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June 1, 2022

Prefontaine Classic: 10 Things We Enjoyed From This Weekend

What a meet! The 2022 Prefontaine Classic delivered on its hype and then some this weekend. The only U.S.-based Diamond League meet showcased a huge slate of world-leading performances and offered an informal preview of the biggest names to watch at the World Championships back in Eugene in two months’ time for American track and field fans. Plus, the meet named six new members of Team USA as the USATF 10,000-meter championships kicked things off on Friday night, when Joe Klecker and Karissa Schweizer each claimed their first national titles in a pair of thrilling races.

I had a blast chatting with my friends Dana Giordano, Mac Fleet and a long list of star athletes on AFTER THE FINAL LAP both Friday and Saturday. You can watch the full replays on the CITIUS MAG Youtube channel, which features chats with folks like Joe Klecker, Alicia Monson, Keely Hodgkinson, Alison Dos Santos, and more.

We also got to welcome this year’s class of MAGIC BOOST storytellers and creatives to the Pre Classic. First launched in 2021, MAGIC BOOST is a collaboration between CITIUS MAG and Hayward Magic that aims to increase the diversity, representation, and range of storytellers in the track and field media space, connecting a new generation of photographers, videographers and content creators with experienced members of the media to foster relationships, share wisdom, and create new opportunities for underrepresented voices. You can meet the MAGIC BOOST Class of 2022 here.

It was hard to whittle down the high-quality events to ten “magic moments,” so you can find full results from the meet here. Pre also wasn’t the only big event this weekend, as there were a number of other impressive moments from the NCAA DI East and West Regionals, most notably Trey Cunningham’s 13.07 110-meter hurdles into a headwind, Micah Williams’s 9.86 100-meter dash and N.C. State qualifying five women in one heat of the 5,000m. Plus, a pair of Americans won the Bolder Boulder 10k on Monday in Colorado. 

I was a bit tied up with some final touches on a podcast episode with Tara Davis and Hunter Woodhall this morning, so here are the top 10 moments from this year’s Prefontaine Classic, according to CITIUS MAG contributor David Melly:

10. Jeruto Owns Pre; Americans Struggle In Steeple Debuts

Unfortunately, Norah Jeruto could not compete for the gold at the Tokyo Olympics because her transfer of allegiance from Kenya to Kazakhstan was still being processed at the time. Instead, she flew out to Eugene in August 2021 and won the 2021 Pre Classic in 8:53.65, officially the third-fastest steeplechase ever (No. 2 on the list, Ruth Jebet, was banned for four years for EPO). This weekend, she came back and successfully defended her title, running 8:57.97 for the victory, the No. 7 all-time mark if you knock out Jebet’s results.

Jeruto’s victory was not a surprise, and Winfred Yavi’s 8:58.71 runner-up finish, while a personal best and her first sub-9, was not a huge shock as her prior PB was 9:02. What was a bit unusual, however, was seeing the top two Americans in the event, Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, so far out of contention from the gun. Both women historically peak well for championship season and improve their relative standing in global competition as the summer goes on, but 9:18.19 and 9:20.96 are both slower than usual for their respective steeple debuts, particularly with Worlds earlier in the cycle than last year. Hopefully, this weekend’s result served as a bit of a wake-up call for the two multi-time global medalists and they can put themselves in the position to bring home some more hardware for Team USA in July.

9. Crouser Back Over 23 Meters

The men’s shot put was one of the events most impacted by the rainy Pacific Northwest conditions – it rained quite hard at various points in the competition and the wet ring was a significant safety concern. Joe Kovacs was the only athlete to record all six attempts without a foul, and the eventual winner, Ryan Crouser, didn’t get a legal throw after the second round. His second attempt, however, was a big one, flying 23.02 meters (75 feet, 6.25 inches), the 7th-farthest throw of all-time. Of the eight 23+ meter throws ever recorded, five of them belong to Crouser.

Even with the weather, the competition yielded a number of top marks, with Kovacs, Tomas Walsh, and Darrell Hill recording the No. 2, No. 4, and No. 5 marks of the 2022 season so far behind Crouser’s world leader.

8. Aregawi Drops A Stacked 5000m Field

With a start list full of proven championship runners like Paul ChelimoMoh AhmedSelemon Barega, and Getnet Wale, there was not much pre-race focus on Berihu Aregawi of Ethiopia, despite being the world record holder on the roads at 5km and running 7:26.20 indoors in January. Even more so, the Diamond League 5000m was basically being advertised as an undercard race to the world record attempt the night prior, which ended with Joshua Cheptegei fading off the pace but hanging on to win in 12:57.99.

All that changed around halfway through the Saturday edition of the men’s 5000m when Aregawi was the only one to keep the race honest after the pacers dropped off and was rewarded with a massive 12:50.05 victory, 7 seconds faster than the “world record attempt” the night before and 16 seconds faster than the runner up. Aregawi isn’t going to be flying under anyone’s radar the next time he toes the starting line. There was a mixed bag behind him, with world indoor 1500m champion Samuel Tefera crushing his 5000m track debut in 13:06.86, Ahmed notching a solid 13:07.85 in fourth, and Chelimo dropping out entirely before halfway. The two-time Olympic medalist always seems to put it together in time, but with USAs and Worlds sneaking up, a DNF on the resume is a bit concerning at this point in the spring.

