A (Regular Season) Race For The Ages – 2024 Bowerman Mile Preview: Kerr v Ingebrigtsen Grudge Match, Wightman Returns, & Stars Galore

The final event of Saturday's Prefontaine Classic is overflowing with storylines

There are plenty of things to complain about if you are a fan of professional track & field. Major stars can go months without competing. Some entries for big-time meets are not announced until the day of competition; other times entries are announced well in advance only for athletes to quietly withdraw at the last minute without explanation. Few races have genuine stakes. Heck, in some of them, winning or losing is irrelevant as long as an athlete runs under a predetermined qualifying standard. Sometimes, professional track & field does not feel very, well...professional.

But the men's 1500 meters? The men's 1500 freaking rocks.

The metric mile has everything you'd want from an event: big personalities, compelling storylines, and above all, dramatic racing. The last two World Championship 1500 finals have been among the most exciting races in the history of the sport.

And rather than coast on those memories, the event's two biggest players have kicked things up a notch during the Olympic year. The war of words began before last year's World Championships had even concluded, with Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway revealing he had been sick in Budapest and calling Great Britain's Josh Kerr, who had beaten him to gold, "just the next guy." Kerr fired back a few months later on the Sunday Plodcast, saying Ingebrigtsen was surrounded by "yes-men" and had some "major weaknesses" to overcome if he was to retain his Olympic title. Ingebrigtsen responded by inviting half of the Norwegian press corps to his house in Sandnes, where he unloaded the clip, telling Stavanger Aftenblad that he would beat his British rivals 98 times out of 100 and saying to TV 2 that he could beat Kerr blindfolded.

We don't think Jakob will have forgotten this his last race against Kerr...(Kevin Morris photo)

"I don’t know Jakob, so it’s hard to get a gauge on if he’s trying to get in Josh’s head or does he [just] speak candidly," said Kerr's coach Danny Mackey. "...I’m a big [professional] fighting fan, so for me to see trash talk, it doesn’t make me think less of somebody else. I kind of like when Noah Lyles and Coleman are going at each other a little bit. I think those are good things for the sport. And I think Josh said it well.....

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There are plenty of things to complain about if you are a fan of professional track & field. Major stars can go months without competing. Some entries for big-time meets are not announced until the day of competition; other times entries are announced well in advance only for athletes to quietly withdraw at the last minute without explanation. Few races have genuine stakes. Heck, in some of them, winning or losing is irrelevant as long as an athlete runs under a predetermined qualifying standard. Sometimes, professional track & field does not feel very, well…professional.

But the men’s 1500 meters? The men’s 1500 freaking rocks.

The metric mile has everything you’d want from an event: big personalities, compelling storylines, and above all, dramatic racing. The last two World Championship 1500 finals have been among the most exciting races in the history of the sport.

And rather than coast on those memories, the event’s two biggest players have kicked things up a notch during the Olympic year. The war of words began before last year’s World Championships had even concluded, with Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway revealing he had been sick in Budapest and calling Great Britain’s Josh Kerr, who had beaten him to gold, “just the next guy.” Kerr fired back a few months later on the Sunday Plodcast, saying Ingebrigtsen was surrounded by “yes-men” and had some “major weaknesses” to overcome if he was to retain his Olympic title. Ingebrigtsen responded by inviting half of the Norwegian press corps to his house in Sandnes, where he unloaded the clip, telling Stavanger Aftenblad that he would beat his British rivals 98 times out of 100 and saying to TV 2 that he could beat Kerr blindfolded.

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We don’t think Jakob will have forgotten this his last race against Kerr…(Kevin Morris photo)

I don’t know Jakob, so it’s hard to get a gauge on if he’s trying to get in Josh’s head or does he [just] speak candidly,” said Kerr’s coach Danny Mackey. “…I’m a big [professional] fighting fan, so for me to see trash talk, it doesn’t make me think less of somebody else. I kind of like when Noah Lyles and Coleman are going at each other a little bit. I think those are good things for the sport. And I think Josh said it well: they both want the same thing.”

But it’s not just Ingebrigtsen and Kerr that make the 1500 must-watch in 2024. Jake Wightman, who took down Ingebrigtsen to win the 2022 world title, is back after missing 2023 with injury. Another Norwegian, Narve Nordas, Ingebrigtsen’s former training partner who is still coached by Ingebrigtsen’s father (with whom Jakob parted on bad terms), was the Worlds bronze medalist last year.

