2021 Monaco Preview: Cheruiyot v Ingebrigtsen, Kipyegon v Hassan, Coburn Chases Sub-9 & Olympic Previews Galore
By Jonathan Gault
July 8, 2021
When the Herculis Diamond League meet in Monaco is staged on Friday, it will mark exactly three weeks until the track & field portion of the Olympics begins in Tokyo. The trials have been held, the teams have been named, and yet there is still so much we do not know. A few events have an overwhelming favorite — Trayvon Bromell in the men’s 100, Grant Holloway in the 110 hurdles — but that is the exception rather than the rule. Uncertainty abounds.
Herculis may change that. Monaco has carved out a reputation as one of the best one-day track meets in the world for its ability to assemble stellar fields and produce incredible times. That remains true in 2021 — once again, Monaco is loaded — but because of its proximity to the Olympics, the meet takes on added significance . Unlike in 2018 or 2020 (when there were no global championships) or 2019 (when Worlds was still two months away), Monaco and the Müller British Grand Prix in Gateshead on Tuesday will be our last chance to glimpse some of the sport’s biggest names before they hit the big stage in Tokyo.
And considering how loaded the fields are in Monaco, many of the winners on Friday will head to Tokyo as the Olympic favorite. The men’s 1500 features Timothy Cheruiyot (who as of this moment isn’t actually on the Kenyan team) vs. Jakob Ingebrigtsen for the first time in 2021. The women’s 200 features a pair of Olympic champions in Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shaunae Miller-Uibo. There’s Faith Kipyegon vs. Sifan Hassan in the women’s 1500, Trayvon Bromell vs. Andre De Grasse vs. Akani Simbine in the men’s 100, Emma Coburn vs. Hyvin Kiyeng vs. Beatrice Chepkoech in the women’s steeple. The men’s 800 may be the best event of all: with 12 entrants, including Clayton Murphy, Bryce Hoppel, Nijel Amos, Emmanuel Korir, and Elliot Giles, this race could actually be better than the Olympic final.
Full preview of the best DL meet of 2021 so far below.
What: 2021 Herculs
When: Friday, July 9 (TV window from 2-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
Where: Stade Louis II, Monaco
Men’s 400 hurdles (2:03 p.m. ET): Warholm races for the first time as WR holder
|Alison dos Santos||Brazil||47.34||47.34|
|Chris McAlister||Great Britain||49.16||49.16|
|Kyron McMaster||British Virgin Islands||47.50||47.50|
This was supposed to be the first Karsten Warholm–Rai Benjamin showdown since 2019, but after Warholm broke the world record last week in Oslo, Benjamin decided to stay in the US and prep for the Olympics there rather than head to Europe. Even without Benjamin in the field, Warholm is always worth watching, because he’s not someone who needs other people in the race in order to run fast. And traditionally, he has been an athlete who has improved as the season goes along. It’s not fair to expect a world record every time out, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Warholm break it again.
Also keep an eye on Alison dos Santos of Brazil and Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands, both of whom have run 47-mid this year. A Warholm-Benjamin 1-2 at the Olympics is far from 100% guaranteed.
Women’s 800 (2:18 p.m. ET): Stockholm re-run plus the Brits
|Rose Mary Almanza||Cuba||1:56.28||1:56.28|
|Sahily Diago Mesa||Cuba||1:57.74||2:01.08|
|Laura Muir||Great Britain||1:58.42||1:58.46|
|Jemma Reekie||Great Britain||1:58.27||1:58.27|
Four of the top five finishers from Sunday’s Stockholm Diamond League will be back in action in Monaco, so this event may be a little more predictable than most — well, as predictable as an 800 can be, anyway. Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza won that race in a personal-best 1:56.28 over Natoya Goule (1:56.44), which gives Almanza the #2 and #3 times in the world this year behind only US champ Athing Mu. Given that Kate Grace — who won’t be in Tokyo — is the only American in this race, it can’t be considered a true Olympic preview, but it’s still a very strong field featuring eight of the 15 fastest women in the world plus reigning world champ Halimah Nakaayi.
And how about Laura Muir? GB named her to the 800 and 1500 team in Tokyo, but she was only third at the British trials last month. If she doesn’t contend in this race, she should bag the 800 and just focus on the 1500 at the Olympics, considering the 800 and 1500 overlap (and the 800 final comes first). (UPDATE: On Thursday, it was confirmed that Muir will only run the 1500 in Tokyo).
Men’s 1500 (2:32 p.m. ET): Cheruiyot vs. Ingebrigtsen for the first time in 2021
|Adam Ali Musab||Qatar||3:32.41||3:32.41|
Most of these Monaco matchups are Olympic previews, but it’s possible that the men’s 1500 showdown the running world is clamoring to see will not happen in Tokyo. World champion Timothy Cheruiyot‘s Olympic fate remains unsettled — he was only fourth in the Kenyan trials and wasn’t named to Kenya’s initial Olympic squad — but he could find his way to Tokyo should Athletics Kenya change its mind (or if the runner-up at the trials, Kamar Etyang, doesn’t log the requisite three out-of-competition tests).
