By Jonathan Gault
September 16, 2020
Barely a month has passed since the Diamond League returned in earnest in Monaco, and the season is already almost over: there’s Rome on Thursday, Doha next week, and that’s it until 2021. And while the season isn’t as long as any of us wanted, I’ve never stopped taking for granted how fortunate we are to have any track & field at all. Between rejiggering the schedule, overcoming travel restrictions, and implementing safety measures, it’s never been more complicated to hold a track meet.
Consider Thursday’s Golden Gala Pietro Mennea. Traditionally held in Rome in late spring, this year’s edition was originally scheduled for May 28 in Naples as Rome’s Stadio Olimpico was unavailable as it was underoing renovations so it could host matches at Euro 2020. Then the coronavirus struck and the meet was rescheduled for September 17 and moved back to Rome — but not to Stadio Olimpico. The adjacent Stadio dei Marmi, usually used as Stadio Olimpico’s warmup track, would host instead. Finally, on August 19, the venue was changed one final time, back to Stadio Olimpico, with the hope of hosting fans (unfortunately, per Alberto Stretti, there will be no fans on Thursday).
And now, over three months and three stadium changes later, the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea is finally happening.
Quality over quantity has been one of the themes of the 2020 Diamond League season, given the difficulty of assembling fields in the middle of a pandemic. It’s no different in Rome, where the depth isn’t quite there, but the quality — especially at the top of a select few events — is tremendous. We take a closer look at those standout events below — including Jakob Ingebrigtsen vs. Jacob Kiplimo in the 3000, Laura Muir vs. Jemma Reekie in the 800, and Karsten Warholm‘s last real chance at a 400 hurdles WR this year.
What: 2020 Golden Gala Pietro Mennea
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
When: Thursday, September 17
Men’s Pole Vault (12:25 p.m. ET): Duplantis back in action
Pretty much every elite pole vault goes the same way these days: Mondo Duplantis wins, and then we stick around to see him try to break Sergey Bubka‘s outdoor world record of 6.14 meters. Since returning to competition on June 11, Duplantis has won all nine of his meets, including a 6.07 in Lausanne on September 2 to put him #2 on the all-time outdoor list.
With victory pretty much assured every time out and six-meter clearances a regular occurrence, the only thing driving Duplantis right now is that outdoor WR to go with his overall WR of 6.18 from February. In all, he’s taken 13 jumps at 6.15 outdoors in 2020. So far, he has 13 misses. He will almost certainly have three more attempts in Rome on Thursday. Is this the day he finally clears one?
Men’s 400 Hurdles (1:03 p.m. ET): Warholm’s last WR chance of 2020?
After a perfect 2019 season that saw him break 48 seconds seven times and win his second world title in Doha, Karsten Warholm has been even better in 2020. Warholm has raced four times over 400 hurdles, and those four races have produced the #1, #3, and #4 times of his career (all of which rank among the top 10 in history). The only race in which Warholm was a little “off” (by his sky-high standards) came last week in Ostrava, where he ran 47.62 — a time still comfortably faster than anyone else in 2020, but one which caused confusion for a man accustomed to challenging the 46.78 world record every time out. Warholm followed that up with a terrific 47.08 in Berlin on Sunday — enough to break a 40-year-old Edwin Moses meet record, but not Kevin Young‘s WR.
On Thursday, Warholm will get one last bite at the apple. His agent Ståle Jan Frøynes told LetsRun that Rome will be Warholm’s last international race of the year, and thus potentially his last shot at the world record in 2020 (the Norwegian championships are on Sunday; Frøynes said Warholm is still undecided about whether he’ll compete). And while Warholm, at 24, has several years of his prime ahead of him, future fitness (and health) is never guaranteed. Which means Warholm, as usual, is appointment viewing.
Men’s 3000 (1:20 p.m. ET): Ingebrigtsen vs Kiplimo in battle of young stars
|Mohad Abdikadar Sheik Ali||Italy||8:09.09|
The last time he raced, Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo overcame a four-second deficit to outkick World silver medalist Selemon Barega and run a huge 5000m personal best of 12:48.63 in Ostrava. He’ll have a hard time topping that performance in Rome, but with Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Stewart McSweyn both entered, there’s potential for another terrific race on Thursday.