7. Norman Blitzes The First Sub-44 Of The Year

Michael Norman did his best Michael Norman impression this weekend, pulling away from the field in the final 100 meters to win in a meet-record-setting 43.60 at Hayward Field. (The 22-year-old record previously belonged to some guy named Michael Johnson.) Norman’s win also helped him assert himself at the top of the U.S. long-sprints scene after a disappointing 5th-place finish in the 400m in Tokyo last summer. The Michaels now together hold 7 of the top 14 400-meter marks of all-time. Johnson holds 4 and Norman holds 3, but as the latter is still only 25 years old, the list could still get some rewriting in the coming months and years.

As NBC’s Ato Boldon and Sanya Richards-Ross put it: After a sleepy start to the 2022 season, “Michael Norman woke up.”

6. Jakob Dusts The Field In The Bowerman Mile

Last year, the rivalry between Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Timothy Cheruiyot was one of the most compelling storylines leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. This year, it’s looking more and more like Ingebrigtsen may have ascended to another level and that the rivalry has become a bit one-sided. By the time the third lap of the famed Bowerman mile came around, Jakob was stringing out the field behind him as he pressed on at 57-second 400m pace, and by the bell lap, he’d easily gapped the field and looked back over his shoulder several times en route to a 3:49.76 victory. In the mixed zone after the race, he gave a gem of a quote when asked about his competition sticking on the pace: “You can’t be disappointed with people not being better, unfortunately.”

The race behind him was full of drama, as Cheruiyot battled countryman Abel Kipsang and Colorado-based Australian Olli Hoare outkicked both his Kenyan and American rivals to finish second overall in 3:50.65. U.S. 1500m champion Cole Hocker was the top American in 5th, looking far stronger than his performance at the USATF Distance Classic 9 days earlier, and high schooler Colin Sahlman jumped up a few places on the U.S. boys’ high school mile list to No. 3 all-time with his 3:56.24, behind only Alan Webb and Jim Ryun.

5. Kipyegon Runs Fastest-Ever 1500m On American Soil

It’s a bit silly to suggest that a double Olympic champion is slept on, but every time Faith Kipyegon does something astonishing in the women’s 1500m, it really does feel like we don’t fully appreciate just how good the Tokyo gold medalist is. Kipyegon has a personal best of 3:51.07, officially No. 4 all-time on the women’s 1500m list, and with her 3:52.59 at Pre this weekend, she now holds 5 of the fastest 15 marks in the event. Her performances seem all the more impressive, however, when you consider that she is the only name in that top 15 who has never personally been associated with doping or had a coach suspended for doping violations.

The race played out predictably, with Kipyegon and indoor world record holder Gudaf Tsegay chasing the pacer, but the real surprise was how fast Kipyegon managed to run in cool, wet, conditions, the breaking her record for the fastest 1500m ever run on American soil by almost a full second (she set the previous mark at last year’s Pre Classic). Behind her, the biggest storyline of the race was Sinclaire Johnson of Union Athletic Club, who knocked 4+ seconds off her personal best to break 4 minutes for the first time and become the 7th-fastest American woman ever in the event, running 3:58.85 and beating reigning U.S. champ Elle Purrier St. Pierre in the process.

The women’s 1500m has been one of the U.S.’s deepest events in recent years, and with Johnson and Purrier St. Pierre lining up with the likes of Josette NorrisHeather MacLeanCory McGeeHelen Schlachtenhaufen, and Shannon Osika in June, it’s becoming increasingly likely that someday soon, running sub-4 in the 1500m may not be enough to even make the team.

4. Sha’Carri Is On Her Way Back; Elaine Never Left

After Sha’Carri Richardson looked decidedly shaky in her first race of 2022 last weekend, questions abounded about her ability to perform on the highest international levels following her 2021 suspension for THC. Some of those concerns were quieted after Prefontaine as Richardson, clad in a silver tiara and sequined race kit, finished second in her first sub-11 performance since the Olympic Trials, edging out Tokyo bronze medalist Shericka Jackson in the process.

Her ability to contend with the GOATs of the sprint world remains to be seen, however, as double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah utterly dominated the race from 50m onward, running 10.79 in cool conditions to take the win. Her time is the fastest sea-level, wind-legal mark of 2022 and the only woman to run faster (albeit at altitude in Nairobi), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, looked comfortable winning the 200m later in the afternoon. A lot can happen in two months, but right now it looks like the 100m gold and silver medalists from Tokyo are still the two biggest names to beat in the women’s sprints right now and haven’t lost a step in the months since.

