2019 Birmingham DL Preview: British Teen Phenoms, Craig Engels Tries for First Euro Win, & Christian Coleman
By Jonathan Gault
August 15, 2019
Slowly, surely, the march to the 2019 World Championships beats on. We’re still six weeks away from the big shindig in Doha — not close, but the finish line is in sight for a meet that, at times this year, felt as though it would never arrive.
Before that though, we’ve got a Diamond League season to finish. After a monthlong break, track & field’s pro circuit resumes in Birmingham on Sunday, followed by one more regular-season meet in Paris next weekend before the two finals in Zurich on August 29 and Brussels on September 6. To get to those finals, however, athletes have to earn their spots, and for those on the bubble, Birmingham and Paris are their last chances to earn points.
In terms of mid-d and distance events, Ajee’ Wilson headlines the women’s 800, while Konstanze Klosterhalfen will seek to follow up her 14:26 German record in the 5,000 with a win in a watered-down mile field. World record holder Beatrice Chepkoech headlines the women’s steeple, though top Americans Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Colleen Quigley are absent.
There are no men’s Diamond League distance races, but there is a non-DL men’s 800 and 1500. The former features 17-year-old British phenom Max Burgin (1:45.36 pb), while the latter includes US champ Craig Engels, chasing his first-ever European victory.
The best action of the day can be found in the sprints. World leader Christian Coleman will be favored in the men’s 100 against Yohan Blake and Akani Simbine (4th and 5th at the 2017 Worlds), while the women’s 200 is Olympic final quality — Dina Asher-Smith, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, and Dafne Schippers are all entered.
Below, a detailed breakdown of the best track action in Birmingham this weekend.
What: 2019 Müller Grand Prix Birmingham
Where: Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, England
When: Sunday, August 18
Men’s 100 (prelims 8:46 a.m. ET, final 10:32 a.m. ET): Christian Coleman returns to action
UPDATE: Athletics Weekly reports Coleman has withdrawn from the meet “as a result of complications occurring after practice this week.”
|Harry Aikines-Aryeetey||Great Britain||10.08||10.11|
|Oliver Bromby||Great Britain||10.22||10.22|
|Arthur Cisse||Ivory Coast||9.93||9.93|
|Andre De Grasse||Canada||9.91||9.98|
|Adam Gemili||Great Britain||9.97||10.04|
|Akani Simbine||South Africa||9.89||9.93|
This isn’t quite a World Championship preview given that Christian Coleman is the only one of the world’s four sub-9.90 men in 2019 in this field. But it should serve as a checkup to see if Coleman is as far ahead of the rest of the world as when he last raced on the DL circuit seven weeks ago. In that race, at the Pre Classic, Coleman blasted a world-leading 9.81, ahead of Justin Gatlin (9.87), who won’t be running here, and well clear of the rest of the field (Zharnel Hughes — who won’t be in Birmingham either — was third in 9.97, the only other man under 10 seconds).
The guess here is that Coleman wins, and it isn’t close. Aside from USAs — where windy conditions prevented him from dropping a truly fast time — he’s improved every time out in the 100, from 9.86 in his opener in Shanghai in May to 9.85 in Oslo to 9.81 at Pre. He’s got the best start in the world, and no one in this field has done anything this year to suggest they can run him down over the final 50.
Coleman had a heavy workload at USAs — six races in two days — but has had three weeks to recover. Even if he’s not at his best, he’s still too good for this field.
South Africa’s Akani Simbine, coming off a 9.93 win in London is the best of the rest. Yohan Blake is only 11th in the DL standings and will need a solid showing in Birmingham just to make the final. Canada’s Andre De Grasse also is in this race which marks his first 100m clash with Coleman since the 2015 NCAA meet where De Grasse got the win and Coleman didn’t even make the final.
JG prediction: Coleman FTW. Can he break 9.90? The fastest anyone has ever run in Birmingham is 9.91 (Asafa Powell in 2011 and James Dasaolu in 2013).
Millicent Fawcett women’s mile (9:23 a.m. ET): Who will win a wide-open race?
|Melissa Courtney||Great Britain||4:23.15||4:27.76|
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||4:25.07|
|Jemma Reekie||Great Britain||4:27.16|
Six of the top seven in the Diamond League standings are sitting this one out (Canada’s Gabriela DeBues-Stafford is the lone exception). When you add in the fact that neither world champ Faith Kipyegon nor US champ Shelby Houlihan have any points at all (both have only raced Pre this year, where the 1500 was not a DL event), this is not a particularly strong event.
The fact that Kipyegon, who has been dealing with an adductor injury, and Houlihan are absent has consequences beyond this meet; it also means that neither will be running the DL final in Zurich.
All those absences have left opportunities for some lesser-known athletes, among them NCAA runner-up Jessica Hull, Euro U23 800/1500 champ Jemma Reekie (Laura Muir‘s training partner), and Americans Helen Schlachtenhaufen and Heather MacLean. Both Schlachtenhaufen (4:06 to 4:03) and MacLean (4:17 to 4:05) have made big leaps in the 1500 this year and should be in line for mile PRs here (though it’s worth noting that this will be Schlachtenhaufen’s third race in nine days, after a 1500 in Memphis on Saturday and a 3,000 in Cork on Wednesday).
