7 Reasons to Get Excited for the 2023 Prefontaine Classic Diamond League Final

This is it, people. The 2023 professional track season comes to a close this weekend with the Diamond League final, which is being held for the first time at Hayward Field as part of the Prefontaine Classic.

By and large, the big names have decided to show up. Steeplechase world record holder Lamecha Girma is not running, and 1500-meter world champion Josh Kerr decided to duck Jakob Ingebrigtsen elected to end his season after winning the Fifth Avenue Mile last weekend. But Noah Lyles and Sha’Carri Richardson will race for the first time on US soil since being crowned 100-meter world champions. Jakob Ingebrigtsen is doubling up in the mile and 3000. There are 32 Diamond League disciplines; the world champions of 28 of those 32 events will be competing in Eugene.

There are even a few matchups we did not expect. The track world was stunned when Athing Mu‘s name appeared on the start list for the women’s 800 meters on Tuesday, setting up a rematch of one of the most exciting finals from Budapest against Mary Moraa and Keely HodgkinsonKarsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin are slated to race each other in the 400 hurdles — the first time the two have met outside of a global championship since their memorable duel in Zurich in 2019. And Ingebrigtsen decided to double up, which means Sunday’s men’s 3000 now features three reigning Olympic champions: Ingebrigtsen (1500), Joshua Cheptegei (5000), and Selemon Barega (10,000). Plus a resurgent Grant Fisher.

If you’re just interested in the meet preview, go ahead and skip to the next section, but it sure is interesting how all these fields came together. Diamond League field construction is typically something of a dark art, a game of horse trading between agents and meet directors (who are also sometimes agents) for the final few spots in each field. The Diamond League final is not supposed to be that way: there’s a clear structure to the season, with the top eight (100m through 800m) or 10 (1500, steeple, 5k) qualifying based on the season-long standings. Except the United States, as the host nation, gets a wild card entry in every event (that’s how Mu got into the 800). Oh and for the first time, there are now also global wildcards — a regulation World Athletics approved last month in the middle of the season — which paved the way for Ingebrigtsen to run the 3000 in Eugene despite having zero points in that event this year. The whole thing created so much confusion that the Diamond League had to write an article this week explaining the wild card system.

Also interesting: Pre will run a men’s 3000 instead of a 5000 — even though the previous 12 Diamond League finals were all contested over 5000 meters. And even though the women will run a 5000 in Eugene. Sure is a curious decision to shorten the race in the year when Jakob Ingebrigtsen will be doubling back from the Bowerman Mile the day before (though Ingebrigtsen, as a global wild card, is ineligible for prize money in the 3000).

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There are two ways of looking at all of this, which the LRC braintrust debated on this week’s podcast. One is that that letting Mu and Ingebrigtsen into events in which they did not qualify is good for the sport — the women’s 800 and men’s 3000 are more compelling races now that they’re running. The flip side is that the Diamond League has a points system so that athletes can’t just skip the regular season and show up for the final…which is exactly what a wild card allows (to be fair to Ingebrigtsen, he did race in six Diamond Leagues this year — just never in a 3k/5k).

We received a text from an industry insider this week and they weren’t happy with the changes:

Our sport is rigged. WA / Diamond league owners (dig into who owns that mafia)- change the rules last week to let their favorites compete. What’s the point of collecting points all season if you know they’ll beg you to run anyway (Sydney, Mu etc).

Then they change it from a 5000m to a 3000m as Jakob wouldn’t run if it’s a 5000m!!!! Absolute BS!!! If you’re in the mixed zone please ask Yomif (Kejelcha) and Telahun (Bekele) about that.. 

Okay, on to the action. If you think we’re previewing all 16 track races, we’re flattered. But sorry, even we are not that much of track sickos. Instead, let’s hit the seven biggest storylines of the weekend. In no particular order…

Meet details
What: 2023 Prefontaine Classic
When: Saturday, September 16 – Sunday, September 17 Broadcast window 3-5 p.m. ET on Saturday (NBC) and 3-6 p.m. ET on Sunday (CNBC/NBC).
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
*TV/streaming information *Schedule, entries, & results

Friend of LetsRun Habs has put together a prediction contest for the DL final where you can win a LetsRun.com Supporters Club membership and/or a LetsRun t-shirt. It’s totally free to play — enter here.

1) Jakob Ingebrigtsen attempts the mile/3000 double…and is the mile world record in danger?