3. In A Stacked 100m, Bromell Ends Up On Top

In an event where there is rarely a team component to the competition, the true battle ends up being between competing brands. At the Prefontaine Classic, held in Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, the title sponsor of the event, Nike, does everything it can to put on a clinic in sports marketing by having its top athletes vye for the win in nearly every event. 50% of the field in the men’s 100m final were Nike athletes, including Tokyo silver medalist Fred Kerley and 2019 100m champion Christian Coleman, but it was Trayvon Bromell, rocking the distinctive orange and purple of New Balance’s 2022 kits, who dominated the stacked field and threw his arms out in celebration 10 meters before the finish line, crossing in 9.93 seconds.

Bromell has had an up-and-down pro career since taking bronze at the 2015 World Championships at 20 years old, and after a resurgent 2021 campaign ended in a disappointing Olympics, it was unclear if he was truly “back.” But he’s been on fire this year, undefeated over 100 meters (with the exception of an unfortunate false start last week in Birmingham), and moments like this must make New Balance’s unprecedented investment in 2015 seem worthwhile. Coleman, on the other hand, struggled in his first real test of the outdoor season, challenging Bromell early but fading to third in 10.04.

2. Klecker Edges American Record Holder For First National Title

Earlier this spring, Grant Fisher seemed absolutely unstoppable. The Bowerman Track Club star and Stanford alum came off a banner year in 2021 that saw him make his first Olympic team and place 5th in the 10,000m in Tokyo and just kept rolling, running two American records in two races in February and March. He seemed particularly strong in the 10,000m, where Fisher broke Galen Rupp’s legendary 26:44 AR by an astonishing 11 seconds, dropping a 26:33.84 and edging out his teammate, Olympic silver medalist Moh Ahmed. But neither Fisher nor his Tokyo 10,000m teammate Joe Klecker had won a national title yet, and when defending champ Woody Kincaid dropped out with what appeared to be a cramp a little after halfway through the race, the race for the crown came down to those two men.

When Fisher set the American 5000m record indoors, he did so by taking the lead with a mile to go and ratcheting down the pace hard enough that no one could follow. In this race, however, the pace continually yo-yoed faster and slower as the laps ticked on, and with 500 meters to go, as many as 11 men were in contention. Just before the bell, Klecker hit the front and a pack of 6 including Fisher, his teammates Sean McGorty and Lopez LomongEmmanuel Bor, and Shadrack Kipchirchir, began to separate from the field. It seemed inevitable that Fisher, sitting on the leader’s shoulder, would dust Klecker over the final straightaway, but the Minnesota native and Colorado grad held on to win, closing his last lap in 57 seconds to finish in 28:28.71. A few strides behind him, Bor was desperately trying to hang onto the third spot and seemed to deliberately drift out into lane 3 to try and cut off McGorty. Karma struck back hard, however, and Bor tripped himself up with 10 meters remaining, landing on the track as McGorty landed on his first global team in only his second 10k of his career.

1. Schweizer Victorious After Surgery; Rogers Gets Redemption

The theme of the women’s 10,000m championship was comebacks. Eight months after Achilles surgery, Tokyo Olympian Karissa Schweizer of Bowerman Track Club emerged victorious after weathering an onslaught of 71- and 72-second 400s from On Athletic Club’s Alicia Monson in the second half of the race, waiting until the final lap to unleash a devastating kick and claim victory. I was surprised to realize that despite winning 6 NCAA titles, holding the American record in the 3000m, and making the U.S. team in 2019 and 2021, this was Schweizer’s first national title. With a final time of 30:49.56, both Schweizer and Monson broke 15 minutes in their second 5ks, which would’ve placed them at No. 1 and No. 2 on the U.S. 5000-meter list this year if they’d done it in an open race. While Schweizer, last year’s Trials 3rd-placer turned the tables on Monson, who finished 2nd for the second year in a row, it was an impressive bounceback for the On athlete as well, who tested positive for COVID-19 only six weeks earlier.

The battle for third, however, was where the real drama unfolded. Two veterans emerged from a chase pack of six women over the final lap to sprint down the homestretch for the coveted third spot: Emily Infeld, the 2015 World bronze medalist and 2016 Olympian who recently left BTC and has overcome a lion’s share of personal stress in the last several years, and Natosha Rogers, who famously took 2nd at the 2012 Olympic Trials in the same event but didn’t make the team because she didn’t have the Olympic time standard. Rogers pulled away in the final strides, and ten years later, she finally gets to wear red, white, and blue when she returns to Eugene in July. It’s an incredible story from the 2012 NCAA champion who walked away from the sport for several years, only to return and run faster than ever before. Infeld was gracious in defeat (and gets another crack at the team in the 5000m in a few weeks time), but Rogers will surely be one of the best storylines to follow at Worlds when she represents her country on the biggest-possible stage at long last.

🙏 Thanks again for reading and sharing. Follow along on Twitter: @chrischavez and Instagram: @chris_j_chavez. Tell your friends to sign up for the newsletter to stay in the know on what and how to watch the best track and field action.

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