2019 Shanghai DL Preview: Sydney McLaughlin’s DL Debut, A Loaded Men’s 5K, and (Finally!) Benjamin vs. Samba in the 400H
By Jonathan Gault
May 16, 2019
Saturday’s Shanghai IAAF Diamond League track and field / athletics meeting is packed with big-time matchups and high-profile debuts, meaning a ton of star power and a whiff of the unknown. In other words, exactly what you want from a track & field meet.
If you want to watch it live in the US, you’ll have to get up early (it’s a 7 a.m. Eastern start on Saturday). But it’s worth setting those alarms, because the two best events of the day are the first two track races, the men’s 400 hurdles and the men’s 5000. In the former, we get the much-anticipated showdown between two of the fastest men of all time, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba (46.98 pb) and the USA’s Rai Benjamin (47.02). Both of them will have Kevin Young‘s 46.78 world record in their sights this year, and with both men already in great form, it’s not inconceivable that Young’s record, which has stood for over 26 years, could go down on Saturday. In the 5000, there’s a cavalcade of stars, led by Ethiopians Selemon Barega and Yomif Kejelcha, World Cross Country champ Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, and American Paul Chelimo.
Plus there is the Diamond League debut of 19-year-old wunderkind Sydney McLaughlin in the women’s 400, the return of Andre De Grasse in the men’s 200, and world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech in the women’s steeple. The meet ends with a clash of young US stars in the 100, with last year’s world leader Christian Coleman taking on last year’s US champ Noah Lyles.
We preview the best events in detail below.
What: 2019 Shanghai Diamond League
Where: Shanghai Stadium, Shanghai, China
When: Saturday, May 18. DL track events (and the NBC Sports Gold broadcast) begin at 7:00 a.m. ET.
How to watch: This meet will be streamed live in the United States on the NBC Sports Gold from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. ET on Saturday. NBC Sports Gold subscribers can also watch the meet on-demand after its conclusion. For full TV/streaming details, see below.
Men’s 400 hurdles (7:04 a.m. ET): Benjamin vs. Samba at last
For years, the 400 hurdles was something of a joke on the Diamond League circuit. It was the race no one really cared about, the one they’d get out of the way early by making it the first event of every meet, a warmup for the big races later on.
No more. Now the 400 hurdles is an event flooded with young talent. It began on a rainy night in London two years ago, when the charismatic Norwegian Karsten Warholm was crowned world champion. And last year, Abderrahman Samba made the 400 hurdles appointment viewing, breaking the Diamond League record four times and becoming just the second human ever under 47 seconds. In the US, Rai Benjamin was tearing up the collegiate scene, running 47.02 to obliterate the 47.56 NCAA record formerly held by 2016 Olympic champ Kerron Clement.
But we missed out on two things last year: a head-to-head showdown between Samba and Benjamin, and a world record (46.78). We are guaranteed the first in Shanghai, as Benjamin, who did not run any hurdles races after NCAAs last year, and Samba are both entered. The second could happen on Saturday as well, particularly with Samba and Benjamin to push each other.
Though Worlds are still four and a half months away, Samba and Benjamin have both proven themselves to be fit right now. Samba ran an unchallenged 47.51 to win the Asian Champs on April 22 — that’s faster than his DL opener from a year ago. Benjamin, meanwhile, slashed .43 off his flat 400 pb with a 44.31 at Mt. SAC on April 20. Something special could be in store in Shanghai.
LRC prediction: We’ll take Samba FTW. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the WR go down, but it’s almost always smarter to say the WR won’t get broken, so we’ll say that Young’s record survives. For now.
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Men’s 5000 (7:13 a.m. ET): The final season of DL 5000s kicks off with a star-studded showdown
One of the reasons the IAAF cited for its decision to cut the 5,000 from the Diamond League next season is they claim the top athletes in the event don’t race each other enough. That reason was bogus to begin with (Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin dodged each other for years yet no one would seriously consider removing the 100), but it looks even sillier now given the lineup of the first DL 5000 of 2019 in Shanghai.
The race features the top three from one of the best races of 2018, the DL final in Brussels, where Selemon Barega (12:43), Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:45), and Yomif Kejelcha (12:46) all moved into the top 10 all-time. Since then, Barega has finished 5th at World XC and Kejelcha has broken the indoor world record in the mile, making their rematch that much more enticing.
