Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pre – This Year’s Meet Should be a Classic


The NCAA Championships begin in one week – one of the hottest meets of the year. But before I take a look back at the Regionals and a look ahead to the action in Des Moines, I have to take a look at this year’s Prefontaine Classic.

This year’s meet has been moved back to the beginning of June – after serving time just prior to the 4th of July last year – and if there are few defections from the start lists it should be one of the hottest meets of the year and a true classic. There will be three Diamond League meets prior to most country’s national championships – Pre, Oslo and New York – and if the others get this kind of participation from the athletes we should have a pretty good preview of what will be happening at the various qualifiers for Worlds.

Where to start for this year’s meet? Well last year David Oliver was the star of the meet with a then NR 12.90 to win the men’s 110 hurdles. Oliver is back this year and will be taking on former WR holder (12.88) Liu Xiang (CHN) who derailed Oliver in Shanghai in mid May. Both will be looking to answer the 13.07 run by current WR holder Dayron Robles this past weekend in Henglo. Liu was able to gain an advantage at the start in Shanghai, as Oliver was only average to the first hurdle. If both can get out well, look for Pre to produce another sub-13 effort – and perhaps another best of meet performance.

Another pair that should be looking at making a statement will be Carmelita Jeter (USA) and Shelly Ann Fraser Price (JAM), as they will be going head to head in the 100 on the heels of Veronica Campbell Brown’s sizzling 10.76 WL in Ostava. Fraser Price is the defending World and Olympic Champion and sports a PR of 10.78. Jeter is a two time World bronze medalist and the second fastest woman of all time at 10.64. Neither, however, can afford to be too far off the hot pace established by Campbell Brown as the mental games now begin. Not to mention that Fraser Price will have to face Campbell Brown in a few weeks at nationals. Both must be careful not to get too caught up in each other as Alex Anderson (USA) & Marshevet Myers (USA) have both been running well early, and vets Kerron Stewart (JAM) & Lauryn Williams (USA) are two of the events’ toughest competitors.

Speaking of tough competitors, few are tougher than Allyson Felix, who will once again take to the track in the 400 meters. Fresh off her WL 49.81, Felix will once again take on Sanya Richards (USA), Debbie Dunn (USA), and Sherika Williams (JAM). The field will be even stronger, however as this time Tatyana Firova (RUS) and Novlene Williams Mills (JAM) will add to the depth. Richards has not been at her best lately and seems to still be trying to work her way back to form, but neither she nor any of the others in this field can afford to have Felix get a stronger mental edge by winning yet another 400 this year! Felix was undefeated in the event last year (along with the 200) and is looking at a possible double in both Daegu and London. Another strong performance here and my bet is that she would be hard to beat in this event in Daegu. And with Campbell Brown running extremely well in the short sprint, the 400 could well become insurance for Felix at Worlds.

Staying with the topic of speed, Pre is one of those rare meets where we will see the men contest the 100, 200 and 400 in the same meet – and all there events have their share of star power. The deepest of the three being the 100 where last year’s co-world leader Nesta Carter (JAM, 9.78) gets to go against this year’s world leader Steve Mullings (JAM, 9.89), current 200 leader Nickel Ashmeade (JAM), Olympic medalist Richard Thompson (TRI), and former World & Olympic champion Justin Gatlin (USA) in his first appearance in the Diamond League. All have much to prove. Mullings should still be stinging after his defeat to Usain Bolt in Ostrava, and will want to show that he is the 9.8x sprinter that he has looked like early in the season. With Carter and Ashmeade in the race (not to mention vet Michael Frater) all will be looking to get ready for the fight that will be the Jamaican Trials in the 100. Ditto for Gatlin, who along with Trell Kimmons, Travis Padgett and Mike Rodgers (all listed for the race) will be looking to gain some measure of mental edge heading into US nationals – minus what should be top dogs Tyson Gay & Walter Dix. Look for a fast race with a lot of hungry participants!

Walter Dix will be in Eugene but will be contesting the 200 where last year he upset Tyson Gay on this track with his #2 ever time of 19.73. This year’s race will be minus Gay, but with Xavier Carter (USA), Shawn Crawford (USA) and Churandy Martina (ANT) should have enough veteran power to make the race competitive. Ditto the men’s 400 where Jeremy Wariner should reign over a field featuring intermediate hurdlers Angelo Taylor (USA), Bershawn Jackson (USA), and Kerron Clement in a field that also includes oung quarter milers Calvin Smith (USA), Kevin Borlee (BEL) and Renee Quow (TRI). Wariner should be able to control the field, but look for some serious battles behind him.

As good as the speed events are, this meet is named for a distance runner – and the middle and long distance fields are also superb! Take the men’s 800 for example where recent University of Oregon grad Andrew Wheating gets to test himself against WJR holder Abubaker Kaki (SUD), Boaz Lalang (KEN), American vets Nick Symmonds & Kadevis Robinson, and rapidly improving  Tyler Mulder (USA) and Leo Manzano. So far only David Rudisha (1:43.88) has gone under 1:44 this year – I think that will change in Eugene. Only Rudisha is truly superior to Kaki, so this should make for a good test for the American crew. If the pace goes near 50 seconds on the first lap, look for a possible PR for Wheating as I expect him to compete well against Kaki.