And the Americans are coming. Yared Nuguse, the laid-back Notre Dame alum who wanted to become a dentist until his running talent became too big to ignore, stayed right with Ingebrigtsen at last year’s Diamond League final and is now the fourth-fastest miler of all time thanks to his 3:43.97 clocking (Ingebrigtsen won in 3:43.73). Cole Hocker has finished 6th and 7th in global 1500 finals before his 23rd birthday, while Hobbs Kessler ran a 3:48 mile this winter at age 20.

All of this has ramped up the excitement around the men’s 1500 to levels we have not seen for decades. I asked Geoff Wightman, father and coach of Jake, for the last time he could remember this sort of buzz.

…or his last race against Wightman

“1980, Coe-Ovett,” Geoff said. “It’s shadows of that. Otherwise, we’ve talked about times, we’ve talked about individuals, but we haven’t talked about classic head-to-heads for many years in men’s 1500. El Guerrouj kind of stood alone, some of the others stood alone. But the rivalries that we have now are as intense as they were 30, 40 years ago.”

Of course, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett famously avoided each other except for when they absolutely had to race head-to-head at the major championships. That’s not happening here.

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There have been no Wightman-Ingebrigtsen or Kerr-Ingebrigtsen rematches since their clashes at Worlds, but that will end at Saturday’s Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic, with all three slated to square off in a star-studded field that also contains Nuguse, Hocker, Kessler, World Indoor champion Geordie Beamish, and steeplechase world record holder Lamecha Girma.

(Here is where we cross our fingers that there are no late withdrawals in the next five days)

It’s the most hotly-anticipated regular-season mile race in years, and the perfect way to stoke the fire ahead of what could be a special summer of racing leading up to the Olympic final in Paris on August 6.

Ingebrigtsen is back, but Kerr looks better than ever

As much fun as all the trash talk has been, the sport is about racing, so let’s break this one down.

The main characters are getting restless. Ingebrigtsen’s recent boasts feel as if they have been delivered with a wink — he knows the distance running world hangs on his every word and is leaning into his braggadocious persona. Kerr, meanwhile, has backed out of the verbal conflict a bit, choosing to let his legs do the talking — and with a 2-mile world record at Millrose and a 3000m win at World Indoors, they have spoken loudly.

One of the many reasons the Bowerman Mile is fascinating this year is that we don’t know what to expect. In the past two years, Ingebrigtsen has been unbeatable on the circuit, a perfect 11-0 in paced 1500/miles (but 0-3 in global championship finals). After running 3:27.14 for 1500 (#4 all-time) and 3:43.73 for the mile (#3 all-time) in 2023, he would normally be the clear favorite at Pre because it’s a rabbited race.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen edges Yared Nuguse at 2023 Pre Classic 1500 Kerr beat Ingebrigtsen in a classic at Pre last year (Kevin Morris photo)

But it has not been smooth sailing for Ingebrigtsen, who battled an Achilles injury after returning from his honeymoon in the Maldives last fall. When NRK visited him in late January, it reported he had barely run for four months, leading him to cancel two altitude camps and withdraw from World Indoors. By March, he was feeling confident again, telling The Times “I’m at a significant level with my intervals. Not where I want to be but probably better than the rest of the world.”

Ingebrigtsen prides himself on building an enormous base before the competition season — no miler runs higher volume than the 110-120 miles per week Ingebrigtsen averages from October to May. After arriving in Flagstaff in late March, he has a few months of quality training under his belt, but it seems as if his usual base period has been cut in half.

How will that affect Ingebrigtsen this summer? We’ll soon find out. But he will need to be at his best, because his rivals are only getting stronger. Just look at Josh Kerr.

Kerr’s coach Danny Mackey believes there are two ways an athlete can respond to winning a major title. The first is what he terms the “fall from grace.”

“They’ve done it and they lose a little bit of their edge, lose a little bit of the hunger and they go through the motions and they think maybe they can just repeat it based on their past merits,” Mackey said.

This is basically what happened to Kerr after his Olympic bronze in Tokyo in 2021, and by the time Kerr was totally locked in again, it was too late. He finished 5th at the 2022 Worlds in Eugene.

The other response to winning is to double down, to become even more serious and chase bigger, tougher goals. That is what Kerr has done this time around, and he is pursuing his aims with the confidence of a champion.

“There are only a handful of people that have the physical and mental ability to be the best in the world,” Mackey said. “Now that he knows that [he is one of them], it’s driving him more…When Josh surges to the front, Josh maybe a year or two ago might be thinking, okay, I’m going to make this move and hopefully I can beat them. Where maybe this year he’s like, fuck these guys, I’m gonna wipe the floor with them.”

