2019 Payton Jordan Preview: Yomif Kejelcha, Sifan Hassan, Jenny Simpson Among Big Names Chasing Fast Times

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By LetsRun.com
May 1, 2019

For the best of the best in track & field, today is a big day: for most events, it’s the first day you can run the qualifying standard for the 2020 Olympic Games. This sport of ours runs in Olympic cycles, and for the athletes dreaming of making it to Tokyo next year, the cycle just ratcheted up a notch. The clock is ticking.

Thursday’s Payton Jordan Invitational is about more than just trying to hit the Olympic qualifying standard, however — with the IAAF’s new qualification system, the auto standards are so tough that only a handful of athletes will hit them in each event. There are collegians looking for PRs one month out from the NCAA championships, mid-tier pros searching for a USA qualifier, and elites trying to knock out the 2019 World Championship standard. For all of them, the goal is the same: run fast.

What: 2019 Payton Jordan Invitational
Where: Cobb Track and Angell Field, Palo Alto, Calif.
When: Thursday, May 2, 2019
How to watch: Live on Flotrack Pro (requires subscription)
Start lists * Schedule * Live results

A few events stand out as the highlights in this distance-focused meet. The men’s 5,000 stands out as the marquee race of the meet. Yomif Kejelcha is the headliner, as he’ll race for the first time since breaking the indoor mile world record in March. He’ll be joined by Americans Ben BlankenshipRyan HillDrew HunterEric Jenkins, and Lopez Lomong, Canadian Justyn Knight, NCAA mile champ Geordie Beamish of New Zealand, and Japanese marathon record holder Suguru Osako.

The best women’s event is the 10,000, which features the much-anticipated 10k debut of Sifan Hassan, the reigning World Championship bronze medalist at 5,000 whose range is unparalleled (1:56 800 and 65:15 half marathon). She faces another London 2017 bronze medalist in Amy Cragg, as well as Euro silver medalist Susan Krumins, Brit Eilish McColgan (just her second 10k ever; mom Liz was the 1991 10k world champ), and 2016 NCAA champ Dominique Scott.

There’s also a strong women’s 5,000, which includes 2018 USA runner-up Rachel Schneider and Jenny Simpson, running her first outdoor 5k since 2013. In the 1500, reigning NCAA champ Jessica Hull of Oregon takes on the Bowerman Track Club’s Karissa SchweizerElise Cranny, and Marielle Hall.

Home favorite Grant Fisher of Stanford goes in the men’s 1500 against former teammate Sean McGorty and US indoor 1000-meter champ Clayton Murphy, while the men’s 10,000 could be a battle between Hassan Mead and Ben True, who dazzled in the 5k here five years ago.

There’s no prize money or great pride in being called a “Payton Jordan champion,” but the times athletes run here are important and set the stage for the season to come. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top races.

Kejelcha winning Millrose in February (Photo by Phil Bond)

Men’s 5,000 (Section 1 at 12:45 a.m. ET)
2019 World Championship standard: 13:22.50
2020 Olympic standard: 13:13.50
Notable entries: 
Eric Avila (also entered in 1500), Geordie Beamish, Ben Blankenship, Andrew Butchart, Ryan Hill, Drew Hunter, Eric Jenkins, Yomif Kejelcha, Justyn Knight, Lopez Lomong, Jordan Gusman, Suguru Osako, Clayton Young

It’s a little curious that Kejelcha is even running this as Payton Jordan is primarily a chance for athletes to chase qualifying times or PRs; Kejelcha could get the World Championship/Olympic qualifying times no problem in a Diamond League meet (where there’s $10k for the win) and it’s hard to see him lowering his 12:46 pb unless this is some sort of world record attempt (which NOP would have announced if that were the case).

But maybe we’re overthinking this. It says something about the current state of the sport — where top runners will often hole up at altitude and race a few select times per year — that when an athlete of Kejelcha’s quality lines up to race at a meet like Payton Jordan, our first reaction is one of confusion. Maybe he just needs a race, simple as that.

Whatever the reason for it, Kejelcha will be a heavy favorite to win this, and the rest of the field will be hoping he does what he did in Brussels last year and Birmingham this year and tow everyone along to fast times behind him. 13:13.50 will be the time on the top guys’ minds, but even with Stanford’s typically perfect conditions, only seven men have ever run that fast at Payton Jordan.

Three guys to watch in this one are Ryan Hill, Drew Hunter, and Eric Jenkins, who have all been banged up recently. Hill and Jenkins both made the 2017 US Worlds team in the 5,000, while Hunter is coming off his first US title in the 2-mile indoors. Hunter’s 5,000 pb is 13:49 from Payton Jordan last year and seems due for a major revising.

