This is the best track meet of 2020 — and it’s not particularly close
By Jonathan Gault
August 13, 2020
Far too often during this hellish year, we’ve had to take what we can get when it comes to live track & field competition, and a hanging “except” has attached itself to almost every competition that has been held.
We saw Jakob Ingebrigtsen race Timothy Cheruiyot! Except Ingebrigtsen was in Oslo and Cheruiyot in Nairobi.
We saw Noah Lyles run a fast 200! Except he only ran 185 meters.
We saw Michael Norman run 9.86! Except “saw” really means “watched a shaky Instagram video a few hours after the fact.”
Throughout it all, the prevailing attitude, generally, has been this: be grateful you have any track & field to watch at all. Just look how long it took baseball to get going. Look at college football. Yeah, it would be nice if the Bowerman Track Club and Pete Julian‘s Zombie NOP were racing each other instead of heading to two separate tracks at the same time for two separate meets in Oregon. But hey — at least they were racing.
That attitude is not necessary this weekend. There is a real track meet in Monaco on Friday — with fans and everything — and the fields are so packed with stars that we’d be freaking out about it even in a normal year. The women’s 5,000, featuring Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, and Letesenbet Gidey, is about twice as competitive as last year’s World Championship final. The overlapping talent in the women’s 1000 — Faith Kipyegon, Halimah Nakaayi, Raevyn Rogers, Laura Muir, Jemma Reekie — is mouthwatering. Joshua Cheptegei is going for a world record in the men’s 5,000 (we gave that race its own feature: LRC Joshua Cheptegei Is Going For The 5,000 WR In Monaco – Can He Break It?).
A seemingly endless parade of big names populate the start lists. Donavan Brazier. Mondo Duplantis. Grant Holloway. Noah Lyles. Ingebrigtsen vs. Cheruiyot — for real — in the 1500.
Read over those last two paragraphs again. All of those athletes will be competing in the same stadium in Monaco on Friday. Oh yeah, and if that’s not enough, there will be thousands of fans in the stands and this baby will be broadcast live across the globe. This is as close as we’re going to get to the Olympics in 2020.
The only people who might be a little bummed right now are throws fans — there’s no shot put, and there’s no javelin or discus either since the infield was needed for a socially-distanced call room. But for track fans, it’s Christmas in August. Let’s count down and preview the 10 best events at Friday’s meet, in descending order.
What: 2020 Herculis
Where: Stade Louis II, Monaco
When: Friday, August 14
10) Men’s steeplechase (3:47 p.m. ET)
|Soufiane El Bakkali||Morocco||7:58.15|
|Zak Seddon||Great Britain||8:21.28|
This event would have ranked higher if world/Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto, who was planning on attacking the world record, was lining up. Sadly, Kipruto announced he tested positive for COVID-19 last week, thwarting those plans. Still, this is a strong field, with the next four finishers at last year’s World Championships all entered, led by Ethiopian record holder Lamecha Girma.
9) Men’s pole vault (1:40 p.m. ET)
|Ernest John Obiena||Philippines||5.81m||5.45m|
|Claudio Michel Stechhi||Italy||5.75m||5.40m|
You’ve got the Olympic champ in Thiago Braz, the two-time defending world champ in Sam Kendricks, and, most importantly, the world record holder in Mondo Duplantis. Duplantis, who holds the outdoor world lead thanks to his 5.94m clearance in Gothenburg on July 4, will be favored, but the crafty Kendricks can never be counted out.
8) Men’s 400 hurdles (2:42 p.m. ET)
Karsten Warholm already proved at the Impossible Games that he can make a race exciting even if he’s the only one in it. So while this field — absent his two biggest rivals and fellow Doha medalists Rai Benjamin and Abderrahman Samba — leaves something to be desired, Warholm alone will be worth tuning in for.
|Antonio Alkana||South Africa||13.11||13.58|
|Paolo Dal Molin||Italy||13.40||13.65|
|Andrew Pozzi||Great Britain||13.14||13.17|
Like Warholm, world champ Grant Holloway always makes things entertaining. Unlike Warholm, he’s got a big-time stud to worry about in Orlando Ortega, the Olympic silver and World Championship bronze medalist. World Indoor champ Andrew Pozzi has also been in terrific form lately, winning all four of his races so far in 2020, including a world-leading 13.17 in Turku on Tuesday.
6) Men’s 200 (3:32 p.m. ET)
|Adam Gemili||Great Britain||19.97|
Slotting a Noah Lyles race in at #6 feels criminal, but that’s how good the distance events are at this meet. Still, we could see some fireworks in the 200. Lyles ran 19.94 in his only 200 of the year back on July 25, but he told media on Wednesday he was training through that meet (he had also run two fast 100’s the day before). Monaco, meanwhile, will serve as Lyles’ personal Olympics in 2020, so expect to see a quick time on the newly resurfaced track.
