The Prefontaine Classic Is Going To Be INCREDIBLE – Top 10 Races at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic

By Jonathan Gault
August 19, 2021

The Olympic break is over. It’s time to get back to business on the track, and oh baby do we have a good one on tap this weekend. It’s a little later than usual (but that’s a good thing as the athletes should be in peak form) and this year there is no stadium construction or global pandemic to get in the way: for the first time in 1,182 days, the Prefontaine Classic will be held at Hayward Field.

The meet will be spread over two days, Friday night and a Saturday afternoon, and there is plenty to get excited about. Athletes competing at Pre collectively won 26 golds, 18 silvers, and 18 bronzes at the Tokyo Olympics, including headliners like Elaine Thompson-HerahAthing Mu, and Jakob Ingebrigtsen. And there will even be some races that we didn’t get to see in Tokyo, such as the women’s 100m showdown between Jamaican Olympic champs Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and American Sha’Carri Richardson, who will be competing for the first time since her one-month marijuana suspension expired.

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What: 2021 Prefontaine Classic
When: Friday, August 20 – Saturday, August 21
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
*TV/streaming information *Schedule, entries, results

If you want to watch the entire meet, you are going to need two separate streaming services, which is quite frankly ridiculous for one of the biggest track meets in America (it’s also ridiculous that it took until Wednesday night, two nights before the meet began, for full fields to be announced), but most of the good stuff — aside from Sifan Hassan‘s 5,000-meter world record attempt — will be shown during the NBC window from 4:30-6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the 10 best races to watch at Pre, ranked from least to most interesting:

10) Women’s 1500 (Saturday, 5:12 p.m. ET)

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So a race with the Olympic gold and silver medalists, the Canadian and Australian record holders, and an American who broke 4:00 a month ago is the least interesting race on this list? Yup. I told you this meet was incredible.

It’s a joy to watch Faith Kipyegon, the greatest women’s miler of all time, whenever she lines up. The problem is she’s so much better than everyone else that the outcome of this race is not really in doubt. Still, Laura MuirGabriela DeBues-StaffordLinden Hall, and Jessica Hull makes for a strong field. And how will American Josette Norris, who just ran 3:59 in California last month, fare in her first Diamond League 1500? Should she find success, a focus on the 1500 over the 5000 in 2022 could follow.

9) Women’s 200 (Saturday, 5:45 p.m. ET)

This is part two of Sha’Carri Richardson’s double (she’ll also be running the 100 meters 64 minutes earlier), which is intriguing in its own right. But there are plenty of stars besides Richardson, including reigning world champ Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain (apparently healthy enough to run following the hamstring tear that kept her out of the 200 in Tokyo), US champ and Olympic bronze medalist Gabby Thomas, and 400m bronze medalist/American legend Allyson Felix.

8) Men’s 800 (Saturday, 4:03 p.m. ET)

This one’s got the gold and silver medalists from Tokyo in Kenyans Emmanuel Korir and Ferguson Rotich as well as a bunch of guys who weren’t in the Olympic final or, in the case of Clayton Murphy, were in the final but underperformed. While Olympic rematches can be fun, it’s also nice to see some matchups we didn’t get the chance to see in Tokyo, and the men’s 800 is so deep right now that this should still be a terrific race. Brits Elliot Giles and Oliver Dustin have both run 1:43 this year, Isaiah Harris won the last Diamond League in Gateshead, and Isaiah Jewett was unfortunate to fall in the Olympic semis but will get his chance here against the men who went 1-2 in Tokyo. Bryce Hoppel is entered too. With 11 guys on the start line, this one should go out fast.

It’s worth noting that my boss’s favorite 800 runner, Nijel Amos, the co-#3 fastest man in history at 1:41.73, isn’t running in his adopted hometown’s meet. Considering how much Amos talked about wanting to do well at Worlds in Eugene in 2022, he must have seriously been injured when he fell in the semis of the Olympics.

7) Women’s 800 (Saturday, 4:48 p.m. ET)

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People keep wondering if Athing Mu will slow down this year, and instead she just keeps getting faster. So after negative-splitting a 1:55.21 American record in the Olympic final, who’s to say the 19-year-old Mu couldn’t go even faster in Eugene and become just the eighth woman under 1:55? If she does it, she may very well may be the first non-intersex woman to do so that didn’t have ties to the Eastern Bloc.

She’ll need to go fast as she’s up against a great field. It should be quite familiar to Mu as it contains five of the eight finalists from Tokyo, including the entire top four — Mu, Keely HodgkinsonRaevyn Rogers, and Jemma Reekie. Add in Kate Grace — who went on a European tear after finishing 7th at the US Olympic Trials — and the third US Olympian, Ajee’ Wilson, and this is a totally stacked race.

6) Men’s 2-mile (Saturday, 4:56 p.m. ET)

I don’t know why the Pre Clasic insists on running a two-mile year after year. With the mile, you can at least argue it’s an iconic, historic distance. I don’t know anyone who cares about the 2-mile. But I’m glad this event is around because the talent in it is terrific.

