Pre Classic Men — Benjamin Kicks It Off Big

A brilliant flight of hurdles in 47.16 by Rai Benjamin got the meet off to a rousing start. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA, June 30—With stacked fields the likes of which we are unlikely to see before the Diamond League Final meets late this summer, the men’s portion of the Pre Classic—the Eugene DL transplanted south for a year to Stanford to accommodate the Hayward Field rebuild—sparkled from start to finish on the oval and the infield.

And what a start there was: Rai Benjamin motoring through the 400 hurdles in 47.16, the No. 8 all-time clocking to finish some 15m up on British Virgin Islander Kyron McMaster at 48.94. Over the first hurdle, 2-time World Ranker McMaster (No. 2 in ’17 & No. 3 last season) led Benjamin, a lane to his inside in 5, with David Kendziera, too, charging hard early in lane 7 and TJ Holmes in 8 and Khalifa Rosser in 9 roughly coleaders. As expected, though, Benjamin—with 47-point clockings on his card this year in Shanghai and Rome—glided up the straight and caught McMaster by barrier 3. Holmes and Rosser stayed ahead through hurdle 5, and that’s when Benjamin turned on his jets. He led at hurdle 6, closed the stagger on McMaster by mid-turn, led by 4m or so at the top of the homestretch and rolled to his daunting final margin looking full of run.

The No. 2 time of the 21-year-old’s career behind his 47.02 Collegiate Record at the NCAA last year, the race followed a similar script. “The past two meets I’ve kind of been running the backstretch [aggressively] unknowingly because, I mean, it’s just my nature, I kind of just go,” he said. “But [today] I had to really just force myself to sit that first 200 and go that last 2. But I practiced this week and we focused on running that last 200 because I haven’t been doing it at all. We’ve kind of just been going out and holding on, but I really focused on finishing that last 5 hurdles. It was perfect. I did the same thing, that was my same pattern, at NCAAs. I ran 13s all the way and ran that last 200 really hard. So each week it just changes and it depends on the personnel.” (see video here)

At the forefront when Benjamin thinks “personnel” are Abderrahmane Samba and Karsten Warholm, his competitors as the event has heated up over the last year. Is a World Record feasible this season or next? “It’s there,” Benjamin said. “Under the right circumstances, the right weather—I mean this [sunny & warm conditions at Stanford] is ideal but at the same time the backstretch is very windy. So it’s just going to take ideal conditions to break it. If you look at all the World Records, that’s been the case. It’s been one race, one perfect race and everything goes right, and that’s what happens.”

On the field, spectacularly and far less expectedly, Darlan Romani turned the tables on another shot showdown between Olympic champ Ryan Crouser and World titlist Tom Walsh. In 3 installments the powerful Brazilian raised his PR by 2 feet (61cm) to top out at 74-2¼ (22.61) as No. 9 on the all-time list. Crouser, the world leader since April at 74-7¼ (22.74), opened at 72-9 (22.17), a long effort but no cert to prevail in this crowd. Ultimately 6 putters would throw 70-½ (21.35) or better in the comp, historical depth only exceeded at the Monaco DL last year, but this was to be Romani’s day. As Crouser and Walsh fruitlessly grasped for their grooves, in rounds 3–5 the Brazilian bombed 73-8¼ (22.46), 73-11¾ (22.55) and his capper. His last throw, no joke either, flew 73-4¾ (22.37).

Romani “is a big strong guy, the strongest person out there probably,” runner-up Crouser said. “He’s a really talented guy so I wasn’t that surprised, especially when I saw the 22.46. By the time he worked his way up to 22.61 I was surprised. Anytime you PR by 60cm that’s essentially unheard of at this level.” Calling his first “really just a safety throw” and his three fouls “intentional because as soon as they left my hand I knew they were bad throws,” Crouser said of his day, “I set myself up well after the first round but just could not get into a rhythm with the meet. I just really need to get better with how slow the meet was run. It’s just a little different than the practice. For the first big meet of the year it felt alright. I just need to work a little more quality in practice and get used to spending 7–8 minutes, 10 minutes, between throws like we end up doing at these meets.”

The World Champs in Doha will be the latest season grand finale since the ’88 Olympics. On the adjusted mind-bending timescale of the current campaign, this Pre Classic, quasi-equivalent in a typical year to an early-May date, saw stars rousing from long hibernation at different rates across the event spectrum.