But they won’t be the only men gunning for the win on Saturday. American Paul Chelimo took down both Gebrhiwet and Kejelcha to win the London Diamond League in 2018 and has medals from the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. And the immensely talented Joshua Cheptegei will run his first track race in over a year off the back of his victory at World XC in March. Though Cheptegei is more accomplished over 10,000 meters (2014 world junior champ, 2017 world silver medalist), he does own an impressive 12:59 pb over 5,000. Plus there’s the reigning Shanghai champ in Birhanu Balew, who beat Chelimo here by .02 a year ago after Chelimo looked over his shoulder 19 times on the last lap.
We hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but just because everyone ran insanely fast in Brussels last year doesn’t mean that we’re going to see the same on Saturday. Remember, until Brussels, 2018 was in danger of becoming the first year since 1993 without a sub-13:00. That wasn’t because these guys lack the ability to run fast; it’s because dipping into the sub-13:00 range requires getting right behind the pacemakers early and continuing to push once the pacemakers drop. In Brussels, Kejelcha was willing to take up that duty and grind over the final mile, but if no one wants to do that in Shanghai, we could easily see a winning time in the 13:00s or even low 13:10s.
A slower pace would favor Chelimo, who has been terrific in championship races but was left in the dust in Brussels last year (he has tried to work on his strength in the offseason, making his half marathon debut in New York in March). A faster pace would help Kejelcha defeat Chelimo, but if Kejelcha is the one doing the pushing, it could leave him vulnerable to Barega, which is what happened in Brussels. We’ll be very interested to see how this one plays out.
LRC prediction: Kejelcha has looked incredible this year, so he’s our pick FTW. We’ll find out a lot more about everyone’s fitness after this one is over.
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Women’s 400 (7:36 a.m. ET): Syd the Kid’s DL debut
|Lisanne de Witte||Netherlands||50.77|
|Stephenie Ann McPherson||Jamaica||49.92||51.94|
|Salwa Eid Naser||Bahrain||49.08||51.34|
Sydney McLaughlin has competed at the Olympics, but this will be her first test on the Diamond League circuit as the 19-year-old will travel to China to run her first flat 400 since March 2018. While McLaughlin’s professional debut was a total layup, an indoor 500 in January where she didn’t face much competition, her first Diamond League race is anything but. Not only is McLaughlin running the flat 400 as opposed to her best event, the 400 hurdles, but she’s taking on the reigning Diamond League champ and world silver medalist in Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain. Naser’s PR, set last year in Monaco, is almost a full second faster than McLaughlin’s, and she’ll be the heavy favorite to win this race with Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo sitting this one out.
We’re very interested to see how McLaughlin does here, however, as it’s possible she could finish as high as second. McLaughlin opened her outdoor season with a comfortable 54.14 400 hurdles win in Los Angeles last week, and she clearly has sub-50 ability in the flat event — her PR of 50.07 came from her only outdoor 400 as a collegian, an early-season meet last year.
LRC prediction: Naser wins, third place for McLaughlin.
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Women’s 1500 (7:52 a.m. ET): Sifan Hassan is favored
|Kristiina Maki||Czech Republic||4:06.71|
Even though Sifan Hassan is planning on running the 5,000 and 10,000 at Worlds this year, she evidently still wants to run her old event as well. We’re fairly confident that she would be the only person ever to win the Payton Jordan 10,000 and a Diamond League 1500 in the same year, and given Hassan’s form in the 1500 last year (World Indoor bronze, two DL wins) and her PR (3:56.05, fastest in the field), she’ll be the woman to beat here.
But she’s not a lock. One of her biggest competitors figures to be Kenyan Winny Chebet, who last year used an incredible 56-second last lap to defeat Shelby Houlihan at the Continental Cup. Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia is another formidable foe, finishing second to Hassan in the London and Birmingham DLs last year and fourth in the DL final in Brussels. She also ran a 3k pb of 8:30 in Doha two weeks ago.
The US has two entries in Alexa Efraimson, coming off a win at the Drake Relays, and Emily Lipari, who was fourth in the two-mile at USA indoors and will be making her Diamond League debut.
LRC prediction: Hassan may be gearing up for the 5k/10k double at Worlds, but she is so talented and versatile that we aren’t betting against her here.
