Timothy Wins Battle of Cheruiyots in LA as 20-Year-Old Hobbs Kessler Arrives with 3:32 PB

(This is a recap of the men’s 1500 at the LA Grand Prix. For a recap of the rest of the meet go here: 2023 LA Grand Prix: Crouser Breaks WR as the Stars No-Show in Women’s 100.)

Late May is when things start to happen in the professional track season. The big stars (usually) come out of hibernation and start competing. Results start to matter — the US championships in Eugene are just six weeks away. If a big breakthrough is to come, now is often the time it surfaces, as athletes race quality fields in good weather with a hard fall and winter of training in their legs. If every summer of pro running is a high-stakes drama, this is when we are introduced to the characters that will contest the action.

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Each event has its own storylines, of course, and Saturday’s USATF LA Grand Prix at UCLA’s Drake Stadium offered a trio of compelling narratives from the past, present, and future of the men’s 1500 meters. For those focused on the here and now, we had Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot — who failed to win a single race last season after dominating the event for the previous three years — demonstrating that he still very much has a role to play this season, running down his countryman, 18-year-old phenom Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot, to win in a world-leading 3:31.47 to Reynold’s 3:32.01. (That world lead may not last long: Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Yared Nuguse are set to make their 1500 season debuts in Sunday’s Rabat Diamond League).

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If you prefer tried-and-true storylines, how about the latest installation of an old favorite: Matthew Centrowitz Tries to Get Fit Enough to Make Another US Team. Until 2022, when he missed the entire season after tearing his meniscus, Centrowitz always came through, making eight straight World/Olympic teams after near-annual early-season setbacks. This year, however, Centrowitz is 33, he’s on his own after leaving the Bowerman Track Club, and he’s faced with a new generation of rivals a decade younger than him. And after a full year between races, he started 2023 at the lowest point of his professional career, getting smacked around on a winter tour of Australia that saw him run 1:56 for 800m and 4:06 for the mile.

Now? He’s on his way back. Centrowitz ran 3:36.64 for 8th on Saturday, his fastest time since the 2021 Olympics. Four Americans beat him on Saturday, but how comfortable can any of them be given Centro’s championship record?

Here in the United States, though, the story that will register loudest is that of Hobbs Kessler. American track fans love their phenoms, especially their mile phenoms, and Kessler has been one ever since the day in May 2021 he ran 3:34.36 to break Alan Webb‘s high school 1500m record. In the two years since, Kessler had never run within two seconds of that time — until Saturday, when he eased past reigning US champion Cooper Teare in the final 30 meters to finish third in 3:32.61.

Kessler and Teare (left) dueled in the final meters

This wasn’t Kessler catching the US champ on an off day; Teare’s time, 3:32.74, was also a personal best (previous pb: 3:34.81). Rather, it was proof that, in his second year as a professional, Kessler is now ready to run with the best milers in the United States. Both men ran aggressively and took advantage of great conditions and great pacemaking. But in the end, Kessler, thanks to a sparkling 55.83 last lap, was just too good for Teare.

Kessler now occupies rare territory. Only 12 Americans have run faster than Kessler did today. Only one, Teare’s former Oregon teammate Cole Hocker (3:31.40 for sixth at the 2021 Olympics), has ever run faster before their 21st birthday.* Between, Kessler, Hocker, Teare (23), and Nuguse (23), the US could have a golden generation of milers on its hands — and now you see why it would be such a big accomplishment if Centrowitz were to make another team.

*Jim Ryun ran 3:33.1 at age 20 in 1967, which is slower than Kessler but deserves its own special mention considering Ryun did it on a cinder track in Los Angeles and broke the existing world record by 2.5 seconds.

There are plenty of rewards that come with running 3:34 at 18. One downside: there’s not much room for improvement. A breakthrough race is one of the best feelings in this sport, but there are only so many days you can take a big chunk off your personal best when you are as good as Hobbs Kessler. Today was one of those days, and Kessler — as well as American track fans — should savor it.

Between injuries to Centrowitz, Hocker, Teare, and Craig Engels, and a strange US final that saw the 1st, 3rd, and 6th finishers comprise the World Championship team, 2022 was not a vintage year for American miling. 2023 is shaping up very nicely. Hocker, who hasn’t raced since January, is still on the mend, but Teare is improved, Kessler is a player now, Centrowitz and Engels (1:47 win on Friday) are on their way back, and Nuguse could be a gold-medal threat at Worlds. And you just know there’s someone else — perhaps a collegian — who is going to insert themselves at some point this season. It’s going to be a fun summer.

Race video

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Full results *Splits

1. Timothy CHERUIYOT 20 NOV 1995 KEN 3:31.47
2. Reynold Kipkorir CHERUIYOT 30 JUL 2004 KEN 3:32.01
3. Hobbs KESSLER 15 MAR 2003 USA 3:32.61
4. Cooper TEARE 18 AUG 1999 USA 3:32.74
5. Vincent Kibet KETER 11 MAR 2002 KEN 3:33.16
6. Samuel PRAKEL 29 OCT 1994 USA 3:35.78
7. John GREGOREK 07 DEC 1991 USA 3:36.24
8. Matthew CENTROWITZ 18 OCT 1989 USA 3:36.64
9. Andrew HUNTER 05 SEP 1997 USA 3:37.54
10. Charlie HUNTER 20 JUL 1996 AUS 3:38.48
11. Tolesa BODENA 18 FEB 2000 ETH 3:39.67
12. Paul RYAN 29 MAY 1997 USA 3:40.79
13. Amos BARTELSMEYER 25 JUL 1994 GER 3:45.85
14. Joshua THOMPSON 09 MAY 1993 USA 3:51.38

This is a recap of the men’s 1500 at the LA Grand Prix. For a recap of the rest of the meet go here: 2023 LA Grand Prix: Crouser Breaks WR as the Stars No-Show in Women’s 100 Richardson, Ta Lou, and Hobbs all DNSd the women’s 100 final but the stars that did compete in LA brought it and produced 7 world leads including Crouser’s WR.

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