Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Bryce Hoppel and Rai Benjamin Impress as Centrowitz’s Comeback Gains More Steam

LA Grand Prix Day 2 Recap

By Cathal Dennehy for
May 18, 2024

LOS ANGELES — Day two of the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix on Saturday saw a much-improved attendance at Drake Stadium and they were given a great show by the home stars, with Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone producing a huge PB (22.07) in the 200m, Bryce Hoppel dominating the men’s 800m (1:43.68) and Rai Benjamin making a statement with a world lead of 46.64 in the 400m hurdles. We recap the best of the action below.

Men’s 1500m: Hoare kicks to victory as Centro takes a step forward

With a little over a month to the US Olympic Trials, Matthew Centrowitz is officially a big part of the conversation. The 2016 Olympic champion showed impressive closing speed here, having been boxed on the back straight, to finish third in 3:35.16, his last 400m (54.78) just one hundredth of a second slower than that of race winner Ollie Hoare, who clocked 3:34.73. They were split by Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot (3:34.83).

“I just want to build momentum and confidence in these last few weeks going into the Trials,” said Centrowitz. “I finished 10th last year at USAs and I’m farther along than I was last year. I think anytime I’m competing in a field like this, it definitely heightens my chances. My confidence is right where it needs to be at this time of year.”

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Hoare said his goal was the Olympic standard (3:33.50) but he was nonetheless pleased with his result, given he’s been in hard training with a view to next weekend’s Bowerman Mile, where he’ll meet Josh Kerr and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, among others.

“It’s going to be a big one for a lot of egos but it’s going to be a big one for me as it’s the first race where I’ll have an inkling of where I am against the world’s best,” he said. “There’s a lot of banter, but you can’t disrespect that field. If you do, you’ll get eaten alive.”

1. Oliver HOARE 29 JAN 1997 AUS 3:34.73
2. Reynold Kipkorir CHERUIYOT 30 JUL 2004 KEN 3:34.83
3. Matthew CENTROWITZ 18 OCT 1989 USA 3:35.16
4. Henry WYNNE 18 APR 1995 USA 3:35.24
5. Jesse HUNT 28 JUL 1998 AUS 3:35.38
6. Samuel PRAKEL 29 OCT 1994 USA 3:35.52
7. Vincent CIATTEI 21 JAN 1995 USA 3:35.55
8. Cameron MYERS 09 JUN 2006 AUS 3:35.59
9. Adam FOGG 27 JAN 1999 GBR 3:35.82
10. Eric HOLT 12 MAY 1995 USA 3:35.86
11. Craig ENGELS 01 MAY 1994 USA 3:36.04
12. Amon KEMBOI   KEN 3:36.69
13. Melese NBERET 29 JAN 2001 ETH 3:37.49
14. Abel KIPSANG 22 NOV 1996 KEN 3:37.54
15. Joshua THOMPSON 09 MAY 1993 USA 3:37.59
  Abraham ALVARADO 04 AUG 1995 USA DNF

Women’s 200m: Sydney blows her rivals away with big PB

It took just 22.07 seconds for Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone to silence any doubts about her readiness to defend the Olympic 400m hurdles title this summer. Those who made Femke Bol favorite for gold in Paris after McLaughlin-Levrone missed last year’s World Championships may want to reassess on the evidence of this.

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The 24-year-old superstar smashed her previous 200m best of 22.39 from 2018 to crush a world-class field in virtually still conditions (-0.3m/s). Abby Steiner followed her home in 22.32 with Brittany Brown third in 22.35 ahead of Rhasidat Adeleke (22.45), Jenna Prandini (22.61), and Gabby Thomas (22.68).

“Honestly I’d have loved to get 21.99 but I’m really happy with that,” said McLaughlin-Levrone, who said she didn’t give any serious thought to a 400m-400m hurdles double this season. “I think that’s definitely a possibility in the future but (I’m) just wanting to come back, after last season, stick to one event and try do it the best I can, be healthy, which we are and I’m very happy about and just try keep that way.”

