Athletes came ready to compete at the Prefontaine Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and Americans Emma Coburn and Kendra Harrison set American records.
Here are the weekend’s biggest stories in track and field as the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. (July 1–10) and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (Aug. 12–21) near.
The Prefontaine Classic featured loaded fields with the potential of fast times, and it did not disappoint over the weekend. While some Americans have struggled to open the season, others used this weekend to answer the wake-up call of an Olympic year. Spectators at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. were treated to two American records—some world records nearly fell.
Middle-distance runner Emma Coburn’s personal best in the steeplechase was 9:11.42—faster than Jenny Simpson’s American record of 9:12.50—but that time, which she ran in 2014 at a Diamond League meet in Glasgow, was not ratified by U.S.A. Track and Field since she did not take a drug test within 24 hours of her performance. As soon as Coburn crossed the finish line in 9:10.76A drug test was the only thing Coburn wanted after crossing the finish line in 9:10.76 for fourth place and took back the American record that was once unofficially hers.
“My goal wasn’t even a time here,” Coburn told LetsRun.com after the race. “It was in general maybe under 9:20 is good, but [I wanted to] feel relax and feel good. Now the goal is to take care of my body, stay healthy, try and not get too excited or get too ahead of myself and stay patient for the Olympic Trials.”
Coburn wasn’t the only American woman to shine in the steeplechase—former Michigan State Spartan Leah O’Connor ran 9:18.85 to become the third-fastest American woman of all-time. O’Connor, who finished fourth at last year’s U.S. Championships and did not compete at the world championships, is firmly in the Olympic picture after a 13-second personal best.
Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet won the steeplechase in 8:59.97, becoming just the second woman in history to run under nine minutes in the event. Jebet was even challenged in the final lap by Kenyan Hyvin Kiyeng, the 2015 world champion, as they just narrowly missed Russian Gulnara Samitova-Galkina’s 8:58.81 world record with a 69-second last lap. Kiyeng finished in 9:00:01 to become the third-fastest woman of all-time.
Kendra ‘Keni’ Harrison just misses the world record
Harrison ran a near-perfect 100-meter hurdle race, finishing in 12.24 to break Brianna Rollins’s American record of 12.26, set in 2013. Rollins took second in 12.53 with Jasmin Stowers just behind her in 12.55. No doubt, Bulgaria’s Yordanka Donkova’s world record of 12.21, which has stood for nearly 28 years, is definitely in jeopardy.
This race proves that the women’s 100-meter hurdles is arguably the most difficult team to make. Dawn Harper-Nelson, the 2008 Olympic champion, finished last in 13.01, which may signal the new wave of American hurdles is ready to take over in Rio. Then again, anything can happen with a clipped hurdle.
America’s next golden girl?
English Gardner, a two-time NCAA champion from Oregon, won the women’s 100 meters in 10.81 seconds—just shy of the world’s fastest time for 2016, but she already has her sights set on a much greater title.
“I want to become the fastest woman alive, so if that means [running] 10.6 then so be it,” Gardner told the Oregonian. “Anything is possible and I just want to be better than I was last year.”
That current title belongs to Carmelita Jeter, who ran 10.64 in 2009. Jeter also raced at Pre and finished fifth. At 36, 2016 will likely be her final run for the Olympics, as she has not broken 11 seconds in the 100 meters since 2013.
The only other person who had a worse day was reigning Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who finished last in 11.18. The Jamaican star looks to become the first woman to win three-straight 100 meter gold medals at the Olympics but it looks like a tall order at the moment. The world has learned not to rush to conclusions off slow performances early in the season – especially with Jamaicans (i.e. Usain Bolt).
Gardner holds a personal best of 10.79 but struggled in the rounds of last year’s championships. With two global championships of experience under her belt, America could find itself back on top of the podium for the first time since Marion Jones in 2000, which was later vacated.
Joe Kovacs remains a gold medal favorite
Kovacs bested the world-leading mark three times before finishing with a 22.13-meter toss to win the men’s shot put. The mark was the third-best throw of his career. Kovacs missed a spot on the 2012 Olympics after finishing fourth at the trials with a then-personal best of 21.08 meters. Since then, he has set a personal best five times in the last two years, including a monster 22.56-meter heave last summer.
Kiprop strolls to a 3:51 mile win, Hunter misses history
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the three-time world champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist, ran the easiest-looking 3:51.54 mile. Spectators were looking for history behind Kiprop as high school senior Drew Hunter chased Alan Webb’s high school record of 3:53.43, which was set at the same meet 15 years ago. The race did not pan out as well-paced as everyone hopes and Hunter finished in 3:58.86.