“We’re definitely peaking for this meet,” Lyles said. “After the Inspiration Games, I told Coach I wanted to run fast at this meet. Like, really fast.”
“I’ve learned if I start telling y’all stuff, y’all start running away with it, so I’m not going to tell you,” Lyles said with a smile, politely sidestepping the question. But considering Lyles can fall out of bed and run sub-20, he should be well under that.
5) Men’s 5,000 (3:13 p.m. ET)
This race is all about Joshua Cheptegei, the reigning 10k/World XC champion who will be attempting to break Kenenisa Bekele‘s 16-year-old world record of 12:37.35. We’ve got a full breakdown of Cheptegei’s chances here, including details on his preparation in Uganda, so be sure to read that article if you’re interested in this race.
This race is essentially Cheptegei vs. the clock, with most of his top rivals sitting this one out, but Aussie Stewart McSweyn and Kenyans Jacob Krop and Nicholas Kimeli have all run 13:05 or faster. Will any of them dare to go with Cheptegei, or will they be content to battle it out for second and/or hope to catch Cheptegei if he blows up?
A blowup would be far from a shock as it will be close to 80 degrees with a dew point of 69-70 when this race is run. When the last two men’s 5,000m world records were set, the fans were wearing jackets in the stands.
4) Men’s 1500 (2:57 p.m. ET)
|Charlie Da’Vall Grice||Great Britain||3:30.62|
|Jake Wightman||Great Britain||3:31.87|
The Monaco 1500 is always a race to be savored, and this year’s edition, with Timothy Cheruiyot, Yomif Kejelcha, Craig Engels, and two Ingebrigtsens is no exception. If anything, this is more interesting than your typical Diamond League 1500 — in recent years, Cheruiyot has been so dominant that the outcome has essentially been predetermined. This time around, however, no one knows what to expect as racing options have been very limited and Cheruiyot’s training partner Elijah Manangoi has been provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests.
Jakob looked terrific in running a European 2000m record of 4:50 at the Impossible Games (with Filip running an impressive 2:16 1k in the same meet), but that was over two months ago. The Ingebrigtsens seem to be in shape 12 months a year though — Jakob, in particular, rarely has a bad race — so expect them to bring it in Monaco.
Cheruiyot, meanwhile, ran 5:03 for 2k as part of the Impossible Games, but that came in miserable conditions at almost 6,000 feet of elevation in Nairobi. Given his track record and utter domination of the 1500 in recent years, he still has to go off as the favorite here.
Other guys worth watching:
-US champ Craig Engels has been in action at the Big Friendly series but hasn’t been in top form. In his most recent effort on July 31, he was beaten handily by Josh Kerr and also lost to Canada’s Will Paulson, winding up third in 3:36.01. And this field is significantly stronger.
–Marcin Lewandowski was the bronze medalist at Worlds last year but has yet to race outdoors in 2020.
–Jake Wightman — who, in case you forgot, ran 3:31 to finish 5th at Worlds last year — should be ready to go as he ran an impressive 1:45 800 in Sollentuna on Monday.
–Yomif Kejelcha is the wild card. A two-time world indoor champ over 3k, Kejelcha is the world indoor mile record holder at 3:47, and if this race is run in typical Monaco fashion — basically, a time trial — he could be a factor.
3) Men’s 800 (2:12 p.m. ET)
|Kyle Langford||Great Britain||1:44.97|
|Amel Tuka||Bosnia & Herzegovina||1:42.51|
The top four men from last year’s World Championship final are all here, including 22-year-old American Bryce Hoppel (fourth last year)– making his 2020 outdoor debut — and reigning world champ Donavan Brazier. Brazier, obviously, is the headliner, and his presence pushes this race over the 1500 as the best men’s event of the meet, at least for American fans given the possibility of him breaking the US record. We know he’s in great shape — his coach Pete Julian said earlier this summer he’s fitter than he was in 2019 — and he’s looked incredible when he’s raced out in 2020.
His most recent effort, a world-leading 1:43.84 on July 31, is something everyone would have been excited about a year ago. But after Brazier’s 1:42.34 American record in Doha, a 1:43 in 2020 mostly elicits a collective shrug. Win a world title, and expectations are raised. Even Brazier knows that with good pacemaking, a fast track, and top competition in Monaco, he is capable of much faster.
“The 1:43 that I ran two weeks ago at the meet out in Oregon, it was a little — I don’t want to say disappointing — but it was just, I kind of forgot how to run an 800,” Brazier said Wednesday. “I almost forgot how painful it was. I think it was a good tuneup.”
