2013 Prefontaine Classic: A Beautiful Day for Track & Field
by Kevin Mangan
The storied Pre Classic always delivers world-class athletes and great competition and this year, on a beautiful day, was no exception. My favorite thing about the Pre Classic is that there almost always are multiple events going on at the same time. Hayward Field allows fans an uncompromising view of all the action. I loved being able to watch Ibarguen, Dibaba, Lavillenie and Barshim all compete at the same time. The Prefontaine Classic was two and a half hours of fantastic athletics.
Women's 400 Meters
The track events started with the Women's 400 meters and the all of the pre-race hype was surrounding Sanya Richards-Ross. She withdrew from last weekend's adidas Grand Prix the morning of the meet because of concern about her newly surgically repaired foot. Sanya got a loud cheer from the Hayward crowd as the field was announced at the starting line. Just after they got out of the blocks it was apparent that Sanya had no chance at winning today. By the backstretch Amantle Montsho had already made up the stagger on Sanya and continued to add to her lead. Coming off the turn Montsho had a slight lead on Francena McCorory and closed very strong to take the win in 50.01 with McCorory taking second in a season's best 50.37. Montsho has won all three Diamond League meetings so far in 2013.
Sanya finished with more questions than answers in 53.77, she has a lot of work ahead if she wants to come back from surgery and regain her dominance over one-lap. Montsho looked very strong today and will be tough to beat. But if anyone can do it, it's the pair of Sanya Richards-Ross and her legendary coach, Clyde Hart.
Women's 5000 meters
Next on the track was the Women's 5000 meters. Whenever a world-record holder is still in their prime, it's a treat to watch them race. Such is the case with Tirunesh Dibaba, whom the meet announcer warmly called "the baby-face destroyer", referring to her devastating kick and horde of World and Olympic medals. She stuck to her MO and sat just behind the leaders until she took the lead with 600 to go, which whittled the lead pack down to three. On the Bowerman curve for the final time, Mercy Cherono tried to pass on the outside, but Dibaba held her off. Down the homestretch Dibaba was too strong for Cherono and took the win in a world leading 14:42.01. Dibaba closed in an impressive 60 second last lap. Kim Conley had a nice five second pb (15:09.57) running most of the race by herself.
The strangest race of the day was the men's steeplechase. The race started out with a solid 63 first lap and went through 4 laps in 4:18with a pack of eight, including American Record holder Evan Jager. Going into the bell, 8:02 man Benabbad was in the lead and Jager was sitting on Olympic Champ Ezekiel Kemboi's should in fifth. There was a huge roar from the fans on the backstretch as the race passed. Kemboi surged to the front going into the final turn and came off the turn in first. He moved outside a bit to try to make a hard-charging Kipruto go around. However, Kipruto went insde along the rail. Once Kemboi realized this he moved back to his left, but in doing so bumped into and pushed Kipruto onto the infield. The crowd went from clapping and cheering to a shocked "ooh", nobody thought that was going to happen. Kipruto came back on to the track and got the win by .45 over Kemboi who crossed the line wagging his finger. His finger wag appeal earned him no sympathy as he was later DQ'ed. Not far behind the confusion, Evan Jager ran a very strong race. He looked rather tired on the last water pit, but ran well and finished fourth in 8:08.60, two seconds behind his own AR. Jager had a very strong 2800 meters of steeplechase, but Schumacher will sharpen him up so he can get a nice finishing kick. Which is really the only thing he lacked today.
Women's 1500 Meters
The women's 1500 was a two woman race from the start with 19 year old Faith Kipyegon, who ran 3:56.98 in Doha, taking the early lead behind the rabbit. A little behind her was Helen Obiri and then the pack a decent ways back. The race went out quickly in 63.69 and 2:07.66 for the first two laps. The pace slowed with a 66 second third lap. Obiri made a big move down the backstretch and quickly gained a ten meter lead on Kipyegon that she would not relinquish. Obiri won by 2.5 seconds with the fastest time ever run on American soil, 3:58. 58. The previous mark was set by Mary Slaney in 1988. Kipyegon held on for second in 4:01.08. Treniere Moser and Sheila Reid both ran new lifetime bests to finish fifth and sixth respectively (4:02.85 and 4:02.96).
Salazar has really revitalized Moser this season. For the past few years she was not at all in the picture for making team USA. But with her4:02.85 today she definitely is in great shape and has a great shot at making it to Moscow. Especially since the USA will send four women in the 1500 with Jenny Simpson's wild card. Morgan Uceny, who raced last week and is making progress is going to have to work a lot harder to make the team this year than the past two seasons when she was one of the favorites in Daegu and London. As of today (6/3) my picks for the women's 1500 USA team are: Simpson (defending champ- automatic bid), Moser, Rowbury and Martinez. But if Martinez only does the 800, then I like Mary Cain's chances, she already has the "A" and has shown she is not intimidated running against the best in the world. Before this weekend I would have picked Katie Mackey. However, she scratched from Pre, citing wanting to be "healthy for USAs". Whatever that means, there really isn't any room for anything more than a minor setback with the current crop of USA 1500 women.
Men's 400 Meters
One of the biggest statements of the day was made by LaShawn Merritt, who earned himself some serious confidence by beating Kirani James. LaShawn got out well and was able to hold off Kirani down the stretch to take the win in a season's best 44.32. This was a big win for LaShawn. With a win over the man who took over his throne as current king of the 400, he is closer to reclaiming it.