What we know for sure is that we will get Cheruiyot vs. Jakob Ingebrigtsen on Friday. We can only hope that it will deliver on its promise. Cheruiyot (3:28.41 pb) and Ingebrigtsen (3:28.68 pb) sit #7 and #8 on the world all-time list. Cheruiyot hasn’t lost a Diamond League 1500 since May 2019; Ingebrigtsen hasn’t been beaten in his last eight 1500’s — other than two races in which he’s finished second to Cheruiyot. And Monaco is always fast.
Well here is a list of the 16 fastest 1500’s in the world since 2010 (courtesy World Athletics). Notice a trend?
|1||3:26.69||Asbel KIPROP||30 JUN 1989||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||17 JUL 2015||1292|
|2||3:27.64||Silas KIPLAGAT||20 AUG 1989||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||18 JUL 2014||1279|
|3||3:27.72||Asbel KIPROP||30 JUN 1989||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||19 JUL 2013||1277|
|4||3:28.41||Timothy CHERUIYOT||20 NOV 1995||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||20 JUL 2018||1267|
|5||3:28.45||Asbel KIPROP||30 JUN 1989||KEN||2||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||18 JUL 2014||1267|
|5||3:28.45||Timothy CHERUIYOT||20 NOV 1995||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||14 AUG 2020||1267|
|7||3:28.68||Jakob INGEBRIGTSEN||19 SEP 2000||NOR||2||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||14 AUG 2020||1264|
|8||3:28.75||Taoufik MAKHLOUFI||29 APR 1988||ALG||2||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||17 JUL 2015||1263|
|9||3:28.77||Timothy CHERUIYOT||20 NOV 1995||KEN||1||Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, Lausanne (SUI)||05 JUL 2019||1262|
|10||3:28.79||Abdelaati IGUIDER||25 MAR 1987||MAR||3||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||17 JUL 2015||1262|
|11||3:28.80||Elijah Motonei MANANGOI||05 JAN 1993||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||21 JUL 2017||1262|
|12||3:28.81||Mo FARAH||23 MAR 1983||GBR||2||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||19 JUL 2013||1262|
|12||3:28.81||Ronald KWEMOI||19 SEP 1995||KEN||3||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||18 JUL 2014||1262|
|14||3:28.88||Asbel KIPROP||30 JUN 1989||KEN||1||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||20 JUL 2012||1261|
|15||3:28.93||Mo FARAH||23 MAR 1983||GBR||4||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||17 JUL 2015||1260|
|16||3:29.10||Timothy CHERUIYOT||20 NOV 1995||KEN||2||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||21 JUL 2017||1258|
Last year’s 1500 was one of the best yet, with both Cheruiyot and Ingebrigtsen breaking 3:29.
Monaco 2020 was the closest Ingebrigtsen has ever come to beating Cheruiyot; in his career, he is 0-11 against the Kenyan, but in that race he was just .23 behind. The question on Friday is whether he can end the skid. If so, he will enter Tokyo as the Olympic 1500 favorite.
Both men carry concerns, however. Cheruiyot has won both of his DL races this year — 3:30 in Doha on May 28, 3:32 in Stockholm on Sunday — but he was only fourth at the Kenyan trials. Ingebrigtsen is undefeated in 2021, including an impressive 12:48 5,000m win in Florence on June 10, but he had to back out of last week’s DL meet in Oslo due to illness.
It would be a surprise to see someone other than one of the big two to win, but Charles Simotwo, who beat Cheruiyot to win the Kenyan trials, is one to watch (though he was only fourth in the mile in Oslo last week).
Women’s 200 (2:43 p.m. ET): Gabby Thomas faces the top dogs
|Marie-Josee Ta Lou||Ivory Coast||22.08||22.36|
UPDATE: Gabby Thomas scratched after this article was published.
Gabby Thomas, who had never made a US world or Olympic team, was not in the “world’s greatest sprinter” conversation before the US Olympic Trials. But one of the wonderful things about track is how easy it is to compare performances. You can’t objectively compare two NFL wide receivers or NBA point guards. But you can objectively compare two sprinters — that’s the whole point of the sport.
Fluke performances are also pretty rare. A random player can get hot and drop 50 points in an NBA game — Fred VanVleet and Kevin Porter Jr. both did that this season. But you can’t really fluke your way to a crazy performance in track & field. Either you’re physically able to cover 200 meters in 21.61 seconds, or you’re not.
