What a Meet: Brazier vs. Hoppel, Lyles vs. Bromell, Jenny Simpson Returns & Much More at the 2021 USATF Grand Prix
By Jonathan Gault
April 23, 2021
What if I told you there was a track meet this weekend with Noah Lyles vs. Trayvon Bromell, Donavan Brazier vs. Bryce Hoppel, Cole Hocker vs. Wesley Kiptoo, and Jenny Simpson vs. Laura Muir? Is that something you’d be interested in?
With the US Olympic Trials a mere eight weeks away, it’s time for America’s biggest pros to start racing — all of those matchups and more are taking place this weekend as part of the USATF Grand Prix at Oregon Relays, the first professional meet held at the brand new Hayward Field in Eugene. There’s also Michael Norman and Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the 400, Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare against Edwin Kurgat and Wesley Kiptoo in the 5,000, Sara Hall returning to the track, and high school superstar Hobbs Kessler hopping in the pro 1500.
Seriously, this meet is STACKED.
With a relatively early Olympic Trials start date of June 18 and COVID-19 wreaking havoc with the schedule, there are only three Diamond League meets before the Trials, meaning many Americans will choose to stay stateside as they prep for the national championships. And there are few better domestic opportunities than this one, with $10,000 in prize money per event ($3,500 for the winner) and a chance to check out the Hayward Field track that will be used at the Trials. (The only downside: the weather. The high in Eugene on Saturday will be just 57 degrees, with a 94% chance of rain. That’s good temps for distance running and the rain is expected to be light, but we know the sprinters want it to be warmer.)
The Oregon Relays are just one part of a bonanza of track & field action in the United States that began with Wednesday’s US road mile champs in Des Moines. On Saturday afternoon, American fans will get four straight hours of elite track & field on national TV, with the pro races at the Drake Relays (3-5 p.m. ET) and Oregon Relays (5-7 p.m. ET) being shown live on NBC Sports Network.
And what better way to get you set for it than an old-fashioned LetsRun.com preview? Here’s everything you need to know about the meet in Eugene this weekend. Man it’s fun having big track meets to write about again.
What: 2021 USATF Grand Prix at Oregon Relays
When: Friday, April 23 – Saturday, April 24
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
How to watch
Friday, 6 p.m. ET – 12:30 a.m. ET: USATF.TV+ (requires subscription)
Saturday, 10 a.m. ET – 5 p.m. ET: USATF.TV+ (requires subscription)
Saturday, 5-7 p.m. ET: NBCSN. Also streaming live online through Peacock Premium.
Friday, April 23
Men’s 5,000 (12:15 a.m. ET): NCAA champs Hocker, Kiptoo, Teare, & Kurgat square off
There are some other decent college races on Friday, but this is the one that will have distance fans salivating, with two Kenyan studs from Iowa State facing two American studs from Oregon.
NCAA DMR champ Cooper Teare. NCAA XC champ Edwin Kurgat. NCAA 5,000 champ Wesley Kiptoo. NCAA mile/3,000 champ Cole Hocker. Not many college races this year will have more talent. Heck, this race could be harder to win than the NCAA 5,000 final, considering there’s no guarantee Hocker runs this event at nationals.
The one thing that could derail this matchup is the structure of college track & field: the entire point of the regular season is to earn qualifying standards for nationals. Secure those, and it’s job well done. And these guys can run 13:40 in their sleep.
But there are bigger targets to shoot for. Teare ran 13:17 in December to just miss the Olympic standard of 13:13.50. Will he try to chase that? With Kiptoo in the race, anything can happen; remember, he went out in sub-60 the last time he ran a 5,000. Even if the time goal isn’t as aggressive as chasing the Olympic standard, there’s no way Hocker and Teare will be okay with Kiptoo and Kurgat invading Eugene and beating them at Hayward Field. This should be some race.
And the weather looks perfect on Friday night — low 50s temps with low winds.
Saturday, April 24
Women’s 5,000 (4:42 p.m. ET): Sara Hall runs her first track race since 2016
After finishing 14th in the 5,000 at the 2016 Olympic Trials — her fourth track trials, her fourth time not making the team — Sara Hall moved to the roads and didn’t look back. Over the ensuing five years, she has become the second-fastest marathoner in US history and has not raced a single step on a track.