The easy comparison for Jakob Ingebrigtsen is Hicham El Guerrouj. Both men love to run fast on the circuit, prefer quick races in championship finals, and have the strength to win global titles at 5000 meters. But after reading Ingebrigtsen’s comments to the Norwegian newspaper VG last week, in which he stated his desire to break every world record from 1500 through the marathon, we thought of a better comparison: Sifan Hassan. Both are aerobic monsters with enough speed to win global titles at 1500, both have tremendous range (we would not be shocked if Ingebrigtsen could run in the 58:00s for a half marathon right now), and both love challenging themselves with audacious doubles/triples.

Ingebrigtsen was the class of the field last year in winning his second straight Bowerman Mile

That last one applies specifically to this weekend. In 2018, Hassan tried what Ingebrigtsen is attempting at Pre…except the 1500 and 5000 were in different locations. That year, Hassan finished 2nd in the 5000 in Zurich, then hopped in a car where she was driven seven hours to Brussels, where she finished 3rd in the 1500 the following night. In 2019, the two finals were a week apart and Hassan won them both to become the only athlete, male or female, to sweep the 1500 and 5k DL titles.

Ingebrigtsen will be favored in both races, but this is different from a championship double, where athletes have a few days to recover between finals. Ingebrigtsen will be tasked with running a fast mile on Saturday and coming back less than 24 hours against a 3k field featuring a bunch of fresh studs. With pacers, Wavelight, and Olympic champs Selemon Barega and Joshua Cheptegei plus suffermaster Berihu Aregawi, you know that’s going to be a grind.

Can Ingebrigtsen win both is the obvious question. But maybe the one we should be asking is: can Ingebrigtsen break the mile world record? Ingebrigtsen hasn’t said he’s targeting the record at Pre, and we won’t have pacing information until later in the week. But consider the following:

  • Ingebrigtsen has already broken two world records this year — 7:54.10 for 2 miles in Paris on June 9, 4:43.13 for 2000m in Brussels on September 8.
  • The previous 2000m world record, 4:44.79, was set by El Guerrouj on September 7, 1999 — exactly two months after he set the mile world record of 3:43.13.
  • World Athletics’ scoring tables — which must be digested with a spoonful of salt — rate Ingebrigtsen’s 4:43.13 for 2000m equivalent to a 3:41.98 mile.
  • LetsRun’s rule of thumb conversion for the mile to 1500 — divide mile times by 1.08 — has a 3:43.13 mile equivalent to a 3:26.60 1500.
  • Ingebrigtsen has run 3:27.14 for 1500 this season.

We know Ingebrigtsen is super fit right now. We know he likes to run fast. We’ve watched him blast Diamond League fields all season, and with no Josh Kerr in this race, there’s not the revenge factor. If he feels recovered from Brussels last week, why not give the WR a shot?

Of course, it would be fun if someone could challenge Ingebrigtsen for the win in the mile, but we have two years of evidence at this point that Ingebrigtsen is untouchable in paced races. Don’t expect that to change.

How fast will Jakob Ingebrigtsen run in the Bowerman Mile?

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2) Can Yared Nuguse close out a historic season by breaking the American record in the mile?

Seven months ago in New York, Yared Nuguse signalled that his 2023 season was going to be something special by running 3:47.38 at the Millrose Games to break Bernard Lagat‘s American indoor record. On Sunday, he has the opportunity to replicate that feat in his final race of the year by breaking the American outdoor record of 3:46.91.

That’s no small feat — since Alan Webb set the record 16 years ago, only Ingebrigtsen (who else?) has run faster than 3:46.91. But we’ve seen a parade of fast times in the 1500 this year, Nuguse only missed the overall record by .47 indoors, and in Ingebrigtsen, he could have the perfect pacer (unless Ingebrigtsen decides to chase the WR).

The record is certainly within Nuguse’s reach. The 1.08 conversion pegs 3:46.91 as equivalent to 3:30.10, and Nuguse has run 3:29.02, 3:30.44, 3:30.25, and 3:30.49 in his last four 1500s.

At least one person thinks Webb’s record could be on borrowed time: Webb’s wife, Julia, who posted the following on Instagram last week.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Julia Webb (@runjwebb)

If Webb’s record is to go, the Bowerman Mile at Prefontaine would be a fitting stage — that’s where an 18-year-old Webb first made a name for himself, running his 3:53.43 high school record back in 2001.

