanghai — is that while she was very good, she hadn’t been quite good enough to win against the world’s best.
Coburn, of course, did win Worlds, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to dominate or even win again moving forward. She caught a couple of big breaks in London: one monumental, Chepkoech missing the first water jump (and falling on a subsequent barrier after trying to catch back up) and Jebet, who would run 8:55 in Zurich two weeks later, running an awful race and finishing 5th. Still, Coburn made a breakthrough of her own in that race, with a big PR of 9:02, which will make you competitive in any race in the world. It will be interesting to see whether Coburn can consistently run in the low-9:00s this year and snap her DL drought.
Watch, too, for Coburn’s training partner Aisha Praught. She has been a revelation in 2018 and shocked Chespol to win Commonwealth gold in April. She should lower her 9:19 pb significantly this year.
LRC prediction: Chepkoech won the non-DL steeple in Shanghai, but Norah Jeruto was right with her before slipping on her landing on the final barrier. Those two should be up there, but considering Chepkoech raced the 1500 at Pre on Saturday (9th in 4:05.36), it’s a lot to ask for her to bounce back five days (and nine time zones) later. We don’t know what kind of shape Coburn is in, and Chespol could easily win this as well if she has put her Commonwealth Games disappointment behind her. We’re not counting out Praught, either, but with this much talent in the field, the odds are against her.
The most impressive woman so far this year has been Kiyeng, who ran a stellar 8:30 flat 3k in Doha on May 4. She’s our pick FTW.
Men’s 800 (2:38 p.m. ET)
|Alvaro De Arriba||Spain||1:45.06|
|Kyle Langford||Great Britain||1:45.16||1:45.16|
|Amel Tuka||Bosnia & Herzegovina||1:42.51|
For anyone who watched the men’s 800 in Eugene last week, this field is a bit of a letdown. Yes, this is an official Diamond League points event (Pre wasn’t), but the guys who went 1-2 in that race — Emmanuel Korir and Nijel Amos — are both absent, while 3-4-5-6-7 are all running. Tops among them is Kenya’s Wycliffe Kinyamal, who has been in the best form of anyone in this field in 2018. He was 3rd at Pre and earned wins at the Commonwealth Games and Shanghai DL earlier this year. Assuming he can manage two races on two continents six days apart, he’s the favorite here.
Two World Championship medalists will be suiting up for their first Diamond League of the year: 2013 world champ Mo Aman and 2015 bronze medalist Amel Tuka. Aman, who was 6th at Worlds last year, ran just 1:47.27 in his outdoor opener on May 20, while Tuka has yet to race an outdoor 800 in 2018 (he did run a pb of 1:46.33 indoors).
World Indoor champ Adam Kszczot won in Rome last year, and though he was only 4th and 6th in his first two DLs this year, this is the kind of race he could steal with several guys on tired legs. Watch too, for Jonathan Kitilit, who was 2nd to Kinyamal in Shanghai but did not race last weekend.
LRC prediction: Kitilit is both fresh (no races since May 19) and in good form (1:43 in Shanghai on May 12). That adds up to a win here.
Men’s 100 (3:31 p.m. ET): Christian Coleman seeks revenge on Ronnie Baker
|Lamont Marcell Jacobs||Italy||10.08||10.08|
|Akani Simbine||South Africa||9.89||10.03|
It wasn’t just that Ronnie Baker won at the Prefontaine Classic — he did that last year and entered this year’s meet as the world leader at 9.97 — it’s how he did it. He got out even with Christian Coleman, probably the best starter in the world, and then outlasted him at the end of the race, pulling away to win in a blazing 9.78 seconds. Had the wind died down just a little (it was 2.4 m/s during the race, 0.4 over the legal limit), it would have represented a massive PR for the two-time NCAA indoor 60m champion from TCU. Instead, he had to settle for a massive breakthrough as he made a field that contained Coleman, Shanghai DL winner Reece Prescod, and 2017 Diamond League champion CJ Ujah look ordinary.
Now comes the tough part: sustaining that success. Baker has already had a huge season — he earned 60m bronze at Worlds, and his 6.40 at USAs would have put him #2 all-time behind Maurice Greene were it not for Coleman’s big year. But he ran well indoors last year too (6.45, 1st at USA Indoors) and could not make it to Worlds, in part due to a hamstring strain suffered at USAs. Obviously Baker will have to wait until next year for the chance to make his first outdoor team, but if the 24-year-old keeps doing what he’s doing this year, he’ll be favored to make it to Worlds in 2019.
Of course, it’s not hard to imagine a repeat of indoors: Baker runs well but is overshadowed by Coleman. Coleman was second at Pre, .06 behind Baker, but was coming off a hamstring injury of his own that caused him to miss Shanghai on May 12. As good as he was at Pre, Baker will likely need to keep improving if he is to continue winning DLs in 2018 as Coleman is only going to get better.
