Nijel Amos wins the 800m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene (© Kirby Lee)
Two of the big middle-distance questions coming into the 40th edition of the Prefontaine Classic, the third leg of the 2014 IAAF Diamond League, were whether Kenyans Asbel Kiprop and David Rudisha would continue to dominate their respective events as they have in recent years.
The answer was a resounding no.
The penultimate event of the program saw Rudisha, the Olympic 800m champion and world record-holder, put forth a gallant effort before fading badly to seventh place in his first race in nearly a year due to a knee injury while Nijel Amos of Botswana sprinted to victory in a world-leading 1:43.63 to break the meeting record.
"It was tough, but I'm happy to run 1:44," said Rudisha after running 1:44.87.
In the Bowerman Mile, the meeting's signature event, Kiprop saw his bid for a record fourth consecutive victory go up in flames on the final lap as world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman charged to victory in 3:47.32, breaking IAAF Diamond League record and the US all-comers’ record.
"My dream was 3:47 or 3:48," said the 21-year-old Souleiman, who won 800m bronze at last summer's World Championships. "I'm happy today."
Souleiman's time, which makes him the 10th-fastest performer in history, broke the IAAF Diamond League record of 3:49.09 set by Kenya's Haron Keitany at this meeting in 2011, and the meeting record of 3:48.28 run by Daniel Kipchirchir Komen of Kenya in 2007.
Kiprop looked strong early, running behind the pacemaker in second place through 800m. After the pacemaker stepped off on the bell lap, Kenya's Silas Kiplagat surged three meters into the lead approaching the final curve. Kiprop covered the move but could not stave off the hard-charging Souleiman, who flew into the lead and never looked back.
Kiplagat finished second in a personal best of 3:47.88. Aman Wote finished third in an Ethiopian record of 3:48.60, while Kiprop faded all the way to seventh in 3:50.26.
"I was expecting to run close to 3:47 and unfortunately it wasn't my day," Kiprop said. "I don't know. I wasn't comfortable. In the last 200m I wasn't responding. I think this is due to that we came from the World Relays last weekend and came straight here."
Rudisha calls performance 'a good start'
Like Kiprop, Rudisha looked a lot like his peak self during the early goings of the race. His stride hardly looked laboured during the opening 400m, as he followed right behind the pacemaker through the halfway point in 49.82.
It is normally at this point where Rudisha begins to open up his stride and pull away from the field, but after nearly 12 months away from racing, that next gear was clearly absent from Rudisha's arsenal.
So too was his speed endurance. Although he was able to fight off a challenge from world champion Mohammed Aman on the backstretch, he had no answer for the surge that followed in the final 200 metres and was eventually swallowed up by six runners.
"In the beginning, I started pushing," said Rudisha, whose seventh-place time of 1:44.87 was nearly four seconds slower than his world record of 1:40.91 from the London Olympics. "Only the last 100m was a little bit tough. I started a bit late with my training this year, only in March, due to the knee problems. It has been like a crash programme to get ready.
"I need to sharpen up to get competition-ready. The body needs competition to build that speed. I was tiring over the last 100 metres. I'll go back and see how I can build up so I can finish next time. But to be out for so long, I am satisfied with my time of 1:44."
Olympic silver medallist Amos was impressive in getting by both Rudisha and Aman, breaking the meeting record of 1:43.68 set in 2011 by Abubaker Kaki of Sudan. Aman, the fastest 800m runner in the world in 2013, finished second in 1:43.99 while Kaki finished third in 1:44.09.
"It shows I'm in good shape," Amos said of his performance. "I just ran my race. I didn't care who was in the race; I was going to run my race all the way through."
Joe Battaglia for the IAAF