Pre Classic Women — A Tale Of Two 3000s

Beatrice Chepkoech splashed & dashed her way to the fastest steeple ever on U.S. soil. (KEVIN MORRIS)

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA, June 30—The Pre Classic’s very name conjures images of the brash, iron-willed distance runner the event memorializes. Stanford’s Cobb Track & Angell Field is a site virtually synonymous with high-quality distance performances. They are churned out annually here at a pair of spring invitationals. Thus, it was fitting that for the meet’s one-edition migration south from Eugene, two women’s races over 3000m sparkled brightly in the afternoon sun yielding the fastest times ever run on U.S. soil and racing of the highest order.

First up in the thrill-a-minute 2-hour track window was the steeple starring World Record holder Beatrice Chepkoech in her fourth race on this side of the Atlantic, and the first she would win on these shores. Joining the 27-year-old Kenyan—who ran, jumped & splashed to an astounding 8:44.32 in Monaco last July—were Celliphine Chespol, World Junior Record setter at the ’17 Pre Classic, Norah Tanui, who placed 2nd at the ’18 DL Final in Brussels, ’15 world champ Hyvin Jepkemoi, AR holder Courtney Frerichs and reigning world titlist Emma Coburn. Heavy hitters meeting early in a campaign just starting to roll.

The pace request relayed to rabbit Caroline Tuigong was ambitious: take ‘em out at WR tempo. That she did, passing the first kilometer in 2:54.97, setting up Chepkoech at 2:55.07, faster than her 2:55.4 en route to her WR, with Tanui, Chespol and Coburn (2:56.59) right there too. When Tuigong stepped off, Chepkoech set off on her own, growing her margin to 15m with 4 laps down and 30 with 5 in. Just before that, Coburn, heading into the backstretch in 3rd behind Tanui, caught a barrier with her lead foot and crashed to the track. She clambered back to her feet instantly, momentarily dropped behind Jepkemoi yet amazingly kept pace with the group.

As Chepkoech—the unchallenged barrier queen at least for now—forged on, by her appearance full of ease as if out for a shakeout run, a tightly bunched group of 6 including Coburn headed toward the penultimate waterjump. The American cut to an inside line, 2 fell in a chain collision in the wet stuff, and Coburn raced into the homestretch 2nd. At the bell, Jepkemoi challenged on Coburn’s shoulder but the Coloradan held her off, cleared the last waterjump with efficiency the Kenyan could not match and launched into the final straight ahead.

Chepkoech ran home in 8:55.58, the No. 5 all-time performance, more than 50m in front, and Coburn followed in 9:04.90, the No. 4 all-time mark by an American, while Jepkemoi followed in 3rd (9:05.81). Meanwhile, Frerichs, in her first steeple of the year—and only her second track race of the season after World Cross—unfurled the fastest last lap in the field, 69.17. Over the circuit she moved from 7th to 5th, timed in 9:09.75.

Coburn’s runner-up finish evened her seasonal head-to-head vs. Tanui and Jepkemoi, who along with Chepkoech bested her at the Oslo DL. “This is my second steeple and I’m happy with it,” she said. “I really wanted to teach my mind and body to get out hard. I can’t tell you how many races I’ve run 3:01 or 3:02 for my first kilometer, and so I was really trying to challenge that. More from the mindset side of it and putting myself out there, and getting myself kind of in debt early on and seeing how I physically cope. I definitely died the last kilometer but even though I was slowing down, I still felt decent. I felt pretty good, and I fell, which sucked but my last two waterjumps were really good. That’s when I think in this event you really can sneak and get a few extra places even if you fall or even if you’re slowing down. You can really take advantage on those.”

Statistically speaking, and for the thrill of uncertainty about the outcome until the end, the flat 3000 was even better. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Nike Oregon Project laid down a jaw-dropping mark, 8:18.49, the No. 2 all-time performance (T&FN, and anyone else paying attention, categorizes the times from the Chinese National Games of ‘93 as achieved under “questionable circumstances.”). The first three, producing history’s Nos. 2–4 times, all outran Genzebe Dibaba, whose indoor 8:16.60 from ’14 is recognized as the absolute fastest mark on the books. Seven ran 8:27.51 or faster as best-ever mark-for-place was toted up in places 2–4, 7, 9 & 10.

Again, the pacers cranked on a stiff schedule: 2:45.75 at the K, an 8:17 tempo. The competitors weren’t quite having it, though, and held something back to race—a prudent strategy with Hellen Obiri, No. 2 all-time, in the field along with 10,000 WR holder Almaz Ayana and Dibaba. Double Rio medalist Ayana, a cypher since taking 5000 silver at the ’17 Worlds, fell behind in short order. Rabbit Mary Kuria reached 4 laps in about 4:28 and 2K around 5:35, roughly 8:23 pace. When Kuria exited the track, Letesenbet Gidey and Ethiopian teammate Dibaba, the former driving the bus, ran at the front about 10m ahead of the rest. From 2 laps out, Hassan and NOP teammate Konstanze Klosterhalfen began to close it up. At the bell, Hassan passed Dibaba knocking elbows, yet Gidey still had a 7m margin.

