Reigning Wanda Diamond League champion Timothy Cheruiyot and Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen will resume their rivalry in the men’s 1500m when they go head to head in the prestigious Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on May 28th.
Cheruiyot claimed his fourth career Diamond Trophy when he edged out Ingebrigtsen in the final in Zurich last year, just weeks after the Norwegian had beaten him to the gold medal in Tokyo.
Ingebrigtsen, 21, already has a rich history of success in the Bowerman Mile. At the 2017 Pre Classic Ingebrigtsen became the youngest to ever break the four minute barrier, running 3:58.07 at the age of 16. One year later he would lower his time to 3:52.28 and come back again in 2019 with a 3:51.30. In last year’s race, Ingebrigtsen captured his first Bowerman Mile victory, running the fastest time ever on U.S. soil, 3:47.24. After breaking the Olympic record in Tokyo last summer and taking down the indoor 1500 meter world record earlier this year, it’s clear the Norwegian is ready to cement himself further in the record books.
The budding rivalry between Ingebrigtsen and Cheruiyot will add another chapter at the Pre Classic in 2022. After winning the Bowerman Mile and claiming gold at the World Championships in 2019, Cheruiyot took silver at the Olympic Games last year. He would ultimately bounce back to beat the Norwegian in Zurich.
The third Wanda Diamond League meeting of the season will also feature a strong field in the men’s 5000m, with Canada’s Olympic silver medallist Mo Ahmed taking on home hero Paul Chelimo and 2018 Diamond League champion Selemon Barega of Ethiopia.
The 2016 Rio Olympic 5000m silver medallist Paul Chelimo from the United States will be leading a star studded field of elite athletes at the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile that will be held on Sunday (12) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Grand Army Plaza.
Chelimo will battle for glory with the 2016 Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz who won the 2012 edition in 3:52.4.
He nearly won again in 2016 but was piped at the line by his then Nike Oregon Project teammate Eric Jenkins and finished second. Centrowitz, who did not make it out of the semi-finals of the 1500m, last month at the Tokyo Olympics, will be running on Fifth Avenue for the sixth time.
“I’m excited to return to New York for my sixth race down Fifth Avenue, a race I first won nine years ago,” Centrowitz said through a statement. “Heading back East and ending my season there is like a great end-of-summer tradition, and I’m looking to show the rest of the guys I’ve still got a step or two left in 2021.”
Chelimo won bronze in the same discipline in Tokyo last month, has never run on Fifth Avenue before. However, he has finished on the podium before in two road races in New York: the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5-K in 2018 where he topped and United Airlines NYC Half where finished in third place.
“I’ve already run a 5-K and half marathon in New York, so now I just need to check the mile and the marathon off my list,” Chelimo said through a media release. “Running a straight line down Fifth Avenue is very different than running laps on a track, and I’ve got more road racing experience than the other guys in this field. I’m confident in my finish, so if I can keep it close through halfway, I think I can beat the milers at their own game. Go hard or suffer for the rest of your life.”
The 2016 Olympic 800m bronze medalist, Clayton Murphy is also in the field, as are 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships 3000m bronze medalist Adel Mechaal of Spain, and 2018 European Athletics Championships 1500m bronze medalist Jake Wightman of Great Britain.
The reigning champion and five-time winner Nick Willis of New Zealand will not defend his title.
As a small developing nation, Kenya has consistently punched above its weight on the international sports arena, more so in athletics. This is reflected perfectly in the fact that 93% of Kenya’s 114 Olympic medals won between 1964 and 2021 are in track and field while the remaining seven came from boxing.
My closer examination of Kenya’s historical performances further reveals the country’s strengths to be in middle and distance events. These range from 800 metres around the track to the marathon. Of the 107 medals won in track and field, 101 (94.39%) were in middle and distance events – split between women (27.10%) and men (72.90%).
A number of factors are attributed to this consistent top-level performance. First is the early introduction of the sport in numerous settings going back to the colonial period. New talent was nurtured in regular school-based competitions running from local to national level.
