By Jonathan Gault
September 3, 2020
On Friday, the two best female distance runners of 2019 will race each other in Brussels. Mile world record holder vs. marathon world record holder. 4:12.33 vs. 2:14:04. Sifan Hassan vs. Brigid Kosgei.
This is one of those silver lining situations. The coronavirus may have deprived us of the majority of the 2020 season, but without it, there’s no way Hassan and Kosgei would be trying to break the world record for the one-hour run against each other, which they will attempt at the Memorial Van Damme.
Unlike Monaco and Stockholm, the MVD is classified as an exhibition event, so fields aren’t as deep as what we saw at those two meets. But it boasts enviable star power: Mondo Duplantis, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Faith Kipyegon, and Mo Farah (in his first track race in three years) will all feature, in addition to Hassan and Kosgei.
Of the non-distance action, the men’s pole vault is clearly the event to watch. On Wednesday, Duplantis soared over 6.07m in Lausanne — the highest clearance outdoors since Sergey Bubka set the outdoor world record of 6.14m back in 1994. That was his eighth 6.00m clearance of 2020, and his third in his last four meets; Bubka’s 6.14 seems destined to go sooner or later.
For a preview of the distance events, including the dual world record attempts in the one-hour run, keep reading.
What: 2020 Memorial Van Damme
Where: King Baudouin Stadium
When: Friday, September 4
Women’s one-hour run (1:11 p.m. ET): Hassan vs. Kosgei vs. the clock
What a matchup. It’s a testament to Sifan Hassan’s range that we’re not immediately dismissing her chances of winning. Normally if someone ran 3:51 in the World Championship 1500m final 11 months ago and stepped up to race what is essentially a half marathon against the marathon world record holder, she’d be given no shot at victory. But Hassan is also the world champion at 10,000 meters, and her half marathon pb (65:15) isn’t too far off Kosgei’s (64:49; though Kosgei did run 64:28 on an aided course).
That said, Kosgei will be favored here, though there are questions about both women’s fitness. In Hassan’s case, it’s a byproduct of her decision to drop out with a kilometer to go in the 5,000 in Monaco on August 14, her only track race so far in 2020. Obviously, that wasn’t ideal — but we knew going in that Hassan had struggled to train properly due to the political unrest in Ethiopia, where she was based this spring/summer. When you consider that she still made it 4k at 14:28 pace and she’s had three extra weeks to prepare since Monaco, we should expect a more competitive Hassan in Brussels.
The concern about Kosgei, who is set to defend her London Marathon title a month from Friday, really boils down to one thing: we haven’t seen her race in over six months. In 2019, it seemed as if Kosgei was everywhere, ripping off eight wins on four continents as part of one of the greatest seasons we’ve ever seen from a distance runner. But when Kosgei lines up in Brussels, it will represent her first race since February.
However, given what Kosgei has accomplished over the last year — 64:28 at the Great North Run (fastest all-conditions half marathon), a 2:14:04 marathon WR in Chicago, and a 64:49 (#2 all time) at the RAK Half — she has more than earned the benefit of the doubt.
One thing worth mentioning about Kosgei: she will not be allowed to wear the Nike Vaporfly shoes that have helped her to her fast times on the roads as they have now been outlawed by World Athletics for track races.
Regardless of what shoes the runner are wearing, it’s nearly a given that whoever wins on Friday will also break the world record. The WR of 18,517 meters covered, set by Ethiopian Dire Tune, has only stood for 12 years because no one has tried to break it. 18,517 meters in an hour comes out to 68:21 pace for a half marathon — for a distance that’s over a mile and a half shorter than a half. Hassan and Kosgei can run a 68:00 half in their sleep. Plus this race, like the other record attempts in Brussels, will feature the Wavelight pacing technology. There’s no way Tune’s record is still standing after Friday.
One more thing: pay attention to Israel’s Lonah Salpeter. Back in March, she won the Tokyo Marathon in 2:17:46 (#6 all-time). And for fun, her most recent race was an 800 at the Israeli national championships on July 28 — which she won in 2:06! If there’s a spoiler pick in this race, it’s her.
