Time to get back to serious competition, and this year’s Pre meet should be the best meet on US soil this season. This year’s rendition will be held the day before the 4th of July, and ironically has some similarities. I say that because the Prefontaine Classic, like the 4th of July and other holidays, has become a meet that we celebrate each year, but I think that the meaning of the meet itself has been lost.
While most US meets are named for the location in which they are held or after a key sponsor, this meet is held in honor of an individual – the late Steve Prefontaine. But as with the celebration of Independence Day on the 4th, I think most competing in and watching the Prefontaine Classic on the 3rd have lost touch with the man and why we celebrate his life through this meet. That point was driven home to me while watching our National Championships last week.
You see the only thing that would have kept “Pre” away from a national championships was injury – severe injury. Not the lure of big money elsewhere, or the need to train for another race. Pre would have been in Des Moines to stake his claim to being the best distance runner in America – whether or not a ticket to the Games or Worlds was on the line. And once there Pre would have given nothing less than his best effort. No dawdling pace for Pre, because each race was an attempt to see just how fast he could make his body run. He was always pushing the limits of his ability – always striving to get better. Pre viewed every race as a test of speed AND will. He wasn’t just going to out run you, he was going to break you down or fail in the attempt. He was going to give his very best effort and see where it took him. If he lost, that meant he had to go back to the drawing board – the track – and work harder! Pre LOVED to compete. And it’s that LOVE of competition. The pride that he took in training and competing to be the very best he could be, that I hope is remembered as we all watch the Prefontaine Classic. Because my lasting memory of Steve Prefontaine is of a young man flying around the track on the very edge of his ability.
With that said, there are some great fields lined up to compete in this year’s meet. Looking at the most recent start lists there are headliners everywhere, so the competition should be the best we’ve seen all year. So good that as I tried to narrow the events down to a select few to highlight, I found it difficult to eliminate any of them! So I’m going to try and focus on the events I’m REALLY looking forward to the most.
|Women’s 100||WL: 10.94, Carmelita Jeter – USA||Best Entry: 10.94, Carmelita Jeter – USA|
While we haven’t seen any head to heads among the top male sprinters this year, the women will have a summit of sorts in Eugene. The current World and Olympic Champion, Shelly Ann Fraser (JAM) will take the track against Carmelita Jeter, this year’s world leader, who last year became the second fastest woman in history with her 10.64 dash. Both should be challenged by Nigerian newcomer Blessing Okagbare (this year’s NCAA champion) and up and coming Lashauntea Moore (US), newly minted member of the sub11 club. Fraser wins races with a blazing start, while Jeter and Okagbare are known for blazing finishes – setting up a classic race. This one should get real interesting in the final 30 meters. But if all are healthy, look for Jeter to pull this one out.
|Men’s 110H||WL: 12.93, David Oliver – USA||Best Entry: 12.93, David Oliver – USA|
Oliver has been looking like Renaldo Nehemiah this season – dominating and getting faster as the season progresses. He’s fresh off of his 12.93 in Des Moines and looks capable of attacking both the AR (12.90) and WR (12.87). He will be challenged in Eugene by two of our most consistent hurdlers in recent majors – David Payne and Terrence Trammell – as well as reigning world champion Ryan Brathwaite (BAH). Throw in collegiate champion Ronnie Ash and USATF runner up Ryan Wilson and this race has the potential to be something special. The key will be Terrence Trammell. He’s the best sprinter in the field and has the potential to get out and put pressure on everyone early. If he does he could force both Oliver and himself to run something very fast!
|Women’s 800||WL: 1:58.11, Mariya Savinova – RUS||Best Entry: 1:58.11, Mariya Savinova – RUS|
Savinova comes to town fresh off of her world leading performance at the Znamensky meet. Osaka champion Janeth Jepkoskei (KEN), and Beijing champion Pamela Chelimo (KEN) are also in town along with Kenyan Nancy Lagat, Jamaican Kenia Sinclair, and Americans Maggie Vessey, Anna Pierce and Alysia Johnson. This field is LOADED. If the Kenyans are healthy we can expect a fast early pace – and a new world leader. I have no idea who is going to win this race – and that is part of what makes it so exciting! I am looking forward to seeing how the Americans handle the blistering pace that is almost sure to be set. If they stay close and hold on we could see some new personal bests.
|Men’s 5000||WL: 12:51.21, Eliud Kipchoge – KEN||Best Entry: 12:51.21, Eliud Kipchoge – KEN|
World leader Kipchoge, takes on Ethiopians Imane Merga & Tariku Bekele, and sub13 Americans Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Solinsky in a race that is loaded with high level distance runners. This is an event where I would LOVE to see the spirit of Pre emerge, as I know that Tegenkamp and Solinsky CAN run with this group if they will just go out and run. One of the world’s top rivalries is between the Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners, so I know the race will be fast. I want to see Chris and Matt just go for it and see where it leads them. If we have any shot at improving our distance prospects in majors that’s how it’s going to have to be done. And this meet would be the perfect place to start that process.
|Women’s PV||WL: 16’ 0.5”, Jenn Suhr – USA||Best Entry: 16’ 0.5”, Jenn Suhr – USA|
Jenn Suhr is back and looked good with her world leading vault in Des Moines. It’s nice to see her challenging the higher heights once again. She’ll get her stiffest test of the season in Eugene against Olympic champion Anna Rogowska (POL) and Brazilian record holder Fabiana Murer - #s 2 & 3 on this year’s world list. This competition should have double meaning as it will give us an indication of Suhr’s fitness if she can come right back and vault high again on the heels of Nationals. And it should also give us an indication of who just might take over the mantle of queen of the event with Isinbayeva away from the sport. With decent weather we could see all three of the top women taking shots at the bar in excess of 16 feet.
|Men’s 200||WL: 19.56, Usain Bolt – JAM||Best Entry: 19.86, Walter Dix – USA|
Very quietly this is shaping up as the best of the men’s sprint events this year. We have yet to see much of Bolt or Gay in the 100 and only Asafa Powell is running truly elite times in that event. In the 400 no one seems remotely close to anything approaching 44.00 or better. In the 200, however, we’ve seen Walter Dix, Wallace Spearmon and Asafa Powell all run under 20 seconds. We’ve had Tyson Gay blaze 19.41 on the straight, Usain Bolt 19.56 around the bend, with Spearmon running a windy 19.77 to win our National title. In Eugene we get current world #2 Dix against Tyson Gay. Dix has been sharp in most of his races this year and ran a very solid race in his season’s best in Rome. He will have to run a complete race against Gay who is guaranteed to run a blazing turn. Gay has run 44.89 this year in the 400 and 19.41 on the straight. His debut last year over this distance was 19.58. I assume that if he competes that he is healthy, and if he is healthy we should see a race on par with his straight away run!
And there’s still more. Another shot put summit with our top 5 & Pole Tomasz Majewski thrown in to spice things up. Andrew Wheating and Bernard Lagat in a deep mile that includes world leader Asbel Kiprop. Nick Symmonds v Abubaker Kaki over 1000 meters. Gerd Kanter in town for the discus, Barbora Spotakava in the Javelin against new AR setter Kara Patterson and Anita Wlodarczyk in the Hammer. Oh, did I mention Lashinda Demus in the 400 hurdles? This meet is going to be HOT from start to finish. Don’t miss it!