Mile clash the big attraction in Eugene

Going strictly by time, the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday (25) is one of the fastest races in the meeting’s 49-year history.

Add in the storylines, and it’s one of the most anticipated, too.

Featuring seven men with lifetime bests faster than 3:50, Olympic and world championship gold medallists, world record-holders and rivals whose banter has preceded the matchup for months, the mile caps a Wanda Diamond League meeting at Hayward Field whose potential for world-leading marks extends far beyond its final event.

Consider, for one, the women’s 800m, and the early window it will open into this summer’s Olympics. The field includes six of the eight competitors from last year’s World Championships final in Budapest, including gold medallist Mary Moraa and silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson. Notably absent will be bronze medallist Athing Mu, the Olympic champion, who was initially scheduled to race but has been withdrawn out of precaution because of a sore hamstring.

Raevyn Rogers, the 2019 world silver medallist whose image adorns a tower standing high above Hayward Field, also is entered, along with Jemma Reekie, Nia Akins and Halimah Nakaayi, who is coming off a victory at the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix.

World champion Sha’Carri Richardson and Elaine Thompson-Herah headline the women’s 100m, along with world indoor 60m champion Julien Alfred and Marie-Josee Ta Lou-Smith, while world indoor 60m champion Christian Coleman and Ackeem Blake are among the fastest entered in the men's 100m.

Perhaps the most dominant athlete entering the meeting is Grant Holloway, the world 110m hurdles champion who has won all 10 races he has contested this year, including the indoor season and heats. That also includes running a world-leading 13.07 into a headwind to win in Atlanta last weekend.

The three-time world champion's last loss came on the very same Hayward Field track, at last September’s Prefontaine Classic. The only remaining gap on Holloway’s resume is an Olympic gold medal, and Saturday’s race could be an early preview of Paris, as the field includes five who raced in last summer’s World Championships final in Budapest, including silver medallist Hansle Parchment and Daniel Roberts, who earned bronze.

Shot put world record-holder and multiple world and Olympic champion Ryan Crouser will open his outdoor season in his home state and at the stadium where he owns the facility record, while trying to best Leonardo Fabbri’s world-leading mark of 22.95m.

Since 2023, Crouser has lost in just one final – and it was at September’s Prefontaine Classic to Joe Kovacs, who won in Los Angeles last weekend with 22.93m, and is entered again. Payton Otterdahl, who owns the world No.3 mark this year, also is in the field.

Those events offer no shortage of global medallists. Few, however, carry the prospect for as much drama as the mile.

Over the past year, Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Josh Kerr, who outkicked Ingebrigtsen for last year’s world title in Budapest, have carried on a battle of words through the press about who could prevail in Paris.

Commonwealth champion Olli Hoare, who is part of the field following his 1500m win in Los Angeles last week, said the sport was better for the attention drawn by the back-and-forth between Ingebrigtsen and Kerr – but added that other racers wanted to strike the appropriate level of respect for their competitors, such as Yared Nuguse, whose PB of 3:43.97 was set battling Ingebrigtsen (4:43.73) down to the line at September’s Pre Classic.

“This is a big one. This is going to be a big one for a lot of egos,” Hoare said in Los Angeles. “But I think it’s going to be a big one for me because it’ll be the first race where I’ll have an inkling of where I am with the world’s best. There’s a bit of tossing and turning with the banter but you can’t disrespect that field. If you do, you’ll get eaten alive.”

That list of seven men under 3:50, which includes Hoare, notably doesn’t include Jake Wightman, who will be racing Ingebrigtsen for the first time since their duel at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon, when Wightman won gold; Abel Kipsang, who was fourth at the Tokyo Olympics; Geordie Beamish, less than three months after he stormed to the world indoor title; or Lamecha Girma, the steeplechase world record-holder who is making his mile debut.

“Jake Wightman’s back, he’s a world champion,” Hoare said. “Yared Nuguse, 3:43 mile – these guys are keeping quiet and they’re going to wait for their opportunity to strike. And when they do strike, I guarantee they will make a comment.”

They are not the only accomplished names entered in the distances.

Athletics Kenya will determine its men's and women's Olympic 10,000m qualifiers at Hayward Field, with Kenya's two-time world cross-country champion Beatrice Chebet, the world leader at 5000m this season, part of a women's race that will include world champion Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia, eight months after Tsegay set the world 5000m record on the same track.

World record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech will attempt to retain her controlling hold over the steeplechase when she races top challenger Faith Cherotich. The Kenyan duo produced the two fastest times in the world this year at the Diamond League meeting in Xiamen, which Chepkoech won in 8:55.40 to Cherotich’s 9:05.91. Olympic silver medallist Courtney Frerichs will no longer run after injuring the ACL and meniscus in her right knee.

One week after winning in Los Angeles, Diribe Welteji leads the 1500m field that includes 13 women who have run under four minutes. World indoor 3000m champion Elle St Pierre, who won the 5000m in Los Angeles, is running her first 1500m of the season, with Laura Muir, Nikki Hiltz, Jessica Hull, Hirut Meshesha and Cory McGee also entered.

Multiple world and Olympic gold medallist Sifan Hassan, as well as world No.2 Ejgayehu Taye, will feature in the 5000m.

In the field, world and Olympic pole vault champion Katie Moon opens her outdoor season against Sandi Morris, and in the triple jump four of the top five women this season are entered, led by Thea LaFond, whose 15.01m jump to win the world indoor title in Glasgow still stands as the mark to beat.

Olympic discus champion Valarie Allman has not lost in Eugene in two years, a run that includes claiming September’s Diamond League final. That could change on Saturday because of the presence of world leader Yaime Perez, who finished second to Allman in Xiamen last month.

In the men’s 200m, top US sprinters who will duel at the Olympic trials only weeks later will face off. Kenny Bednarek, fresh off a world-leading 19.67 in Doha, is scheduled to race against world No.2 Courtney Lindsey (19.71), with world silver medallist Erriyon Knighton making his season debut. Joe Fahnbulleh and Kyree King, winner of the Los Angeles Grand Prix 100m, are also entered.

Another winner in Los Angeles, Rai Benjamin, headlines the men’s 400m hurdles, and he enters with considerable confidence after running 46.64, the ninth-fastest performance of all time.

“I think I’m the fastest guy in the field, honestly,” Benjamin said of potential Olympic chances.

The women’s 100m hurdles and women’s hammer will not count towards Diamond League points totals, but will be more potential previews for global championships.

Women who account for five of the year’s six fastest times, all of whom are separated by fractions of a second, will face off in the hurdles. Tonea Marshall, fresh off her victory in Los Angeles in 12.42, leads 2019 world champion Nia Ali, Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, two-time world champion Danielle Williams and world indoor champion Devynne Charlton.

Brooke Andersen’s 79.92m throw from earlier this month remains the world-leading hammer mark this season but she will be challenged by world champion Camryn Rogers, 2019 world champion DeAnna Price and world silver medallist Janee’ Kassanavoid, who own the next three farthest throws this season.

posted Friday May 24th
by Andrew Greif for World Athletics