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about her run? McLaughlin-Levrone’s reaction time was 0.548 which, if accurate, means she left up to four tenths of a second behind on the blocks. She said she’s been doing “a lot of prevention and care” to stay healthy this season but has a clean bill of health and, unsurprisingly, she says her speed is now “the best it’s been.”

Final, Wind: -0.3

1. Sydney MCLAUGHLIN-LEVRONE 07 AUG 1999 USA 22.07
2. Abby STEINER 24 NOV 1999 USA 22.32
3. Brittany BROWN 18 APR 1995 USA 22.35
4. Rhasidat ADELEKE 29 AUG 2002 IRL 22.45
5. Jenna PRANDINI 20 NOV 1992 USA 22.61
6. Gabrielle THOMAS 07 DEC 1996 USA 22.68
7. Kendall ELLIS 08 MAR 1996 USA 22.77
8. Edidiong Ofinome ODIONG 13 MAR 1997 BRN 23.23
9. Maryam TOOSI 05 DEC 1988 IRI 23.84

Men’s 400m hurdles: Benjamin makes a statement

Could this be the year Rai Benjamin wins a global title? It may only be May, but consider the gauntlet thrown down to Karsten Warholm and Alison dos Santos. Benjamin blasted to a world lead of 46.64 here to overtake the 46.86 run by Dos Santos in Doha last week.

“I’m happy to get the first one out of the way and to run fast,” he said. “The fitness is there, it’s just a matter of getting the rhythm down and saying to myself I can just go for it. The Olympics aren’t today, it’s in August, so just keep the ball rolling and focus on running well there.”

Benjamin said he wasn’t motivated by dos Santos’ time and that he still has “more things to fix,” given he had to reach for the last two hurdles. “The last couple of years, unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with injuries going into the championship season so that hindered me a lot and not having races and practices catches up to you. When it’s championship time, the margin for error is very, very slim.”

What did his early-season run signify about the potential in August? “Who knows? Maybe 45, maybe 44. The sky’s the limit once I keep coming out and running well, staying healthy, I think I’m the fastest guy in the field.”

1. Rai BENJAMIN 27 JUL 1997 USA 46.64
2. Roshawn CLARKE 01 JUL 2004 JAM 48.11
3. Kyron MCMASTER 03 JAN 1997 IVB 48.51
4. Gerald DRUMMOND 05 SEP 1994 CRC 48.97
5. Trevor BASSITT 26 FEB 1998 USA 49.01
6. Malik JAMES-KING 28 JUN 1999 JAM 49.09
7. Khallifah ROSSER 13 JUL 1995 USA 49.47
8. Aldrich BAILEY JR 06 FEB 1994 USA 49.89
9. Jaheel HYDE 02 FEB 1997 JAM 50.15

Women’s 1500m: Welteji and Hailu dominate as Mackay leads US charge

Diribe Welteji and Freweyni Hailu led an Ethiopian 1-2 as they clocked 3:55.25 and 3:55.48 respectively to come home well in front of Kenya’s Susan Ejore (3:58.63) and Beatrice Chepkoech, who set a PB of 3:59.73.

World indoor bronze medallist Emily Mackay was just behind in fifth with 4:00.08, while Sinclaire Johnson, who had only run 4:13 in her 1500 seasonal debut at Payton Jordan, ran 4:00.67 for 6th. NCAA 1500 and mile champ Maia Ramsden of Harvard took time out from her collegiate schedule to chase the Olympic standard (4:02.50) but came up just short with 4:02.58, but the time will catapult her to #39 in the Road to Paris rankings (shew was 48th and they take 45) while Cory McGee opened her season with a 4:02.96. 4:02.58 makes Ramsden the 2nd fastest collegian ever.

“I’m so happy and a little disappointed because I was 0.08 off the standard which is a little brutal,” said Ramsden, who did her final exams at Harvard two weeks ago. “It’s also confidence-building, we’re still early on in the season and there’s a lot of racing left.”

Ramsden plans to chase the standard again after the NCAAs but is confident of making it to Paris on the world rankings regardless.

