Cole Hocker The Real Deal, Matthew Centrowitz OUT – Men’s 1500 Semis

August 5, 2021

TOKYO — The guard has changed.

20 year-old American sensation Cole Hocker advanced to the 1500 Olympic final with ease, finishing second in his semifinal in a new personal best time of 3:33.87, ahead of reigning world champion Timothy Cheruiyot. Reigning Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz could not stick with the Olympic record pace in semifinal #2, and faded to 9th in and did not advance, despite running faster than Hocker, a seasonal best 3:33.69.

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If tonight’s semis were any indication, the final on Saturday night (7:40 a.m. US ET) is going to be a great one. Great Britain’s Jake Wightman won the first semi in an honest 3:33.48 after Cheruiyot took it out in an honest 56.1 (26.5 first 200) and led the first 1300m, until Wightman took over and would extend to the win with Hocker coming up from the pack to pass Cheruiyot.

The second semi was faster still as Kenya’s Abel Kipsang ran 3:31.65 to break Noah Ngeny’s 21-year-old Olympic record of 3:32.07. Two men ran 3:33 in the Olympic semifinal and did not advance to the final. One of them was Centrowitz, who ran an uncharacteristically poor tactical race and was ninth in the second semi in 3:33.69, .83 of a second behind the final time qualifier, Charles Grethen of Luxembourg (3:32.86). All 12 finalists ran 3:34 or faster tonight; eight more ran 3:35 or better but failed to advance.

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Other notable men to advance to the final included Cheruiyot, Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Brits Wightman and Josh Kerr, and Aussies Stewart McSweyn and Ollie Hoare

Other notable casualties to not make the final besides Centrowitz included Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski, the 2019 world bronze medalist, as well as Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman, the 4th placer in Rio, as both pulled up injured in semi #2. 38-year-old two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand ran 3:35.41 — his fastest time in three years — to finish ninth in heat #1 but did not advance in his final Olympics. Willis’ departure from the Olympics gets its own article here: Nick Willis bows out of the Olympics with some great advice for young athletes struggling with pressure

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Full analysis and post-race interviews appear below the results.

Heat 1

2USACole HOCKER3:33.87 PBQ
3KENTimothy CHERUIYOT3:33.95Q
4AUSOliver HOARE3:34.35Q
5ESPIgnacio FONTES3:34.49Q
6KENCharles Cheboi SIMOTWO3:34.61
7ETHTeddese LEMI3:34.81
8GERRobert FARKEN3:35.21
9NZLNick WILLIS3:35.41 SB
10IRLAndrew COSCORAN3:35.84
11BELIsmael DEBJANI3:42.18

Heat 2

12779KENAbel KIPSANG3:31.65 ORQ
23081NORJakob INGEBRIGTSEN3:32.13Q
32052GBRJosh KERR3:32.18Q
41805ESPAdel MECHAAL3:32.19 PBQ
51091AUSStewart MCSWEYN3:32.54Q
62049GBRJake HEYWARD3:32.82 PBq
72878LUXCharles GRETHEN3:32.86 NRq
82892MARAbdelatif SADIKI3:33.59 PB
93911USAMatthew CENTROWITZ3:33.69 SB
101957FRAAzeddine HABZ3:35.12
111878ETHSamuel ZELEKE3:37.66
121794ESPJesús GÓMEZ3:44.46
133205POLMichał ROZMYS3:54.53qR
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Quick Thoughts: Cole Hocker is an Olympic finalist at age 20

Few American athletes have benefited more from the one-year Olympic delay than Cole Hocker. This time last year, Hocker was a 3:58 miler who had never raced at NCAAs, let alone a US or global championship. Now he’s an Olympic finalist and no matter what happens in the final, his season should be considered a massive success. His rise from top college recruit to best in the US has been meteoric and incredible to watch.

Hocker, however, isn’t satisfied. When asked about whether he thinks he has more left in the tank after tonight’s 3:33 pb, Hocker didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “Today felt quick, but it still felt like a preliminary round for me. And that gives me confidence moving forward. Of course that’ll be after two races now. But I’m prepared to go with anything [in the final].”

That’s good, because Cheruiyot told us he believes the winning time will be under 3:30 as it was in Doha. Hocker has never run that fast before, but it’s going to be the Olympic final and Hocker has met every challenge and looked great again tonight. The final is absolutely loaded, but Hocker absolutely has a chance to medal. And we’re not the only ones who think so…

Timothy Cheruiyot expects the final to be won in sub-3:30 and thinks Cole Hocker can medal

We asked Cheruiyot, the reigning world champion and Olympic favorite, who he considered to be medal threats in the final outside of Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

“There [are] some strong guys,” he said. “Hocker is good, Jakob. McSweyn.”

There you have it. Even Timothy Cheruiyot thinks Hocker can medal.

Cheruiyot then admitted he’d watched Hocker’s run at the US championships. “Yes I watched. The guy is good in kick.”

As for Cheruiyot himself, he predicted another Olympic record in the final.

“I’m expecting a fast, under 3:30 race on Saturday,” Cheruiyot said.

When asked whether he would set the pace, Cheruiyot initially said no, then yes, and then said he would have to confer with fellow Kenyan Abel Kipsang and decide as they may employ team tactics. Since many of the top guys in the field like a fast pace, it would be a shock to see the final go slow.

Also, Cheruiyot confirmed that he had a hamstring issue at the Kenyan Trials, which explains his fourth-place finish in that race. After the race, he went to see a doctor and received treatment and now says it feels much better — as evidenced by his 3:28.28 pb in Monaco last month.

