Weekend Preview: Mo Farah, Jenny Simpson and Sydney McLaughlin (Finally!) Return To Their Specialties, Might Sifan Hassan Break the 10,000 WR?
By Jonathan Gault
June 3, 2021
This weekend there’s no Diamond League, and the collegians are off as everyone prepares for next week’s NCAA Championships, but there is still a ton of elite track & field action to preview. It starts tonight in Portland, where Craig Engels, Matthew Centrowitz, and Josh Kerr are among the stars who will line up for the Stumptown Twilight meet.
Across the pond on Saturday, it’s the European 10,000m Cup in Birmingham, which will double as the British Olympic trials in that event. It’s most notable for the return of Mo Farah, who needs to run under the 27:28 Olympic standard if he is to continue his quest toward an Olympic three-peat.
Then on Sunday, there’s a twinbill of action. First up is the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games in Hengelo, which feature Diamond League-quality fields. In the evening, it’s stop #3 on the American Track League circuit: the Music City Track Carnival, which will air live on ESPN2 (5-7 p.m. ET). Some huge names will be racing at Music City, including Sydney McLaughlin in the 400 hurdles, Jenny Simpson in the 1500, and world champion Steven Gardiner in the 400.
Let’s hit the highlights of each meet in chronological order.
Stumptown Twilight (Thursday, June 3)
The fields aren’t as strong at Stumptown as they were for last weekend’s Portland Track Festival, but there are still a number of quality athletes tuning up for the Olympic Trials or taking one last shot at a qualifier.
The top event here in terms of quality is the men’s 1500, led by Neil Gourley and Josh Kerr, who went 1-2 at the British Championships two years ago. Kerr has been in great form in 2021, having already run 1:45 for 800 and 13:23 for 5000, and destroyed the field in his last 1500 (3:35) at the Sound Running Invite on March 6. Gourley, meanwhile ran 3:35 indoors but hasn’t finished a race outdoors. If Kerr gets after it here, look for something fast — after all, this is the same track that just saw 11 men run 3:35 or faster on Saturday night. 3:35 man Will Paulson and the On Athletics Club’s Geordie Beamish and Joe Klecker are also entered; I’ll be keeping an eye on Eric Holt, who is primed for a breakthrough. The 26-year-old Binghamton alum has won all five of his 1500’s in 2021, dropping his pb from 3:44 to 3:39 in the process. This is the best field he has faced yet, which could set him up for a big pb. Can he dip under 3:37.50 which he needs for the US Trials?
The 5ks are both solid. In the men’s race, Eric Jenkins and Ryan Hill are both in desperate need of a good race heading into the Trials (the Oregon Track Club’s Patrick Tiernan, coming off a 3:38 1500 pb on Saturday night, is also entered). On the women’s side, the Bowerman Babes will be seeking some redemption. Back on May 15, Gwen Jorgensen, Vanessa Fraser, Marielle Hall, and Emily Infeld all ran the 5k at the Sound Running Track Meet, and all of them bombed. They’ll line up over the same distance on Thursday and try to get some positive momentum heading into the Trials.
There’s also a men’s 800 featuring Craig Engels and Matthew Centrowitz. Engels is in the fast heat; Centro, apparently inspired by erstwhile Nike Oregon Project teammate Suguru Osako, is entered in sections 2, 3, and 4.
European 10,000m Cup (Saturday, June 5)
The big storyline here is, of course, the return of four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah to the track. Though he did run one track race last year, breaking Haile Gebrselassie‘s world record in the one-hour run in Brussels, that was the only time we’ve seen Farah on the track since his famous 5,00m victory at the 2017 Diamond League final. The initial plan was for Farah to suit up for the marathon at Tokyo 2020, but after getting spanked by Eliud Kipchoge in London in April 2019 and Lawrence Cherono in Chicago that fall, Farah retreated to familiar territory to chase a third straight Olympic 10,000 title. Should he win gold this summer, he’d be — by far — the oldest Olympic champion in a track event at age 38.
But before Farah can think about winning in Tokyo, he has to qualify for the meet. He can do that in Birmingham: the top two Brits across the line will clinch Olympic spots, as long as they have the Olympic standard of 27:28. Farah doesn’t have it, so he’ll need to run it in the race on Saturday. Assuming Farah gets the standard, the team will likely pick itself — only two other Brits, Sam Atkin and Marc Scott — have the standard, and both are also in the race (60:31 half marathoner Jake Smith has an outside shot at the standard).