Sifan Hassan out-raced Genzebe Dibaba to the fastest outdoor 3000 ever. (KEVIN MORRIS)

Hassan ate it up on the backstretch to reach 200 to go in front. Grimacing like Emil Zátopek, her right arm swinging wide, she carved a decided advantage and kicked to the line in 31.7 (63.38 last lap). Some 35m out Klosterhalfen passed Gidey and crossed in 8:20.07, 0.2 up on the Ethiopian. Dibaba’s 8:21.49 in 4th was an outdoor PR and Briton Laura Weightman’s 8:26.07 marked an outstanding best effort as well.

The winner expressed some surprise her best came out in the sun-soaked conditions. “When it’s sunny, even my training is no good,” she said, noting she preferred the Stanford track at night as when she won the Payton Jordan 10K in May. “I always feel dizzy or something, I don’t even care,” she said. “I just want to do my best or whatever.” Before the race, she added, “I didn’t feel good. I like if there’s shadow, not sunny. I’m no good at it, I don’t know, maybe because I don’t sweat a lot.” The time, though? “I’m very happy, that’s beautiful and I was so happy about that race.”

Caster Semenya returned to the track in the 800 under force of a Swiss court order pending adjudication of the May CAS decision. Cheered and applauded warmly by the 8000-plus crowd, Semenya did what she does when allowed to race, win. With 400 splits of 56.73/58.97 she powered out a 1:55.70 U.S. all-comers best, leaving Ajee’ Wilson (1:58.36), Raevyn Rogers (1:58.65) and the rest in her wake. American Hanna Green placed 4th in 1:58.75, a 1.34 PR for the Virginia Tech alum.

“I’m happy,” said Semenya. “It was a little bit windy.” And jetlag was an issue. “I’m still sleeping at home,” she said. “At this time it’s almost midnight [in South Africa]. Ah, but the race was good, being able to win, being able to run the fastest time on American soil.” If her CAS appeal fails to free her to race 800 at the World Championships this fall, Semenya said, “I’m just going to go take a vacation and then come back sleeping. I expect to be in Tokyo, I expect to be in Los Angeles.” What she won’t do, she declared, is take medication to become eligible. “There are a lot of races that I can do, there is a lot of stuff I can do. I’m a talented athlete, I can play football, play basketball, I can run 100, run 200, the steeple, anything I want.”

On this day Cobb Track ran stingy for sprinters, yielding slower times than those usually seen in normal host Eugene. The loaded 100 went to Marie-Josée Ta Lou, who won last year at Hayward Field in 10.88. The Côte-d’Ivoirean’s time here was 11.02, 0.02 in front of Aleia Hobbs, and NCAA 4th-placer Teahna Daniels was the collegian who schooled her elders. The Texas alum finished 3rd in 11.13 to LSU sensation-turned-pro Sha’Carri Richardson’s 11.15. Left behind were Olympian English Gardner (11.24), ’17 Worlds silver medalist Tori Bowie (11.30) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The comebacking 2-time Olympic winner’s 11.39 clocking seemed to reflect fatigue after a busy Jamaican Champs weekend of heats and finals (10.93/10.73 =WL & 22.52/22.22). In the 200, Blessing Okagbare, who is 30, dashed off the turn in 11.4, a meter up on Rio 100/200 winner Elaine Thompson. The latter leaned big at the finish but her 22.21 was not enough for Okagbare’s 22.05, as Euro champ Dina Asher-Smith placed 3rd (22.42).

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce co-led the world 100 list coming in, but finished well back of Marie-Josée Ta Lou. (KEVIN McCLANAHAN/PHOTO RUN)

The final women’s track race of the day, the 1500 lined up four ’18 World Rankers, including Nos. 1 and 2, Shelby Houlihan and Laura Muir, plus Faith Kipyegon, the Rio ’16 & London ’17 gold medalist returning from maternity leave. Muir took the lead among competitors (there was a rabbit too far out front) on the backstretch after 800, and Kipyegon tucked in right behind—with Oregon’s Jessica Hull 3rd at that stage. Muir hit the bell a step in front and held off the tough Kenyan until the final straight, where Kipyegon sprinted ahead, sneaking in looks over both shoulders, to win from the Briton 3:59.04–3:59.47 (61.23 last circuit). Kicker supreme Houlihan, who had not raced since the USATF Indoor in February, stood 7th at the bell but essayed a 60.54 finish to place 3rd in 3:59.64.