Will Yared Nuguse break Alan Webb's American record (3:46.91)?

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3) Athing Mu is back?

Three weeks ago, after earning a bronze medal at a World Championships she was not even sure she would run, Athing Mu could not hide her relief at being able to finally forget about track and go on vacation. The last thing Mu seemed likely to do was race again in 2023.

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Yet here Mu is, entered in a women’s 800 that, if she does indeed run it, should be one of the races of the meet: a rare non-championship matchup between Mu and her great rivals, Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson and newly-crowned world champion Mary Moraa. Mu has yet to reveal what prompted her change of heart (the guess here is that Mu is in Eugene to satisfy Nike, which sponsors both Mu and the Pre Classic), but her presence undoubtedly kicks the 800 up a notch.

The last time Mu ran Pre, in 2021, she was at her absolute best, ripping an American record of 1:55.04. Her winning margin of 2.66 seconds was almost unheard of for a Diamond League 800. She won’t have it nearly as easy this time around. A blowout by anyone is unlikely, but if it is to happen, Moraa has the best shot to do it: based on how much extra ground she ran in the 800 final in Budapest, she might be in 1:54 shape. Is she still in that kind of shape after her post-Worlds celebration? What about post-vacation Mu (assuming she actually went)?  None of the big three have raced since Budapest; we’ll find out Sunday how much they have left in the tank.

Who wins the women's 800 at Pre?

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4) Grant Fisher gets his shot in the 3000

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A month ago, it was looking like 2023 would go down as a lost season for Grant Fisher. The American record holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters finished 4th at USAs in the 10,000, then scratched the 5000 due to a stress reaction in his left leg. But as the alternate for the 10,000 in Budapest, Fisher was determined to put himself in position to run at Worlds if needed, and while he was not called upon, he ran two European races where he looked like the Fisher of 2022. In Zurich on August 31, Fisher finished a surprising 3rd in 12:54 despite having only three weeks of running workouts under his belt. Six days later, Fisher dominated the 3000 in Rovereto, running 7:33 to win by three seconds.

All of this puts Fisher in a great position for Sunday’s DL 3000 final. By mid-September, most pros are running on fumes, but Fisher, after missing a month in the middle of the summer, is trending upwards. And between his 3rd-place showing in Zurich and his three DL races last summer (3rd Monaco, 2nd Brussels, 3rd Zurich), Fisher is the only American man right now who can consistently run with the best in the world in the long distance events. Between Cheptegei, Kejelcha, Barega, Aregawi, Ingebrigtsen, and Luis Grijalva, Fisher will have plenty of competition in the 3000. But Fisher has beaten all of those men before save Ingebrigtsen, and few will be more motivated to succeed. This race — on Bowerman TC’s home track — is Fisher’s World Championship for 2023.

5) Noah Lyles & Sha’Carri Richardson get their victory laps

Oh what a difference two years makes! When Sha’Carri Richardson ran the Prefontaine Classic in August 2021, she made headlines for all the wrong reasons, getting crushed by the Jamaicans in the 100 meters and finishing dead last in 11.14. After that race, Richardson gave a fiery interview to NBC’s Lewis Johnson:

Richardson made headlines for the wrong reasons in 2021, but she was ultimately proved right when she said “I’m not done”

“This is one race,” Richardson said. “I’m not done. You know what I’m capable of. Count me out if you want to. Talk all the shit you want. Because I’m here to stay. I’m not done.”

That interview became famous for the screenshot it produced, which at the time perfectly encapsulated Richardson’s status in the sport: a big talker who had yet to earn the respect of her more accomplished Jamaican peers.

Two years later, Richardson has their respect, and her interview looks prophetic. When Richardson returns to Hayward Field this weekend, she will do so as the favorite in a 100 meters that features resurgent Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah (who ran 10.54 to win Pre in 2021) and Worlds silver medalist Shericka Jackson. That should make for a great race, and a win for Richardson would serve as the cherry on top of what has been one of the best years ever by an American 100-meter runner: three Diamond League wins, a world title in a championship record of 10.65 (only two American women have run faster) and times of 10.65, 10.71, 10.75, 10.76, and 10.76 (plus a wind-aided 10.57).

