What to Watch for at 2018 World Juniors: Sammy Watson Tries to Repeat, Crazy Tactics, a Loaded Men’s 1500 & More
By Jonathan Gault
July 9, 2018
The 2018 World U20 Championships (aka World Juniors) will be held this week in Tampere, Finland, with the action kicking off on Tuesday and running every day through the conclusion of the meet on Sunday. While there are obviously not as many big-name athletes at World Juniors as at the meet’s senior counterpart, we enjoy this meet for two reasons.
1) For many fans, this is their first chance to see the world’s next global stars
Not every World Junior champion is destined for senior stardom. But if you look at the former champions from this meet, almost every year produces one or two megastars who go on to dominate the senior ranks. Take the 2002 World Juniors in Kingston, Jamaica. The winner of the men’s 200 was a 15-year-old named Usain Bolt who turned out to be pretty good. But that was not the most loaded event — that was the women’s 5,000, which saw a 1-2-3 of Meseret Defar, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Vivian Cheruiyot. Those three have gone on to become three of the greatest female runners in history, and 10 years later at the London, they went 1-2-3 again in the Olympic 5,000 final (with Cheruiyot beating Dibaba out for silver this time around).
LaShawn Merritt, Aries Merritt, and Kerron Clement were among the Olympic champions to win gold at the 2004 World Juniors. 2006 gave us David Rudisha. Kirani James, Mutaz Essa Barshim, and Luvo Manyonga all won World Junior gold in 2010. At the last edition, in 2016, both Noah Lyles and Michael Norman won individual titles. Year after year, the meet attracts massive talents.
And sometimes, you have to look a little more carefully for potential. At the 2008 World Juniors in Bydgoszcz, Poland, the eighth-place finisher in the men’s 1500 was a 19-year-old called Evan Jager who had just finished his freshman year at Wisconsin. Ten years later, he’s one of the world’s best steeplechasers. And we doubt anyone would have pegged the 11th placer in the men’s 5,000 that year for grand future success, but Matthew Centrowitz went on to win Olympic gold in Rio (though Centro did manage to beat Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen, now the European record holder in the marathon at 2:05:48).
2) The middle-distance races can be crazy because many of the competitors don’t know how to race yet
The 800 and 1500 are two of our favorite events in track & field. Short enough to keep your attention but long enough for the racers to employ some strategy, they’re always exciting to watch at championship meets. And that goes double at World Juniors. Why? Because unlike the pros, anything is on the table. Remember, many of the athletes at World Juniors haven’t been running for very long. For some of them, it’s their first race outside their home nation. Which means that they’re not drilled on the finer details of pacing or strategy.
Remember the women’s 800 final in 2014? Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir went out in 56.33 and was so out of gas by the end of the race that she wound up dropping out with 80 meters to go.
In the men’s 1500 final in 2016, Kenya’s Kumari Taki was totally spent at the end of the race and spent the final 10 meters falling over but somehow managed to hold on for the win.
(Did you notice Josh Kerr and Jakob Ingebrigtsen in that race as well?)
We can’t wait to see what chaos the middle distance races have in store in 2018.
Four more reasons to be excited about 2018 World Juniors
While the two points above are evergreen reasons to watch World Juniors, a meet is more interesting when you know something about the athletes who are competing. So after scanning through the entry lists and doing some research, we present four more reasons to be excited about this year’s World Juniors.
Before we get to that however, here are some handy links with more meet information.
1) The race of the meet: Jakob Ingebrigtsen vs. World Youth champ George Manangoi vs. World Indoor champ Samuel Tefera in the men’s 1500
Remember how we said many of these athletes have never raced on the big stage before? Well that’s not exactly true in the men’s 1500 (final Thursday, 1:25 p.m. ET), which is our pick for the race of the meet. The fastest seed on paper is Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera (3:31.63 pb), and he should win. He prevailed in an extremely tactical World Indoor final in March – yes that’s right he’s the world indoor champion – and he’s been terrific on the DL circuit – with runner-up finishes in Shanghai and Eugene and a 3rd in Rome.