The race will be a big test for Farah. Though there are some solid athletes entered — in addition to Atkin and Scott, there is Farah’s training partner, 2:04 marathoner Bashir Abdi of Belgium, and European 10k champ Morhad Amdouni of France — but this is a field Farah needs to beat if he is to have any shot of medalling against the likes of Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo this summer.
This race also doubles as the British Olympic trials on the women’s side, with the winner also likely to win the overall European Cup title. GB’s Eilish McColgan has the best pb in the field at 30:58. Only one other British woman — Steph Twell, who has already been named to the Olympic marathon team — has the 31:25 Olympic standard. But Jess Judd and the Reebok Boston Track Club’s Amy-Eloise Markovc both came within a second of it in California last month and will take one more crack in Birmingham.
FBK Games (Sunday, June 6)
There are some terrific races here. Fred Kerley goes in the men’s 400, Mondo Duplantis in the men’s pole vault, Dina Asher-Smith in the women’s 100, and Dutch star Femke Bol in the women’s 400 hurdles. The most closely-fought races will come in the middle distances however. The men’s 800 is a British Olympic trials preview, with Max Burgin, Elliot Giles, Daniel Rowden, Kyle Langford, and Guy Learmonth — all of whom have run 1:44 or faster — all entered alongside Euro Indoor 400m silver medalist Tony van Diepen of the Netherlands (another 1:44 guy). The women’s 800 is even better: world champ Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda makes her season debut against the British trio of Laura Muir, Jemma Reekie, and Keely Hodgkinson.
The men’s 1500 features five men who have run 3:30 or faster, led by sub-3:30 men Ronald Kwemoi and Jake Wightman and Olympic finalists Ronald Musagala and Charlie Da’Vall Grice.
The other distance event worth watching is the women’s 10,000, headlined by Sifan Hassan. Hassan already has the Olympic standard, so presumably this race is about running fast. Last time Hassan was in Hengelo, in October, she ran 29:36 to become the fourth-fastest woman in history. That was on a cold, rainy night. It’s looking warmer (but still rainy) on Sunday. Could she challenge Almaz Ayana‘s 29:17 world record?
Music City Track Carnival (Sunday, June 6)
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
*Schedule/entries *Live on ESPN2 from 5-7 p.m. ET
This is it: the last major US meet before the track world’s eyes fix upon Eugene for the rest of the month, and plenty of Americans (and a few international stars) are heading south for one final tuneup. The women’s 800 features Oregon Track Club teammates Sabrina Southerland and Chanelle Price, fresh off a pair of sub-2:00’s in Portland, taking on Kaela Edwards, Shannon Osika, and Julia Rizk, who beat Elle Purrier at the Platinum PT Qualifier last week. The men’s 1500 includes another pair of OTC teammates, Jake Heyward (3:33 pb) and Will Paulson (also entered in Stumptown on Thursday) against Sam Prakel, Clayton Murphy, and Nick Willis. There’s a high school mile featuring the Newbury Park crew from California: Colin Sahlman and the Young twins, Leo and Lex. Reigning world champs Steven Gardiner (400) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault) will contest their specialty events.
Above all, however, I’m interested in two races featuring two of the biggest stars in American running: Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500 and Sydney McLaughlin in the women’s 400 hurdles.
Simpson didn’t race at all from February 2020 until April 2021, and when she did finally show up and race, she looked poor, running an uncompetitive 4:10 to finish 9th at the USATF Grand Prix in Eugene on April 24. That was six weeks ago, and Simpson hasn’t raced since, which means Sunday’s race in Nashville will be telling. If Simpson can go out and win against a field that includes Canadians Natalia Hawthorn (fresh off a 4:04 pb last week) and Kate Van Buskirk (who has run 4:05/14:59 this year), she’ll show she is still a contender for that third spot on Team USA behind Shelby Houlihan and Elle Purrier. If Simpson struggles again, she’s in serious danger of missing out on an Olympic/World team for the first time since 2005.
McLaughlin is in a better place than Simpson — she has been racing and setting personal bests in 2021. The thing is, those personal bests have come in the 100m hurdles, which is the event new coach Bobby Kersee has had McLaughlin run instead of her preferred 400m hurdles (her 12.65 at Mt. SAC still ranks her #10 in the world this year in the 100m hurdles — not too shabby!). On Sunday, for the first time since taking silver in the World Championship final in October 2019, McLaughlin will finally race the 400m hurdles. How will 100m hurdle fitness translates to 400m hurdle fitness? We’ll find out in Nashville.