With Wheating and Manzano in the 800, one might think that the mile might be “lacking” a bit. But when the role call includes Asbel Kiprop (KEN), Amine Laalou (MOR), Silas Kiplagat (KEN), Lopez Lamong (USA) and 2011 find Russell Brown (USA), among others, expect another hot mile in Eugene! Perhaps under 3:50. And look to see how well Brown competes against the “big boys”. He’s shown a lot of heart so far this season. Kiprop and the others will make him test that heart.

It only gets better as the distance gets longer in Eugene. Because the two mile will feature Eliud Kipchoge (KEN), Bernard Lagat (USA), Tariku Bekele (ETH), Chris Solinsky (USA) and Matt Tegenkamp (USA). Oh, and high school phenom Lukas Verzbicas. Only twice in history has 8:00 been broken in the two mile – by Daniel Komen in 1997 (7:58.61) and 1998 (7:58.91). It would be a tall task to say that it will happen again here, but I think the track record of 8:03.50 set by Craig Mottram in 2007 should be in danger – as should be the AR of 8:07.07 set by Matt Tegenkamp in the same race. And longer still, over 10,000 meters, (run the night before) we get AR holder Chris Solinsky against Galen Rupp (USA) and DEEP contingents from Kenya and Ethiopia.

And I can’t leave out the women, as some of our up and coming  middle distance runners will get their strongest tests of the season before heading to Nationals. I’m a big fan of our new female middle distance crew as nearly all are hard running athletes that show a lot of grit. They’ll get to test that grit in Eugene this weekend.

In the 800 Phoebe Wright (USA), Anna Pierce (USA), Maggie Vessey (USA) and Geena Gall (USA) get to go against world leader Kenia Sinclair (JAM), Janeth Jepkoski (KEN), Pamela Jelimo (KEN) and Caster Semenya (RSA). With Semenya in the race I don’t expect the race to be tactical, as few will want to wait and kick. Instead look for a fast pace where only the strong survive. Last year’s race went in 1:57.56. Unless they fool me and the race goes very tactical, look for a new world leading time and something under 1:58 again this year.

And as stunning as the lineup is in the 800, the 1500 is may be even stronger as it features Christin Wurth Thomas (USA), Morgan Uceny (USA), and Jenny Barringer (USA) against Nancy Langat (KEN), Geleta Burka (ETH) and world leader Maryam Jamal (BRN). Two years ago Jenny Barringer broke the four minute mark and put herself on the middle distance map in Eugene. Given the women that are lining up here, another sub 4:00 race to match the one in 2009 is a definite possibility. As a matter of fact I’m going out on a limb and saying that as many as three women could breech the barrier in this race as it has one of the most competitive group of athletes on the docket.

And if that isn’t enough, look for one hot 5000 meters as Amy Yoder Begley (USA) Shalane Flanagan (USA) and Kara Goucher (USA) will find themselves in deep water against Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH), Sally Kipyego (KEN), Vivian Cheryuiyot (KEN) and Linet Masai (KEN). Like I said, America’s best middle and long distance talent are going to be seriously tested this weekend! And one of the biggest tests could come in this race. There is nothing shy about the Ethiipian and Kenyan contingent, and the American’s will be challenged to get out and run to stay with what I expect will be a hot pace.

Then there’s the field! How about AR holder Kara Patterson against Barboa Spotakova (CZE) and Christina Obergfoll (GER) in what should be a great javelin competition. Or shot putters Michelle Carter (USA) & Jill Camarena Williams (USA) getting to test themselves against World and Olympic medalist Nadzeya Ostapchuk (BEL). Or what should produce a new WL in the pole vault as Fabiana Murer (BRA), Jenn Suhr (USA), Anna Rogowska (POL), and Sveltana Feofanova (RUS) go head to head.

Meanwhile in the men’s discus we get Robert Harting (GER), Gerd Kanter (EST), and Virgilius Alekna (LIT) going at it – three of the best discus throwers in the world today. There will be yet another deep shot put competition featuring Christian Cantwell (USA), Reese Hoffa (USA), Adam Nelson (USA), Ryan Whiting (USA), and Tomas Majewski (POL). And a high level summit meeting of high jumpers featuring Russian Ivan Ukhov against Donald Thomas (JAM), Jesse Williams (USA), and Dusty Jonas (USA).

I’m sure I’ve missed some names, but this is already longer than most people would want to read. But a meet this deep in talent doesn’t happen every day – and certainly not in the U.S.. So I must commend the staff of the Pre meet for doing such a fantastic job of securing talent. Only the U.S. Championships will be in this class among meets on American soil this year. And frankly I think it will be difficult to match on any soil outside of the World Championships this year. It reminds me of the days when The Modesto Relays, Fresno Relays, Jenner Classic and Pepsi Relays were staples on the U.S. circuit and among the top meets on the planet. Hopefully it is a fore bearing of meets to come.

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