Zagreb Preview: Bryce Hoppel Returns To Action & An Aussie 1500 Showdown Is Set

By Jonathan Gault
September 14, 2020

Donavan Brazier may have called it quits on the 2020 season, but another 23-year-old American 800-meter star isn’t done yet. Bryce Hoppel, who was 4th at last year’s World Championships in Doha and second behind Brazier in last month’s Monaco Diamond League, is headed back across the Atlantic to compete in Tuesday’s Hanžeković Memorial in Zagreb. Hoppel is one of eight men in the field to have broken 1:45 this year (including Jake Wightman and Amel Tuka), making the 800 the best event of the day in the Croatian capital.

Sandwiched between a competitive ISTAF Berlin meet on Sunday and Thursday’s Rome Diamond League, most of the other events in Zagreb aren’t quite as deep  but the men’s 800 and 1500 should both be fun races and today’s shot put featuring Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs was exceptional. We take a quick look at the 800s and 1500sbelow.

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Meet details
What: 2020 Hanžeković Memorial
Where: Sportpark Mladost, Zagreb, Croatia
When: Monday, September 14 (men’s shot put) & Tuesday, September 15 (all other events)

Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information

Men’s 800 (2:25 p.m. ET): Bryce is Back

Start list

1 41 Álvaro De Arriba ESP 2 Jun 94 1:44.99 1:45.93
1 2 Peter Bol AUS 22 Feb 94 1:44.56 1:44.96
2 153 Daniel Rowden GBR 9 Sep 97 1:44.74 1:44.74
3 75 Andreas Kramer SWE 13 Apr 97 1:44.47 1:44.47
3 57 Collins Kipruto KEN 12 Apr 94 1:44.42 1:45.26
4 83 Bryce Hoppel USA 5 Sep 97 1:43.23 1:43.23
5 51 Jake Wightman GBR 11 Jul 94 1:44.18 1:44.18
5 65 Wesley Vázquez PUR 27 Mar 94 1:43.83 1:45.18
6 10 Amel Tuka BIH 9 Jan 91 1:42.51 1:44.51
7 3 Joseph Deng AUS 7 Jul 98 1:44.21 1:45.40
7 46 Elliot Giles GBR 26 May 94 1:44.68 1:44.68
8 45 Max Burgin GBR 20 May 02 1:44.75 1:44.75
8 70 Žan Rudolf (PACE) SLO 9 May 93 1:46.00 1:47.64

Hoppel won his first US title in Albuquerque back in February (Phil Bond photo)

Is Bryce Hoppel the favorite in this race? There’s a compelling argument for “yes.” Though he’s only raced four times this year (three times indoors, once outdoors), he’s looked exceptional every time out — as good or better than the guy who won NCAA indoor and outdoor titles and wound up 4th at Worlds in 2019. The only runner who’s beaten him in 2020 is Donavan Brazier — no shame in that. And in Hoppel’s last race, he ran a big pb of 1:43.23, which is #2 in the world this year and almost a second faster than anyone else in the field has run in 2020.

Really the only thing working against Hoppel is that Zagreb will be his first race in more than a month, while all the other guys in this field have spent the last month racing around Europe. And even then, it’s debatable as to whether that even represents a disadvantage; rust wasn’t an issue for Hoppel in Monaco and that was his first race in six months.

With Brazier out of the picture, the opportunity is here for Hoppel to claim his first European win. But it won’t come easy: the field in Zagreb is large (13 starters) and incredibly deep. Here are a few of the guys he’ll have to deal with:

  • Jake Wightman, Great Britain (1:44.18 pb): The 26-year-old is in the form of his life right now. Last month, he ran 3:29.47 in Monaco to move to #2 on the all-time UK list at 1500. And last week, he came from behind to win the 800 in Ostrava (featuring several of the guys in this race) in a personal best of 1:44.18. The last time he raced Hoppel, in the 1000 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in January, it was a classic, with Hoppel prevailing, 2:17.41 to 2:17.51.
  • Daniel Rowden, Great Britain (1:44.74 pb): Largely unknown on the global scene, Rowden, who turned 23 last week (he’s four days younger than Hoppel), is quickly making a name for himself. He ran a personal best of 1:44.74 in Gothenburg on August 29, and followed that up by beating Wightman for his first British title in Manchester on September 5. Clearly a big talent (he ran 1:44.97 as a 20-year-old in 2018), it will be fun to see how he matches up against Hoppel.
  • Amel Tuka, Bosnia & Herzegovina (1:42.51 pb): Tuka, the reigning World Champs silver medalist, endured a rough start to his season — 8th in Monaco, 7th in Stockholm — but rebounded to finish 3rd in Ostrava last week in a season’s best of 1:44.51. He owns the fastest pb in the field by almost a second.