Mackey said that Kerr “leveled up” during the 2024 indoor season, and it has shown in the results. Kerr kicked off his 2023 season by running 7:33.47 to win the 3000m at Millrose; at the same meet this year, Kerr came through 3000m in 7:30.14 en route to a 8:00.67 world record for 2 miles. At World Indoors, Kerr dominated Nuguse and reigning champ Selemon Barega to win the 3000m in 7:42.98 with an unreal 25.19 final 200.

Don’t forget about the other British world champion

On March 12, Prefontaine organizers announced the first three names for the Bowerman Mile: Ingebrigtsen, Kerr, and Nuguse. Jake Wightman, who had won the 2022 world title at Hayward Field, was not mentioned in the press release, even though he had committed to the race by that point as well. Wightman raced only once in 2023, unable to defend his title in Budapest due to a foot injury, and as he has returned this season, the spotlight has not shone as brightly as it would were he still a reigning global champion.

“Mad how quickly you get forgotten, right?” Wightman told Cathal Dennehy last week. “I didn’t even race or run bad, I just didn’t race. So it’s like people forget you exist a little bit. For me, I went into the 2022 season not spoken about, under the radar, and if that’s exactly the same this year, then great. I’d rather have it that way.”

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Sorry Jake, but running 1:44.10 for 800 meters in Los Angeles, as he did on May 18, is not a good way to stay under the radar. It is tied for the second-fastest time of Wightman’s career and more than a full second faster than Ingebrigtsen, Kerr, or Nuguse have ever covered the distance. Most athletes prefer to play the underdog, but his rivals certainly have not forgotten Jake Wightman.

“I’m like, you’re not an underdog, man,” Mackey said. “You won Worlds in 2022 and you’ve run 1:43 and just ran 1:44.”

It took some serendipity for Wightman to be lining up at Pre. Wightman took three cracks at the Olympic standard during in February — at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, then two outdoor races in Australia — and came up short each time. Had he run the standard in any of them, Geoff Wightman told LetsRun, he would not be running the Bowerman Mile. But Wightman still needs the time (3:33.50 in the 1500 or 3:50.40 in the mile) and so he will be at Pre after a monthlong altitude block in Flagstaff.

While Jake did not get the standard in those early races, he did not run slowly either (3:34 in Boston, 3:52 mile in Melbourne, 3:34 in Sydney) and Geoff said the winter was not bad, all things considered.

“It was a phase he had to go through,” Geoff said. “He had to get back into racing.”

Since then, things could not have gone better. Jake has been healthy since October, and Geoff told LetsRun he’s logged his best March, April, and May ever when it comes to training performance, averaging 60+ miles per week since January (while that volume pales compared to Ingebrigtsen, it is significant for Wightman, an 800/1500 type who has cracked 80 mpw perhaps twice in his life).

Geoff said that Jake is fitter right now than he was at this point in 2022, noting that he was coming off long COVID that spring and ran 1:46 in his first two 800s in 2022 (on May 7 and May 21) compared to 1:44 in 2024 (on May 18). But Geoff knows Jake will be judged on races, and he has some big ones coming up, first Pre, followed by an 800 in Stockholm on June 2, a 1500 at the NYC Grand Prix on June 9, and the 1500 at the British championships June 29-30.

“It’s the races that count,” Geoff said. “But yes, any barometer that we use other than races, he’s ahead not only of 2022 but any other previous year.”

The Americans have been great, as well

I’m almost 2,000 words into this preview and I have barely mentioned the American record holder who ran 3:43 at the last Pre Classic eight months ago. But there’s not as much to say about Yared Nuguse compared to Kerr (who has taken another step forward) or Ingebrigtsen and Wightman (both returning from injury).

Nuguse won his first global medal in Glasgow in March (Kevin Morris photo)

The big question surrounding Nuguse heading into this season is whether his 3:43, a race in which he was .84 away from the world record (and finished just .24 behind Ingebrigtsen), signalled that he had reached a new level and would be able to consistently challenge or perhaps beat Ingebrigtsen on the DL circuit. We’ll soon find out the answer to that, but based on indoors (where he ran a 3:47 mile at Millrose and earned World Indoor 3k silver behind Kerr), 2024 Nuguse looks very similar to 2023 Nuguse. That’s not meant as an insult, considering 2023 Nuguse ran 3:29/3:43, won USAs, and won two Diamond Leagues (including a head-to-head over Kerr in Zurich after Worlds) but we haven’t seen any indication yet that he’s at a new level.