No one in this field has ever won a Diamond League. Two women have come close, however. DeBues-Stafford led off the final turn in the 5,000 in Stockholm this year, only to be outkicked. And Konstanze Klosterhalfen has twice finished second in 3,000s behind NOP teammate Sifan Hassan (2017 Birmingham and 2019 Pre). I’m betting it comes down to those two.
As far as DL final qualification is concerned, American Jenny Simpson is in as of now (tied for 10th with 7 points) but could get bumped out if Klosterhalfen, Reekie, and Elle Purrier — all of whom are behind her — run well in Birmingham. Klosterhalfen would have to finish 5th or better to move ahead of Simpson; Reekie and Purrier require 3rd or better (the top 12 make it). Once you factor in scratches, Simpson probably is ok, but she’s not a total lock to run in Zurich on August 29.
JG prediction: Koko has the fastest 1500 pb in the field (3:58) and her best bet may be to replicate the strategy she used to win at Millrose in February and take off early. She has the fearlessness to do it, but she may not have quite enough to separate from DeBues-Stafford or Embaye. Those two ran 4:17 and 4:18, respectively, in Sifan Hassan‘s world record race in Monaco. Unless Klosterhalfen goes out and runs 4:15 or 4:16 — which I’m not sure she can do — she may find herself getting outkicked by one of them. I’ll say DeBues-Stafford makes history and becomes the first Canadian woman to win a Diamond League mid-d or distance event.
Men’s 1500 (9:43 a.m. ET): Engels’ time to shine
|Piers Copeland||Great Britain||3:39.50||3:39.50|
|Jake Heyward||Great Britain||3:36.90||3:40.17|
|Jakub Holusa||Czech Republic||3:32.49||3:36.65|
|Julian Oakley||New Zealand||3:39.14||3:39.14|
|Chris O’Hare||Great Britain||3:32.11||3:36.57|
|Zak Seddon||Great Britain||3:42.02||3:45.11|
This will be Craig Engels‘ first European Diamond League race — yes, I know it’s not actually a DL points race — and represents another test in what has so far been a fine 2019 season. Engels has shown improvements in several areas this year, dropping his 800 pb to 1:44 and running an outstanding tactical race to take down former teammate Matthew Centrowitz to win the US 1500 title. That race in Des Moines showed that a medal in Doha may be possible for Engels. And if he’s going to medal at Worlds, this race in Birmingham is the kind that Engels needs to win.
That’s not to say Engels will win, as there are some very fast dudes in this race, including Ronald Musagala (3:30), indoor world record holder Samuel Tefera (3:31), and Stewart McSweyn (3:31). Engels’ best of 3:35 lags well behind. But that PR is also due for a revision, and where better to revise it than against a field like this?
But even if he runs a huge PB, that may not be enough as 3:30 equates to 3:47 in the mile.
In addition to the competition, the other concern is that Engels may not be completely ready to roll. USAs was a big deal for him, and he said after that race that his plans were either “go back to Portland or take a week off and go back home and party with my friends for a week.” Clearly, he was in fantastic shape at USAs, and taking a little time off to recharge before Worlds makes perfect sense. But if he chose the latter option and elected to slug a few Bud Lights with his pals, he may not be as sharp as some of these other guys in his first European race of the year.
JG prediction: Engels has been on fire, and Musagala, who was third in Monaco in 3:30, has quietly had an incredible year. But I’m going to take Tefera FTW. He ran 3:49 to win the mile in London his last time out and Birmingham has always been good to him: he won World Indoors there last year and set the world record indoors there this year. Engels should be in the mix though. With a field like this, he’ll have a good shot at the Olympic standard (3:35.00) — something no American man has hit yet.
Women’s 3,000 steeple (9:55 a.m. ET): Is Chepkoech untouchable?
|Elizabeth Bird||Great Britain||9:36.84||9:36.84|
|Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal||Norway||9:13.35||9:24.53|
|Anna Emilie Moller||Denmark||9:24.21||9:24.21|
|Aimee Pratt||Great Britain||9:49.27||9:49.27|
Of Beatrice Chepkoech‘s last six Diamond League steeples (dating back to June 30, 2018), only one has been decided by less than four seconds. In four of the races, Chepkoech has broken 9:00. For comparison, the rest of the world, combined, has broken 9:00 just three times in history (excluding doper Ruth Jebet).
So yes, Chepkoech has been operating on an entirely different level than the rest of the women in this event. On most days, no one can touch Chepkoech. But she is not yet invincible. Remember, she lost earlier this year in Oslo, running 9:04. 9:04 is a time that five other active women have surpassed, three of whom are in this race.