BYU’s Clayton Young (3rd at NCAA indoors) and NAU’s Geordie Beamish (NCAA mile champ) are two intriguing collegians. Remember, Beamish, who ran 3:39 for 1500 two weeks ago, said he still didn’t know if he considered himself a miler after winning NCAA indoors in March, so if he goes fast, the 5k could be an option at NCAA outdoors next month.

Also note that the Ingebrigtsen brothers are listed among the entries, but they won’t be racing here.

Embed from Getty Images

Women’s 10,000 (Section 1 at 1:02 a.m. ET)
2019 World Championship standard: 31:50.00
2020 Olympic standard: 31:25.00
Notable entries: 
Sifan Hassan, Amy Cragg, Vanessa Fraser, Susan Krumins, Eilish McColgan, Dominique Scott, Laura Thweatt

Hassan, with her stellar pbs at other distances, projects as a strong 10,000 runner; she already owns the European records in the 5,000 (14:22) and half marathon (65:15), so Paula Radcliffe‘s Euro 10,000 record of 30:01 might be possible one day. But given that this is her debut, getting the World/Olympic standards will be the priority, and she should have no problem accomplishing that. Hassan has won both of her races so far in 2019, running a world record of 14:44 for 5k on the roads in February and winning the Berlin Half on April 7 in 65:45.

American Amy Cragg will look to rebound after a disatrous 73:27 at the Prague Half Marathon on April 6; she last ran a 10k in 2017, when she clocked 31:17 (seven secs off her pb) at this meet. Also look for Euro silver medalist/former Florida State star Susan Krumins and Eilish McColgan (14:48 5k pb, mom won 1991 world 10k).

Phil Bond photo

Men’s 1500 (Section 1 at 12:20 a.m. ET)
2019 World Championship standard: 3:36.00
2020 Olympic standard: 3:35.00
Notable entries: 
Moh Ahmed, Eric Avila (also entered in 5000), Robert Domanic, Grant Fisher, Woody Kincaid, Matt Hughes, Sean McGorty, Clayton Murphy

Clayton Murphy was outstanding this indoor season, running 1:45 and 3:53 and earning his fourth US title by winning the 1000 meters in Staten Island. This is his outdoor opener, and he’ll be favored to win it. Stanford senior Grant Fisher — running his final race at home as an undergrad — against first-year Bowerman Track Club pro Sean McGorty should be a nice matchup as well; between them, they’ve split the last two NCAA 5,000 titles.

Women’s 5000 (Section 1 at 12:26 a.m. ET)
2019 World Championship standard: 15:22.00
2020 Olympic standard: 15:10.00
Notable entries: 
Meraf Bahta, Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, Kim Conley, Weini Kelati, Ednah Kurgat, Erika Kemp, Sharon Lokedi, Elle Purrier, Rachel Schneider, Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson is the biggest name in the field, but she’s not the fastest by PR; that would be Swede Meraf Bahta, who ran 14:49 in 2016 and won this race last year in 15:15. But Simpson is still the woman we’re most interested to watch here as running the 5,000 is very out of the ordinary for her; she last ran one outdoors in 2013. Is she trying it again for redemption for the beating she suffered at the hands of Konstanze Klosterhalfen in January? Just building strength? Testing the waters for an eventual move up in 2020? Or is it just a rustbuster?

We’d imagine it’s partly option A, B, C and D. Simpson turns 33 in August and you don’t see many women that age medalling in the 1500 at Worlds (of course you also don’t see many women medalling four times, which Simpson has also done). If Simpson does start to lose her speed, it would be nice to have the Olympic 5k standard in her back pocket, should she be able to knock it out on Thursday (her pb is 14:56 from 2013). That being said, if she did move up, we’d expect it to be to the steeplechase where she used to star but this strength work could only help.

Also watch out for 2018 US runner-up Rachel Schneider and 2018 NCAA mile champ Elle Purrier, who will be making her 5k debut.

True and Mead on the podium at USAs in 2015

Men’s 10,000 (Section 1 at 1:40 a.m. ET)
2019 World Championship standard: 27:40.00
2020 Olympic standard: 27:28.00
Notable entries: 
Diego Estrada, Ben Flanagan, Lawi Lalang, Rory Linkletter, Connor McMillan, Hassan Mead, Ben True

Given the dearth of high-quality 10ks in the world and the near-perfect conditions that Stanford traditionally offers, it’s surprising that there aren’t more studs trying to run fast here. Instead, it looks like many of them — including Paul Chelimo, who plans to attempt the 5k/10k double this year — will be heading to Stockholm on May 30 which might make more sense given how late Worlds are. Still, 2017 US champ Hassan Mead and Ben True, who made the US team at 10,000 in 2015, will be chasing the World/Olympic standards, which won’t be easy. Mead’s PR is 27:32, True’s 27:41, and per Track & Field News, no one has broken 27:28 (the 2020 Olympic standard) at Payton Jordan since 2012.

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