Nigh unbeatable high jumper Mariya Lasitskene, having equaled her 6-9 (2.06) PR in Ostrava 10 days before, had two younger jumpers join her over the 2-meter barrier. First Vashti Cunningham cleared that height, 6-6¾, without tickling the bar to at last surpass her 6-6¼ (1.99) best from the ’16 World Indoor. Lasitskene struck right back, take that. Ukrainian 17-year-old Yaroslava Mahuchikh went over on second try to join them but quit the competition thereafter. Cunningham could not make 6-7½ (2.02). Lasitskene did, on first try, and added a first-time-of-asking 6-8¼ (2.04) clearance for good measure.

Lijiao Gong took control of the shot from Danniel Thomas-Dodd (63-2¼/19.26) and Chase Ealey with her 63-10¼ (19.46) second heave and pushed into 64-foot territory after that. The defending world champ got her best, 64-11¼ (19.79) in round 5.

Still, on balance, the day belonged to the middle distance runners. Pre might have liked that.


EUGENE DIAMOND LEAGUE WOMEN’S RESULTS

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

100(0.3): 1. Marie-Josée Ta Lou (CI) 11.02; 2. Aleia Hobbs (US) 11.04; 3. Teahna Daniels (US) 11.13; 4. Sha’Carri Richardson (US) 11.15; 5. Michelle-Lee Ahye (Tri) 11.23; 6. English Gardner (US) 11.24; 7. Tori Bowie (US) 11.30; 8. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jam) 11.39; 9. Mujinga Kambundji (Swi) 11.42.

200(1.9): 1. Blessing Okagbare (Ngr) 22.05; 2. Elaine Thompson (Jam) 22.21; 3. Dina Asher-Smith (GB) 22.42; 4. Salwa Eid Naser (Bhr) 22.51 NR; 5. Jenna Prandini (US) 22.53; 6. Dafne Schippers (Hol) 22.62; 7. Brittany Brown (US) 22.99; 8. Kyra Jefferson (US) 23.07; 9. Ivet Lalova-Collio (Bul) 23.12.

800: 1. Caster Semenya (SA) 1:55.70 (U.S. all-comers record) (56.73/58.97);

2. Ajee’ Wilson (US) 1:58.36 (AL) (57.45/60.91);

3. Raevyn Rogers (US) 1:58.65 (58.05/60.60); 4. Hanna Green (US) 1:58.75 PR (58.58/60.17); 5. Habitam Alemu (Eth) 1:59.25; 6. Natoya Goule (Jam) 1:59.82; 7. Chunyu Wang (Chn) 2:05.68; 8. Nataliya Prishchepa (Ukr) 2:50.33;… rabbit—Chrishuna Williams (US) (56.42).

1500: 1. Faith Kipyegon (Ken) 3:59.04 (47.44, 64.97 [1:52.41], 65.41 [2:57.82], 61.22) (61.22, 2:06.63, 3:11.60); 2. Laura Muir (GB) 3:59.47 (2:57.73) (61.74, 2:07.16, 3:12.11);

3. Shelby Houlihan (US) 3:59.64 (AL) (60.54, 2:06.89, 3:12.05);

4. Gudaf Tsegay (Eth) 3:59.85 (61.81, 2:07.68, 3:12.99); 5. Winnie Nanyondo (Uga) 4:00.09 (61.91, 2:07.59, 3:12.84); 6. Gabriela Debues-Stafford (Can) 4:02.06 (63.13, 2:08.62, 3:14.25); 7. Jessica Hull (Aus) 4:02.62 PR (64.67, 2:10.04, 3:15.08); 8. Kate Grace (US) 4:02.99 PR (62.94, 2:09.12, 3:14.62); 9. Lemlem Hailu (Eth) 4:06.61; 10. Alexa Efraimson (US) 4:06.77; 11. Rababe Arafi (Mor) 4:06.78; 12. Danielle Jones (US) 4:07.28; 13. Axumawit Embaye (Eth) 4:14.47; 14. Winny Chebet (Ken) 4:24.51; 15. Linden Hall (Aus) 4:24.78; … rabbits—Laurence Côté (Can) (46.39, 1:51.28), Jessica Harris (US).