Second is the mass recruitment of promising athletes into the uniformed forces. Here, sustained training under near-professional settings improved performances and stimulated competition for top places. Third, most athletes are born, raised and train at high altitude, which enhances their physiological efficiency.
Moreover, since the 1980s, the professionalisation of track and field and especially distance running opened doors for more talents to emerge and pursue earning a living from their running ability.
Kenya’s dominance however has historically been tested by Ethiopians. More recently, the challenge comes from the emergence of Uganda, cementing the place of East Africa as the powerhouse of distance running. Tokyo 2020 revealed the shape of the new challenge. It is the threat of talented fellow Kenyans as well as Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians who have switched allegiance in droves to better resourced countries outside Africa.
For example, Sifan Hassan, the Ethiopian-born runner who moved to the Netherlands as a refugee, won two gold medals in the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m as well as bronze in the 1,500m race. Abdi Nageeye, a Somali, ran for the Netherlands and won silver in marathon. He also encouraged another Somali, Bashir Abdi, running for Belgium, to win a bronze at the expense of Lawrence Cherono of Kenya. Yet another Somali, Mohammed Ahmed, won silver for Canada in the 5000m men’s race. Paul Chelimo, one of five Kenyans in team USA, won a bronze in 5000m ahead of Nicholas Kimeli of Kenya.
In Tokyo, these migrants denied their former African compatriots medals in men’s marathon, men’s 5000m, women’s 5000m, 10 000m, 1500m and women’s 800m. This no doubt contributed to a decline in medals won by Kenya, and even Ethiopia. This trend is likely to continue as the second generation of immigrants, such as Athing Mu of the USA, is going to hurt Kenya’s chances for more medals.
Tokyo 2020 takeaways
Tokyo, the venue of the 2020 Olympic Games, holds symbolic meaning for Kenya as the city where its long tradition of winning medals started. That was in 1964 when Wilson Kiprugut won a bronze in the 800m race. This time around, Kenya men won a gold and silver over that distance. The gold was the fourth in a row at the Olympics.
However, it was not all plain sailing. One of the most painful moments of the 2020 Olympics was the loss of the steeplechase title for men. Kenya won gold medals in 1968, 1972, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. For a country that dominates distance running, missing out on medals at this signature distance event is worth evaluating by Athletics Kenya. The team selection and preparation has to be better and the tactics have to be right for the moment.
But as the Tokyo Olympics showed, Uganda is gradually adopting the Kenyan playbook in running as they scooped two gold medals, one silver and one bronze in women’s steeplechase, 5,000m men and 10,000m men. What benefited Uganda was the dramatic decline of Ethiopia too as the latter normally win medals in 5,000m and 10,000m men’s events that the former won in this time around.
The dual threat of migrant athletes from the East African region and the emergence of Uganda sends a powerful message that Kenya needs to look beyond its core strengths moving forward. The emergence of new sprint hero Ferdinand Omanyala is a reminder that Kenya has its work cut out to invest more resources in short races.
Kenya’s 19th ranking at the Tokyo Olympic Games with 10 medals (four gold, four silver and two bronze) was once again the pride of Africa. It ranked third behind the USA and Italy in track and field.
However, the drop in medals, the emergence of Uganda’s middle and distance runners as well as the continued rivalry posed by East African migrant athletes should challenge the Kenyan sports leaders to push for more investment of resources in other areas where there is potential to win Olympic medals. This has to be a deliberate effort as the 33rd Olympiad in Paris, France is only three years away.
The Olympic Games may be done and dusted, but the 2021 athletics season is far from over as some of the stars of Tokyo 2020 continue their Wanda Diamond League campaigns at the Nike Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on August 21st.
