Mo Farah wins the 5000m in Eugene (Kirby Lee - Image of Sport) © Copyright
Preview Eugene, United States

As ever, distance events the highlight in Eugene – PREVIEW – IAAF Diamond League

Steve Prefontaine’s tragic death in 1975 created a legend who continues to inspire runners across the North American continent. It is fitting, therefore, that once again, the distance events at the IAAF Diamond League meeting that bears his name are front and centre.

The Bowerman Mile – commemorating Prefontaine’s late coach Bill Bowerman – is one of the Diamond League events this year and features the past two Olympic 1500m champions. Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria will make his first ever US appearance and will be up against 2008 Olympic champion and 2011 World champion Asbel Kiprop, a three-time Bowerman champion.

The tall Kenyan is off to an incredible start to the season, winning both the Doha and Shanghai 1500m races. Should he slip up there is no shortage of talented milers besides Makhloufi ready to pounce, however. Chief among these are Bowerman Mile record-holder Silas Kiplagat of Kenya, Mekonnen Gebremedhin of Ethiopia, and Makhloufi’s training partner, Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti.

It is no wonder that the Bowerman Mile is the final event on Saturday’s program.

On Friday night, World 5000m and 10,000m record-holder Kenenisa Bekele will be up against his brother Tariku, the Olympic bronze medallist, in the 10,000m – a race that is doubling up as the Ethiopian trial for World Championships selection.

The race also includes World bronze medallist Imane Merga, but it won’t be an all-Kenyan affair as the field boasts three Kenyan men with sub-27-minute PBs, including last year’s world leader Emmanuel Bett and the 2011 World Cross silver and bronze medallists, Paul Tanui and Vincent Chepkok.

Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion Mo Farah – now a resident of nearby Portland, Oregon – was set to contest the 10,000m, but has made a last-minute decision to run the 5000m instead. Not only will he face his training partner and Olympic silver medallist Galen Rupp, but he will be up against the men who handed him his last two global championship defeats – 2012 World indoor champion Bernard Lagat and 2011 World 10,000m champion Ibrahim Jeilan.

Rudisha out, Dibaba the 5000m favourite

Three-time Olympic gold medallist and World 5000m record-holder Tirunesh Dibaba heads up an outstanding women’s 5000m field. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that either her compatriot Gelete Burka or Kenya’s Linet Masai can mount a serious challenge, as Dibaba is in fine form.

Last Sunday she set a course record of 30:49 in winning the Great Manchester 10km. A victory in Eugene would put her on even terms in the Diamond Race with her younger sister Genzebe who won the Shanghai 5000m.

Olympic 800m champion and World record-holder David Rudisha was set to return to Eugene, but an MRI scan on his knee yesterday revealed bruising of the bone and underlying ligaments, forcing him to withdraw.

But the field is still brimming with talent, including World indoor champion Mohammed Aman, the only man to have defeated Rudisha in recent years. Fellow teenagers Timothy Kitum, the Olympic bronze medallist, and Leonard Kirwa Kosencha, the World youth champion, are also in the field, but the biggest roar from the crowd is likely to be reserved for local favourite Nick Symmonds of the Oregon Track Club.

Exciting Jamaican clash in 100m

Thanks to Nike’s support, the sprints and hurdles events should also live up to the high standard for which Eugene is famous.

The three Jamaican entries in the women’s 100m all have personal bests below 10.80, including two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.70), World 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown (10.76) and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Kerron Stewart (10.75). Of those, only Fraser-Pryce has gone under 11 seconds thus far in 2013, recording 10.93 to win the Shanghai Diamond League meeting.

The crowd favourite is likely to be Allyson Felix (10.89 PB) who, despite her vast collection of Olympic and World Championships medals, is still only 27 years old.

Valerie Adams of New Zealand has been the dominant athlete in the women’s Shot Put, winning back-to-back Olympic titles as well as three World Championships. With her personal best of 21.24m, set in winning the 2011 World Championships, she is the only athlete in the Pre Classic women’s field to have thrown past the 21m barrier. China’s Gong Lijiao shared a podium with Adams at the 2012 Olympics and 2009 World Championships and will ensure that Adams performs in Eugene.

The women’s 800m features Olympic champion Mariya Savinova of Russia, whose personal best of 1:55.87 seems other worldly. But she is yet to compete this season and so we can expect a competitive race. Burundi’s young hope Francine Nyonsaba ran 1:56.59 last year and was an Olympic finalist in her first international year and so bears watching.

Defending Pre champion Alysia Montano is in the field and ran a meeting record of 1:57.37 here last year. The Eugene crowd will undoubtedly be in her corner.