3000: 1. Sifan Hassan (Neth) 8:18.49 NR (WL) (2, 2 W) (U.S. all-comers record) (32.75, 66.96 [1:39.71], 67.79 [2:47.50], 68.29 [3:55.79], 68.28 [5:04.07], 65.56 [6:09.63], 65.48 [7:15.11], 63.38) (63.38, 2:08.86, 3:14.42, 4:22.70);

2. Konstanze Klosterhalfen (Ger) 8:20.07 NR (3, 3 W) (64.40, 2:10.22, 3:16.61, 4:24.56);

3. Letesenbet Gidey (Eth) 8:20.27 NR (4, 4 W) (6:08.09, 7:13.97) (66.30, 2:12.18, 3:17.20, 4:24.96);

4. Genzebe Dibaba (Eth) 8:21.29 out PR (x, 7 W) (66.03, 2:12.91, 3:17.93, 4:26.23);

5. Laura Weightman (GB) 8:26.07 PR (64.76); 6. Hellen Obiri (Ken) 8:27.26 (67.58); 7. Agnes Tirop (Ken) 8:27.51 PR; 8. Caroline Kipkirui (Ken) 8:31.45; 9. Taye Fantu (Eth) 8:32.10 PR; 10. Margaret Kipokemboi (Ken) 8:32.96; 11. Senbere Teferi (Eth) 8:36.26; 12. Lilian Rengeruk (Ken) 8:37.31; 13. Hawi Feysa (Eth) 8:40.79 PR;

14. Karissa Schweizer (US) 8:42.15 PR (AL);

15. Dominique Scott (SA) 8:43.88; 16. Beatrice Chebet (Ken) 8:53.60; 17. Weini Kelati (Eri) 8:53.89; 18. Almaz Ayana (Eth) 8:57.16; … rabbits—Shannon Osika (US) (30.20, 1:38.09, 2:45.75), Mary Kuria (Ken) (3:54.84, 5:02.88).

(best-ever mark-for-place: 2–4, 7, 9–10)

St: 1. Beatrice Chepkoech (Ken) 8:55.58 (WL) (x, 5 W) (U.S. all-comers record); 2. Emma Coburn (US) 9:04.90 (AL) (x, 4 A);

3. Hyvin Jepkemoi (Ken) 9:05.81; 4. Daisy Jepkemei (Ken) 9:08.45 PR; 5. Courtney Frerichs (US) 9:09.75; 6. Norah Tanui (Ken) 9:10.61; 7. Colleen Quigley (US) 9:11.41; 8. Celliphine Chespol (Ken) 9:12.37; 9. Winfred Yavi (Bhr) 9:12.98; 10. Peruth Chemutai (Uga) 9:24.32; 11. Mercy Chepkurui (Ken) 9:25.32; 12. Roseline Chepngetich (Ken) 9:27.10; 13. Allie Ostrander (US) 9:31.44 PR; 14. Mel Lawrence (US) 9:33.48; 15. Gesa Felicitas Krause (Ger) 9:35.67; 16. Shuangshuang Xu (Chn) 9:49.80; … rabbit—Caroline Tuigong (Ken) (2:54.97).

Field Events

HJ: 1. Mariya Lasitskene (Rus) 6-8¼ (2.04) (6-½, 6-2, 6-3½, 6-4¾, 6-6, 6-6¾, 6-7½, 6-8¼, 6-9¾ [xxx]) (1.84, 1.88, 1.92, 1.95, 1.98, 2.00, 2.02, 2.04, 2.08 [xxx]);

2. Vashti Cunningham (US) 6-6¾ (2.00) PR (AL) (=6, x A) (6-½, 6-2, 6-3½, 6-4¾ [2], 6-6 [2], 6-6¾, 6-7½ [xxx]) (1.84, 1.88, 1.92, 1.95 [2], 1.98 [2], 2.00, 2.02 [xxx]);

3. Yaroslava Mahuchikh (Ukr) 6-6¾ PR (WJL) (=3, =3 WJ) (5-10½ [2], 6-½, 6-2, 6-3½ [2], 6-4¾ [2], 6-6 [x, =9 WJ], 6-6¾ [2]) (1.79 [2], 1.84, 1.88, 1.92 [2], 1.95 [2], 1.98, 2.00 [2]);

4. Yuliya Levchenko (Ukr) 6-4¾ (1.95); 5. Erika Kinsey (Swe) 6-4¾ (1.95); 6. Levern Spencer (StL) 6-3½ (1.92); 7. Nicola McDermott (Aus) 6-2 (1.88).

SP: 1. Lijiao Gong (Chn) 64-11¼ (19.79) (62-4, 63-10¼, 64-1¾, 64-½, 64-11¼, f) (19.00, 19.46, 19.55, 19.52, 19.79, f); 2. Danniel Thomas-Dodd (Jam) 63-2¼ (19.26); 3. Chase Ealey (US) 63-1¼ (19.23) (f, 63-1¼, f, f, 62-5¾, f) (f, 19.23, f, f, 19.04, f); 4. Aliona Dubitskaya (Blr) 62-3¼ (18.98); 5. Christina Schwanitz (Ger) 61-7 (18.77); 6. Michelle Carter (US) 59-9 (18.21); 7. Maggie Ewen (US) 59-2¼ (18.04); 8. Paulina Guba (Pol) 57-6½ (17.54); 9. Anita Martón (Hun) 57-3½ (17.46).