Women's 800 Meters
Even though she didn't win athlete of the meet, or even her event, Mary Cain truly stole the show. She broke Kim Gallagher's 31 year old high school record and became the first high school girl to run under two minutes. She ran a very smart race, she came through one lap in just under 60 seconds and ran the third 200 well. She ran much smarter than many of the more experienced women in the race. Olympic Trials Champ Alysia Montaño lead through 400 in 57.8. Burundian Record holder Francine Niyonsaba made a huge move on the backstetch that sent her well clear of everyone else. Brenda Martinez made a move of her own to go for second. Niyonsaba never looked back and won easily in a meet record and world leading 1:56.72. She is looking very good so far this season. Martinez was solid all the way to the finish and ran a one second pb in 1:58.18. But back to the main story, Mary Cain battled Montaño all the way to the line and finished fifth in a very impressive 1:59.51 and even beat London Bronze medalist Poistogova. In a very classy move, Montaño gave her trademark flower to Mary Cain after the race.
In her post-race interview with Katharine Merry, Cain noted that she is "still a star-struck kid" in reference to running with Montaño down the homestretch. Apparently "star-struck" and intimidation don't go hand-in-hand because she showed no fear trying to chase down Montaño.
How would Savinova have fared against Niyonsaba had she not had visa problems?
Men's 5000 Meters
The men's 5k went out in a solid 62 that had the field strung out early. The field stayed strung out for a while, before condensing once the pace slowed a bit around the halfway mark. The pack condensed more going through 3200, it was destined to be a kicker's race. With 600 to go Ritz and Rupp were in a good position. At the bell the leaders were at12:10 and it was anyone's race. Farah and Longosiwa lead going into the Bowerman curve, but Edwin Soi made a good move around the outside and lead off the turn. Farah's trademark kick wasn't there and Soi powered home for the win. Farah's illness from a couple weeks ago clearly still affected his race. He looked fine for 4900m, but he couldn't change gears down the stretch. Mo will be fine and should regain his lethal closing speed well before Moscow. The American foursome of Lagat, Rupp, Derrick and Ritz all ran well, finishing in 5th, 6th, 7th and 9threspectively. Derrick actually lowered his outdoor pb by 20 seconds.
Men's 800 Meters
The men's 800 was Mohamed Aman's race from the start. He was never challenged after taking an early lead and winning easily in 1:44. 42. It felt as if the crowd was quietly waiting for Nick Symmonds to chase down Aman coming off the final turn. It seemed they were waiting to roar once Symmonds, as he has often done at Hayward Field, made a big move over the last 100m. However, he was unable to cut down the gap, which left the crowd eerily not that loud. Nothing impressive in terms of time, but a very smart win by Aman against very good competition. London Bronze Medalist Timothy Kitum held off Symmonds to take second in 1:45.16. Symmonds was third in 1:45.40.
Symmonds and Solomon still need the "A" standard of 1:45.30 for Moscow. They were both less than four tenths away at Pre.
Will Rudisha be beatable when he comes back? Probably not, but the longer he's out the closer the rest of the world gets.
The final event at every Pre Classic is always the Bowerman Mile and the goal is always to see how many guys can break 3:50. This year's edition was especially loaded as it featured all three 1500m medalists from both London and Daegu. The rabbits went through 880 yards in 1:52mid with the pack a little behind. There was a big pack throughout the race and, like the 5k, it was going to take a solid kick to win. Asbel Kiprop made a move down the backstretch to take the lead with Aman Wote trying to move around him on the final turn. Kiprop managed to hold off Wote, but Silas Kiplagat had an absolutely incredible last 50 meters to get the win. Kiprop, Wote and Kiplagat were all under 3:50 and made for a very exciting race, especially Kiplagat's finish. Lopez Lomong (3:51.45), Matthew Centrowitz (3:51.79) and Olympic Champ Taoufik Makhloufi (3:52.94) were not satisfied in 9th-11th place. Leo Manzano continues to struggle as he finished way back in last place (for some reason unbeknownst to more than just me he is listed as DNF on the official results. The scoreboard at Hayward Field listed him at an official time of4:00.04 after the race).
Lomong thinks "it's gonna be tough to make the team (for Moscow)". He is not sure which event will be his primary focus: "Right now I'm strong in 5,000. I need to close better in the last 300 (of 1500)". With Manzano seemingly out of the picture and Wheating and Torrence only running3:57 (in Friday night's International Mile), Lomong's best shot is probably at the 1500 this year. I would take Lagat and Rupp as virtual shoe-ins for the 5k, leaving one spot left. With three days between the 10k and 5k at USAs this year, I'd expect Ritz, True and Derrick to be ready to challenge for that third spot. Centro looks to be the only thing close to a sure thing for the 1500. The one thing that might really steer Lomong to the 5k though is the "A" standard. He has it for the 5k, and if he doesn't get it for the 1500, that will probably make his choice for him.
After the race Centro noted that he and the rest of the Oregon Project are just coming back from altitude training in Park City, which could explain why he was not able to run as fast as he hoped. He also noted that he is well ahead of where he was last year and his training has been going extremely well. I would not be surprised if he is able to get on the podium at the World Championships again this season.
What's up with Leo?
Brief Field Event Thoughts: Lavillenie can work a crowd like no one I've ever seen.
The crowd really responded to the Pole Vault, Triple Jump and High Jump.
Barshim might break Sotomayor's WR sooner rather than later