Having missed her shot at the Olympic marathon team last year in Atlanta, Hall has no choice but to return to the oval if she is to make her first Olympic team at age 38. That question begins in Eugene on Saturday, where she’ll have the Olympic Trials (15:20.00) and Olympic standards (15:10.00) in mind. With Australian record holder Jessica Hull (14:43 pb) and European silver medalist Eilish McColgan (14:46 pb) in the field, the race should go fast. Recently-crowned Euro indoor 3,000 champ Amy-Eloise Markovc of the Reebok Boston Track Club will also be looking to lower her pb from 15:11 and hit the Olympic standard. 2016 US Olympian Abbey Cooper is also entered and still needs the Trials and Olympic standards.
Women’s 400 (5:04 p.m. ET): Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo set to shine
The first event of the TV window on NBCSN is a good one. Reigning Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo will go off as the heavy favorite here. The other six women are all American, which means this race will serve as something of a Trials preview as there is a ton of talent among them, including 2017 world champ Phyllis Francis and the last two NCAA champs in Lynna Irby and Wadeline Jonathas (4th at 2019 Worlds). Kendall Ellis will also make her first visit to the new Hayward Field after her dramatic anchor leg in the final race at the old stadium.
Women’s 1500 (5:12 p.m. ET): Jenny Simpson vs. Laura Muir in Simpson’s first race in 14 months
Where’s Jenny Simpson? has become a popular parlor game among track fans, but Simpson hasn’t exactly been hiding from the media. She has spoken to LetsRun, FloTrack, and Track & Field News about her decision not to race last year. What it boils down to: the remarkably durable Simpson, 34, had gone nine straight summers of racing at a high level. With no team to make and no US championships, she took 2020 as a chance to recharge (though she still trained at home in Boulder) ahead of the 2021 Olympic year.
The fact that Simpson hasn’t raced yet this season isn’t odd; she typically races sparingly indoors, if at all. But with the Trials eight weeks away, even someone as experienced as Simpson needs races under her belt, and she’ll face a challenge in Laura Muir, the 3:55 Brit who beat Simpson at the most recent Worlds in Doha (Muir was 5th, Simpson 8th). The US 1500 team is going to be a bear to make this year, and while Simpson need not beat Muir here — who ran 3:59 indoors in February in her only other race so far this year — it will be important for her to beat all the other Americans on Saturday, a group that includes 2019 Worlds finalist Nikki Hiltz, 4-time NCAA champ Dani Jones, and Colorado’s latest star, NCAA indoor mile champ Sage Hurta. We wouldn’t bet against Simpson doing that.
“I thought I would have gotten slower by now,” she told TFN. “I mean, I’m going to be 35 this summer and I’m doing workouts that are as good as ever for the 1500.”
Women’s 100 (prelims 4:15 p.m. ET, final 5:39 p.m. ET): Felix, Ahoure, Nelson & more do battle
After her astonishing 10.72 in Miramar two weeks ago, 21-year-old phenom Sha’Carri Richardson won’t be here. But several of the US’s other top female sprinters will be, along with reigning world indoor 60 champ Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast and world U20 champ Briana Williams of Jamaica.
Among the Americans, reigning US champ Teahna Daniels is entered, as is 2016 Olympian Tianna Bartoletta and 35-year-old Allyson Felix, who ran 11.31 in Phoenix last week in her first 100 in three years. Another woman to watch is collegian Kemba Nelson of Oregon and Jamaica. Nelson shocked everyone by running a collegiate record of 7.05 to win the 60 at NCAA indoors and last week ran a pb of 11.18 in her season opener in Tucson. If the straightaway in Eugene is as fast as it used to be, she could go even faster on Saturday.
Men’s 100 (prelims 4:28 p.m. ET, final 5:46 p.m. ET): Baker vs. Bromell vs. Lyles in Trials preview
Many of the events at this meet will serve as Trials previews of sorts, but few carry more import than the men’s 100. Yes, things can change in the 57 days between this race and the men’s 100 final at the Trials on June 20, but with most of the heavy hitters here in one of the most-anticipated events of the Trials — one with no clear favorite right now — the outcome of Saturday’s race will give us a great idea of where the men’s 100 stands right now.