But no matter what Richardson or her male counterpart, Noah Lyles, accomplish in Eugene, they’ve already won. Both delivered on the biggest stage in Budapest, and this weekend is an opportunity for American fans to celebrate those accomplishments and watch two of US track’s biggest stars do what they do best. And we can we give a bit thumbs up to Lyles for showing up? As an adidas athlete, he most certainly isn’t being forced to do so. He initially said his season was done but it’s great for the sport that he’s here.

6) Can Shericka Jackson finally get a friendly wind and break the 200-meter world record?

Shericka Jackson is in world record shape right now. But world records usually require a combination of insane fitness and favorable conditions. Jackson has struggled to find the latter.

Over the last 15 months, Jackson has run the second-, third-, and fourth-fastest times in history at 200 meters. Plugging those times into Jonas Mureika‘s conversion calculator (which accounts for lane/wind/elevation), we see that Jackson’s 21.41 in Budapest was actually a better run than Florence Griffith-Joyner‘s world record — but FloJo had a bigger wind, so her time was faster.

Athlete Date Race Time Wind Converted time
FloJo 9/29/88 Olympics 21.34 +1.3 21.45
Jackson 8/25/23 Worlds 21.41 +0.1 21.43
Jackson 7/21/22 Worlds 21.45 +0.6 21.51
Jackson 9/8/23 Brussels DL 21.48 +0.2 21.50

The weather in Eugene on Sunday is supposed to be hot and sunny, with temps in the low-80s — ideal for sprinting. If Jackson can replicate her performance level from from Worlds and Brussels — no easy task this deep into a season, particularly since she’ll be doubling back from Saturday’s 100m — she will have a shot at the record if she can catch a wind above +1.0.

What are the chances of that? Not as high as Jackson would like. The wind for the two 200m finals at USAs this year was -0.4 and -0.1. And of the four big meets at Hayward Field last year, only one 200 final featured a wind above +1.0 — it was +0.8 at Pre, +0.6 and +1.3 at NCAAs, -0.3 and -0.3 at USAs, and +0.4 and +0.6 at Worlds.

The good news for Jackson is that Hayward Field is a very fast track for 200m running — Noah Lyles ran 19.31 there at Worlds last year and Gabby Thomas ran 21.60 into a headwind at USAs this year. And since the north end of Hayward Field (which includes the 200 turn) is open, Jackson theoretically has a better shot at a tailwind than in the bigger, more enclosed stadiums in Budapest and Brussels. So keep your eyes on the wind gague and the clock.

Does Shericka Jackson break the 200 world record (21.34) at Pre?

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7) Karsten Warholm & Rai Benjamin finally clash again outside of Worlds/Olympics

The men’s 400-meter hurdles is the first Diamond League race of the entire meet and it features a showdown track fans have long been begging for: Karsten Warholm against Rai Benjamin. 2022 world champ Alison dos Santos and Worlds silver medalist Kyron McMaster, fresh off upsetting Warholm in Zurich, are also entered. The gang is all here.

Warholm and Benjamin have produced two of the most exciting races of the last five years — their sub-47 duel at the 2019 DL final and the 2021 Olympic final, which needs no further introduction. So why was that 2019 matchup in Zurich their only meeting outside of a global championship until now?

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The two have given various explanations over the years. Warholm did not want to race Pre last year because he did not think he was in good enough shape at the time. Benjamin did not want to race Monaco this year because he had been injured earlier in the summer and did not want to run the risk of re-aggravating it without major compensation. Benjamin has been quite open over the years: the vast majority of his income is based on what he does at the World Championships. If he is going to race outside of that meet, it needs to be worth his while — financially. And it doesn’t help that Benjamin is based in Los Angeles and Warholm in Oslo. For either to travel to the other’s turf would require extensive travel and a couple of lost training days on either end.

The bottom line: it’s in the best interests of the sport for Warholm and Benjamin to race each other more frequently. But it is not necessarily in the best interests of Warholm and Benjamin.

As for Saturday’s race, Warholm, who has lost just one Diamond League race in the last five years, is the clear favorite; we saw the post-Worlds hangover version of Warholm in Zurich but should get the real thing in Eugene. But Benjamin will want to defend his home turf, and McMaster is in the middle of a hot streak. It should be a great race to kick off a great final weekend of track & field in 2023.

Friend of LetsRun Habs has put together a prediction contest for the DL final where you can win a LetsRun.com Supporters Club membership and/or a LetsRun t-shirt. It’s totally free to play — enter here.

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