Christian Coleman prevailed over Justin Gatlin in the year’s fastest 100. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

Christian Coleman’s 9.81 blast in the 100, the speedster’s third dash of 9.82 or faster in the last two years, was authoritative and looked a likely winner from the gun. Perhaps the more startling revelation of the race was 37-year-old reigning world champ Justin Gatlin pulling out a 9.87 for 2nd, even with what the veteran admitted was a so-so transition and middle portion of his race. Said Coleman, “It felt pretty good, it felt pretty smooth. I’m sure my coach will have a couple things to say about it so I’ll get back with him and just keep working.”

Michael Norman had plenty to say in a blunt critique of his 44.62 win in the 400 by half a second from Kahmari Montgomery. What was there to complain about? The 21-year-old had just triumphed against four pillars of what promises to be a formidable USATF 1-lap field. Montgomery is the NCAA and reigning USATF champ, Fred Kerley (3rd in 45.33) is the reigning Diamond League titlist. Wil London and Michael Cherry, also in the race, are relay silver medalists from the ’17 World Champs. Still, Norman, the world leader at 43.45, has high standards. The winner hit 200 in front at 21.1 and ran away from there, but said later, “I give myself a C-.” He laughed after he said it, then explained, “I just felt flat. I didn’t really run the backstretch that I was supposed to, so that was probably the biggest error in my race.” Anticipating no more races until Nationals, he said, “Before USAs I’m just going to get back to my hot corner. That race pattern, I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”

The 110 hurdles was missing ’18 winner Sergey Shubenkov, and 13.00 Kentucky collegian turned pro Daniel Roberts withdrew, as well. What transpired was something of a blanket finish. Orlando Ortega controlled the entire straight from Omar McLeod and won in 13.24, as Wilhem Belocian in lane 2 rushed up late to pip McLeod by 0.005, both timed in 13.29. Five, including 5th-placing Devon Allen in his first outdoor race of the year, ran 13.33 or faster.

World leading vault wunderkind Mondo Duplantis ended his losing streak (NCAA and Oslo DL) at two meets. With the rest of the top-class field halted at 18-8¾ (5.71) or lower, Mondo and Sam Kendricks commenced a duel. Kendricks told the story best, standing shoulder to shoulder afterwards with his youthful rival: “Alright, let me paint you a picture of how awesome Mondo is. OK, we both jumped 81 [19-¾] with no misses, right… Mondo, he jumps it first, he puts the pressure on me. I jumped it on first attempt, we’re goin’ up, stadium record, 5.88 [19-3½]. That’s kind of a strange progression. Now, here’s where the kicker is. Mondo misses because he’s gotta jump before me, and I thought I was gonna get in the lead. So I jumped it on my first attempt, now I’m in the lead. Mondo, he does the big-boy move, and really well. He passes to 5.93 [19-5½]. Man, that’s my best jump of the whole year and he says, ‘I’m gonna have to raise the bar to outjump Sam.’ And he did it.

“I missed my first attempt after he missed his, and then he made it. But I’ve got one more chance to kind of stay in the lead. Because of his miss at the previous height, I didn’t take it up. I needed three more attempts at 5.98 [19-7-½] because I knew I was gonna need all three to try to beat Mondo. And I still missed that third attempt [at 5.93].” Added Kendricks, “I thought we were going to get to share the stadium record but Mondo says, ‘No, I’m gonna put it one higher.’ That’s pretty hardcore.”

Mondo, for his part, dropped in a little inside-vaulting talk: “I think the runway, box and everything, made up for whatever inconsistency we had in the [mostly cross] winds. Some jumpers benefit from that, like me. I don’t think [Kendricks] benefits from the box very much, but for me I got to go to some really stiff poles.” Duplantis finished with three tries at 19-8½ [6.01, a centimeter over his world-leading seasonal best], but kicked two bars off with his feet and took a run through the pit on his second.

Paul Chelimo staged another storming finish, but it wasn’t enough to catch Joshua Cheptegei in the 2M. (BILL LEUNG)

Besides the traditional Bowerman Mile finale, a 2-mile was on the program. Following rabbits, Ethiopian 19-year-old Selemon Barega led through the mile (4:06.55) then dropped a 59.91 fifth lap and drew to a 10m lead with 2 laps left, which World Cross champ Joshua Cheptegei looked to close. He managed it, closing in 58.24 to win in 8:07.54. Pleasing U.S. fans, Paul Chelimo woke up in the ruck and raced from the back 40 up to 2nd (8:07.59) with a 56.11 final circuit.