Ronnie Baker (9.87 pb), Noah Lyles (9.86 pb), and Travyon Bromell (9.84 pb) are the trio to watch and are the favorites for this year’s Olympic team, along with Justin Gatlin, who ran 9.98 in Florida last week to beat Lyles but won’t be in Eugene this weekend. Who wins is anyone’s guess. Bromell looked terrific in 2020 with a 9.90 and a windy 9.87 (+2.5) but finished a well-beaten 5th in the 200 at the Tom Jones Invite last week in 20.62. Lyles was also 5th at Tom Jones last weekend, running the 100 in 10.08. Which means that, based on 2021 outdoor form, Baker, who ran 9.94 at the Texas Relays on March 27, should be the favorite (though he hasn’t raced since).
Christopher Belcher, who has made the last two US world teams, is also entered, along with veteran Mike Rodgers (who turns 36 on race day) and NCAA champ Divine Oduduru of Nigeria. A win by anyone outside of the “Big Three” would be a significant upset though — and throw the US 100m pecking order into disarray.
Men’s 3000 steeplechase (6:04 p.m. ET): Finally, a steeple!
It’s been a long time since we had a decent steeple in the USA. The pandemic began before the 2020 outdoor season could get properly started in the US, and when it returned, there were no steeples, either because the high school facilities hosting meets over here didn’t have water pits or the pared-down meets over in Europe didn’t want to add a steeple. Per World Athletics’ database, the fastest time by an American in 2020 was 9:28.49, run by Western Oregon University’s Dominic Giordano to win the Linfield Erik Anderson Memorial Icebreaker on March 6. That’s not a typo. 9:28.
Saturday’s race should go significantly faster. Nine of the top 10 from the 2019 USA final will be running in Eugene — everyone except third-placer Andy Bayer, who retired this week at age 31. Right now, only two Americans — Hillary Bor and Stanley Kebenei — have the Olympic standard of 8:22.00, which is what guys like Mason Ferlic and Anthony Rotich should be chasing in this race. Kebenei also bears watching. He’s the second-fastest steepler in US history, but he also hasn’t finished a race since December 2019 — his only effort in that span was a DNF at the Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2020. How will he fare after such a long layoff?
Women’s 800 (6:18 p.m. ET): Raevyn Rogers takes on Jemma Reekie
Raevyn Rogers will run her first 800 of 2021 on Saturday, and it will be a baptism by fire against another Olympic medal contender, Jemma Reekie of Great Britain. Rogers may have revenge on her mind, as Reekie convincingly won both of their matchups last year — in Monaco over 1000m and Stockholm over 800m. With Athing Mu having broken Rogers’ NCAA outdoor record last week at Baylor, this race offers an opportunity for Rogers to remind everyone that she is the reigning World Championship silver medalist.
Canada’s Melissa Bishop — who would have been the 2016 Olympic champion had the current DSD rules been in effect — is also running, though she is 32 now and hasn’t broken 2:00 since 2017. 2016 US Olympic Trials champ Kate Grace and 2019 World Championship finalist Ce’Aira Brown will run as well.
Men’s 800 (6:25 p.m. ET): NCAA indoor champ Charlie Hunter tries to protect his turf against former NCAA champs Harris & Saruni
The last time Isaiah Harris raced Michael Saruni in Eugene, Harris upset collegiate record holder Saruni to win the 2018 NCAA 800 title. They’ll renew acquaintances on Saturday alongside Charlie Hunter, who won the NCAA indoor title last month in dramatic fashion. Saruni won his only indoor race this year, clocking 1:45 to beat Harris at the final American Track League meet on February 21, and is coming off a 1500 win at the Miramar Invite on April 10, where he ran a pb of 3:45 on a windy day. Harris, meanwhile, also ran a 1500 pb of 3:42 at the USATF Sprint Summit back on April 3 — and he beat Saruni by eight seconds in that race. This meeting over their specialty distance should be more entertaining.