All of that is to say that, by virtue of her 21.61 at the Trials, Thomas has to be considered among the very best in the world, even though she’d never broken 22.17 as of two weeks ago. Now she’ll get a chance to prove it against two of the best sprinters of this generation — and potential Olympic rivals — in Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
Both Fraser-Pryce and Miller-Uibo will be looking for a little redemption here. Fraser-Pryce, thanks to her 21.79 pb at the Jamaican trials, is #2 on the 2021 world list but lost on Tuesday to Elaine Thompson over 100m in Hungary (to be fair, Fraser-Pryce still ran a very quick 10.82). Miller-Uibo also raced and lost in Hungary on Tuesday, clocking 22.15 behind Shericka Jackson‘s 21.96 in the 200 (Fraser-Pryce beat Jackson at the Jamaican trials).
Miller-Uibo is 5-0 lifetime against Thomas — but she’s also never faced this version of Thomas, the one who just became the second-fastest 200m runner of all time behind FloJo. Can she rebound, or will Thomas prove that the 200 belongs to her moving forward? If Miller-Uibo gets spanked here, will she opt for just the 400 in Tokyo, where she is the defending champion?
Men’s steeple (2:49 p.m. ET): Who will step up?
|Mark Pearce||Great Britain||8:24.83||8:24.83|
The men’s steeple is kind of a mess right now. Conseslus Kipruto, who has won the last three global titles, hasn’t finished a steeple since 2019. Reigning Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager hasn’t finished a steeple since 2018. Ethiopians Lamecha Girma (presumably injured) and Getnet Wale (5000), who finished second and fourth at the 2019 Worlds, didn’t run the steeple at the Ethiopian Olympic trials and won’t be in the event in Tokyo.
And perhaps craziest of all, Kenya, the country that has owned the men’s steeplechase forever, doesn’t have a single man in the world top 10 this year. Their fastest guy, Leonard Bett, ranks just 14th with an sb of 8:17.26.
That last stat is a little misleading: the first DL steeple in Gateshead was contested in horrible weather, and no Kenyans finished the other DL steeple this year in Florence. But the larger point remains: this is a wide-open event where anything is possible.
Soufiane El Bakkali, the world leader thanks to his win in Florence, is probably the Olympic favorite right now but he’s not running in Monaco.
So who does that leave? Girma, the Worlds silver medalist and Ethiopian record holder is running his first race since February, would normally be viewed to be in the mix for the win but if he’s fit enough to contend her why didn’t he run the Trials? Ethiopian trials champ Bikila Takele is likely a stronger contender. And why not the Americans? Hillary Bor won in Gateshead in May – where he beat the Kenyan Trials champ – and after his win at the Olympic Trials said he thought he could run 8:05 in Monaco. His training mate and USA runner-up Benard Keter is fit as well; Keter thinks he’s in 8:10-12 shape. Considering El Bakkali is the world leader at 8:08, anything around 8:10 should be competitive in Monaco.
This will be a big test for Bor, in particular. He’s now the man to beat in American steepling, and if he can beat this field and run 8:05 — tough tasks, but not impossible — then there’s no reason he can’t contend for gold in Tokyo.
Men’s 800 (3:06 p.m. ET): What a race
|Oliver Dustin||Great Britain||1:43.82||1:43.82|
|Elliot Giles||Great Britain||1:44.05||1:44.05|
|Amel Tuka||Bosnia & Herzegovina||1:42.51||1:44.76|
This race is so good I could write an entire article about it, but this preview is getting long as it is so I better not. Suffice it to say, almost anyone who will be a factor at the Olympics (minus Kenyan champ Michael Saruni) is in this race. With Amel Tuka, Ferguson Rotich, Bryce Hoppel, Marco Arop, and Clayton Murphy, you’ve got the 2-3-4-7-8 finishers from Worlds in 2019, plus Nijel Amos (the third-fastest man in history who ran 1:41 in Monaco two years ago), Emmanuel Korir (1:42.05 pb, #6 all-time), breakout Euro indoor champ Patryk Dobek of Poland, and the dynamic British duo of Elliot Giles (UK champ, winner at the Istvan Gyulai meet on Tuesday) and Oliver Dustin, who exploded with a 1:43 last month at the age of 20.
Good luck figuring out who is going to win. US champ Clayton Murphy is the world leader at 1:43.17 and since he reads these previews (Hi Clayton!), I’ll point out that he undoubtedly has the talent to win a Diamond League (something he has never done) but was also only third in his European opener on Tuesday in Hungary.
But it’s dangerous playing the transitive property game in an event this evenly-matched. Murphy won the US Trials but lost to Giles in Hungary. Giles lost to Rotich in Stockholm…who lost to Murphy and Giles in Hungary two days later. Ideally, we’d be able to look at the winner of this race and proclaim him the man to beat in Tokyo. But, barring a truly dominant display, that probably won’t be the case. There are simply too many good guys in the event right now.