Olympic champions Merritt and James to feature

Last year USA’s Aries Merritt ran eight of the year’s top ten fastest times in the 110m Hurdles, dipping under 13 seconds no less than ten times. Of course winning the 2012 Olympic gold medal tops his CV.

Merritt’s friendly rivalry with World champion Jason Richardson will continue at the Pre meeting. And since Richardson, the Olympic silver medallist, is one of only two men to beat Merritt last year, this race could be another highlight of the meeting.

Meanwhile the men’s 400m will pit Merritt’s cousin, 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, against the 20-year-old Grenadian Kirani James, the World and Olympic champion.

James is a remarkable story in that he has progressed from being the 2009 World youth champion and 2010 World junior champion to the top of the heap at the senior level.

After a catastrophic performance at the London Olympics where she could manage only 10th place, Mariya Abakamova appears on track to be in a position to defend the World title she won in Daegu two years ago. At the European Winter Cup in Castellon, Spain, the 27-year-old Russian threw a world-leading 69.34m. That’s not far off her personal best of 71.99m.

For the second week running, Abakamova will go up against Christina Obergfoll of Germany who has a season’s best of 65.33m and earned the silver medal at last year’s Olympic Games. She was the winner at the New York Diamond League meeting a week ago with the Russian finishing in the runner-up position. Also in contention will be European champion Vira Rebryk of Ukraine.

Olympic rematches in men’s vertical jumps and women’s 400m Hurdles

The men’s Pole Vault field includes three men who have cleared six metres: the 31-year-old US veteran Brad Walker (6.04m), Olympic silver medallist Bjorn Otto of Germany (6.01m) and Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie from France (6.01m). Although Lavillenie has only a modest 5.50m to his credit this year, he’s not one to be discounted. The presence of Olympic bronze medallist Raphael Holzdeppe means all three men who made it on to the podium at last year’s Games will be in Eugene.

Similarly, the entire five-man London Olympic medal podium – Canada’s Derek Drouin, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Britain’s Robbie Grabarz shared the bronze medal – will compete in the High Jump at the Pre Classic. Russia’s Ivan Ukhov, the Olympic champion who cleared 2.37m or higher four times last season, and silver medallist Erik Kynard of the USA are the other two. The latter is the current world leader at 2.34m but Drouin and Barshim are also both off to a great start with 2.33m marks. Add in the reigning World champion Jesse Williams and this could be another fantastic competition.

Germany’s Robert Harting, the World and Olympic Discus champion, threw a world-leading 68.31m in Wiesbaden and faces the 2008 Olympic silver medallist, Piotr Malachowski, who won at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting.

Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi, who moved up one step of the podium to take the Olympic silver medal in London after a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships, is also in the field.

All three medallists from the London Olympics will line up for the women’s 400m Hurdles – possibly a preview of the upcoming World Championships in Moscow. Natalya Antyukh of Russia, who in her first serious year of hurdling upset the World champion Lashinda Demus in London, opens up her season at Hayward Field.

Demus, no doubt, will want to exact some measure of revenge after losing the Olympic gold by seven hundredths of a second. She managed only sixth at the Shanghai Diamond League event which saw the third member of the London podium, Zuzana Hejnova, emerge victorious. The Czech athlete is also in the Eugene field, but the dark horse could be European indoor 400m champion Perri Shakes-Drayton, who defeated Antyukh over 200m Hurdles last weekend and recently clocked a 400m flat PB of 50.98.

Meeting record-holders Koech and Dix return

Another distance event should prove to be a highlight and that is the men’s 3000m steeplechase. The flamboyant two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi will renew his rivalry with fellow Kenyan Paul Kipsiele Koech who scared the longstanding World record of 7:53.63 with a 7:54.31 clocking at the Rome Diamond League a year ago. Koech’s meeting record of 8:08.08 could also be threatened.

This is another event that has enjoyed a spectacular beginning to the season. Koech ran 8:02.64 in Shanghai but was beaten by Conseslus Kipruto, whose 8:01.16 is at the top of the world list. Not yet 19 years old, Kipruto is the World junior and World youth champion. Third in Shanghai was Hillary Yego in a personal best of 8:03.57.

The remainder of the field would be a world-class field in its own right. US record-holder Evan Jager (8:06.81) will surely get the crowd going as he is another member of the Oregon Track Club.

Double World silver medallist Walter Dix was recently announced as the headliner in the men’s 200m. The 2008 double Olympic bronze medallist will be up against Jamaican sub-20 men Nickel Ashmeade and Jason Young, as well as European champion Churandy Martina.

Paul Gains for the IAAF