Men’s 1500 (6:41 p.m. ET): Hoppel vs. Brazier!!! (featuring Hobbs Kessler)
This race may have more storylines than any other event in the meet. After not racing each other indoors, US stars Bryce Hoppel and Donavan Brazier will square off for the first time in 2021, albeit over 1500 meters. An appetizer, if you will, ahead of their looming 800m showdown on the same track two months from now. Brazier, who ran 3:35 last year and made it look easy, will be favored over Hoppel, who will aim to lower his 3:47 pb (he has only raced the event twice in his life).
Hoppel vs. Brazier alone would have made for must-see TV, but the rest of the field is seriously talented too. 3:32 man Ollie Hoare and Justyn Knight, both of whom posted big wins at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in February, are running; with Hoare looking to build his case for selection to the Australian Olympic team, winning this race (or coming very close) will be key. Former Oregon teammates Sam Prakel, Johnny Gregorek, and Eric Jenkins are all entered, as is Hoare’s On Athletics Club teammate Geordie Beamish, the 2019 NCAA mile champ.
And then there’s Hobbs Kessler. The 18-year-old amazed with his 3:57 high school indoor mile record in February, and on March 27 made a 54.99 last lap look easy en route to an 8:39 2-mile (#4 on the all-time HS list) at the NSAF USA Meet of Champions in Myrtle Beach. The pro field he’ll face here is even tougher than the one that towed him to that 3:57 mile, so the chance to hit the Olympic Trials standard of 3:37.50 should be there if he’s fit enough. That’s no small feat, of course — the high school 1500 record is 3:38.26, set by Alan Webb en route to his 3:53.43 mile in 2001.
But given some of the workouts Kessler has been running, that record is in play. A month ago, Kessler ripped the famous “Michigan” session in 4:23/3:14/2:05/50.3, clocking the fastest 400 split ever in a workout that has been run by the likes of Webb and Nick Willis.
LetsRun.com Supporters Club members can read our profile of Kessler below. Supporters Club members get access to exclusive articles like this one, an ad-free messageboard experience, bonus podcasts, and big shoe discounts from Pacers Running. Join here.
Men’s 400 (6:53 p.m. ET): Can Rai Benjamin finally beat Michael Norman?
A moment of appreciation for Michael Norman and Rai Benjamin. In our sport, it’s not uncommon for training partners to avoid racing each other unless absolutely necessary (Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake come to mind). But that is not the case with Norman and Benjamin, the former USC teammates turned friends who have regularly squared off against each other. Often, the results are sensational: Norman’s pbs at 100 (9.86) and 400 (43.45) both came with Benjamin in the race.
Of course, it helps that both will ultimately contest different events at the Olympics — 400 for Norman, 400 hurdles for Benjamin — but it’s still nice to see two stars unafraid to race each other. Per Tilastopaja, they’ve raced nine times, dating back to their time as high schoolers at the Arcadia Invitational:
|400m||Arcadia Inv Arcadia CA 2015-04-11||45.91 (1)||46.37 (2)|
|400m||Los Angeles CA 2017-04-30||45.22 (1)||45.72 (2)|
|400m||MSR Torrance CA 2018-04-21||44.53 (1)||44.74 (2)|
|200m||Meet Paris Paris 2018-06-30||19.84 (1)||19.99 (2)|
|200m||Athletissima Lausanne 2018-07-05||19.88 (2)||20.16 (4)|
|400m||MSR Torrance CA 2019-04-20||43.45 (1)||44.31 (2)|
|400m||Bauhaus Stockholm/S 2019-05-30||44.53 (1)||45.13 (2)|
|100m||Fort Worth TX 2020-07-20||9.86 (1)||10.03 (2)|
|400m||Staten Island NY 2021-02-13||45.34 (1)||45.39 (2)|
As you can see, Norman is undefeated in their matchups — maybe that’s why Benjamin keeps racing him? — but their most recent encounter, at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in February, was their closest yet, Norman prevailing by just .05. Could Benjamin finally get one over on Norman on Saturday?
Outside of Norman and Benjamin, keep an eye on 19-year-old Justin Robinson. He won his season opener impressively on April 10, clocking 45.23 at the Miramar Invite, and he’s a major talent, having run 44.84 as a 17-year-old in 2019.