Update: One big subplot of this race is whether Italy’s national record of 10.01 from 1979 which is held by Pietro Mennea, the 1980 Olympic 200 champ whom the meet is named after, will be broken. 19-year-old Filippo Tortu ran 10.03 last week. Plus fellow Italian Marcell Jacobs, 23, ran 10.08 in the same race. Jacobs was actually US-born (El Paso) as his dad is American but his mom returned to Italy when he was still a young child.
LRC prediction: Considering Pre was just five days before this race, we’ll predict the same outcome here — Baker 1st, Coleman 2nd – but we expect that outcome to be reversed by USAs next month (assuming they both run it) so it may happen here as well.
Mennea’s record lives on.
Men’s 1500 (3:50 p.m. ET): Timothy Cheruiyot looks to extend Diamond League win streak
|Mohad Abdikadar Sheik Ali||Italy||3:38.53||3:40.14|
|Charlie Da’Vall Grice||Great Britain||3:33.60||3:37.43|
|Chris O’Hare||Great Britain||3:33.61||3:39.04|
With wins in Zurich (last year), Shanghai, and Eugene, Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot has now won three straight DL races and will go for four in a row on Thursday in Rome (the win in Eugene was not technically a DL event, but it was certainly DL quality). While the wins in Zurich and Shanghai were close, his victory in last week’s Bowerman Mile was not as he crushed the field over the final 200 meters, winning by 1.39 seconds — the biggest margin in a Bowerman Mile since 2007. The win also means that Cheruiyot is now 5-5 against training partner Elijah Manangoi in their last 10 matchups.
Based on his wins in Shanghai and Eugene, Cheruiyot should start as the favorite in Rome, but he’s not a slam-dunk choice for the win. As we mentioned with some of the other athletes doubling back from Pre, it won’t be easy to race twice in a six-day span almost 6,000 miles apart. World Indoor champion Samuel Tefera, who was 2nd in Shanghai and Eugene, is obviously a threat, as is Manangoi, who surprisingly could not handle the pace at Pre but is still the world champion (and has already won Commonwealth Games and run 1:45 for 800 in 2018).
But if you’re looking for guys who will be fresh, we’ve got three for you to consider. The first is Kenya’s Charles Simotwo. Although he was outclassed at last year’s Kenyan World Champs Trials (Cheruiyot and Manangoi both beat him by 4+ seconds), he has run 3:32, was 5th at last year’s DL final, and is still improving. 4th in Doha and Shanghai, he hasn’t raced since May 19. The second is Ethiopian Taresa Tolosa, who won the non-DL 1500 in Doha on May 4, running 3:35.07. And the third is Elijah’s younger brother George Manangoi. While Jakob Ingebrigtsen got all the love for running a 3:52 mile at Pre, Manangoi — also 17 years old — ran essentially the equivalent time for 1500 (3:35.53) in Doha four weeks ago. Can the World U18 champ step up and contend with the big boys in Rome?
LRC prediction: We’ll take Cheruiyot as he’s been on a hot streak, but with the best guys all doubling back from Pre, an upset could be afoot. If there is an upset, George Manangoi is our pick.
Men’s 3000 steeplechase (4:02 p.m. ET): Conseslus Kipruto gets another shot at Benjamin Kigen
|Zak Seddon||Great Britain||8:26.51||8:26.51|
This event is another Pre Classic rematch, pitting surprise winner Benjamin Kigen against world/Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto. Kipruto was not 100% in Eugene, telling us that he knew he would not have his usual kick at the end of the race. Fully healthy, Kipruto still has the best kick in the world, but the ease with which Kigen pulled away in Eugene — he closed an 8:09 race in 57.89 for his final lap — suggests that he’s not just a flash in the pan. It should be fun to see what he can do against a (hopefully) recovered Kipruto in Rome.
This will also serve as the first steeple of the year for three-time Olympic medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France. MMD ran 13:20 for 5k at Payton Jordan and, most recently, 3:43 for 1500 on May 20 in Grenoble (he won the race by almost two seconds). Keep an eye out for Chala Beyo as well, who won the steeple in Doha in 8:13. While that race did not contain any big guns, there were several up-and-comers in the field, and Beyo did a good job defeating all of them.
LRC prediction: By the end of the year, Kipruto may be the best steepler in the world once again but the suddenness as to how Kigen dropped him at Pre on the backstretch of the final lap was startling. Kigen FTW.
Talk about the meet on our world famous messageboard: MB: Official 2018 Rome Golden Gala DL Discussion Thread – Will Emma Coburn rule the steeple in 2018?