But there’s a ton of talent in this race, and plenty of crazy stuff can happen in a championship 1500 final. Kenya’s Justus Soget has run 3:32.97, and he crushed George Manangoi to win the Kenyan trials by over two seconds. But Manangoi is no slouch, either — he won the World U18 title last year and clocked a pb of 3:35 to defeat Soget in Doha in May. And then there’s the most famous junior distance runner in the world, Jakob Ingebrigtsen. The 17-year-old from Norway was two places (and 1.02 seconds) behind Tefera in the Bowerman Mile in May (Tefera ran 3:51, Ingebrigtsen 3:52), and followed that performance up with a 3:36.06 1500 pb in Oslo and a 3:37 win in Stockholm. He has been terrific this year.
There’s also a cool family rivalry storyline here. In 2017, George’s brother Elijah won the 1500 at Worlds, while Jakob’s brother Filip took the bronze. The Ingebrigtsens will be looking to turn the tables in Tampere.
Yared Nuguse, who anchored Notre Dame to second place in the DMR at NCAA indoors, is the top U.S. entrant and seeded 7th overall (3:42.44 pb). Making the final is a very realistic goal, but it would take a truly special performance to sniff a medal against this stellar field.
LRC prediction: There are some studs in this field, but Tefera is already a world champ at the senior level and has been a stud on the circuit this year. He’s our pick FTW. Soget for silver. The question is who gets the bronze – Ingebrigtsen or Manangoi.
2) Selemon Barega headlines a loaded men’s 5,000 (featuring Americans Cooper Teare & Soren Knudsen)
Barega, the World Indoor silver medalist over 3,000m, has already won twice on the Diamond League circuit this year and was narrowly denied a third victory when countryman Yomif Kejelcha (another World Junior champ) yanked his shorts in Lausanne last week. He also owns a 5,000 pb of 12:55; since the start of 2016, last year’s world champ Muktar Edris is the only man to have run faster.
Barega, officially, is still only 18 years old (though we’ve been told by Race Results Weekly’s David Monti that his age is “totally bogus” — which is probably the case for numerous athletes in this meet) but he’s already run a ton of global championships, including wins at World Juniors in 2016 (5k) and World Youths in 2017 (3k) and a fifth-place finish at senior Worlds last year (5k). Should he win in Tampere, he would become just the ninth man to win the same event at World Juniors twice, and the first to do it in the 5,000.
Barega will start as the favorite, but he won’t have it easy as the 5,000 (final Saturday, 8:20 a.m. ET) is one of the most loaded events of the entire championships, with five guys seeded under 13:20. Barega’s teammate Telahun Bekele has run 13:04 and 13:07 in his last two 5,000m races. Kenya’s Stanley Waithaka was 3rd in Shanghai in May, just .48 behind Paul Chelimo. Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda earned 10k bronze at World Juniors in 2016 and won the junior race at World XC last year. And Edward Zakayo earned Commonwealth bronze in April and won the Kenyan World Junior trials over Waithaka by almost four seconds, clocking 13:19 at altitude in Nairobi.
Plus the American entrants are interesting, even if they won’t contend for the win. Oregon’s Cooper Teare was the only true freshman to qualify for NCAAs in either the 5k or 10k this year, finishing 17th in the 5k. The other is Soren Knudsen. For those that don’t know about Knudsen, he’s had quite the year since graduating from Minooka (IL) High School last year with pbs of 4:04/8:55. He enrolled at Northern Arizona in the fall of 2017, but he battled mental health problems and dropped out after his first semester. Knudsen says that after dropping out of NAU, he spent a month working as a forklift operator in Chicago and another month living in Las Vegas before returning to Flagstaff, where he has continued to train (not on the team), leading to a 13:54 pb this spring. He’s been chronicling the whole experience on YouTube, where he has over 10,000 subscribers.
As you might expect, Knudsen has also spawned several threads on the LetsRun messageboards:
(We’ve decided to merge all the threads into 1 mega thread).
LRC prediction: As in the 1500, this is a loaded field, but one man stands out from the rest. Barega FTW.
3) These two athletes are already world-class, so let’s appreciate their greatness
Usually, winning World Juniors means that you’re on the path to becoming one of the best in the world at the senior level. But the athletes below have already gone up against the best the world has to offer — and won (Barega and Tefera fit in this category too, but the 1500 and 5k are so intriguing that we made them their own points). By watching them at World Juniors, you’ll either get one last chance to see them dominate age-group competition — or you’ll witness a big-time upset.