The eighth meeting of the season will provide an immediate chance to settle some Olympic scores with a whole host of rematches on the track. Men’s 200m gold and silver medallists Andre De Grasse and Kenny Bednarek will go head to head again at Hayward Field, while Athyn Mu, Keely Hodgkinson and Raevyn Rogers make up an Olympic podium full house in the women’s 800m.
The same applies for the women’s 5000m, with reigning Diamond League champion and Olympic gold medallist Sifan Hassan taking on silver and bronze medallists Hellen Obiri and Gudaf Tsegay in the women’s race. All three 5000m medallists (Joshua Cheptegei, Moh Ahmed and Paul Chelimo) will also be in action in a star-studded men’s two-mile race in Eugene.
In the men’s shot put, the USA’s Ryan Crouser will be hoping to add a first career Diamond Trophy to his shiny new Olympic gold medal in the remaining months of the season. He will take on fellow medallists Joe Kovacs and Tom Walsh, who is looking to defend his Diamond League title this year.
Gold and bronze medallists Pedro Pablo Pichardo and Hugues Zango will reprise their men’s triple jump battle on the Diamond League stage, while there could also be a rematch between Olympic and Diamond League champion Mariya Lasitskene and bronze medallist Yaroslava Mahuchikh in the women’s triple jump.
World 5000m record holder Joshua Cheptegei produced a 55-second final lap to become the first Ugandan to win the event as he bagged the Olympic gold at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics games.
The 24-year-old set the pace early in the 12-and-a-half-lap race but was soon overtaken by a host of his competitors on a balmy evening at the Olympic Stadium.
Cheptegei unleashed a magic kick to to cross the line in 12:58.15 ahead of Canada’s Mohammad Ahmed and Chelimo.
It was easily the quickest 5000m Olympic final since Bekele’s victory in Beijing 13 years ago, and Cheptegei looked to ease to victory when he took full control on the final lap.
“It’s really a great moment,” the Ugandan hero said after the race. “I made a small mistake and I was regretting [having] to become a silver medallist. I came here to become an Olympic champion and my dream has been fulfilled today in a beautiful evening.”
Elimination racing in track and field is far from new. But it was new to Mohammed Ahmed on Sunday – and it felt, well, tough.
The decision to take out successive stragglers over the final four lap markers at the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 was applied for the men’s and women’s 3000m and 3000m steeplechase.
The men’s steeplechase in particular provided a dramatic spectacle for the crowd in the Mestsky Stadium as Morocco’s world silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali came to grief in the melee to avoid the first scheduled disqualification.
The men’s 3000m flat, however, offered the most compelling version of a mode of competition that has featured down the years in the sport, most often at indoor meetings.
First to depart, surprisingly, was the fastest man in the field this season, Asia-Pacific’s Birhanu Balew, after the prospect of an early exit had turned the distance race into a sprinting field across four or five lanes as the line approached.
Another of this Continental Cup’s innovations – the opportunity to play a “joker” on a men’s and women’s event each day which would double the points in the event of a team win – heightened the relevance of the next two eliminations, as they took out the two runners representing Africa who had been competing with this extra responsibility.
And as the four men left in contention set off with a measure of relief over the final lap, it was the Americas, led by the USA’s Olympic silver and world bronze medallist Paul Chelimo, and followed by Ahmed, who does his racing for Canada, that took the overall win with the first two placings.
At some considerable cost.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ahmed said. “I just tried to survive. I really didn’t know what was going to happen.
“I thought a couple of guys would take it from the gun, but I knew we had eight really strong guys and it was going to take everything you had to not be eliminated. The guy who has dominated all season in the Diamond League got eliminated on the first time.
“That speaks about the value of the competition. I was trying to survive and it was a hard race. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever run.
“But it’s good to be competing over here with Chelimo, who’s a guy I’ve competed against since way back, when I was 17, 18 – ten years ago. It was good to get some good points together.
“I think the elimination idea worked out pretty well for the flat events.”
Chelimo was also challenged by the format of the race.
