With collegians scattering across the country to grab their qualifying marks at the same time many pros are just dipping their toes in the season to see where they are, meaningful matchups are on the thin side as relay season begins. That doesn’t mean that we won’t see great track & field this weekend. It just means we have to keep our eyes on a number of meets, and even then, we’ll surely be surprised by what pops up where.
That’s right. In April, watching for great performances is a little bit like playing Whack-A-Mole.
That being said, here’s what we’re keeping our eyes on:
1. LONDON MARATHON
Not even a track meet, but worth a follow (oh, maybe ?). The quality of the field has many talking about World Record possibilities for both men and women, but the weather might have something to say about that. Forecasters are predicting the hottest day on the race’s history, with temps hitting the mid-70s by midday. Kenenisa Bekele hopes that he is finally able to put it all together, saying, “I want to try my best to break the world record. I don’t know when or where but that’s what keeps me angry and motivated.
“It’s more than 10 years since I set the 5000m and 10,000m records, and to have the marathon record as well would be so special. To have the records for 5000m to marathon would be something – no one else has done that. I feel like that would make me the greatest ever.”
He added, “My marathon achievements do not balance with my track career yet and I want to put that right. In the past I have found marathon training a bit boring but when you plan to achieve something great you need to do what’s necessary and I am more motivated now. I am enjoying the training these days.”
To focus only on Bekele would be a grave mistake, however. He’ll have to get past perhaps the greatest marathoner of our age, Eliud Kipchoge. Not to mention Mo Farah, who would like to finish the race being seen as a force in the event rather than a dilettante.
And like any competitive marathon, watch out for the surprise, be it Guy Adola, Daniel Wanjiru or a Yuki Kawauchi-type. Come to think of it, it’s been 6 days since Boston. Maybe Kawauchi, legendary for his maniacal racing schedule, is ready to go again!
Mary Keitany ran 2:17:01 in London last year and will have a male pace team help her try to get under Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 global standard. “Training has gone well and I’m ready for the race on Sunday,” she says. “I’ve done a bit more speed work since 2017, but my long runs have been about the same. But the main difference this year is the male pacemakers. Without them it wouldn’t be possible, but with them we have to try.”
Tirunesh Dibaba is younger than Keitany and has plenty of racing savvy, so if she’s in the neighborhood for that last 10K she shouldn’t be counted out.
Others to watch for: Glady Cherono will be in her first-ever London; Rose Chelimo impressed in winning Worlds last year; Vivian Cheruiyot was 4th last year here in her debut.
2. MT. SAC RELAYS
With Mt. SAC’s new track facility still in the early stages of construction/litigation, the meet will again light up at El Camino Community College in Cerritos. The distance festival isn’t what it used to be, but the speed events should provide plenty of entertainment. In the 200, we’ll see Cameron Burrell and Ronnie Baker. They went 1-2 at the ’16 NCAA Indoor, but haven’t met since their USATF semi last year. Since then, Baker has run 6.40 and won a World Indoor medal; this will be his first 100 of the season. Burrell mostly skipped indoors but recently popped a 10.01w.
Another good race should happen in the 200, where Houston’s double NCAA sprint champ Elijah Hall will take on a field that includes Fred Kerley. The 400 could be even better, with Michael Norman running his first outdoor lap since breaking the World Record indoors. Rai Benjamin and Gil Roberts will be pressed to keep up. The women’s 400 also promises to be exceptional, as USC’s Kendall Ellis will face ’17 USATF champ Quanera Hayes, hurdler Georganne Moline (51.39 PR) and Georgia super-frosh Lynna Irby, who was 2nd to Ellis in the NCAA Indoor.
Other openers of note: former Ducks Jenna Prandini and Deajah Stevens will race the 100. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad will venture over the 400H in a field that includes USC’s World Junior champ Anna Cockrell (55.79 PR). And watch for an appearance by Allyson Felix in the 4×1.
Aries Merritt ran 13.47 and 13.46 the last two weekends—he probably is hoping to improve by an even bigger increment at Mt SAC. The women’s hurdles will be highlighted by Brianna Rollins-McNeal, list leader at 12.62. The men’s 400 hurdles could generate notable times, as Bershawn Jackson and Illinois’ David Kendziera will be challenged by JC star Quincy Hall, who two weeks ago ran a world-leading 44.60 on the flat.
Clayton Murphy had a ho-hum indoor season but will be testing his fitness in the 800, a year after he ran his breakthrough 1:43.60 here.
Maggie Ewen won’t be tripling, but a hammer competition against a solid collegiate field may give her the conditions she needs for another collegiate record.
3. AZUSA’s BRYAN CLAY INVITATIONAL
In addition to the usual solid multi-event action, the Clay meet will see a great line-up of distance talent this year, much of it thanks to the Bowerman TC.
The women’s 1500 should be fun, with Bowerman Babes Kate Grace (who hasn’t raced since February), Shelby Houlihan and Colleen Quigley in the mix. Allie Ostrander is also entered, hoping to take down her PR of 4:18.19.
Amy Cragg will be running the 5000, her first race since her breakthrough 2:21:42 marathon in Tokyo two months ago. She will face Marielle Hall (8:40.20 3K indoors), while the men’s race will see Evan Jager open up against 2-time Olympian Lopez Lomong and Wisconsin’s Aussie champ Morgan McDonald (13:19.05 in February)
Last but not least, rumors are flying that New Mexico’s Josh Kerr may be chasing a PR in the 1500. Recall that he set his best of 3:35.99 here last year, and that it was tantalizingly close to Sydney Maree’s 1981 collegiate record of 3:35.30. Also in the field: Ryan Hill, Oregon’s Sam Prakel and NCAA Indoor champion Justyn Knight.
4. MICHAEL JOHNSON INVITATIONAL
The Baylor classic may not be balanced in every event, but several are worth keeping a close eye on. We like the 4 x 400, where it looks like Texas A&M, Baylor and Arkansas will all field their A teams. If that’s so, with good weather it could take a sub-3:00 to win. And in the javelin, NCAA favorite Ioánnis Kyriazis of A&M will try get off a fair throw after a no-mark a month ago in his only other meet this year. He will be challenged by Texas Tech’s Werner Bouwer.
5. LSU ALUMNI GOLD
Fast relays often happen in Baton Rouge, and with LSU’s female sprinters on fire this season (three under 11 seconds windy), we could potentially see the Tigers challenge the collegiate record this weekend. Texas and Clemson are also sending loaded sprint squads, so other stickwork could shine as well.
World Indoor champ Courtney Okolo will be running her first outdoor lap of the year. In the men’s 200, veteran Dedric Dukes (20.27 three weeks ago) takes LSU’s Jaron Flournoy (20.24 PR) and Renard Howell (20.15 PR) both in their outdoor 200 openers, as well as JUCO indoor champ Khance Meyers, whose indoor 20.65 was a World Junior leader.
6. CARDINAL CLASSIC
At Stanford, teammates Grant Fisher and Sean McGorty will be racing over 5000 the first time since their heat at the ’16 Olympic Trials. The meet, which will feature 15 teams, also should showcase a solid 1500, with the Stanford women loading that event up.
Alas, in this game of Weekend Whack-A-Mole, there will surely be other highlights. Good luck to anyone who attempts to predict them all. We’re just stymied at the prospect of keeping track of the No. 1 Arkansas women, who will be competing at four different meets this weekend! ◻︎