Celliphine Chespol, Kenya, women’s 3,000 steeplechase (final Friday, 1:45 p.m. ET)
Chespol isn’t just one of the world’s best steeplers right now (she has finished 2nd in her two DL appearances this year in Rome and Paris), she’s one of the fastest of all time. In fact, if you remove Ruth Jebet (who has reportedly tested positive for EPO and has not competed in 2018), Chespol would have the world record at 8:58.78 from last year’s Pre Classic despite coming to a complete stop to put her shoe back on. Considering the #2 seed has an SB over 10 seconds slower than Chespol, she might be able to do that in Tampere and still win on Friday.
Mondo Duplantis, Sweden, men’s pole vault (final Saturday, 6:50 a.m. ET)
Back on May 5, Duplantis cleared 5.93 meters at the Louisiana state meet, which is not only a world junior record but a performance that puts him #3 on the world outdoor list for 2018. In four DL appearances this year, he’s finished 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 5th, including a win in Stockholm on June 10. Amazingly, there’s another 18-year-old stud in the pole vault right now: Greece’s Emmanuel Karalis, who actually beat Duplantis at World Indoors in March (Karalis was 5th, clearing a pb of 5.80m, while Duplantis finished 7th). But Karalis developed a bone bruise after World Indoors and will not compete outdoors this spring, paving the way to a World Junior title for Duplantis.
4) Athletes to watch
Since this is World Juniors, the name of the game is too look at everyone as a potential breakout star. But there are a few athletes worthy of extra attention, whether because of their backstory, their performances, or their chance to make history. Here are five to keep an eye on.
Christopher Taylor, Jamaica, men’s 400 (final Friday, 1:35 p.m. ET)
Taylor, who ran 45.27 to win the World Youth title as a 15-year-old in 2015, is poised to become the next great Jamaican sprinter. He owns the Jamaican U20 records in the 100 (10.11) and 400 (44.88) and is second on the Jamaican U20 list in the 200 (20.35) behind some guy named Bolt. Taylor would be a threat to win any of the sprints in Tampere, but he’s entered in the 400, where he’s the only man seeded under 45 seconds.
Sammy Watson & Caitlin Collier, USA, women’s 800 (final Thursday, 1:48 p.m. ET)
Fourteen women have repeated as World Junior champion, and Watson, who won the title in 2016 in Bydgoszcz, could join the club with a win in Tampere (it would also be the third American title in the last four editions of the championships as Ajee Wilson won back in 2012). One of her biggest competitors is actually her U.S. teammate Collier, who enters as the top seed thanks to her 2:00.85 SB. Interestingly, even though Collier just graduated from high school and Watson just finished her freshman year of college, Watson is actually three months younger than Collier. Collier turns 19 on August 5 while Watson doesn’t turn 19 until November 10.
We like Watson’s chances, though. She hasn’t lost a race during the entire outdoor season, including an NCAA title for Texas A&M and a win at USA Juniors over Collier. Considering Texas A&M mid-d coach Alleyne Francique left the program after the indoor season, we’ll be interested to see what Watson elects to do should she win another World Junior title (though she did win NCAAs without Francique outdoors).
Rhonex Kipruto, Kenya, men’s 10,000 (final Tuesday, 11:50 a.m. ET)
Kipruto’s track pb is 27:49, which puts him 23 seconds behind top seed Jacob Kiplimo in this race, but Kipruto has gone way faster on the roads: in April, he clocked 27:08 on the hills of Central Park to win the Healthy Kidney 10K. Considering how fast he ran in NYC and the fact that his 27:49 came at altitude in Nairobi, Kipruto is our pick to win gold on Tuesday.
Jaryd Clifford, Australia, men’s 1500 (prelims Tuesday, 3:25 a.m. ET; final Thursday, 1:25 p.m. ET)
Clifford will make history in Tampere by becoming the first Paralympian to compete at the World U20 Championships. Born with a degenerative eye condition, Clifford is legally blind but did not let that stop him from running a PR of 3:45 in a race won by Matthew Centrowitz in Sydney in March. Clifford finished 7th in the T13 1500 at the 2016 Paralympics at age 17; last year, he earned bronze in the T13 1500 at the World Para Athletics Championships. For more on Clifford, check out this article he wrote for Runner’s Tribe detailing his story.
Talk about the meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Official 2018 World U20s (AKA World Jrs) Thread