Michael Slagowski, a high school senior from Idaho, also broke four minutes for the mile in the “B” section. He ran 3:59.78 for his second sub-four of the season. Saturday marked the first occasion in which two U.S. high school runners broke the four-minute barrier on the same day.
Other notables at the Pre Classic:
• Justin Gatlin wins the men’s 100 meters—Gatlin, last year’s world championship silver medalist, ran 9.88 for his fastest time of the year, but it came with a tailwind of 2.6 meters per second. The veterans prevailed as Jamaica’s Asafa Powell took second in 9.94 and Canada’s 21-year-old star Andre De Grasse struggled to a 10.05 in last.
• Torie Bowie wins the women’s 200 meters—Bowie, the 2015 world championship bronze medalist, finally broke the 22-second barrier for a personal best of 21.99, defeating world champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands. Just two years removed from being a long jumper, Bowie could be a contender for gold in Rio.
• Omar McLeod wins the men’s 110-meter hurdles—The Jamaican continued his dominance, winning in 13.06 for his third victory in as many Diamond League events. David Oliver was the top American, clocking 13.38 for second.
• Kirani James wins the men’s 400 meters – Another solid match-up between Olympic champions Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt did not disappoint. James clocked a 44.22 to edge out Merritt in 44.39.
• Saunae Miller wins the women’s 400 meters—Miller, who looks to be a threat to Allyson Felix’s 200- and 400-meter double, took the victory in 50.15. In surprising fashion, Sanya Richards-Ross finished last in the women’s 400 meters. She initially planned to retire at the Olympics although it appears a farewell at the trials in Eugene looks more likely.
• Michael Tinsley wins the men’s 400-meter hurdles—Americans went 1-2-3 in this event as the Olympic silver medalist won in 48.74, followed by Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson in 48.87 and 49.04 respectively. World champion Nicholas Bett of Kenya, who has looked terrible all season, finished last in 51.33.
• Boris Berian wins the men’s 800 meters—The world indoor champion wore his New Balance gear at the Nike-sponsored meet despite being served with a lawsuit just one week ago. He stuck it to the Swoosh and won in 1:44.20—the third-fastest time of the year. Berian may soon be Rio-bound just years after working at a McDonald’s.
• Alysia Montano wins the women’s 800 meters—The American, who gave birth to her daughter in Aug. 2014, signaled a return to form as she beat a U.S.-heavy field in 2:00.78. She’s just a few seconds off of her personal best of 1:57.34 from 2010.
• Faith Kipyegon wins the women’s 1,500 meters—The Kenyan lowered her own national record to 3:56.14, which is also now the fastest time ever run on U.S. soil. Jenny Simpson, the 2011 world champion and ’13 silver medalist, was the top American in 4:01.57. Just behind her, Shelby Houlihan, a former Arizona State star, had a big breakthrough, running 4:03.39. The women’s 1,500 meters will be a great event to watch at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
• Helen Obiri wins the women’s 5,000 meters—Kenya’s Obiri threw down a 14:32.02 for a personal best and the win. American record holder Molly Huddle ran 14:48.14, coming within six seconds of her personal best, but appeared a bit disappointed after the run.
• Muktar Edris wins the men’s 5,000 meters—Edris all but locked up his spot on the Ethiopian squad for Rio as he won in 12:59.43. The best American performance came from Hassan Mead, who finished sixth in 13:04.17. Mead looks in good position to either make the Olympic team in the 5,000- or 10,000-meters.
• Mo Farah wins the men’s 10,000 meters—The Olympic and world champion from Great Britain set a new world leading time of 26:53.71 as he raced on the track for the first time since the 2015 world championships.
• Christian Taylor wins the men’s triple jump—The former Florida Gator and Will Claye dueled up until the final jump of the afternoon as Taylor bettered his world-leading mark to 17.76 meters /58-3.25 feet to come away with the victory. Claye, the Olympic silver medalist, finished second in 17.56 meters /57-7.5 feet, which was also better than the previous world leading mark.
• Chaunte Lowe wins the women’s high jump—Lowe continued her winning ways as she did not miss any clearance and won with a 1.95-meter leap. World indoor champion Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, finished fifth with a 1.92 jump.
• Renaud Lavillenie wins the men’s pole vault—After an early-season injury scare, the Olympic champion from France cleared 5.81 to win the men’s pole vault while wearing a full Oregon Ducks kit.
What comes next?
Next week will be a busy one on the Diamond League circuit with Rome as the next stop on June 2 and Birmingham, U.K. just three days later.
Just 31 days remain until the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials begin at Hayward Field.