Amos is the most intriguing name in the 12-man field, mainly because he has barely raced this year — he’s run only one 800, a 1:45.26 in South Africa on June 26. Is Amos, now in his 10th year on the circuit, still the 1:41 guy of 2019? And if he wins here, does it even mean anything? Amos earned Olympic silver as an 18-year-old in 2012, but, due to a combination of injury and poor performance, has only made one global final since then (5th at the ’17 Worlds). He has often run well on the circuit, but until he proves he can make it through three rounds at a major championship again, question marks will remain. Still, as one of just two men to have run under 1:42 twice (David Rudisha and Wilson Kipketer are the others), his talent is one thing that is not in doubt.
Women’s 1500 (3:16 p.m. ET): Hassan vs. Kipyegon in Florence rematch
We already saw this race, which pits world champ Sifan Hassan against Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon, a month ago in Florence, and it was awesome, Hassan holding off Kipyegon to win, 3:53.63 to 3:53.91. Those times, on paper, are far faster than anyone else in this field are capable of, which means there are only three things that interest me in this race:
1) Can Kipyegon turn the tables and beat Hassan?
2) Can Freweyni Hailu, who came out of nowhere this year to win the Ethiopian trials in 3:57, come close to Kipyegon and Hassan?
3) Will the Americans, Cory McGee and Heather MacLean, break 4:00? Only nine Americans have ever done it, and while McGee and MacLean both PR’d in the Olympic Trials final — a race set up to run fast with Elle Purrier leading the way — they could go even faster here. Remember, the Trials final was their third 1500 in four days, while they’ll be running Monaco fresh.
Men’s 100 (3:28 p.m. ET): Diamond League fields are never this good
|Andre De Grasse||Canada||9.90||9.99|
|Akani Simbine||South Africa||9.84||9.84|
If I had to bet money on it, I’d say Trayvon Bromell, Ronnie Baker, Fred Kerley, Akani Simbine, and Andre De Grasse will go 1-2-3-4-5 in the Olympics in some order. They’re all running this race.
Top sprinters racing each other! How crazy is that? As great as he was, this sort of thing never happened when Usain Bolt was around. But now, without an alpha dog sucking up all the appearance money and dictating fields, it is possible to get some terrific Diamond League 100m matchups.
All five men enter in great form. Bromell is the world leader at 9.77, Baker & Kerley ran pbs at the Olympic Trials, Simbine ran an African record of 9.84 on Tuesday, and De Grasse is rounding into form nicely with wins in his last three races. The winner here will be the favorite for the Olympic 100m crown in Tokyo, and based on everything we’ve seen in 2021, that’s Bromell, who has yet to lose a 100 this year. But if he’s going to finally be handed an L, it will come against a field like this.
Women’s steeple (9:36 p.m. ET): Coburn chases sub-9:00 — and her first DL win since ’14
|Elizabeth Bird||Great Britain||9:26.73||9:26.73|
In the history of the women’s steeplechase, five women have broken 9:00. Four were born in Kenya, one in Russia…and none in the United States. Emma Coburn is hoping to change that on Friday.
“Every year since 2017 I’ve felt that I was fit enough to break 9:00,” she said after her seventh straight US title last month. “It’s not a fitness issue. It’s getting in the race and making it happen. If I’m going to try and win a medal in Tokyo, I think it’s going to be a 9:00 or sub-9:00 race. It’s my goal to make it happen, I think I’m in a good position, but we won’t know until I do it.”
Monaco is the race to make it happen. It’s where Beatrice Chepkoech set her world record and Courtney Frerichs set her American record in 2018, and it features a top field with the aim of running fast. Coburn has shown no signs of slowing down in her career, but she is 30 years old now and won’t have many more opportunities like this to chase a time near her peak fitness.
Breaking 9:00 and wresting the AR back from Frerichs would be sweet for Coburn, and if she can do it, she would very likely win the race and position herself as the favorite in Tokyo. On paper, Chepkoech’s 8:44 world record is way out there, but Chepkoech has lost both of her steeples this year, including a sound defeat at the hands of 2015 world champ Hyvin Kiyeng in Stockholm on Sunday after Chepkoech went out way too hard for the first kilometer. Kiyeng, who is 16-7 lifetime against Coburn, figures to be the American’s toughest competition here — and the biggest obstacle between Coburn and her first DL win since 2014.
Between Kiyeng, Chepkoech, Coburn, 2019 Worlds bronze medalist Gesa Krause and 2019 Worlds fourth placer Winfred Yavi of Bahrain, almost all the top Olympic contenders are here (Ethiopian champ Mekides Abebe and Frerichs are the notable exceptions). This should be a good one — and fast, as long as the field can strike the right balance between aggressive and sensible for the first kilometer.