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World-leading times highlight Prefontaine Classic at Stanford

Courtesy of John Nepolitan

Several of the world’s brightest track and field stars convened at Stanford for the 43rd annual Prefontaine Classic (PreClassic) on Sunday. As the only Diamond League meet in North America, the PreClassic was moved out of its traditional home at the 99-year-old Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, due to Hayward’s reconstruction ahead of the 2020 Olympic Trials.

The nearly 8,000 fans in attendance saw multiple world-leading performances, including a number of facility records at Cobb Track and Angell Field. However, not a single current nor former Stanford athlete competed in the meet.

The afternoon action began with the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. World record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech dominated the race, finishing nearly 10 seconds ahead of the field in a meet-record and world-leading time of 8:55.58. The Kenyan ran the fifth-fastest time in history, and the fastest time at Stanford.

Reigning world champion Emma Colburn of Team New Balance crossed in 9:04.90 for second place after recovering from a fall on the backstretch in the middle of the race. Despite the fall, Colburn recorded the second-fastest time of her career. 

“I definitely died the last kilometer,” said Colburn in a post-race interview. “I fell, which sucks, but my last two water jumps were really good. That’s when I think in this event you can really sneak and get a few extra places, even if you fall or are slowing down.”

19-year-old Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis, who recently turned pro after one year at LSU, claimed the men’s pole vault after clearing a facility record height of 5.93 meters (19-5.5 feet). He faced a familiar foe in Chris Nilsen, who lifted himself over a lifetime best of 5.95 meters to beat Duplantis at the outdoor NCAA Championships earlier this month. Nilsen finished fourth on Sunday, unable to advance past the 5.71-meter height.

In the men’s two mile, Stanford’s 57-year-old stadium record set by Jeff Fishback — who ran 9:06.8 in 1962 en route to making the 1964 Olympic team — was absolutely shattered. All 15 competitors on Sunday finished well under Fishback’s mark. The reigning International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) world cross country champion Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda/Nike outlasted the field of middle distance elites, finishing in a world-leading time of 8:07.54. 

Selemon Barega of Ethiopia/Nike entered the bell lap as the leader, but was soon passed by a kicking Chaptegei. Nike’s Paul Chelimo, the 5,000-meter silver medalist at the 2016 Olympics for Team USA, challenged Cheptegei down the final 200 meters, but was out-edged at the line. Chelimo’s time of 8:07.59 was a personal best and 52 100ths off of the American record held by two-time Olympian Matt Tegenkamp. Barega collected the bronze with a personal best 8:08.69.

Michael Norman claimed his ninth-straight victory in the 400 meters on Sunday with a time of 44.62. He was the only athlete to have broken 45 seconds, despite holding the world-leading time of 43.45. Kahmari Montgomery, the recent NCAA Champion from Houston, placed second in 45.12. Only 21 years old, Norman is tied for No. 4 in the world all-time in the event, one spot ahead of his coach, Quincy Watts.

In the women’s 800 meters, two-time Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya of South Africa/Nike ran away with the victory, as well as a new meet and facility record. Her time of 1:55.70 marks the fastest time ever on U.S. soil, topping her own meet record of 1:55.92 set last year. She was followed by a trio of American runners in Ajee Wilson (second, 1:58.36), Raevyn Rogers (third, 1:58.65) and Hannan Green (fourth, 1:58.75). Wilson and Rogers both set season bests, while Green ran a personal best.

While a total of six athletes dipped under the two-minute barrier for the two-lap event, the headlining feature of the race was Semenya’s return to competition after a Swiss court overturned a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that mandated Semenya and “other intersex athletes with hyperandrogenism” refrain from competing until they lower their natural testosterone levels with medication.

Semenya has won the past two Olympic titles in the event and holds the world-leading time of 1:54.98.

“Being able to win, being able to run the fastest time on American soil, I think it was fantastic,” she said after her victory. “I think other people’s perceptions of me are their own problem, not mine.”

Less than half an hour later, another record on U.S. soil was set. This time it belonged to 26-year-old Sifan Hassan from the Netherlands. A member of the Nike Oregon Project, she clocked a ridiculous 8:18.49 in the women’s 3,000 meters, claiming the world-leading time, national record and Diamond League Record. She also broke her lifetime best by 10 seconds and set the facility and meet record.

“I always do my best here [at Stanford],” said Hassan after the race.

In her most recent trip to The Farm for the Payton Jordan Invitational last month, Hassan won the 10,000 meters. Her success continued on Sunday as she closed in 63.4 seconds over the final lap, outkicking runner-up Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who set a German record and personal best with 8:20.07. Despite being edged out by Klosterhlafen at the line, third-place finisher Letsenbet Gidey of Ethiopia set a new record for her country with a lifetime best 8:20.27. Seven women broke 8:28, and a total of eight women ran the fastest times of their careers.

In the women’s 1,500 meters, Great Britain’s Laura Muir entered the competition with the No. 3 time behind Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and Hassan, who were both slotted to run the 3,000 meters. Faith Kipyegon, the reigning Olympic and world champion at the distance, sat patiently behind Muir as they entered the final 200 meters. Over the final stretch, Kipyegon, who stepped away from competitions last year due to maternity leave, stormed to the finish, winning in 3:59.04.

“It’s really amazing because I was not thinking that I was going to win today,” said Kipyegon. “But, I really thank God for this gift and [am] happy to be back again.”

Muir defended a challenging Shelby Houlihan from the Nike Bowerman Track Club for second place (3:59.47). Houlihan, who unleashed a respectable kick, clocked 3:59.64 for third. Jessica Hull, an Austrilian native and recent graduate of Oregon, crossed in 4:02.62 for seventh.

In the 100 meters, Christian Coleman defeated veteran Justin Gatlin to break his own world-leading time. Coleman, a 23-year-old sensation, crossed in 9.81 to claim his second Diamond League victory. He improved on his time of 9.85 set in Oslo, Norway. Gatlin, who is a world champion and has multiple Olympic medals to his name, clocked a season-best 9.87 in his first appearance at a Diamond League meet in over a year. It was the first time Coleman had defeated Gatlin.

The meet closed with the highly-anticipated Bowerman Mile, which saw 14 sub-four minute performances. The first three laps opened in strategic fashion, setting up a thrilling final lap. Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot of Nike separated himself from the field over the final 200 meters to defend his title with a world-leading time of 3:50.49. He was the favorite coming into the race, and held the fastest 1,500-meter time last year (3:28.41).

“I was coming to win the race today,” said Cheruiyot, who arrived in the Bay Area on Saturday night due to a “visa problem,” according to RunnerSpace.

Cheruiyot was followed by Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman of Nike who crossed in 3:51.22. The Norwegian brothers Filip and Jakob Ingebrigsten finished with lifetime bests in third (3:51.28) and fourth (3:51.30), respectively. Craig Engels finished as the top American in fifth (3:51.60), followed by reigning gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz in sixth (3:52.26). Centrowitz entered the race with only five weeks of hard training under his legs. However, he broke the 2019 IAAF World Championships qualifying standard of 3:53.10 in only his first race of the year.

“The time wasn’t special, but it was the standard,” said Centrowitz. “I didn’t have the standard coming in to this, so that was pretty big for me to get.”

Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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