McGee said she “died pretty hard” in her season opener but was upbeat about the path to US Trials and she will race Diamond Leagues in Eugene and Stockholm over the next two weeks. “I need to race a little bit before USAs.”

1. Diribe WELTEJI 13 MAY 2002 ETH 3:55.25
2. Freweyni HAILU 12 FEB 2001 ETH 3:55.48
3. Susan Lokayo EJORE 09 NOV 1995 KEN 3:58.63
4. Beatrice CHEPKOECH 06 JUL 1991 KEN 3:59.73
5. Emily MACKAY 30 APR 1998 USA 4:00.08
6. Hirut MESHESHA 20 JAN 2001 ETH 4:00.17
7. Sinclaire JOHNSON 13 APR 1998 USA 4:00.67
8. Katie SNOWDEN 09 MAR 1994 GBR 4:00.89
9. Danielle JONES 21 AUG 1996 USA 4:02.09
10. Lucia STAFFORD 17 AUG 1998 CAN 4:02.32
11. Maia RAMSDEN 23 MAR 2002 NZL 4:02.58
12. Cory Ann MCGEE 29 MAY 1992 USA 4:02.96
13. Sintayehu VISSA 29 JUL 1996 ITA 4:04.74
14. Saron BERHE 22 AUG 2007 ETH 4:06.78
15. Simone PLOURDE 08 JUL 2000 CAN 4:08.88
16. Helen SCHLACHTENHAUFEN 14 MAR 1995 USA 4:13.52
  Jazz SHUKLA 24 AUG 1998 CAN DNF

Men’s 800m: Hoppel storms to 1:43.68 win as Wightman impresses in third

Bryce Hoppel produced a dominant finishing kick to victory in 1:43.68, the third 1:43 clocking of his career and the first time he’s ever run it before July. 2021 Olympian Isaiah Jewett, who has a 1:43.85 pb, came close to that in second in 1:44.02 (only the third time he’s ever broken 1:45 in his career) with Jake Wightman a close third in 1:44.10 – a time the 2022 world 1500m champion has only surpassed once with his PB of 1:43.65 from 2022.

“I’ve been feeling incredible, I think I’m on a new level of strength,” said Hoppel, who added that the training environment at the Very Nice Track Club is pushing him to new levels. “The long-term season goal is to go after an Olympic medal, we have been targeting it this year and if we keep doing alright, hopefully we can get that in the bag.”

Wightman was pleased with his run. “The time was alright, I wanted to win it to announce a bit of a comeback and with 100 to go I had a chance, but Bryce came through strong,” he said. “Third is okay, 1:44.1 is one of my fastest times and so I can’t complain with that.”

Having missed last summer through injury, Wightman admitted he’s coming into this season with little hype around him as the focus rests on Josh Kerr and Jakob Ingebrigtsen. “How quickly you get forgotten, right? I didn’t even race and run bad, I just didn’t race and people forget you exist a little bit,” he said. “I went into the 2022 season under the radar and if that’s exactly the same this year, then great. I’d rather have it that way.”

Wightman said his 5K fitness is “as good as it ever has been” and he’s done some strong 1500m workouts. When it comes to the war of words between Ingebrigtsen and Kerr since Budapest, and whether he’s been tempted to join in, Wightman said: “There’s not really anything I can say when I haven’t raced. It’s a final of 12 people and the depth of our event means it’s potentially 12 people running at a level who could potentially win gold. I consider myself one of those.”

1. Bryce HOPPEL 05 SEP 1997 USA 1:43.68
2. Isaiah JEWETT 06 FEB 1997 USA 1:44.02
3. Jake WIGHTMAN 11 JUL 1994 GBR 1:44.10
4. Brandon MILLER 27 JUN 2003 USA 1:44.24
5. Isaiah HARRIS 18 OCT 1996 USA 1:44.58
6. Noah KIBET 12 APR 2004 KEN 1:44.83
7. Peter BOL 22 FEB 1994 AUS 1:45.87
8. Alex BOTTERILL 18 JAN 2000 GBR 1:45.91
9. Kyle LANGFORD 02 FEB 1996 GBR 1:46.18
10. Clayton MURPHY 26 FEB 1995 USA 1:48.26
  Bobby POYNTER 10 APR 2000 USA DNF