With 2019 world leader Nijel Amos sitting this one out and 1:42.05 man Emmanuel Korir not having raced in 2020, Brazier is the clear favorite, but there’s plenty of talent here. Amel Tuka and Ferguson Rotich both medalled at Worlds last year, Hoppel was terrific this year indoors, and Peter Bol and Joseph Deng looked good during the winter season in Australia. Chances are, at least one of those guys is fit right now, so Brazier may not be the only guy running fast on Friday.
2) Women’s 1000 (3:39 p.m. ET)
|Laura Muir||Great Britain||2:33.92|
|Shelayna Oskan-Clarke||Great Britain|
|Jemma Reekie||Great Britain||2:36.79|
Usually, I see a 1000 on the schedule and roll my eyes. Either someone is trying to break some contrived record, or it’s a way to paper over a weak field. Everyone knows what a slow 800 time is; it’s not as easy to figure out for the 1000.
But this 1000? I am 1000% in.
Just look at the names on the start list. You’ve got the Olympic 1500 champ (Faith Kipyegon). The world 800 champ (Halimah Nakaayi). The world 800 silver medalist, making her debut for new coach Pete Julian (Raevyn Rogers). You’ve got the new British star (Jemma Reekie). And you’ve got the old British star — well 27 isn’t old, so let’s just call her the other British star (Laura Muir).
Even in a normal year, it would be tough to get all of these women in a field. But in a season in which athletes are desperate for competition opportunities, they’ll take anything they can get. And with talents as diverse as Kipyegon and Rogers, 1000 is the perfect distance.
No one cares about the time in this one. It’s all about who wins, and you can make a genuine case for any of the five women named above.
1) Women’s 5000 (2:19 p.m. ET)
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||14:46.17|
|Laura Weightman||Great Britain||14:44.57|
Joshua Cheptegei may have been the one who announced a world record attempt, but the 5k women may have a better chance of breaking the world record by accident than Cheptegei does on purpose. Obviously the temperature will be far from ideal and there is uncertainty surrounding the fitness of several of these athletes following a COVID-induced break from racing, but on paper, this race is significantly stronger than last year’s World Championship final.
Sifan Hassan — who, in case you forgot, ran 3:51 and 30:17 (3:59 last 1500) to win the 1500/10k double at Worlds last year — is the headliner. She’s joined by two-time defending 5k world champ Hellen Obiri, steeplechase world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, and Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, who last fall broke the 15k world record by running 44:20 in one of the greatest performances in the history of women’s distance running (she closed in 29:13 — not a typo — for her final 10k). 44:20 equates to 2:11 in the marathon.
Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 14:11.15 world record has been begging to be broken for the last few years. It may not go down in Monaco, but there’s a good chance one of the women in Friday’s field could one day hold the record.
As for what to expect in the race, I checked in with Tim Rowberry — the former Nike Oregon Project assistant who assumed coaching duties for Hassan and Kejelcha after Alberto Salazar was banned from the sport. He said that Hassan, after running a world record of 14:44 on the roads for 5k in February, took some down time from April to June, which she spent with her family in Ethiopia. Even when she resumed training, it was difficult given the current social unrest and ethnic violence in Ethiopia, but she departed for Europe in mid-July, where she spent time training in the Netherlands and St. Moritz.
“As for this Friday,” Rowberry wrote, “I do think some of the athletes in the field could be ready to set new PB’s. However, I’m not confident anyone will be willing to take the lead. As for Sifan, we expect her first race of the year to be more tactical than anything as everyone tests out their fitness. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of those races where the pace drops off the second the pacer steps off the track as everyone guesses each other’s fitness. We would love to start going after times but I think we’re a few weeks away from anything like that.”
That sounds about right. Even with the talent assembled, you need someone to drive the pace during the third and fourth kilometers to even approach the world record; is anyone brave enough to do that in their first race of the season?
One other woman to keep an eye on in this field is 35-year-old American Shannon Rowbury. Rowbury ran 15:05 last summer and, finally recovered after being limited by injuries and childbirth, has looked strong in 2020, running 4:03 and 8:40 out in Oregon. American 5,000m running has never been more competitive, but if she can get into the 14:40s in Monaco, it will send a strong message that Rowbury is ready to contend for a fourth Olympic team in 2021.
For more Monaco DL info, listen to this week’s podcast: Monaco Diamond League Preview + Guest Ok State Coach Dave Smith on NCAA XC 2020 .
LRC World Champions Donavan Brazier & Noah Lyles Speak Ahead of Monaco Diamond League Find out which double Brazier wants to attempt (hint: it’s not the 800/1500), why he’d like to stay in Europe for a while, and what Lyles has been doing to get closer to Usain Bolt‘s 200m WR.
Talk about this article and the 2020 Monaco DL Meet on our fan forum / messageboard. MB: Official 2020 Monaco DL Discussion Thread
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