This race can be distilled into seven words: Olympic 5k champ vs. Olympic 10k champ. If you want a few more, that would be Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda vs. Selemon Barega of Ethiopia, and this race will give us an idea about whether Barega could have pulled off the double in Tokyo had he actually been selected to the Ethiopian team. Just a reminder, though, to those who question whether Cheptegei’s range extends this low — he ran 8:07 to win this event at the last Pre Classic in 2019, beating a loaded field that included Barega.

American Olympians Paul ChelimoGrant Fisher, Woody Kincaid, and Joe Klecker are also entered, as is Olympic 10k bronze medalist Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda.

5) Women’s steeplechase (Saturday, 4:12 p.m. ET)

This is a great field, with the Olympic gold and silver medalists in Peruth Chemutai and Courtney Frerichs as well as the best runner not at the Olympics — Norah Jeruto, who ran 9:00 to win the Doha Diamond League in May but hasn’t had her transfer of allegiance to Kazakhstan approved yet. The big question for US fans, though, is whether Frerichs can finally become the first American to get under the 9:00 barrier. Frerichs said in Tokyo that she was in the shape of her life. Her pb is 9:00.85. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that 9:00 should be the target at Pre, and with Chemutai and Jeruto to race against, she’ll have good competition. Plus the forecast is fantastic for a record attempt as the temp at race times will be in the low 70s (21C) with minimal wind.

The only bummer is that Frerichs’ American rival, Emma Coburn, is still recovering from Tokyo and has had to withdraw.

4) Men’s Bowerman Mile (Saturday, 5:52 p.m. ET)

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We only have a partial field for this one right now, but it’s still enough to get excited about as it features the gold and silver medalists from Tokyo in Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Timothy Cheruiyot as well as American Matthew Centrowitz, who will get one more crack at Alan Webb‘s American record that he tried (and failed) to break in Portland on July 24.

No one from America — or any other country — has run faster than Webb’s 3:46.91 in the 14 years since he ran it in July 2007, which is a little surprising considering that during the same span, 20 different men have run 3:30.24 for 1500 (equivalent to 3:46.91 according to World Athletics’ scoring tables) a total of 56 times. Of course, the mile isn’t run as frequently as the 1500. And 35 of those 56 1500’s (63%) came in the famously fast Monaco meet.

Still, there’s reason for optimism that we could see a winning time in the mid 3:40s at Pre. For one, Ingebrigtsen and Cheruiyot have both run 3:28 this year, which is equivalent to 3:44 in the mile. For another, they both like to run fast; neither is afraid to lead. And unlike previous years, where Pre was held in late May and athletes might not be fully peaked, this year’s meet is happening two weeks after the Olympics. All the ingredients are in place for a super fast race.

And that should also favor Matthew Centrowitz — sort of. In terms of winning, it hurts his chances, but Centro probably isn’t winning this race no matter the style. But a fast pace should favor Centro because it will give him another crack at Webb’s AR. When he ran 3:49.26 in Portland a month ago, Centro went out too hard (54.5 for his first 400, which is 3:39 mile pace) and was spent by the end. Assuming Ingebrigtsen and Cheruiyot get out hard and chase a fast time from the gun, Centro will, ideally, be able to sit in the middle of the pack and get towed along to the fastest time he can manage.

The question is whether Centro can physically run a 3:46. At this point, that time might be beyond his capability. His Olympic semi was a fast race, yet Centro could only manage ninth in 3:33. In the final in Tokyo, Cole Hocker, who beat Centro at USAs, ran 3:31. As noted above, 3:46.91 equates to 3:30.24, which is .16 faster than Centro’s pb, run in Monaco in 2015. If we get a Monaco-type race in Eugene, Centro could have the opportunity to approach that mark. But based on his 3:49 and his Olympic performance, the AR may be just beyond his reach.

At the front of the race, can Cheruiyot gain a measure of revenge for Tokyo and win his 11th straight (!) Diamond League race? Or has Jakob Ingebrigtsen permanently upset the order? It should be great to watch those two duel at Hayward Field ahead of their rematch on the same track at Worlds next year.

In case you are wondering, US champ Hocker is not in the field.

3) Men’s 100 (Saturday, 5:33 p.m. ET)

Norman won the 400 at the 2019 Pre Classic (Phil Bond photo)

This event fascinates me because it could impact the past, present, and future of global sprinting. Olympic champ Marcell Jacobs isn’t here, but the next four from Tokyo — Fred KerleyAndre De GrasseAkani Simbine, and Ronnie Baker — are all entered. As is Trayvon Bromell, who had dominated the 100 for most of the year before bombing out in the semis in Tokyo. Should Bromell return to his pre-Olympic form and wins here, it will be an impressive return but also raise questions as to why, exactly, he faltered so badly in Tokyo.

That’s how this race could affect our interpretation of the past. How it affects the present is simple: it’s a stacked field, and the winner will become the favorite for the DL final next month.

