Pre Classic Distance Night: Hassan Falls Well Short in Women’s 5000 WR Attempt, Francine Niyonsaba Wins Women’s 2 Mile in 9:00, Craig Engels Celebrates Early and Loses Men’s International Mile

By Karl Winter
August 20, 2021

The Prefontaine Classic is finally back at Hayward Field after a 3+ year hiatus, and it kicked off Friday night with distance action, the opening ceremony of the new version of the facility, and a world record attempt.

The night’s premier event did not pan out, as Sifan Hassan did not come close to breaking the world record in the women’s 5000, running 14:27.89 and winning the race but falling off world-record pace after halfway. Clearly Hassan was exhausted from running six races at the Olympics two weeks before. Her world record in the mile and former world record in the 10000 suggest that she can certainly run faster than her personal best of 14:22.12, and also faster than Letesenbet Gidey’s world record of 14:06.62, but tonight was not her night.

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Ethiopia’s Gidey, also the world record holder in the 10000, was also in action tonight in the women’s 2 mile. Gidey and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, both Tokyo Olympic medalists, were stunned in that race by Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, a two-time global outdoor medalist in the 800, who passed Gidey with 650 meters to go and won in 9:00.75 — the second-fastest mark of all time in the seldom-contested event.

The most entertaining race of the night was the men’s International Mile, in which crowd favorite Craig Engels took the lead on the final curve and gestured to excite the fans, only to be passed and beaten by Geordie Beamish in the final 20 meters.

The Friday evening crowd was loud but far from sold out. They got to see not only four races, but also the opening ceremony, featuring Oregon legends Otis Davis, Ashton Eaton, and Raevyn Rogers, plus all of the 2020 Olympic medalists who are in Eugene for the meet — including Eliud Kipchoge, who is obviously not racing. 

The main section of the meet begins Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. Pacific time with the men’s 800. For a preview of Saturday’s best events, click here.

See the recap of each of Friday’s races below. Results for the races can be found here.

Women’s 5000: Hassan misses WR, Americans Monson and Cooper run well under 15 minutes

It turns out Sifan Hassan is human after all.

Just 13 days after the third final of her incredible Olympic triple, a gold medal in the 10000, Hassan took a crack as the world record in her other gold-medal event: the 5K, where many presumed she was not only targeted Gidey’s mark, but also the 14-minute barrier. The weather was perfect (mid-60s, minimal wind) at the 10 p.m. local time race start, but it was not Hassan’s night.

The six races in Tokyo seemed to take their toll, as Hassan followed the Wavelight pacing lights and her human pacemakers for the first half of the race but could not maintain world record pace solo. She fell behind the leading green lights almost immediately after second pacemaker Beatrice Chebet dropped out, slowing with each passing lap. 

After running 68-second laps for the better part of the first two miles, Hassan ran 70.10, 71.83, 73.74, and 72.78 before closing in 68.87 on the final circuit. Her fourth kilometer was 2:58.76, as opposed to a pair of 2:49s on the first two kilometers of the race.

Hassan falling behind the pacing lights

As the gap between the lights and Hassan grew, it was clear she was spent and simply holding on to win the race and perhaps get a new pb. The Hayward crowd continued to cheer her on enthusiastically, but in the end, she could not even eclipse her personal best, winning by nearly 100 meters but falling 5+ seconds short of her pb. Hassan could only smile wryly as she accepted congratulations from supporters from her home region of Oromia in Ethiopia.

A few good sub-races played out behind Hassan as Senbere Teferi outkicked fellow Ethiopian Fantu Worku for second (14:42.25 to 14:42.85) and Worku held off Kenya’s Loice Chemnung (14:43.65, pb) for third. Teferi ran 14:15.24 (#7 all-time) in June but could not claw back to a fading Hassan tonight.

The biggest winner of the race was On’s Alicia Monson, who shattered her pb of 15:07.65, running 14:48.49 for fifth. It was a long time coming for Monson, who finish 13th in the 10k at the Tokyo Olympics  — OAC coach Dathan Ritzenhein told LetsRun in June he thought she was in shape to run under 14:40, so Monson still has another target in the event.

Fellow American Abbey Cooper also got a pb, going 14:52.37 for sixth. Monson and Cooper are now eighth and 13th on the U.S. all-time list in the event.

American Olympians Rachel Schneider and Emily Infeld did not have good days, running 15:13.15 and 15:24.78, respectively, for 10th and 11th.