If someone is to topple Chepkoech in this race, she will be Kenyan — no athlete in this field born outside of Kenya has even broken 9:20 in 2019. The best chance at an upset is Norah Jeruto, one of just five women ever under 9:00 and the last woman to beat Chepkoech, back in June. 2015 world champ Hyvin Kiyeng, third in Oslo and at Pre, has an outside chance. Two-time world U20 champ Celliphine Chespol has struggled this year but is #3 on the all-time list. Daisy Jepkemei ran a PR of 9:08 her last time out at Stanford.
JG prediction: Chepkoech has to be the pick here, though Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs will be watching closely for any sign of vulnerability.
Men’s 800 (10:12 a.m. ET): 17-year-old Max Burgin takes on the pros
|Max Burgin||Great Britain||1:45.36||1:45.36|
|Elliot Giles||Great Britain||1:44.99||1:45.03|
|Guy Learmonth||Great Britain||1:44.73||1:45.86|
|Thomas Staines||Great Britain||1:45.57||1:45.67|
|Spencer Thomas||Great Britain||1:46.19||1:46.19|
|Jamie Webb||Great Britain||1:44.52||1:44.52|
Normally a non-DL 800 wouldn’t be all that exciting, but if there’s one thing people love in track & field, it’s teen phenoms, and we’ve got one in this race in the form of Max Burgin (middle in the photo to the right). After running a European U20 record of 1:45.36 in June — just one month after his 17th birthday, the young Brit will make his Diamond League debut in Birmingham on Sunday.
Burgin is a phenom in every sense of the word, having broken the world age-15 (1:47.50) and age-16 (1:47.36) world records. But this race represents a whole new level of competition — his PR ranks him just 9th in the field.
That said, only one man in the field — fellow Brit Jamie Webb — has broken 1:45 this year. If Burgin is still in 1:45 shape — Tilastopaja lists no results since June 23 — he’ll be in the mix.
In addition to a look at Burgin, this race will also serve as a preview of next week’s British trials for Worlds. Of the top contenders for the 800 team, only Kyle Langford (1:44.97 pb/sb) and Guy Learmonth (1:44.73 pb/1:45.86 sb) are missing. Whoever finishes as the top Brit here will be in a good spot. And make no mistake — Burgin, who has the World Championship standard, is certainly in that conversation.
JG prediction: Webb, who ran 1:44 in London and was second behind Adam Kszczot at the European Team Champs last week, has been on a hot streak this year. He’s my pick FTW.
Women’s 800 (10:41 a.m. ET): Wilson favored as Grace & Bishop return to 800
|Alexandra Bell||Great Britain||1:59.82||1:59.82|
|Lynsey Sharp||Great Britain||1:57.69||1:58.61|
Expect American Ajee’ Wilson to win this race; she’s been the top non-XY DSD woman in the world over the past three years and has wins this year in Stockholm and Monaco.
The more interesting question is how do 2016 Olympic finalists Melissa Bishop and Kate Grace fare? Bishop was the top non-XY DSD finisher in Rio but she’s now 31 years old and coming off the birth of her first child. She’s run okay so far this year, picking up wins in Guelph and Memphis, but she was upset at Canadian nationals. More importantly, she has yet to hit the World Championship standard of 2:00.60 (her SB is 2:01.10), and time is running out if she is to make it back to Worlds (she has until September 6).
Grace mulled running the 800 at USAs but opted for the 1500 instead, where she finished 5th. Now she’ll get a chance to test herself against Wilson and Raevyn Rogers, two of the women who made Team USA. Beating either one of them doesn’t necessarily mean Grace made the wrong decision (a one-off race is different than a championship final after prelims and semis), but I’m very interested to see how Grace runs. She looked good in clocking 1:59.58 at the Sunset Tour meet in July; this will be her first Diamond League 800 since she ran her PR of 1:58.28 at the 2016 DL final in Zurich.
JG prediction: Wilson will take care of business and win.
Women’s 200 (10:52 a.m. ET): Olympic champs square off in a star-studded field
|Dina Asher-Smith||Great Britain||21.89||22.18|
|Amy Hunt||Great Britain||22.42||22.42|
|Shaunae Miller-Uibo||The Bahamas||21.88||22.09|
|Marie-Josee Ta Lou||Ivory Coast||22.08||22.36|
Meet organizers have undoubtedly saved the best for last in Birmingham. You won’t see many better Diamond League races in any discipline all year.
Home favorite Dina Asher-Smith faces two-time Olympic 100m champ Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as well as 2016 Olympic 400 champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo. And don’t discount Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, who has the fastest SB in the field thanks to her 22.05 win at Prefontaine.
The field is so stacked that the two-time defending world champ, Dafne Schippers, is something of an afterthought, along with US champ Dezerea Bryant. And then there’s 17-year-old Amy Hunt of Great Britain, who ran a world U18 record of 22.42 earlier this year and claimed the European U20 title last month.
So yes, this should be quite an exciting race.
JG prediction: These women are all fabulous, but we just passed the two-year anniversary of Miller-Uibo’s last defeat (interestingly, it came in Birmingham, but it was in a 100). Until she loses, I’m not picking against her.