Prefontaine Classic

With a little help from the ‘spirit,’ Noah Lyles continues his 200-meter domination

By Nate Mann

Sprinter Noah Lyles knew competition in the Prefontaine Classic 200 meters would be difficult, so he called for a “spirit bomb” on Twitter. A spirit bomb is one of Goku’s finishing moves in Dragonball Z, a Japanese anime series, that “calls upon all the energy of all living beings.”

“When I call for a spirit bomb, that means I want all my fans and everybody who’s supporting me to give me their energy so I can win a race,” Lyles said.

The last time he asked for a spirit bomb, Lyles broke the high school world record at the Olympic Trials.

Did it work Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic?

“It definitely did!” Lyles exclaimed. “You see that time?”

The 20-year-old Lyles ran a personal best 19.69 seconds, extending his undefeated streak in Diamond League 200-meter races to four with a convincing win over Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards, who finished in 20.05. Lyles’ mark ties this year’s fastest time, which was run by South Africa’s Clarence Munyai in March.

Ameer Webb, the only other American in the race after Christian Coleman dropped, credited the youngster, who is seven years younger than he is, on the victory. “He has fun. And that’s the key,” said Webb. “You have fun out there, and you’re going to have a great race.”

Despite running 20.56 seconds and finishing sixth, Webb was proud of his performance. He underwent surgery in October and is still in the process of recovering. By the end of the season, he hopes to be in the low-20s once again.

For now, Lyles continues to dominate the 200-meter race on the professional level. Plus, winning the Prefontaine Classic felt like fate for the sprinter.

“I’ve been watching Prefontaine since I was in high school, looking at the screen like, ‘Man, I could’ve been in that 200,’” said Lyles. “I’m excited I could come here, win and do what I dreamed when I was in high school.”

Around this time last year, he injured his hamstring and later pulled out of the semifinals at the U.S. championships. To avoid doing the same this season, Lyles began training a lot earlier in the preseason to strengthen his hamstrings and abs.

He travels to Jamaica next to run the 100-meter dash at the JN Racers Grand Prix. There, Lyles hopes to achieve his first wind-legal sub-10 second finish with a more fit body. A successful race bolsters his message that the young sprinters are taking over as well.

“The limit is to make the human race as a whole get faster and see that the next generation has stepping stones, that they don’t have to worry about the oldheads, as they say, taking their spots,” said Lyles. “These kids should know that just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t take their spots.”

Caster Semenya runs fastest 800 meters by a woman on U.S. soil

By August Howell

Ajeé Wilson stood hunched over the fence in the media tent next to the track, trying to catch her breath. The American record holder had just leaned past Francine Niyonsaba to take second in the women’s 800 meters at the Prefontaine Classic.

Wilson said she was more tired than usual, as she had to move past Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu, avoid being tripped on the final turn, then go all-out in the final straightaway to overtake Niyonsaba.

“That last 200 meters of the race I kind made a couple mistakes, but I’m glad I was able to come away with second,” she said.

Wilson finished in 1 minute, 56.86 seconds, just. 02 ahead of Niyonsaba, who finished in 1:56.88.

But well ahead of both was Caster Semenya, who outkicked the rest of the field with 125 meters left to finish with a meet record 1:55:92, the fastest 800 meters by a woman on U.S. soil.

Despite the controversy surrounding Semenya and the IAAF’s impeding ruling of regulating female testosterone levels, she focused all her energy on the race.

“I’m here to perform,” Semenya said. “To be honest, I’m just an athlete. There’s nothing I can do or say about that.”

In a race that featured the top three finishers from the Rio Olympics and the 2017 world championships, Semenya closed the final lap in 57.99 seconds and never looked uncomfortable.

“When you live life, you gain experience,” Semenya said. “I’ve been in this world almost three decades now. … You just want to inspire people. Inspire the youth to show them that you believe anything is possible.”

From the start, Semenya tucked in right behind the pacesetter, Chrishuna Williams, who led the first 500 meters. With 200 meters to go, the field was still condensed. Former Duck Raevyn Rogers was in the mix, and she finished seventh with a season-best 1:59.36, a full two seconds faster than her last 800 meters at the Adidas Boston Games.

“I’ve been, I guess, in a way scared to get really in the mix with things,” Rogers said. “But with this meet, I was really excited. I was able to really do the best that I could and actually finish close and still go sub two. … It’s a good day for me.”

Semenya admitted she was eyeing the world record of 1:53.28. She said Saturday was just the first step in a very long journey to achieve that goal.

“Now it’s no longer about running hard,” she said. “It’s about running smart.”

If Semenya, already historically dominant, starts putting serious work into setting a world record, the rest of the field could be in trouble.

As Wilson put it, “It’s good to get second.”

Timothy Cheruiyot, Jakob Ingebrigtsen shine in final Bowerman Mile at Hayward

By August Howell

With 12,667 fans filling the stadium at Hayward Field, Jakob Ingebrigtsen sprinted down the home stretch of the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic. With less than 100 meters to go, the Norwegian drew level with Elijah Manangoi, the reigning world champion.

“When I saw Manangoi, I was like, ‘Wow,’” Ingebrigtsen said. “It’s a dream come true to be racing against the best guys in the world.”

In Ingebrigsten’s first Bowerman Mile, the 17-year-old finished in 3 minutes, 52.28 seconds, good for fourth place. Though he did not achieve his goal of beating Alan Webb’s national high school record, he still set a personal best by nearly four seconds. In a race featuring the reigning world and Olympic champions, Ingebrigtsen was the only athlete in the field who set a personal best.