Though McSweyn was beaten by Ingebrigtsen in the 1500s in Stockholm and Ostrava, he’s in fine form right now, and the 3000 is a great distance for him — at 7:34, he’s got the fastest pb in the field. He will have to turn things around quickly, however, as he will have had less than 48 hours to travel and recover from his 1500 in Zagreb on Tuesday (a dominant 3:32 win). Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa is coming off a great run in Ostrava (13:02 Italian record), though that still put him 15 seconds behind Kiplimo.
Most likely, this will come down to Jacob vs. Jakob, two men battling to decide the correct spelling of their first name and for the title of best runner born in the year 2000 (though I’m somewhat skeptical of Kiplimo’s age — if his November 14, 2000, birthdate is accurate, that means he ran 27:26 for 10,000 as a 15-year-old).
It’s very hard to pick between them. Yes, Kiplimo’s 12:48 is a monster time (#12 all-time in the 5000), but so is Ingebrigtsen’s 3:28 from Monaco (#8 all-time in the 1500), and he’s racked up two more 3:30s since then in Stockholm and Brussels. Head-to-head, they’ve raced just once: Ingebrigtsen took third (13:20.78) to Kiplimo’s sixth (13:23.35) in the 2018 World U20 5000 final.
Traditionally in an even race like this, you’re supposed to lean toward the guy with the better 1500 speed, which is Jakob. The distance also plays to his strengths more than Kiplimo, who is more of a 5k/10k/XC type. But Kiplimo’s final 200 in Ostrava was very impressive — 27.3 in a 12:48 race. I’m not counting Kiplimo out, even in a kick.
Still, the onus will likely be on Kiplimo to make it fast in order try to drop Ingebrigtsen (or at least dull his kick). Is that something that Kiplimo, who purposefully hung back early from Barega in Ostrava, will be willing to do? Or will he take his chances dealing with Ingebrigtsen’s kick? If they do get after it from the gun, we could see a time well under 7:30.
JG prediction: It’s very close. But I’m going with Ingebrigtsen.
Women’s 800 (1:55 p.m. ET): Suddenly, Muir & Reekie don’t have it so easy
|Alexandra Bell||Great Britain||1:59.82||2:00.28|
|Laura Muir||Great Britain||1:58.42||1:58.84|
|Jemma Reekie||Great Britain||1:58.63||1:58.63|
Before Tuesday, this race was fairly easy to predict. You could debate their order of finish, but Scottish training partners Jemma Reekie and Laura Muir, the only women to have broken 1:59 since the season resumed, would finish 1-2 in some order.
Then the Gala dei Castelli happened and turned the event upside down. At that meet, held in Bellinzona, Switzerland, on Tuesday, not one, not two, but three women ran faster than Reekie’s 2020 world leader of 1:58.63 (not among them: Reekie, who was fourth in 1:58.87). Two of them, Norway’s Hedda Hynne and Switzerland’s Lore Hoffmann, are entered in Rome as this race is stacked with 4 of the 5 fastest women of 2020 (2020 world #2 Selina Büchel isn’t in this one).
Bellinzona represented the biggest step so far in breakthrough campaigns for both athletes. Hynne, 30, had broken 2:00 precisely twice in her life prior to 2020. She has now done it four times since the start of August, her 1:58.10 on Tuesday taking almost a second off the 1:59.15 national record she set last week in Rovereto.
Likweise, Hoffmann, 24, owned a pb of 2:01.67 on September 1. She has now lowered it three times in 13 days, going 2:01.48 in Marseille, 2:00.51 behind Hynne in Rovereto, and 1:58.50 in Bellinzona. Sandwiched between those was a win at the Swiss champs in last weekend, so she could be a little tired for Rome: it will be her fifth race in 10 days.
Prior to Bellinzona, I would have picked Reekie, as she is better known for her 800 prowess and has beaten Muir twice at that distance already in 2020. But Muir has been so good recently that I can’t pick against her (and will be a little more rested than Hynne and Hoffmann). Muir enters Rome riding a five-race win streak, during which she has been utterly untouchable: no one has finished within a second of her during that stretch. While her most impressive work came in the 1500 — she’s run 3:57, 3:58, and 3:57, which double as the top three times in the world this year — Muir’s streak also includes 800 wins in Marseille (where she beat Hoffmann handily) and Ostrava (where she ran 1:58.84).
JG prediction: It could take 1:58-low to win this race, but given how well Muir is running, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did that and lowered her 1:58.42 pb in the process. Muir FTW.