Women’s steeplechase (8:34 a.m. ET): WR holder Beatrice Chepkoech opens up in the steeple
|Lucie Sekanova||Czech Republic||9:41.84|
Until June 2018, Beatrice Chepkoech was known as a very good steepler. Then she turned into a fireball and started doing things nobody had ever seen before. It started in Paris, where she became the first woman in 2018 to break 9:00. Three weeks later in Monaco, she crushed the 8:52 world record of doper Ruth Jebet with a remarkable 8:44. She followed that up with two more sub-9:00s at the African Champs and Diamond League final, which means she now holds the following records:
World record: 8:44.32 (Next-closest time: 8:52.78 by Jebet; next-closest time by someone not busted for doping: 8:58.78)
Most career sub-9:00s: 5 (There have only been 12 in history)
Most consecutive sub-9:00s: 4 (Jebet is the only other woman who has broken 9:00 more than once — consecutive or not)
Clearly, Chepkoech was operating on another level last year, and after taking 7th at World XC in March and running 8:29 for the flat 3k in Doha on May 3, she appears to be fit right now. The question is, can anyone get close to her in 2019?
It could happen. 8:44 is WAY out there, but there are several women who have been right around 9:00 in recent years, and Chepkoech’s second-best time is 8:55. We don’t expect Chepkoech to run in the 8:40s every time out, which means she’s not totally invincible. Norah Jeruto ran 8:59 last year and Americans Emma Coburn (9:02 pb) and Courtney Frerichs (9:00 pb) went 1-2 at Worlds in 2017 (granted, Chepkoech forgot to hurdle the first water jump).
None of those women will be in Shanghai, but Celliphine Chespol will. Chespol has the #2 time in history by a non-doper at 8:58.78 from the 2017 Pre Classic, and she ran that despite having to stop mid-race to put her shoe back on. If Chespol, the two-time world junior champ, can recapture that kind of form this year, she could threaten Chepkoech.
American Mel Lawrence is entered here, and while she’s overmatched by the likes of Chepkoech and Chespol, a top-five finish isn’t out of the question.
LRC prediction: Chepkoech is the queen of the steeple right now, and until she shows otherwise, we’re not betting against her.
Men’s 100 (8:53 a.m. ET): Coleman vs. Lyles as America’s best squares off
|Reece Prescod||Great Britain||9.94|
|Akani Simbine||South Africa||9.89|
While Christian Coleman‘s 2018 indoor season could not have gone better, with four wins, a world record, and a world title, his 2018 outdoor season did not go as smoothly as he battled a hamstring injury for much of the summer. He finished second at the Pre Classic on May 26 and fourth in Rome five days later before taking the next six weeks off from competition to recover. When he did return, he notched a pair of narrow wins in Rabat and Birmingham, but it wasn’t until the DL final in Brussels that we saw what he was truly capable of as Coleman ripped off a 9.79 (into a slight headwind) to move into a tie with Maurice Greene for seventh on the all-time list.
Usain Bolt has retired and reigning world champion Justin Gatlin is 37, which leaves Coleman, the World Championship silver medalist in 2017, poised to take over as the top dog in track & field’s showcase event. He’ll be favored in Shanghai, as his personal best is almost a tenth of a second better than the rest of the field, but since this is Coleman’s 2019 season opener, it’s hard to know exactly what kind of shape he’s in.
Coleman’s biggest challenger figures to be another young US star, Noah Lyles. Lyles dominated the DL in the 200 last year and won USAs in the 100 while Coleman was sidelined.
Coleman vs. Lyles is very much a contrast in styles: Coleman is one of the greatest starters the world has ever seen, while Lyles maintains his speed at the end of races better than anyone in the sport right now. That has allowed Lyles to crush the competition in the 200, but it often leaves him playing catchup in the 100 against superior starters like Coleman. Coleman won both of their matchups last year, but it was tight both times, with Lyles finishing .01 behind in Rabat and .04 behind in Birmingham.
Other men to watch in this one include home favorite Bingtian Su, the silver medalist in the 60 at World Indoors last year, and Brit Reece Prescod, the Euro silver medalist who won in Shanghai in 2018.
LRC prediction: At his best, Coleman can reach a higher level than anyone else in this field. We’ll have wait until Saturday to see exactly how close to his best Coleman is, but the man himself says he’s feeling good, telling Track & Field News, “As far as right now, I don’t like to put a time or anything like that out there, but I feel pretty good. I feel as best as I’ve ever felt.” That’s good enough for us. Coleman FTW.
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