“At the beginning they announced that Africa played their joker in the 3k, I knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “Because if a joker is played, that brings a lot of pressure. I really had to keep digging deeper and deeper and just coming home with the win was enough today.
“It was a good experience. But every lap, kicking for 40 metres, that really takes it out of you. When you get over the line you are like, dead, but you have got to keep going. It was really tough.”
A Sports Illustrated article dated 18 January 1965, on the opening meeting of that year’s US indoor track season – held at the Cow Palace in San Francisco – was headlined ‘A year of hope and devil-take-the-hindmost’ and included the following:
“The other competitive goody was an elimination game called devil-take-the-hindmost. This was a mile run raised to its most punishing, sadistic extreme. Starting with the end of the third of eleven laps, the runner in last place after each go-round was waved off the track until two runners were left. As each lap ended, there was a frantic scramble for position, the winners (the losers?) continuing the agony for another 160 yards.
“We were trying to figure out how to keep the crowd excited,” explained Assistant Meet Director Payton Jordan, the Stanford track coach, before the meet. Jordan need figure no longer. The crowd loved the race.”
In Tallahassee, Florida there has been an annual devil-take-the-hindmost race for more than 30 years, in which, instead of officials politely waving red paddles at eliminated runners, there is someone dressed as the devil in red, with horns and a pitchfork, forcing them out of contention.
There are no plans at present, however, for the IAAF to adopt a similar strategy for elimination races…
Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew, representing Asia-Pacific, and US runner Paul Chelimo, representing the Americas, look the two likely leaders here.
Both men chased home Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha in the hottest 3000m race of the season so far at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat, with Balew finishing second in 7:34.26 – the second fastest time run this year – and Chelimo fourth, both in the race and the list, with 7:34.83.
Chelimo may not be the fastest on paper, but he is the tried and tested man for the big occasion, having won 5000m silver behind Mo Farah at the 2016 Olympics and bronze at last year’s IAAF World Championships in London.
Chelimo finished sixth in the superfast 5000m at last Friday’s IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels in 12:57.55, two places ahead of Ethiopia’s Getaneh Molla, representing Africa here, who clocked 12:59.58.
Chances are there also for Balew’s teammate, Stewart McSweyn of Australia. It’s been a long season for him, but he was also in the Rabat race and finished between Balew and Chelimo in 7:34.79.
Chelimo’s teammate Mohammed Ahmed of Canada ran a 7:52.06 3000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon and finished ninth in Brussels in 13:03.08.
At 16, Kenya’s Edward Zakayo has already amassed a formidable record on the track, having won 5000m bronze at this year’s Commonwealth Games and gold at the African Championships in Asaba and the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere.
For Europe, Norway’s Henrik Ingebrigtsen was European 1500m champion in 2012 and took European 5000m silver in Berlin last month behind his 17-year-old brother Jakob.
When Sam Chelanga was growing up in the village of Kabarsel, just north of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, Paul Tergat would stop by the house as Chelanga tended to the animals on his family’s farm.
In a country known for its distance runners, Tergat is one of Kenya’s greatest ever — a two-time Olympic medalist, five-time world cross country champion, and former world record holder in the marathon. Tergat was a training partner of Chelanga’s brother, Joshua (a 2:07 marathoner), and treated Chelanga like a younger brother — he’d give him 1,000 shillings in pocket money, and in return Chelanga would ferry around the runners in Tergat’s group and drop off water on training runs in Tergat’s Toyota Land Cruiser.
“He would never let anyone [else] drive but he said, ‘Hey Sam, come drive my truck,’” Chelanga says.
Sometimes Tergat would ask Chelanga what he wanted to become when he grew up. Chelanga’s answer was always the same: a lawyer. Chelanga’s home village was poor and lacked reliable access to safe drinking water and hospitals. Chelanga hoped that a law degree would help him to deliver social justice.