Matthew Centrowitz was in shape and ran fast, but made too many mistakes to make the final

Centro’s 3:33.69 today was the second-fastest time he has ever run at a global championship, behind only the 3:32.81 he ran to finish 8th in the 2019 world final in Doha. Ironically, Centro said he didn’t think it was the fast pace that did him in, but rather the thing he is supposed to be best at: his tactics.

“I think I just put too much emphasis on being like right off the shoulder with whoever’s gonna lead it,” Centrowitz said. “In this race, it was Jakob and then then Stewy. And I think I should have just probably settled in a little bit and gone more for the ride where I was kind of finding myself fighting to get in position, and I was never really in a position. I was in lane two, lane three at some point, so you know when they’re running the Olympic record in the heat, you can’t be out in lane three and wasting energy like that.”

Seriously. When is the last time you remember Centro running in lane 3?

Centro made no excuses afterwards. The only other time he could remember running this poorly tactically at a major championship was the first round of the 2017 Worlds in London, the only other time in his eight World/Olympic appearances that he did not make the final. But in that race, Centro was nowhere near healthy and seemed to be out of the race mentally as a result. This time, Centro believed he was in terrific shape — close to career-best shape — and could not get it done.

“This is the first global championship that I haven’t made the final, being ready to go,” Centrowitz said.

Centro said he has been blessed to have avoided major injuries this year, enjoying one of the most consistent years of training of his career at age 31. That gives him hope that he can continue competing for a few more years. But that’s not the only factor to consider. When asked about whether he thinks he could keep going and make a fourth Olympic team in 2024, Centro said it was “hard to say.”

“[It’s] not just my health but also what my goals are, my motivation moving forward,” Centrowitz said.

Abel Kipsang came into the Olympics as an unknown, now he’s the Olympic record holder who is ready to fight with the big boys

Kenya’s Abel Kipsang, 24, has been the revelation of this season. The 24-year-old, who has never run in a Diamond League 1500, was third at the Kenyan Trials in 3:33.12 at altitude (his pb was 3:32.68). When he got third at the Trials (one spot ahead of Cheruiyot), most wondered why Cheruiuyot wasn’t immediately given the discretionary third spot over Kipsang but now we know why — Kipsang is pretty damn good himself.

In Tokyo, he won his heat in the first round and has now PR’d and broken the Olympic record in the semi.

He said afterwards through a translator that he didn’t expect to run as well as he did today but that the final is a totally different race. The translator says Kipsang knows he’ll be under pressure in the final as he’s facing the “big boys” like Timothy Cheruiyot, but “he’s ready to take the fight to them.” 

When we asked if he’d work together with Cheruiyot to set a fast pace in the final pace, the translator said he said they will work together but later he quoted him as saying, “He says he will run his own race, and make sure that he’s on the podium. Doesn’t matter which position.” 

Kipsang’s success does make us wonder what the future holds for the 2nd placer at the Kenyan Trials — 18-year old Kamar Etyang — who was ultimately the one booted for Cheruiyot because Etyang hadn’t taken enough out-of-competition drug tests.

Stewart McSweyn expects the final to be fast and hopes he doesn’t have to do all the work

“I don’t think we’re gonna jog around [for] three laps and leave it to a 400-meter sprint. Obviously Jakob’s not gonna want that, Cheruiyot’s not going to want it being the best one in the field. So, I think, luckily I probably won’t have to do all the work [like I did tonight] and I think that’s gonna make it a lot easier to make sure I have a lot left on that last 400,” said Australia’s 3:29 man.

McSweyn said he took confidence from the fact that he realized he’s only finished outside of the top 3 in one 1500 he’s run in the last two years, Monaco this year.

Jake Wightman is in the shape of his life and is ready for a fast final

Wightman beat Timothy Cheruiyot to win the first semi, and while he said beating Cheruiyot didn’t boost his confidence as he knew Cheruiyot wasn’t going all-out, he was very encouraged by how good he felt — even better than the prelims two days ago. He expects the final will be even faster, and is ready for that scenario.

“I feel in the best shape [of my career],” Wightman said. “I’ve run 3:29 in Monaco and this track feels as quick, if not quicker, than that. That didn’t feel like a 3:33. It felt a lot slower.”

Wightman’s last race before the Olympics was awful — a 3:55 mile to take 4th in the non-DL Emsley Carr Mile in Gateshead on July 13 — but he said that he was coming off a tough altitude block in Font Romeu and lengthy travel. He’s glad that if he was to have a bad race, it came there and not in Tokyo.

Now it’s onto Saturday’s final, which will be a big one for the Wightman family: Jake is running, and his father/coach Geoff will be calling the race as the in-stadium PA announcer.

Oliver Hoare is thrilled to be in the final despite not thinking he ran a very good race tactically

Hoare thought he “tactically didn’t run too well” but said he tried to “be patient and not panic.” He said the goal was to get top 3 but he was more than satisfied to finish fourth in heat #1 in 3:34.35 to snag one of the 5 auto spots to the final. 

“To be here and to be able to make a final in my debut at the Olympics, there’s not much more I can ask for,” said the On Athletics Club athlete, who said he and coach Dathan Ritzenhein now have some homework to do to get ready for the final.

Hoare said he’s not bothered by the fact that Australian record holder Stewart McSweyn gets most of the media attention Down Under. People should be talking about him more in my opinion,” said Hoare. ‘I get my attention and cheeky winks from the US [media], so I don’t mind that [he gets a lot of attention], but I do enjoy when Australians recognize me or see my success coming forward, but I still have a lot to prove.”

More: Nick Willis Bows Out of the Olympics with Some Great Advice for Young Athletes Struggling with Pressure The two-time Olympic medallist has some sage advice for young stars crumbling under the pressure of the Olympics. “Remember that most people are just there for entertainment. They’re not really too worried [about how you do]. So do your best when you can and if you can’t, that’s okay as well.”

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