Sunday, May 26, 2024

Quintuple Feature at the Track and Field Drive-In Show

by Mark Cullen

Normally, a world record would be the highlight of a meet, and on this epic day, Beatrice Chebet’s record-crushing 10,000m 28:54.14 was nothing less than that.

But a more subtle highlight emerged in this age of Caitlyn Clark.

Name a meet in which the women’s 10,000/5000/3000m steeplechase/1500 and 800 were all run, and on the same day.

Nope, neither can I.

The best part? This milestone almost passed us by because having all five on the same bill is what we do now.

Think of it as a quintuple show at the drive in. Each of these races was featured on a bill that included not-to-be sneezed at field and sprint performances by the women, not to mention a 75’ shot put toss on the men’s side with a 3:45 mile to boot.

Gudaf Tsegay returned to the scene of her memorable 2023 Diamond League final 5,000m world record of 14:00.21. She announced a world record attempt and was widely expected to reach her goal of holding both the 5k and 10k world records at the same time.

Not so fast, said Beatrice Chebet, who blew by Tsegay with 1200m remaining. Tsegay ran the 3rd fastest 10,000 in history and – no slouch at this distance – has the #6 time ever as well. Imagine running 29:09.52 and finishing 2nd.

Chebet sent chills through her opposition with her announcement of a forthcoming 5k/10k double in Paris.

 “…I’m so happy to run 28, a world record,” she said. “The last lap just motivated me, especially when Gudaf dropped.”

Ethiopia swept the top six places in the women’s 5,000, with Tsigie Gebresalama edging Ejgayehu Taye by 16/100 of a second, 14:18.76 to 14:18.92.

Tsigie’s previous best was 14:43.90, and she set a personal best of over 25 seconds.

With an exceptionally fast first kilometer of 2:51.22, a world record attempt appeared to be on in the steeplechase. However, Beatrice Chepkoech’s (Ken) early hot pace cost her, as Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai earned the trifecta of  national and personal records as well as the season’s leading time.

Ethiopia’s Birke Haylum could be Ethiopia’s next star; the 18-year-old set the World U20 5k record with her stellar, astonishing 14:23.71.

Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji won the 1500m in 3:53.22. That makes her the #6 performer with the 11th fastest performance all-time. If she continues her seasonal progression of 3:57-3:55-3:53, this ought to net her a 3:49 just in time for the Olympics. Notice served.

Jessica Hull (Australia; former Oregon Duck) set a personal and Oceania area record of 3:55.97 in 2nd, with US’s Elle St. Pierre not even a stride back in 3:56.00, the second best performance ever by a US runner. St. Pierre PRed by just over two seconds.

Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson took down World champion and Diamond League final champ Mary Moraa (Ken) in the hotly contested 800m, 1:55.78 to 1:56.71. Hodgkinson had an unanswerable charge down the final straightaway to secure the win – one which Moraa now has scant time to respond to before the Olympic Games. Said Hodgkinson, “That final in Paris will be insane.”

Imagine a meet of these five women’s races and none other. An epic standalone meet, one we’d be talking about for years. And yet, there was more.

“It’s always magical running here,” said Sha’Carri Richardson, who won the 100m in a world-leading 10.83. Kenny Bednarek, who won the 200m in 19.89, relies on a rigorous diet to aid his success.

“If your body’s already dealing with stuff,” he said, “you’re going to be running a little bit slower because your body can only work on so many things at a time.” This diet/lifestyle seems to be paying big dividends for the World and Olympic 200m silver medalist. “This year I’m going for the gold.”

Meanwhile, Christian Coleman hung on for the win over Ferdinand Omanyala in the men’s 100m, 9.95-9.98. Grant Holloway won the 110m hurdles in a quick 13.03, while the usual suspects lined up for a North American sweep of the hammer, with Canada’s Camryn Rogers setting a notable Diamond League record of 77.76 (255-1). DeAnna Price, Brooke Anderson, and Janee Kassanavoid (all US) finished 2-3-4 behind her. This result may well prove prophetic for not only the US Olympic Trials, but the Olympic Games themselves.

Each of Joe Kovacs’ six throws would have won the men’s shot put. Payton Otterdahl was almost a meter behind, 23.13 – 22.16. (75’ 10.75” to 72’ 8.5”)

Valarie Allman and Cuba’s Jaime Perez waged a spirited battle in the discus, and it was not decided until the last round with Allman emerging the winner just 11 centimeters (3 inches!) ahead of Perez, 67.36 – 67.25. (221-0 to 220-7)

Fortunately for Beatrice Chebet, the men’s and women’s 10,000m served as the Kenyan Olympic team trials and she is headed for Paris, her trip apparently assured.  Daniel Mateiko won the men’s event in 26:50.81 to join her on the Seine.

Second place on the Kenyan team should have been decided by these races, with third decided by a committee. The Kenyan federation is notorious for opaque procedures, so it’s best to hold off on declaring Kenyan Olympic team members quite yet.

The men’s mile. The Bowerman Mile. Was there ever so much hype? Well, yes, but not by much, and this was good for the sport.

No, great for the sport.

Josh Kerr (Gbr) took a chance his coaches advised against and put down the hammer with a dramatic, race-deciding move with 600 to go. Father-to-be Jakob Ingebrigsten (Nor) found himself just steps behind, with Jared Nuguse in 3rd and Great Britain’s Neal Gourley and Jake Wightman 4th and 5th.  

Why mention as deep as the top 5? Because they’re the ones who broke 3:48.00. Kerr’s 3:45.34 broke Steve Cram’s national record; Cram was in the stadium and gave gracious congratulations personally to Kerr. 14th and last was Cooper Teare in 3:53.92. When did 3:53 become not enough? Probably the day 3:47 was fifth.

*A few closing notes:

*Complete results link:

*There were many comments about the size of the crowd, and for once it wasn’t about what was lacking. While I’ll be the first to acknowledge that a few sections were covered, it was, nonetheless, a spirited and engaging atmosphere. Today’s crowd found a lot to cheer about and didn’t hold back, especially in the thrilling w800, w100, and men’s mile finishing sequence.

*Valerie Allman summed it up well when she said:

I feel like I'm here with... 20,000 of my friends. You know these people. I'm so grateful that they've been following my journey since I was here as a world junior American... to have people that love track and field, they've been following along on the heights of my journey, the lows, people like that really make this sport so exciting and so meaningflu for the athletes.

So it was really special today.

*It was, indeed. So much so that TJ and Alli, two young people from Utah who won tickets to this event, decided to make the pilgrimage to track and field’s new old shrine. Eugene to Boise is about 900 miles roundtrip. They drove the whole way. They are the future of the sport.

TJ and Alli, welcome to Eugene.

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