But a law degree requires going to college, and college costs money. Tergat told Chelanga that there was another route to college: running. Reluctantly, Chelanga took up the sport, setting in motion a 13-year journey that included a decorated collegiate career at Liberty University and professional stops in Eugene, Ore., Hanover, N.H., Tucson, Ariz., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
On Thursday, one day after finishing 4th at the USATF 10k Championships at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Chelanga, 33, announced that he has retired from professional running in order to enlist in the U.S. Army. On July 29, he will report to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training; once he completes that, it’s off to Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia, beginning October 15. Chelanga would like to specialize in military intelligence.
Even though Chelanga says he grew to love running, he was never motivated by medals or glory. As he went on to win four NCAA titles at Liberty and five U.S. titles on the roads as a pro (he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015), many things drove him: a college degree, helping his family and home village back in Kenya, representing the United States, supporting his wife, Marybeth, and their two sons, five-year-old Micah and one-year-old Noah. But he wasn’t the guy who went to bed every night dreaming about Olympic gold. When he and Marybeth started dating, Chelanga never spoke about running. When I ask him what his proudest accomplishment in running was, he tells me that it wasn’t a race, but instead the moment when he realized he was actually going to graduate with a college degree “because that is why I started running.”
Chelanga’s retirement announcement prompts several questions. The most obvious: why now? Chelanga, who has trained with Scott Simmons‘ American Distance Project in Colorado Springs since 2016, was the top American finisher at last year’s World Cross Country Championships, finishing in 11th place. This year, Chelanga ran a half marathon personal best of 60:37 in Houston in January, finished 14th at the World Half Marathon Championships in March (again, he was the top U.S. finisher), and won the U.S. 25K title in May. He has plenty left in the tank.
Which is precisely why Chelanga felt it was important to join the Army now.
“I’ve done everything that I wanted to do in running,” says Chelanga, who achieved personal bests of 13:04 in the 5,000m and 27:08 (still the collegiate record, set in a very famous race where Chris Solinsky ran 26:59 and Galen Rupp 27:10) in the 10,000m. “I’ve got more than I asked for when I came in…I don’t want to wait until I’m old or something. I feel young, I feel fresh, I feel like I have a lot of energy and I want to take this job when I’m going to serve at the best level of my ability.”
There’s also this fact: Chelanga no longer has an endorsement contract, as his Nike deal expired at the end of 2017 (Nike did offer to renew it, but Chelanga turned them down).
Chelanga, who considered joining the Kenyan Air Force as a teenager, has always been inspired by men in uniform. He was also born with a desire to serve, and that desire was not being met as a professional runner.
“I left running because I wanted to do something [where] every morning, I wake up and feel fulfilled,” Chelanga says.
Chelanga’s path to the Army is untraditional, especially when contrasted with the journeys of his training mates in Colorado Springs. Several of them, such as Shadrack Kipchirchir, Leonard Korir, and Paul Chelimo, joined the Army as a way to acquire U.S. citizenship and continue their running careers representing the United States. Chelanga had to wait five years to become a naturalized U.S. citizen and decided to join the Army three years later.
Chelanga says that former Army WCAP coach Dan Browne did try to recruit him to join the Army while he was in college, but Chelanga says he was told by a recruiter that he could only enlist if he was a U.S. citizen or was in possession of a green card. That was not actually the case — the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program under which Chelimo and others gained their citizenship was established in 2009 — but regardless, Chelanga signed a contract with Nike when he exhausted his eligibility in 2011 rather than attempt to enlist in the military.
Chelanga has not forgotten his home village back in Kenya. During his professional career, Chelanga sent water filters back to Kabarsel so that every family had access to clean drinking water. Recently, he heard about the death of a neighbor, who passed away at the same hospital where Chelanga’s father died and hopes that one day he may be able to help upgrade it.
“I’ve always wanted to do something about that hospital,” Chelanga says. “It’s the only hospital in my district and it’s not even good.”
But Chelanga has other priorities, too. He’s a grown man, a family man, and believes he must do right by the country that has given him so much.