As for the future, there we turn to Michael Norman. Norman has been talking about running the 100 for a while, but he was always so good at the 400 that no one took it seriously. It’s not a laughing matter now, though. Norman was the world leader in the 100 last year (9.86), struggled in the 400 in Tokyo (5th in the final), and we’ve just seen Fred Kerley go from 400 man to one of the best in the world in the 100. If Norman shows up and rocks this field in his first 100 of the year, could we see him abandon the 400 in favor of the 100 in 2022?

2) Women’s 5,000 (Friday, 10 p.m. PT/Saturday, 1 a.m. ET)

The women’s 5,000m world record currently stands at 14:06.62. According to World Athletics’ scoring tables, that performance is worth 1269 points.

Sifan Hassan has run 3:51.95 for 1500 meters and 29:06.82 for 10,000 meters. Those two performances are worth 1272 points and 1298 points, respectively.

Which means the stats back up what you probably could have figured out anyway: Sifan Hassan is good enough to break the 5,000m world record, even if her current pb is just 14:22.12. And that is what she will try to do on Friday night.

But there’s more that goes into a WR attempt than pure fitness. You also need good conditions, which Hassan will have in Eugene ( projects 64 degrees and minimal wind at race time).

But these days, you also need an electronic pacing system. And there is great news on that front. For the first time ever, Pre will have the the Wavelight pacing system that was used for all five of the men’s/women’s 5k/10k WRs that have been broken in the past 13 months.

Hassan’s last WR was short-lived. Can she get the 5,000 record on Friday? (Photo courtesy FBK Games)

The 10k world records by Hassan and Letesenbet Gidey in Hengelo in June showed how Wavelight has changed the game. Hassan set the lights to WR pace, ran that for nine kilometers, then, with the record assured, blasted a 2:45 final kilometer. Two days later, Gidey simply set the lights a little faster than Hassan’s pace and broke her record.

But there’s one more factor to consider. Hassan is coming off one of the most ambitious, most taxing triples ever attempted at an Olympic Games. She will have had 12 days of rest since Tokyo, but it still won’t be easy to bounce back. Her coach Tim Rowberry told LetsRun that while he doesn’t want to downplay the WR attempt, it’s important to recognize the value of recovery.

“For Sifan this will be more of a leap back into training with eyes on rebounding towards Zurich [Editor’s note, the DL final in Zurich is 3 weeks away but Hassan also is going for the 10,000 WR in Brussels in two week],” Rowberry told LetsRun. “I haven’t given Sifan speed workouts since Tokyo except a pre-race this week. She needed some serious recovery time so that has been more of our focus since Tokyo. We agreed to this WR attempt before even dreaming of an Olympic triple; this buildup has been less than ideal… but nonetheless this is exactly the type of unconventional challenge that gets Sifan excited. So ready or not, here it goes.”

One more thing. Gidey and Olympic 5k silver medalist Hellen Obiri are both in Eugene but are running the 2-mile instead. Wouldn’t it be better to see Gidey defend her record against Hassan? Or to see Obiri chase a fast time? Is this just them admitting that Hassan is better right now and there’s nothing they can do about it? Or are Hassan/meet organizers worried that the addition of a rival could derail the record attempt as Hassan could become more focused on the win than the time?

1) Women’s 100 (Saturday, 4:41 p.m. ET)

This was supposed to be one of the greatest races of the Olympics before Sha’Carri Richardson’s marijuana suspension knocked her off the US team. And guess what? The women’s 100 final in Tokyo was still awesome and the three medalists — Jamaicans Elaine Thompson-HerahShelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Shericka Jackson — are all running Pre.

But there’s no denying that Richardson brings something extra to this race — her attitude, her flair, and her enormous talent. After all, this was one of our “Four Races That Still Need to Happen in 2021.” So kudos to the Pre Classic, Nike, and the athletes all getting together to make it happen.

Richardson, who hasn’t competed since the US Olympic Trials on June 19, is certainly excited.

Richardson is going up against arguably the two greatest female sprinters of all time, who have run 10.61 (Thompson) and 10.63 (Fraser-Pryce) this year. It’s going to be incredibly tough for her. But Richardson has run 10.72 this year herself (all the way back in April, as well as a windy 10.64 (+2.6) and did beat Fraser-Pryce head-to-head in Gateshead on May 23 (albeit in miserable conditions).

Can Richardson back up her big talk with a win, or will the Jamaicans put her in her place? No one knows. And that’s what makes this the most compelling race of the meet and what some are calling one of the most anticipated non-championship races in history.

One thing was clear from talking to the Jamaicans in Tokyo, they didn’t appreciate any talk about Richardson. Whenever a reporter brought up Richardson’s name or even mentioned the word marijuana, they would get a stare and reply of something along the lines of “Next question.” I highly doubt they’ll just be going through the motions in this one.

And can you blame them? Richardson seemingly took credit for the fast times that they put up this year. After Fraser-Pryce ran 10.63 on June 5, Richardson sent out this tweet:

After the Jamaican sweep at the Olympic, Richardson sent out an olive branch:

But this race is going to be incredible.

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