The one negative to this race is that it appears no one will be able to watch it live – at least in the US. The race starts at 1:11 p.m. ET, which means only the final 11 minutes will fall in the international broadcast window. And right now, the NBC Sports Gold stream is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET — 19 minutes after the race’s conclusion.
Men’s 1500 (2:23 p.m. ET): The Jakob Ingebrigtsen show
Considering only one man in this field has come within five seconds of Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s 3:28.68 sb, it seems unlikely he’ll be challenged here. But without Timothy Cheruiyot to push him, a fast time also seems unlikely.
The #2 guy in the field is 2019 Euro indoor bronze medalist Jesus Gomez, who’s had a very nice year for himself — a huge pb of 3:33.07 in Monaco, and a very solid 3:33.46 in Stockholm, where he was unafraid to mix it up with the big boys early before finding himself outclassed on the last lap. Problem is, Ingebrigtsen was in both of those races, and handled Gomez with ease both times.
Combine all of that, and a drama-free Ingebrigtsen victory appears the most likely outcome. The most notable thing about this race is that it could be one of Ingebrigtsen’s last as a teenager — he turns 20 on September 19.
Women’s 1000 (2:47 p.m. ET): Kipyegon goes record-hunting
As in the men’s 1500, one very bright star outshines the rest of the field: Olympic 1500 champion Faith Kipyegon. The goal here is obvious: Kipyegon, who missed the 1000m WR of 2:28.98 by .17 her last time out in Monaco, wants to make amends and break the record, which is held by Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova.
There’s good reason to believe Kipyegon can go faster in Brussels. In Monaco, she played sit-and-kick on Laura Muir before taking off on the backstraight of the bell lap; she closed in a speedy 29.49 for her final 200. Kipyegon later said she had no idea how close she was to the WR until the race was over.
That said, Muir was still running fast, and her presence as someone to chase over the first 700m definitely helped Kipyegon, who likely won’t have the same luxury in Brussels. But with a target time in mind this time and the Wavelight to follow, Kipyegon may be able to spread her energy slightly more evenly, which could be the difference between 2:29 and 2:28.
Men’s one-hour run (2:55 p.m. ET): Will Haile G’s record fall?
The one-hour run world record has lost some of its luster in recent years, but look back through the list of previous record holders and you’ll find some true legends of the sport, from Paavo Nurmi to Emil Zatopek to Ron Clarke to Haile Gebrselassie, who has held the current record of 21,285m since 2007.
It would be fitting if Mo Farah, he of the four Olympic golds, were to join that club on Friday, and Farah has a good shot to do so in what will be his first track race since the unforgettable 2017 Diamond League 5,000 final in Zurich. Topping 21,285 meters requires running holding 59:28 half marathon pace for slightly more than the half marathon distance (a HM is 21,098m). And based on recent history, Farah is usually in shape to do that around this time of year: he ran 59:27 at the Great North Run in 2018 and 59:07 last year.
As in the women’s one-hour run, this figures to be a two-horse race. Farah is one, obviously, and the top candidate to beat him is his training partner Bashir Abdi, who, like Farah, was born in Somalia before immigrating to Belgium. Not only does Abdi own a faster marathon pb (2:04:49 from Tokyo in March), but he beat Farah in their last race against each other at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Given that we know little about their current fitness, there’s no way to say for sure who’s ahead right now. But the distance favors Farah — he beat Abdi in both of their half marathon matchups last year.
One other name to watch: 20-year-old Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya, who ran a 59:53 half last fall. He has the potential to threaten Farah and Abdi.
And let’s pour one out for Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen. Moen covered 21,131m in one hour back on August 7, faster than Jos Hermens‘ European record of 20,944m from 1976. But because Moen raced in shoes with a stack height above 25mm — the new limit for track races imposed by World Athletics in July — that record may not be ratified. Furthermore, Moen, who is running the London Marathon next month, said he chose to withdraw from the one-hour attempt in Brussels because he can’t wear his preferred shoes.