NORTH AMERICA’S LONE DIAMOND LEAGUE MEET BRINGS THE WORLD’S BEST TO EUGENE
By Scott Bush
The Prefontaine Classic gets underway Friday evening at historic Hayward Field, the final time the Diamond League contest will take part in the famed stadium. With sentiment high, another world-class field assembled and a sold out crowd all but guaranteed, fans will have plenty to watch over the course of two days.
Here are seven of the marquee events not to miss.
As expected, the men’s two-mile Friday evening is loaded with an all-star cast of talent. Headlining the field is reigning world 5,000 meters champion Muktar Edris (ETH). Edris upset Mo Farah last year in London for the world title, and while the Ethiopian only finished fifth at the Shanghai Diamond League in the 5,000 two weeks back, he’s clearly capable of capturing the win in Eugene.
The men who finished first and second in Shanghai, Birhanu Balew (BRN) and Paul Chelimo (USA), are equally capable of victory. Balew beat the world-class field in China with a furious final kick, while Chelimo continues to be one of the best in the world over the 3k/5k range. With Olympic and World Championship medals to his name, Chelimo deserves more recognition.
Selemon Barega (ETH), just 18, earned silver at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in the 3,000 meters and is clearly a star on the rise, owning a 5,000 personal best of 12:55.58 and he led the world indoors with a 7:36.64 3000 best. Add in former Oregon phenom Edward Cheserek (KEN), Eugene-based Hassan Mead (USA), Portland-based runners Ryan Hill (USA) and Eric Jenkins(USA), as well as Ben True (USA), and this field is stacked.
Men’s Pole Vault
The men’s pole vault is always a marquee event at the Pre Classic, and while this year’s contest is not an official Diamond League contest, the field is as strong as ever. Leading the way is the trio of world indoor record holder Renaud Lavillenie (FRA), reigning world champion Sam Kendricks (USA) and prep phenom Mondo Duplantis (SWE).
Lavillenie is coming off a strong indoor campaign, winning the indoor world title, while currently owning the world’s top mark. Duplantis currently sits second best in the world and should be eyeing yet another personal best on Friday evening. For Kendricks, also the reigning Diamond League champion, he’s off to a slower start this season, but he won this competition last year.
Joining the mix is former world champion Shawn Barber (CAN), who currently sits third best in the world, reigning Olympic champion Thiago Braz (BRA) and Poland’s Piotr Lisek, who earned silver at the IAAF World Championships last summer.
Leading the way on Saturday, the women’s 400 meters features a big showdown between defending world champion and former Oregon Duck Phyllis Francis taking on Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH), who has been on a tear this season and currently ranks world No. 2 in the 200 meters.
Legendary American Allyson Felix will test her fitness against the world’s best, as will World Championship silver medalist Salma Eld Narer (BRN). Both have raced sparingly this season, but have performed well when enterting the fray the past few years.
Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson, Courtney Okolo (USA) and Shakima Wimbley (USA) are three others capable of winning. Wimbley, 23, ranks fourth in the world and is coming off an indoor campaign where she finished second in the 400 at the IAAF World Indoor Championships and led Team USA to gold in the 4×400 relay.
Only one sprinter has bested the 50-second barrier so far this season. With that said, do not be surprised to see a few athletes challenge that mark Saturday at Hayward.
Men’s Shot Put
Fans need to be on world-record alert in the men’s shot put, as this clash of titans could very well challenge Randy Barnes’23.12m world record from 1990. Tom Walsh (NZL), Ryan Crouser (USA) and Joe Kovacs (USA) have all made claims over the past 12 months that they’d like to target the world record and the Pre Classic seems like as good a competition as any to make a serious run at the mark.
Of the three, Walsh is having the most impressive 2018, thus far. The reigning world champion owns nine of the top 14 throws in the world this year, including his world best of 22.62m and two other throws over 22 meters.
Crouser, the reigning Olympic champion, is seeking to redeem himself after a sixth place showing at the World Championships last summer. Winning the Drake Relays event over Walsh is a great start and he currently sits second best in the world at 22.21m and owns two 22-meter throws on the season.
Kovacs has had a very quiet start to his season, only competing once, throwing a modest seasonal best of 20.73m at a meet in Indiana earlier this month. Kovacs is both the reigning Olympic and World Championship silver medalist, so he cannot be discounted as a challenger for the win.
Not to be overlooked, 27-year old Darlan Romani (BRA) is having a fine season, improving his lifetime best to 21.94m last weekend, which ranks him third best in the world currently.
The top four finishers in the 800 meters final at last summer’s World Championships are entered in Saturday’s contest. South African Caster Semenya leads the way, already asserting her dominance this season with a world leading 1:56.68 and four of the top seven performances of 2018. Semenya seems poised to put on another show in Eugene, but she’s not without heavy competition.
World Championship silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba (BRN), who recently moved to Eugene, is having a quiet start to her season, but is showing she’s in prime shape to contest the field, while World Championship bronze medalist Ajee’ Wilson ran a fine 1:59.23 performance at last weekend’s adidas Boost Boston Games.
They are joined by World Championship fourth place finisher Margaret Wambui (KEN), who currently ranks second best in the world this season with a 1:58.07 time.
Women’s Pole Vault
Similar to the men’s pole vault, the women’s event is stacked with talent, especially at the top of the start list. The clash of champions comes to a head Saturday, as reigning Olympic and World champion Katerina Stefanidi (GRE), Sandi Morris (USA) and superstar veteran Jenn Suhr (USA) are set to square off.
Suhr currently leads the world-rankings with a seasonal best of 4.93m, while owning three of the top five marks on the season. The other two belong to Morris, who sits just below Suhr in the rankings with a seasonal best of 4.88m.
While Stefanidi is only starting to round into shape, having finished fourth in 4.64m at the Diamond League Doha meeting earlier this month (won by Morris), the Greek star’s record stands for itself.
Two other names fans need to follow are 21-year old Eliza McCartney (NZL) and Robeilys Peinado (VEN). Peinado placed third behind Stefanidi and Morris at last summer’s World Championships, while McCartney seems to be the future of the event. She currently ranks third-best in the world with a 4.75m season best and continues to be one of the most consistent performers on the Diamond League circuit.
Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
It’s a clash of medalists in the men’s steeplechase, as Olympic and World Championship gold medalist Conseslus Kipruto (KEN), World Championships silver medalist Soufiane El Bakkau (MAR) and Olympic silver and World Championship bronze medalist Evan Jager (USA) face off.
While it’s a bit early in the season for the trio to challenge a sub-8 clocking (or maybe it’s not), the raw competition and strategy seen up front should be tantalizing for those at Hayward and those watching elsewhere. Kipruto currently ranks world #1 after winning in 8:10.08 in Australia last month, while El Bakkau and Jager have kept a low profile and are opening their seasons at Pre.
While those three will clearly get the attention, Jager’s fellow Team USA teammate Stanley Kebenei continues to prove he’s one of the very best in the world. He placed fifth at the World Championships last summer and has run well in recent competition.