“I got into running with the mindset that I was going to help my community back in Kenya,” Chelanga says. “But now I have two kids, and those kids are going to grow up in the United States. This is their new community, this is my new community…Leading young men and women for the United States in the Army, it’s the biggest honor I would have ever asked. Not that I underestimate that what running has done or can do, but I just feel in my heart that this is a calling for me.”
Having notched up two IAAF Diamond League victories already this year, Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega will aim for a third at Athletissima in Lausanne on 5 July.
The world indoor 3000m silver medallist will contest the 5000m in Lausanne in what will be his final race before heading to Finland to defend his title over the same distance at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018.
Barega, still just 18 years of age, won the two-mile event in Eugene last month and then triumphed over 5000m in Stockholm with a world-leading 13:04.05. He followed it with a world-leading clocking of 7:37.53 in the 3000m in Ostrava.
In Lausanne he will be up against a field that includes world champion and last year’s Lausanne winner Muktar Edris, Olympic silver medallist Paul Chelimo, and Birhanu Balew, the Bahraini who won in Shanghai and finished a close second to Barega in Stockholm.
Ethiopia’s Abadi Hadis, Eritrea’s Aron Kifle and Switzerland’s Julien Wanders are also in the field.
Olympic 10,000 silver medalist Paul Tanui faces a stern test in the two mile race at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on May 26.
Tanui, who is also the world 10,000m bronze medallist faces a quality field in the event including compatriot Ronald Kwemoi, world 5000m champion Muktar Edris of Ethiopia. Kwemoi won the Bowerman Mile last year while Edris ended Mo Farah’s reign last summer at the World Championships.
The Ethiopian beat Farah, always a fast finisher, at his own game with a ferocious 52.4 last lap. For Edris, the gold was his first track major medal of any color – his only other medal being the bronze he earned at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships in China.
Meanwhile, his Ethiopian teammate, Yomif Kejelcha, raced to a second successive world indoor 3000m title in Birmingham last month. Kejelcha, 20, has twice raced to unprecedented feats at Hayward Field. In 2014, he became the youngest ever 5000m winner at the World Junior Championships, in Eugene. In 2015 he made his biggest splash, winning the Pre-Classic and becoming the youngest 5000m winner by four years. A fantastic season saw him winning the Diamond League as well with a 12:53.98 PB. He’s also the fastest in the field at 3000m with 7:28.19, the current world U20 record.
The youth fountain from Ethiopia continues with 18-year-old Selemon Barega, who became the youngest indoor 3000m medallist with his silver medal finish behind Kejelcha in Birmingham. He won the world U20 5000m title in 2016.
The field also includes Paul Chelimo, the only racer in the field with medals from Rio and last summer’s World Championships. Both –Rio silver and London bronze — came with thrilling finishes and are among the best ever by a US athlete.
Newly-crowned double Commonwealth Games champion Joshua Cheptegei is also in the mix. He was second over 10,000m at last year’s World Championships and the world junior champion over the distance in 2014. Canada’s Mohammed Ahmed is also in the field, the double silver Commonwealth medallist after finishing runner-up behind Cheptegei in both track races in Gold Coast.
Others in the field include Bahrain’s Albert Rop, who has a 12:51.96 5000m lifetime best, Ryan Hill, the 2016 world indoor 3000m silver medallist, who has a 7:30.93 personal best over that distance, Eric Jenkins, 26, who won indoor NCAA titles for Oregon over 3000m and 5000m, Hassan Mead, the US 10,000m champion, Shadrack Kipchirchir, the US road 5km champion; and Australian Patrick Tiernan, the 2016 NCAA cross country champion.
The 2-mile distance comes in a year with no major international championship 5000m races outside of the annual IAAF Diamond League, which incorporates the two mile and 3000m into its point standings for the 5000m. The-Pre Classic two mile record of 8:03.50, set in 2007 by Australian Craig Mottram, remains the fastest run on US soil.