The Bowerman Mile added 14 sub-4:00 times to the meet’s all-time total, now at 436. For the first two laps Yomif Kejelcha (1:56.15) and Samuel Tefera, both WR setters indoors this year, led the pack behind the rabbits. When the first hare, Harun Abda, peeled off, though, Timothy Cheruiyot moved ahead of the racers and Kejelcha’s effort flagged. ’17 World Champs 1500 silver medalist Cheruiyot held his lead to the line in 3:50.49, closing with a 55.10 circuit. Tefera faded, and while young Jakob Ingebrigtsen looked ready to pounce for at least 2nd with one go-round left, it was meet recordholder Ayanleh Souleiman who came up best in the homestraight (3:51.22) in front of Filip Ingebrigtsen (3:51.28) and Jakob (3:51.30, the No. 10 all-time Junior mark). American Craig Engels PRed (3:51.60) in 5th, storming the 109m stretch from 1500m to the finish in 13.80, fastest in the race. Running his first race in 11 months, Matthew Centrowitz placed 6th in 3:52.26. The Bowerman mile is one off-the-shelf-into-the-fire rust-buster, and the 29-year-old Rio Olympic gold medalist emerged highly pleased to have achieved the qualifying standard for the Doha World Champs.

Next year the Pre Classic will head north, back to Eugene and an entirely new incarnation of Hayward Field. The California one-off proved Oregon aficionados are just one of the meet’s magic ingredients.


EUGENE DIAMOND LEAGUE MEN’S RESULTS

Prefontaine Classic; Stanford, California, June 30 (sunny & warm with varying breezes; attendance 8128 sellout)

100(-0.1): 1. Christian Coleman (US) 9.81 (WL, AL);

2. Justin Gatlin (US) 9.87 (fastest since ’16); 3. Zharnel Hughes (GB) 9.97; 4. Cravon Gillespie (US) 10.05; 5. Mike Rodgers (US) 10.08; 6. Arthur Cissé (CI) 10.12; 7. Filippo Tortu (Ita) 10.21 (10.202); 8. Cameron Burrell (US) 10.21 (10.205); 9. Tyquendo Tracey (Jam) 10.42.

400: 1. Michael Norman (US) 44.62; 2. Kahmari Montgomery (US) 45.12; 3. Fred Kerley (US) 45.33; 4. Jonathan Jones (Bar) 45.46; 5. Wil London (US) 45.57; 6. Machel Cedenio (Tri) 45.71; 7. Michael Cherry (US) 45.92; 8. Bralon Taplin (Grn) 45.94; 9. Baboloki Thebe (Bot) 46.20.

Mile: 1. Timothy Cheruiyot (Ken) 3:50.49 (out WL) (3:36.49) (57.99 [409m], 58.13 [1:56.12], 59.27 [2:55.39]) (14.00, 55.10, 1:54.37, 2:52.50);

2. Ayanleh Souleiman (Dji) 3:51.22 (3:36.90) (14.32, 55.50, 1:54.74, 2:53.01); 3. Filip Ingebrigtsen (Nor) 3:51.28 PR (3:37.04) (14.24, 55.37, 1:53.74, 2:51.67);

4. Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Nor) 3:51.30 NJR(10, 10 WJ) (3:36.81) (14.49, 55.69, 1:53.82, 2:51.94); 5. Craig Engels (US) 3:51.60 PR (out AL) (3:37.80) (13.80, 55.30, 1:54.32, 2:52.50);

6. Matthew Centrowitz (US) 3:52.26 (3:37.67) (14.59, 55.56, 1:54.18, 2:52.44); 7. Ben Blankenship (US) 3:52.51 PR (3:37.27) (15.24, 56.42, 1:55.88, 2:54.14); 8. Samuel Tefera (Eth) 3:53.50 (3:37.13); 9. Bethwel Birgen (Ken) 3:54.32 (3:38.27); 10. Clayton Murphy (US) 3:54.37 (3:38.31); 11. Johnny Gregorek (US) 3:54.50 (3:38.70); 12. Elijah Manangoi (Ken) 3:57.48; 13. Yomif Kejelcha (Eth) 3:58.24; 14. Nick Willis (NZ) 3:59.55; … rabbits—Harun Abda (US) (56.82), Timothy Sein (Ken) (1:54.98, 2:55.33).

