Your Guide to the World Record Attempts at the 2022 Pre Classic

By Jonathan Gault
May 26, 2022

The 2022 Prefontaine Classic is coming out of the gates hot. Friday’s Distance Night features five races: the men’s and women’s US 10,000-meter championships (LRC preview here), followed by world record attempts in the women’s 2-mile and men’s and women’s 5,000. It will be a late night/early morning for anyone not on the West Coast (the men’s 5,000 WR attempt begins at 12:35 a.m. ET — or 6:35 a.m. ET in Central Europe) but if you’re in the Eugene area it’s absolutely worth showing up for. The new Hayward Field looks terrific when it’s lit up at night.

Though it’s only one year old, the new Hayward has already been the site of two world records: Ryan Crouser‘s 23.37 shot put and Sydney McLaughlin‘s 51.90 in the 400 hurdles at last year’s Olympic Trials. But it’s been almost 40 years since Hayward (old or new version) hosted a distance WR; you have to go back to Mary Decker Slaney, who ran 15:08.26 to set the 5,000 WR on July 5, 1982, then returned two weeks later to break the 10,000 WR as well (31:35.3). For men, the drought is even longer — Dave Wottle‘s 1:44.3 at the 1972 Olympic Trials, which tied the 800 WR.

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(Yes, I’m aware Moses Mosop set world bests for 25,000 and 30,000 meters at the 2011 Pre Classic. But you don’t get credit for inventing a distance in order to set a “record.”)

That could change Friday as Phil Knight & co. are pulling out all the stops. In the men’s 5,000, they’ve got the Olympic champion and world record holder Joshua Cheptegei. In the women’s 5,000, they’ve got the world record holder Letesenbet Gidey. And in the women’s 2-mile, they’ve got the mile WR holder/Olympic 5k & 10k champ Sifan Hassan and the 2000m world record holder Francine Niyonsaba (who came within three seconds of the 2-mile WR at this meet last year). Plus they’ve got the Wavelight pacing system. The only thing beyond Nike’s control is the weather, and while there is rain in the forecast Friday morning, conditions look perfect for distance running by the evening: mid-50s, no rain, and 3 mph winds.

*How to watch *Schedule/entries/results

Men’s 5,000: Is Cheptegei better now than he was in August 2020?

Existing Record: 12:35.36 – Joshua Cheptegei 2020

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So what are the chances we see a record on Friday? Well in the 5ks, it’s pretty tough to say. Cheptegei has only raced once this year, clocking 26:49 for 10k on the roads in Cannes in March. He doesn’t necessarily need a tuneup race to break the record — when he set the existing record of 12:35.36 in 2020, it was his first race in six months — but you have to wonder where his fitness is at. One of the reasons Cheptegei was able to break the WR in 2020 is that he had no major championship to peak for, so he was able to center months of training around the singular goal of breaking the WR. That’s not the case in 2022; we’re still seven weeks away from Cheptegei’s biggest races of the year.

Think about this logically. What are Cheptegei and coach Addy Ruiter going to prioritize: peaking in May to break a record Cheptegei already owns, or peaking in July for the World Championships? Obviously, the latter. Can 2022 Cheptegei at 90% break a record set by 2020 Cheptegei at 100%? That seems unlikely.

A cynic might even suggest that by calling Friday’s race a “world record attempt,” it allows Nike to hand one of its stars an easy win against a watered-down field rather than facing the most loaded 5,000 field of the year in Saturday’s Diamond League program. Cheptegei doesn’t have a history of ducking competition — he raced five times on the DL circuit in 2019 and showed up to run against a loaded field in Florence last year even though he was less than 100% — but if he’s not at least close to the WR on Friday, people are going to want to know why he wasn’t in the Saturday section. (We reached out to Cheptegei’s agent Jurrie van der Velden to ask about how the two sections came together but had not heard back as of publication).

Women’s 5,000: Gidey goes for her own record

Existing Record: 14:06.62 – Letesenbet Gidey 2020

Hard to know what to make of this. Initially, this was supposed to be an attempt at the one-hour run world record but was then shifted to a 5,000. So you’d think that means Gidey, who ran the 10,000 only at the 2019 Worlds and 2021 Olympics, could be focused on the shorter events in 2022…except she also announced two weeks ago that she will be making her marathon debut in Valencia in December.

So there are a lot of unknowns, and Gidey hasn’t raced at all this year. What we do know is that the 5,000 world record is still a bit soft, and when Gidey broke it in 2020, she did so by going out slowly (14:17 pace through 2k) and hammering home (8:23 for her final 3k, or 13:58 pace). There’s room for the mark to be improved, but it all depends on how fit Gidey is right now.

One other cautionary note: even though the next two best women’s 5,000 runners at Pre are both in the 2-mile (Niyonsaba and Hassan), Gidey will still have to bring it as 14:14 woman Ejgayehu Taye (#6 all-time) is also entered here.

Update: I spoke to Gidey’s agent Valentijn Trouw, who offered some insight about Gidey’s prep. He said the plan to attack the one-hour WR originated in the winter but they decided to shift focus to the 5,000 at Pre since she had been doing more speed work in training recently. If the weather is good, he said, they’ll set the pacing lights in a way where the 5,000 WR is possible in Eugene. Next weekend, she’ll head to Hengelo and run the 10,000 at the Ethiopian trials and after that will make a call on which events to run at Worlds (Ethiopia is picking its 10,000 team through the trials but all other events on season’s best).