1NEDHASSAN Sifan14:27.89 SB 14:35.3414:22.12
2ETHTEFERI Senbere14:42.25 14:15.2414:15.24
3ETHWORKU Fantu14:42.85 14:26.8014:26.80
4KENCHEMNUNG Loice14:43.65 PB 15:21.5014:53.14
5USAMONSON Alicia14:48.49 PB 15:07.6515:07.65
6USACOOPER Abbey14:52.37 PB 14:56.5814:56.58
7KENCHELANGAT Sheila14:52.66 SB 15:20.1714:40.51
8ETHMAMO Meskerem15:01.29 14:36.8914:36.89
9MEXGALVAN Laura15:10.38 15:00.1615:00.16
10USASCHNEIDER Rachel15:13.15 14:52.0414:52.04
11USAINFELD Emily15:24.78 14:54.0914:54.09
12CANSECCAFIEN Andrea15:32.01 14:57.0714:57.07
DNFKENCHEBET Beatrice 14:34.5514:34.55
DNFCANvan BUSKIRK Kate 14:59.8014:59.80

Women’s 2 Mile: Niyonsaba upsets Gidey, Obiri

Former world-class 800 runner Francine Niyonsaba, a woman now prohibited in competing from mid-distance events because she is intersex, amazed us by finishing fifth in the 10000-meter final in Tokyo 13 days ago.

This evening she lined up in the 2 mile against Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, the former a double world record holder and the latter a five-time global outdoor medalist — two women who we wondered why they were not in the 5K race to challenge Hassan. 

Instead Niyonsaba amazed again, winning in 9:00.75, the second-quickest outdoor mark of all time, slower only than Meseret Defar’s world best of 8:58.58 from 2007. Niyonsaba crushed the meet record (formerly 9:13.27) in the process.

Niyonsaba runs away with it

Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen could not hang onto the leaders’ pace after 1800 meters, and Obiri, the 5k silver medalist from Tokyo, surprisingly fell off after 2200, leaving Gidey to continue pushing the pace ahead of Niyonsaba. Niyonsaba went to the lead with 650 to go and did not look back, opening a slight lead at the bell and stretching it as she went. Gidey finished second in 9:06.74, while Obiri was third in 9:14.55.

It begs the questions: What might Niyonsaba have done in the final of the women’s 5000 in Tokyo if she had not been ridiculously disqualified in the prelims? What can she do in distance events in the future?

1BDINIYONSABA Francine9:00.75 WL MR 
2ETHGIDEY Letesenbet9:06.74 
3KENOBIRI Hellen9:14.55 
4GERKLOSTERHALFEN Konstanze9:18.16 
5GBRMARKOVC Amy-Eloise9:21.98 PB 
6USACRANNY Elise9:22.44 
7USAWASSERMAN Katie9:40.82 
8KENKIPKIRUI Caroline Chepkoech9:40.86 
10USARAWLINGS Taryn9:55.94 

Men’s International Mile: Engels celebrates early, Beamish wins in 3:54.86

Without his signature mustache, Craig Engels continues to have fun.

Engels seized the lead from Canada’s Charles Philibert-Thiboutot with 150 meters remaining in the only men’s race of the evening, the International Mile, then gestured to the Hayward Field crowd as he entered the home straight, raising his right arm to hype up the fans. The only problem was that Geordie Beamish had yet to enter top gear.

Engels celebrates with the crowd

Beamish, of New Zealand and the On Athletics Club, moved from fourth to first in the last 100, kicking down Engels and winning in 3:54.86. Engels only smiled and laughed as Beamish passed, then told the crowd after the race that he was only trying to hype them up.

It was a second straight victory for Beamish, who won the Sir Walter Miler in 3:54.92 on August 6. Philibert-Thiboutot finished third in 3:55.48.

Engels laughs as Beamish passes him

The race was not particularly fast, as no went with the pacemakers after the first lap, though Beamish did technically get a personal best in his first outdoor track mile (nobody else ran a pb). 

The faster section of the mile, the Bowerman Mile, takes place Saturday afternoon.

Mile Results

1NZLBEAMISH Geordie3:54.86 
2USAENGELS Craig3:55.41 
4USAPRAKEL Samuel3:55.99 
5GBRDAVIS Archie3:57.00 
6USAWYNNE Henry3:57.43 
7BELCALLAHAN Peter3:57.49 
8USAHURT Tripp3:58.15 
9USACIATTEI Vincent4:00.45 

Women’s 1500 North American: Mehra wins in 4:06.35

In the first race with the new Wavelight pace light technology at Hayward Field, the women ignored the pacing lights and Alexa Efraimson’s pace job.

Sage Hurta was the leading racer before Danielle Aragon passed her at the bell. Rebecca Mehra and Dani Jones pursued Aragon and Hurta on the back straight, and Aragon began to fade with 200 to go. 

Mehra pulled up on Hurta’s shoulder on the curve and passed with 110 to go, kicking away and winning in 4:06.35, her second win in a week. Hurta was rewarded for her work with a pb of 4:07.50 in second.

Mehra was all smiles

The elite women’s 1500 takes place Saturday afternoon.

1USAMEHRA Rebecca4:06.35 
2USAHURTA Sage4:07.50PB 
3USAJONES Danielle4:08.45 
4USAHILTZ Nikki4:09.27 
5USAVAUGHN Sara4:09.68 
6USAFULTON Eleanor4:09.85 
7USAARAGON Danielle4:10.02 
8PORPEN FREITAS Marta4:10.90 
9CANLABACH Julianne4:11.74PB 
10ITAdel BUONO Federica4:12.30 
11USAWILSON Allie4:14.82PB 

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