Women’s 800m: Nakaayi outkicks Duguma as Ajee’ Wilson struggles

World Indoor champion Tsige Duguma of Ethiopia looked to have the race at her mercy but as many 800m athletes have learned over the years, Halimah Nakaayi is not an easy athlete to beat. The 2019 world champion edged victory in a photo finish by six thousandths of a second, both clocking PBs of 1:57.56, Nakaayi’s time a Ugandan record. Sage Hurta-Klecker was a close third in 1:58.98 while there were worrying signs for Ajee’ Wilson, who trailed home eighth in 2:04.87.

“It’s been a slow build back but we’re getting there,” said Wilson, who said she missed two months of training due to an issue that she didn’t specify. “I’m just thinking about staying the course. The last couple of weeks have been pretty good. I’m definitely in better shape than what I just ran. We’re gonna go home and figure things out. It’s slow, but we’re almost there.”

Hurta-Klecker said the first 200m was “a bit of a shock” in her season opener but her time was what her fitness had indicated. “I’m in the best position physically, mentally that I’ve been in the last few years. I know I’m in 1:57, 1:58 shape based on how workouts are going.”

1. Halimah NAKAAYI 16 OCT 1994 UGA 1:57.56
2. Tsige DUGUMA 23 FEB 2001 ETH 1:57.56
3. Sage HURTA-KLECKER 23 JUN 1998 USA 1:58.98
4. Shafiqua MALONEY 27 FEB 1999 VIN 1:59.77
5. Catriona BISSET 01 MAR 1994 AUS 2:00.22
6. Allie WILSON 31 MAR 1996 USA 2:00.59
7. McKenna KEEGAN 31 AUG 1998 USA 2:01.61
8. Ajee’ WILSON 08 MAY 1994 USA 2:04.87
9. Raevyn ROGERS 07 SEP 1996 USA 2:06.17
  Kaylin WHITNEY 09 MAR 1998 USA DNF

Best of the rest: Wins for Paulino, Cockrell and Norman

Anna Cockrell dominated the women’s 400m hurdles, clocking 53.75, while in the men’s 100m, Kyree King upset race favorite Letsile Tebogo of Botswana, 10.11 to 10.13 (0.6m/s). Melissa Jefferson edged the women’s 100m in 11.27 (-2.4 m/s) ahead of Morolake Akinosun (11.28), while Michael Norman had an impressive win in the men’s 400m in 44.53 ahead of Kirani James (44.85) and Vernon Norwood.

Norman admitted that injury struggles and the risk of not making the U.S. team had caused him to turn his back on the shorter sprints to focus fully on the 400m. “It’s been quite a difficult January to May, I’ve been dealing with a few body-type issues, I haven’t really been sprinting since January, to be honest,” he said. “It’s been a journey, it’s been very different, but we’re making it work.”

World champion Marileidy Paulino continued her winning streak in the women’s 400m, clocking 50.27 to beat Kenya’s Mary Moraa, who sharpened up for next week’s 800m showdown at the Pre Classic with 50.56 for second.

Joe Kovacs threw an impressive 22.93m to dominate the men’s shot put, while Tonea Marshall powered to victory in the women’s 100m hurdles in 12.55 (-1.0m/s). 

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Day 1 Recap: 

LA Grand Prix Day 1: Selemon Barega & Elle St Pierre Win 5000s As Ceili McCabe Breaks Canadian Steeple Record The runners from Africa ran in the back early but dominated late and went 1-2-3-4 as Grant Fisher was fifth (12:53.30). Teammates Cooper Teare (12:54.72, 9th) and Cole Hocker (12:58.92, 11th) broke 13:00 for the 1st time. In the women’s 5000, Elle St. Pierre lowered her pb from 14:58.17 to 14:34.14 and won as Venezuela’s Joselyn Brea set a South American record in 2nd (14:36.59).

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