As for Gidey’s marathon debut, Trouw said that they could have waited longer to make her debut if they had chosen (Gidey is 24; Trouw also represents Eliud Kipchoge, who didn’t debut until age 28), but they felt the time was right to give the 26.2-mile event a shot following her incredible 62:52 half marathon record last year. That said, Trouw emphasized that just because Gidey will be running a marathon in December doesn’t mean she is abandoning the track moving forward.

“I guess it’s quite logical if you see her development from doing track and then a couple of years ago the doing the 15k [world record] in the Netherlands and then last year doing the half marathon,” Trouw said. “And also she spent sometime in Kenya training and did alread some nice long runs, so the confidence was coming more and more that also in the marathon she could have a wonderful future. Of course you can wait very long with that, but on the other side, with Letesenbet, she and her coach and the whole team is feeling there is no reason to wait too long and she is ready to make the transition.”

Women’s 2-mile: Forget the world record…Niyonsaba vs. Hassan is the biggest story here

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UPDATE: Sifan Hassan has withdrawn from the race.

The women’s 2-mile is where we’re most likely to see a “world record” — although the 2-mile is not a world record event so any record broken technically will be world best. Obviously it helps that the event is run far less frequently than the 5,000, but we also saw Niyonsaba come close to the record at the last Pre Classic in August, running 9:00.75 to just miss Meseret Defar‘s WR of 8:58.58. Back then, we were just finding out what Niyonsaba — who is banned from the women’s 800 because she has elected not to reduce her testosterone levels — could do at longer distances; Pre was her first of four DL wins to close the season. Now we know what she is capable of, and after a strong start to her 2022 season (closing in 59.9 to outkick double Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon to win the 3000 in Doha), she seems primed to take down the record with the assistance of the pacing lights (8:58 is worth roughly 8:21 for 3000 according to World Athletics’ scoring tables; Niyonsaba’s pb is 8:19.08 from Paris last year).

But the world record is not the most interesting part of this race. It’s the return of Sifan Hassan, the Olympic 5k and 10k champ who hasn’t raced at all in 2022. Last year, as Niyonsaba reeled off DL victory after DL victory, Hassan, the world’s best long-distance runner on the track, opted for different events. We never got to see the two race after Tokyo (where Hassan beat Niyonsaba convincingly in the 10k).

This year, Hassan (and maybe Gudaf Tsegay, depending on which events she runs) could be the only woman standing between Niyonsaba and total domination of the distance events. And if Hassan can’t beat her, and the intersex Niyonsaba ends up dominating the long-distance events the way she and Caster Semenya dominated the 800 in the 2010s, that will blow the lid off of the can of worms World Athletics tried to close when it instituted its “restricted events” for XY athletes of 400 through the mile back in 2019.

So yeah, there’s a fair amount at stake on Friday. And we have no idea what kind of shape Hassan is in (her coach Tim Rowberry did not respond to a message from LetsRun). That, more than chasing some second-rate world record, is what makes this event worth watching on Friday.

A message to the Pre Classic organizers

I love the Prefontaine Classic. It was the first meet I covered in-person for LetsRun.com in 2014 and I’ve returned for three subsequent editions. The fields are always stacked and the performances always great. One of the main reasons for that is that Nike — which sponsors more top athletes (by far) than any other brand — often inserts a clause into its contracts stipulating that its athletes must compete at Pre if they’re healthy.

That, in theory, should make it easier to create compelling head-to-head matchups. Unfortunately, some of those matchups have fallen apart in 2022. Some are beyond Pre’s control such as Marcell Jacobs‘ withdrawal from the 100 and Athing Mu‘s withdrawal from the 800 (something no one in her camp has offered an explanation for despite inquiries from LetsRun.com). But two decisions Pre made this year are nonsensical: holding world record attempts in the women’s 2-mile and 5,000 and holding a world record attempt in the men’s 5,000 separate from the Diamond League section on Saturday.

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Pre wants to have two days of elite competition and splashing the words “world record attempt” in front of a race is an easy way to gin up some excitement about Friday night’s action. But this year, Pre doesn’t need any world record attempts to make Friday more exciting. Staging the US 10,000 champs on Friday already gives you an hour of elite competition with genuine stakes and some of America’s top distance talents.

If you want to add an elite race on top of that, fine. But make it the best race possible. What’s more exciting to a fan: watching Niyonsaba and Hassan race each other at a strange distance, followed by watching Gidey race the clock for a record she already owns? Or watching three of the world’s top distance women all race each other? I know what I’d rather see.

The men’s 5,000 is even more ridiculous. On Friday, Joshua Cheptegei will go for a world record while on Saturday all the rest of the top guys in the world — Moh Ahmed, Berihu AregawiSelemon BaregaPaul ChelimoJacob KiplimoSamuel Tefera — will race each other at the same distance.

Putting a 5,000 WR attempt on Friday night makes sense — there’s almost always better conditions than on Saturday afternoon. But why the two sections, Colonel? Just because one guy is going for a world record doesn’t mean you can’t put all those other stars in the race. Either move the Diamond League section to Friday night and combine it with Cheptegei’s WR attempt, or scrap the WR attempt altogether and move Cheptegei into the DL section on Saturday. Either is a better solution than the current situation. Again, Cheptegei already has the world record.

This isn’t meant to come across as anti-world record. Fast times can be fun! I’m even fine with a “world record” in an event in that is technically only eligible for a world best. But the critical mass of top athletes at Pre is something that might only come together once or twice a season on the DL circuit and it’s a shame to see all that talent diluted.

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