Realistically, there’s half a dozen guys in here who could contend — Brits Elliot Giles (1:44.68) and Max Burgin (1:44.75) have both run pbs this year, and Andreas Kramer was 2nd in Ostrava (also in a pb of 1:44.47) behind Wightman.

With 13 guys on the start line — many of them closely bunched in ability — expect this one to go out quickly to avoid an overly-crowded pack (it helps that the front-running Wesley Vazquez is also entered). Not everyone will be able to hang on, but for those that do (or those that time their kicks correctly, as Wightman did in Ostrava) there could be some fast times on offer.

LRC Prediction:  Jonathan Gault is way over thinking this one. People like Elliot Giles and Max Burgin wasn’t going to contend in a race like this. Based on what he’s done last year and this, Hoppel should win this race.

Men’s 1500 (1:45 p.m. ET): Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

1 154 Matthew Hughes CAN 89
2 15 Dino Bošnjak CRO 21 Jan 94 3:50.55
3 21 Daniel Ivaničić CRO 9 Dec 96 3:53.28 3:54.70
4 50 James West GBR 30 Jan 96 3:35.74 3:46.30
5 73 Elzan Bibić SRB 8 Jan 99 3:37.66 3:46.14
6 47 George Mills GBR 12 May 99 3:40.32 3:41.50
7 11 Matthew Hughes CAN 3 Aug 89 3:39.84 3:39.84
8 77 Johan Rogestedt SWE 27 Jan 93 3:36.58 3:38.97
9 61 Michał Rozmys POL 13 Mar 95 3:36.37 3:38.94
10 55 Paul Robinson IRL 24 May 91 3:35.22 3:38.52
11 44 Quentin Tison FRA 16 Apr 96 3:36.85 3:36.85
12 4 Ryan Gregson AUS 26 Apr 90 3:31.06 3:35.57
13 6 Matthew Ramsden AUS 23 Jul 97 3:35.23 3:35.23
14 5 Stewart McSweyn AUS 1 Jun 95 3:31.48 3:31.48

Ramsden, McSweyn, & Gregson in Gothenburg last month (courtesy melbtrackclub Instagram)

With the 2020 Australian Championships cancelled due to COVID-19, this race will serve as the de facto Aussie 1500 champs as three of their biggest stars — Stewart McSweynMatthew Ramsden, and national record holder Ryan Gregson — are all entered. Astute observers may point out that the trio — all of whom train together as part of the Melbourne Track Club under Nic Bideau — already raced each other last week in Ostrava (order: McSweyn, Ramsden, Gregson). But I’d argue this is a truer measure of their head-to-head abilities. In Ostrava, McSweyn was only 3rd, behind Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Kumari Taki. Meanwhile in Zagreb, the Aussies have the top three season’s bests in the field. Whoever is best among the three of them will probably win the race as well. If only their countryman, rookie pro Olli Hoare, who has been in fine form in the US this summer, could have joined them, this would be a true Aussie champs.

Anyway, Zagreb should still be fun, even if there is a very clear favorite in McSweyn. In Stockholm last month, McSweyn ran 3:31.48, which gives him the #2, #3, and #4 times in Australian history (Gregson holds the NR at 3:31.06), and he has utterly dominated both Ramsden (1-10 career vs. McSweyn) and Gregson (1-9 career vs. McSweyn) head-to-head. The more interesting questions surround his competitors; McSweyn should rule in Zagreb, but can either of the others challenge his hegemony as we head into the Olympic year of 2021?

They come at it from different sides. Ramsden’s star is very much on the rise; the 23-year-old has enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2020, running seven pbs across five distances, notably in the 1500 (3:35.23), mile (3:51.23), and 5000 (13:16.63). Gregson, 30, is older, but remains a threat — he was just .51 off Ramsden in Ostrava — and is the only one of the three to have made a global 1500 final. He was Australia’s first men’s Olympic 1500 finalist in 40 years when he finished 9th in Rio.

Outside of the Australians, France’s Quentin Tison, who ran a 3:36.85 pb in Heusden on September 6 (but was only 3rd at the French champs on Sunday) is worth watching, as is Ireland’s Paul Robinson. Robinson, you may remember, won the Irish champs last month in dramatic fashion, a huge step in a lengthy comeback from injury hell documented movingly here by friend of LRC Cathal Dennehy. Robinson’s 3:38.52 last time out in Marseille on September 3 was his fastest time in three years; the 3:35 man will be looking to go even faster on Tuesday.

LRC Prediction: McSweyn for the win.

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