2M: 1. Joshua Cheptegei (Uga) 8:07.54 (WL) (7:36.56) (64.79 [418m], 62.28 [2:07.07], 59.87 [3:06.94], 60.44 [4:07.38], 60.30 [5:07.68], 60.59 [6:08.27], 61.03 [7:09.30], 30.98) (30.98, 58.24, 1:59.27, 2:59.86);

2. Paul Chelimo (US) 8:07.59 (AL) (3, 3 A) (7:38.96 [AL]) (28.63, 56.11, 1:58.92, 2:59.73);

3. Selemon Barega (Eth) 8:08.69 WJR (old WJR 8:13.32i Tariku Bekele [Eth] ’06) (7:36.27) (32.42, 60.15, 2:02.05, 3:02.24);

4. Mo Ahmed (Can) 8:15.76 (7:44.71); 5. Davis Kiplangat (Ken) 8:16.02 (7:44.59); 6. Stewart McSweyn (Aus) 8:16.28; 7. Richard Yator (Ken) 8:18.09; 8. Getaneh Molla (Eth) 8:18.88; 9. Justyn Knight (Can) 8:19.75; 10. Birhanu Yemataw (Bhr) 8:20.56; 11. Eric Jenkins (US) 8:22.37; 12. Kirubel Erassa (US) 8:25.14; 13. Paul Tanui (Ken) 8:28.60; 14. Justus Soget (Ken) 8:33.00; 15. Ronald Kwemoi (Ken) 8:42.41; … rabbits—Bram Som (Neth) (63.80, 2:05.62), Vincent Kibet (Ken) (3:05.99, 4:06.32, 5:06.12).

110H(0.3): 1. Orlando Ortega (Spa) 13.24; 2. Wilhem Belocian (Fra) 13.29 (13.281); 3. Omar McLeod (Jam) 13.29 (13.286); 4. Ronald Levy (Jam) 13.30; 5. Devon Allen (US) 13.33; 6. Wenjun Xie (Chn) 13.36; 7. Freddie Crittenden (US) 13.38; 8. Aleec Harris (US) 13.39; 9. Greggmar Swift (Bar) 13.56.

400H: 1. Rai Benjamin (US) 47.16 (WL, AL) (x, 8 W; 3, 5 A);

2. Kyron McMaster (BVI) 48.94; 3. Yasmani Copello (Tur) 49.37; 4. David Kendziera (US) 49.46; 5. TJ Holmes (US) 49.79; 6. Khallifah Rosser (US) 49.87; 7. Amere Lattin (US) 50.01; 8. Ludvy Vaillant (Fra) 50.23; 9. Rasmus Mägi (Est) 50.25.

Field Events

PV: 1. Mondo Duplantis (Swe) 19-5½ (5.93) (17-11, 18-4¾, 18-8¾, 19-¾, 19-3½ [xpp], 19-5½ [2], 19-8½ [xxx]) (5.46, 5.61, 5.71, 5.81, 5.88 [xpp], 5.93 [2], 6.01 [xxx]);

2. Sam Kendricks (US) 19-3½ (5.88) (17-11, 18-4¾, 18-8¾, 19-¾, 19-3½, 19-5½ [xxx]) (5.46, 5.61, 5.71, 5.81, 5.88, 5.93 [xxx]);

3. Piotr Lisek (Pol) 18-8¾ (5.71); 4. Chris Nilsen (US) 18-8¾ (5.71); 5. Cole Walsh (US) 18-4¾ (5.61); 6. Valentin Lavillenie (Fra) 18-4¾; 7. Thiago Braz (Bra) 18-4¾; 8. Renaud Lavillenie (Fra) 17-11 (5.46).

SP: 1. Darlan Romani (Bra) 74-2¼ (22.61) NR (9, x W) (71-0, 71-11, 73-8¼ NR, 73-11¾ NR, 74-2¼, 73-4¾—average 73-½) (21.64, 21.92, 22.46, 22.55, 22.61, 22.37—average 22.26);

2. Ryan Crouser (US) 72-9 (22.17) (72-9, f, 72-3, f, f, 71-11¾) (22.17, f, 22.02, f, f, 21.94); 3. Tom Walsh (NZ) 71-4¾ (21.76) (70-11¾, 70-11¼, 69-9¾, 70-8½, 71-2, 71-4¾) (21.63, 21.62, 21.28, 21.55, 21.69, 21.76); 4. Michal Haratyk (Pol) 70-10¾ (21.61); 5. Joe Kovacs (US) 70-2¼ (21.39); 6. Darrell Hill (US) 70-½ (21.35); 7. Tomáš Staněk (CzR) 68-1¾ (20.77); 8. Payton Otterdahl (US) 67-6¼ (20.58); 9. Konrad Bukowiecki (Pol) 63-3¼ (19.28).