The Nike Pre Classic presser is one of my favorite pressers of the season. This year, Paul Swangard, emceed the event, not Tom Jordan, who was in the last year of his three-plus decade position as the meet director.
We asked Matt Wisner to write this piece on the Presser, to give you a view of what we, the media see, and are presented at the major meets.
Olympic Champions Athing Mu, Ryan Crouser, and Elaine Thompson-Herah are Centerstage at the Prefontaine Classic Press Conference. Until Sha’Carri Richardson walked in.
By Matt Wisner
Paul Swangard, the voice of Hayward Field, began the Prefontaine Classic press conference with, “I say to my golfing friends, [Pre] is to our sport what the Masters is to golf.”
The press conference featured the top athletes from the meet’s four most anticipated events: the women’s 800, the men’s shot put, the Bowerman mile, and the women’s 100. The fields of the four events will be headlined by all three podium finishers from Tokyo.
Athing Mu will attempt to continue her win streak in the women’s 800 at Pre. Mu is fresh off a Tokyo gold medal and an American Record performance of 1:55.21. Pre will be Mu’s final race this year. “Once I take this break off running, relax my body, relax my mind, I’ll be able to really realize what I’ve accomplished,” Mu says of her highly anticipated time off training after a long season that began with months of NCAA competition.
Raevyn Rogers will also be in the 800 field after her bronze medal performance in Tokyo. Pre will be Rogers’s first serious race in the new Hayward Field after competing for years at the University of Oregon. As she toes the line, a larger version of herself will watch over her; she’s the only woman depicted on the Bowerman Tower, the trademark feature of the new Hayward Field.
“To be on the tower and to come back with a medal just adds to the legacy that I built at Oregon,” Rogers says.
Keely Hodgkinson, the silver medalist from Tokyo, will also compete in the women’s 800. In Tokyo, she ran 1:55.88, which is a Great Britain record. Like Mu, Hodgkinson is 19 years old.
Men’s shot put
The men’s shot put will be highlighted by Ryan Crouser (U.S.), Joe Kovacs (U.S.), and Tom Walsh (N.Z.). The three men finished in that order in Tokyo: gold, silver, and bronze. The Tokyo podium order is identical to the Rio podium order; it was the first time in history that the same three men finished in the exact same order on the podium in consecutive Olympic Games.
The three men are friends. Before the press conference, Kovacs and Walsh practiced together at the new Hayward Field. “Ryan wasn’t invited,” Kovacs said with a laugh.
Crouser, who set the World Record of 23.37 meters (76′ 8″) at the U.S. Olympic Trials at the end of June, hopes to replicate his monster performance.
“Any time you step out onto a facility like that with the energy that’ll be at the meet tomorrow,” Crowser says. “That’ll be the grounds for a huge throw.”
The Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen didn’t show up for his scheduled press conference on Friday, but his rival Timothy Cheruiyot did show up. So did the 2016 Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz. And so did Stewart McSweyn, this year’s world leader in the event (3:48.37).
Cheruiyot has won the two most recent Bowerman miles and hopes to make Saturday’s race his third consecutive victory in Eugene. Cheruiyot has also won 12 of the past 13 times he’s raced Ingebrigtsen. He said his back and hamstrings were giving him trouble in Tokyo, but they’re mostly better now.
“Jakob is a good racer. He ran a fantastic race, an excellent race,” Cheruiyot says. “On that day, I was not 100% fit. For five to six weeks heading into the Olympics, I was presented with challenges. I am back and will race well.”
Centrowitz won his Olympic title in a famously tactical 1500 meter race. He said he hopes the race Saturday is a tactical one. “I’ve always been someone who enjoys racing more than time trialing, Centrowitz says, referencing how uncharacteristically fast the Olympic final was in Tokyo. “These time trial races and Diamond League races have always been something I’ve struggled with as compared to championship racing.”
The women’s 100 is probably the most anticipated event of the Prefontaine Classic. It will feature all three Olympic medalists from Tokyo, the Jamaican women Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, and Sherika Jackson.
The American Sha’Carri Richardson will also race the 100. She was barred for competing in Tokyo after testing positive for marijuana, and her exclusion from the meet sparked controversy in and outside of the sport.
Richardson holds the sixth fastest women’s 100 time in history (10.72). Richardson says she’s ready. “Training has been going well regardless of the situation,” she says. “My talent hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Richardson walked onto the stage at the press conference with flashy sunglasses on (inside). Her disposition suggested she was about to drop a bomb in that room. But she didn’t. Instead, she was calm, reserved (for Richardson’s standards). She instead wants her performance to speak for her.
“Stop putting a specific image on me,” Richardson says. “The reason why I’m such a big deal is because of the different flavor I bring. I’m not the traditional athlete that you see.”
Richardson continued, “At the end of the day, when I step onto the track, I do what everybody else is doing. I just have a different way of doing it.”