Three other Americans are entered at Pre: Cole HockerHobbs Kessler, and Matthew Centrowitz (update: Matthew Centrowitz has pulled out). Both Hocker and Kessler have been in electric form recently. Combined with Nuguse, this is one of the best 1-2-3 punches the US has ever had, the strongest since at least the early 2010s with Centrowitz, Bernard Lagat, and Leo Manzano. Hocker, 22, ran a pb of 3:30 to finish 7th in last year’s World Championship final, and that was after an interrupted start to his 2023 season. He’s had no such injury problems in 2024 and the results have been fantastic, with an 8:05 2-mile indoors, a World Indoor silver, and a 12:58 5000m pb last weekend. Can Hocker close the gap (or overtake?) Nuguse, whom he beat to win NCAAs and the Olympic Trials in 2021?

The 21-year-old Kessler has been similarly impressive, winning the world road mile title last fall, then running a 3:48 mile pb in February and taking World Indoor bronze just .03 behind Hocker before opening up with a 1:45.07 800m pb in LA last weekend. How will he fare in just his second career Diamond League (previously he ran 2:16.46 for 8th in the 1000m at 2022 Monaco)?

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Update: Matthew Centrowitz has pulled out of the meet and Cooper Teare is in

And then there’s the 34-year-old Centro, the last great hope of the Millennials. Gen Z has taken over this event in the United States, and while that is good thing for American miling overall, there is a cohort of Americans — specifically those who graduated from high school between 2005 and 2010 — who are now living vicariously through Centrowitz as he attempts to make a fourth Olympic team in what will be his final season of professional running.

Early returns in 2024 (a 3:59 mile on January 27, a 1:49 800 on March 30) weren’t exactly promising, but they rarely are with Centro. Recently, however, he has begun to hit his stride, running 3:35 at Oxy on May 4 and 3:35 again last week in LA. He won’t be near the front at Pre (even in his prime, he never won a Diamond League), but he will have a great chance to knock out the 3:50.40 Olympic standard on Saturday.

He’ll also get to see where his fitness stacks up against Nuguse, Hocker, and Kessler, currently the three favorites to make the US Olympic 1500 team. If he’s two or three seconds back of that trio on Saturday, Centro fans can talk themselves into him closing that gap with four more weeks of training and some racing guile at the Trials. If the gap is five or six seconds, it might be too large for even the great Centro to overcome.

Other names of note and what it all means

All 15 names on the start list on Saturday are incredible. Ten of the 15 men have personal bests under 3:50, which is still pretty remarkable even factoring in super spike inflation. And of the five that have never broken 3:50, two are world champions (Wightman and Geordie Beamish(indoor)), another is the steeple world record holder (Lamecha Girma), and a fourth is just 17 years old (Australia’s Cam Myers). Everyone but Beamish and Myers has broken the equivalent of 3:50 in the 1500 (3:32.93).

Geordie Beamish Wins World 1500m Title Beamish is one of a dozen intriguing entrants in this year’s Bowerman Mile (Kevin Morris photo)

Storylines that might usually be the A or B plot of a typical mile race have been relegated to the background at Pre. How does Beamish, who possesses a monster kick but a mile pb of “only” 3:51, fare in a race that should be won well under 3:50? Can Ollie Hoare, a consistent 2nd/3rd placer in Diamond Leagues in 2022 and 2023 before his season-ending sports hernia injury last year, return to that sort of level in 2024? How does the teen phenom Myers do in just his second Diamond League? Is Neil Gourley, last year’s British champ who has yet to race at all this year, ready to contend for the Olympic team?

Less than four minutes of racing is going to give us the answers to a whole bunch of questions. But one thing this race will not tell is who is going to win the Olympics in August. Ingebrigtsen could run 3:41 on Saturday and there would still be questions about his ability to close it out in Paris after trying (and failing) to win from the front without a rabbit at World Indoors in 2022 and World Outdoors in 2022 and 2023. Kerr and Wightman will be hoping to be competitive, but both men know this is just a snapshot of the 2024 season, not the whole picture.

“It would be great if [Josh] won, but you do these races because you want some data to see how everybody looks, see how your guy feels relative to his training and make sure things are lining up,” Mackey said. “And the second thing is that we really enjoy them. These invitationals are cool. Athletes are a little bit more relaxed, they take more risks. I hope some guys send it on Saturday. Heck, Josh might be one of the guys that just goes for it and tries to run super fast. I’m really hoping Jakob and Yared are cranking. It’s a different kind of excitement at the Olympics than it is at these really elite invitationals. These are a little bit more fun, in some ways, a bit more loose.”

It is definitely going to be fun. Time to fire the gun and get this thing started.

Who wins the 2024 Bowerman Mile?

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Who is the top American in the Bowerman mile?

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MB: Does Jakob really care about the race at Pre?
MB: Is Jake Wightman going to be “the next guy” again?
MB: Is the 1500m the best event in T&F right now, or am I just biased?

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