Timothy Cheruiyot, last year’s third-place finisher, won the race in 3:49.87. After going 56.05 on the final lap, he pumped his fist as he broke the tape.

Cheruiyot handily beat Manangoi, his training partner. His biggest challenge came from Samuel Tefera, the 19-year-old world indoor champion for 1,500 meters. Tefera, from Ethiopia, was the only competitor challenging Cheruiyot with 200 meters to go, but was unable to outkick him. This is the second consecutive Diamond League meet in which Tefera has finished second to Cheruiyot, the last being the 1,500 meters in Shanghai.

The pacer, Jackson Kivuva of Kenya, led the field through the first lap in 56.1 seconds. By the time they came around the 800-meter mark in 1:55.8, Cheruiyot and Tefera had widened their lead considerably.

Cheruiyot was happy with the win, but wished the pace had been even faster. He said he loves competing in Eugene because he starts the year “rusty,” then looks to improve his time at Hayward. His goal time for the end of the season in to run sub-3:28 in the 1,500 meters, which he wants to do at the Monaco Diamond League race.

Ingebrigtsen’s time was the fastest ever by a 17-year-old. Because he turns 18 later this calendar year, he is not eligible for the Under-18 world record. The race’s pace allowed him to finish with a strong final lap.

“It felt really good,” Ingebrigtsen said. “I wasn’t expecting the race to be that fast. … I had a lot more to give the last lap, so I felt really good coming into the homestretch.”

 

Ryan Crouser closes Hayward career with a meet record and shot put win

By Collin Catman

In a field that featured all the medalists from the Rio Olympic games and London IAAF World Championships, Oregon native and defending Pre Classic champion Ryan Crouser won the men’s shot put throw of 73 feet, 11 inches, breaking the previous record that he set in 2017 by 4 inches.

Crouser, the world No. 2 and Rio gold medalist, took the lead with his first throw, which traveled 72-1 1/2, and was never threatened from there.

“It was a nice easy throw, and to throw 72 that early gave me a lot of confidence,” Crouser said. “As I get used to throwing hard again and competing again, it’s really exciting because there is still a lot of potential there to improve.”

Crouser increased his lead when he threw 72-7 on his fourth throw.

Though the crowd gasped at the distance of his first three throws, it wasn’t until the fifth round that Crouser got the Hayward faithful to their feet with the meet record throw, also the farthest throw by an American this year.

“It’s really special for me to get it here at the last Prefontaine that we’re gonna have at Historic Hayward Field,” Crouser said. “My uncle texted me this morning saying good luck and about all the memories he has at Hayward Field.”

Though Crouser’s first three throws kept him in the lead, he believed that early season jitters hindered him from getting the meet record throw.

“I lined some stuff up and was a little bit more patient,” he said. “It was a little bit tight and wasn’t as patient as I would’ve liked.”

Rounding out the top three was Poland’s Michal Haratyk, who had a personal best on his last throw, which went 72-1, to edge Brazil’s Darlan Romani, who ended up in third place with his personal best, 72 feet, 1/4 inch.

Notably absent from the top 3 was world No. 1 Tom Walsh of New Zealand. Walsh finished fourth and was unable to top his 71-8 mark in the second round, as he fouled on his last three attempts. That mark was far short of his season and personal best throw, 74-4 1/4, which was the farthest throw since 1990.

As the Diamond League moves forward, Crouser is looking to shake off the early season rust due to a hand injury he suffered earlier in the season, but he is also pleased with the field he has to compete against.

“Out of that whole group, all 10 could’ve thrown 70 feet, and all of them have thrown 70 feet,” he said. “Shot from now until 2020 looks like it’s only gonna get better.”

 

Genzebe Dibaba Continues her Reign in Women’s 5,000

By Brenten Kelly

Genzebe Dibaba came down the final 100-meter stretch with a comfortable lead in the Prefontaine Classic’s 5,000 meters Saturday afternoon, continuing not only her dominance at Hayward Field, but in the world. She has never lost a Pre Classic 5,000-meter event, and this was her third win.

Even with her success, she thinks she could be faster next time.

“If I follow the pacemakers next time, I can have a better time and a better race,” she said.

Dibaba’s winning time was 14 minutes, 26.89 seconds, the fastest in the world this year. She finished 3.4 seconds ahead of fellow Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey and 8.14 ahead of Kenyan Hellen Obiri, who finished third.

“I’m happy and my fastest time is still fast,” Dibaba said. “I am in good shape, and the competition was hard.”

The Hayward Field record holder dipped to second place briefly at the 3,800-meter mark. But Dibaba regained the lead at 4,600 meters.

Gidey not only had a career day, but raced for the first time in the United States. She recorded a personal best and kept pace with Dibaba’s pack the majority of the race. Born in 1998, Gidey was the youngest racer in her event.

“It was a good race,” she said. “The country is very good and very nice. I want to come again to race here.”

Obiri was a favorite along with Dibaba coming into the day, and she set a season best with her third-place finish. Obiri’s recent accolades include her world outdoor gold in the 5,000 in 2017.

Dibaba and Obiri will be the favorites coming into the next Diamond League event in Rome. Now Gidey is one of the up and comers.

 

Ronnie Baker Wins 100, Wants to Be Part of the Conversation

By Jake Willard

A win at the Prefontaine Classic was nice for Ronnie Baker, but the world indoor bronze medalist, who wears a chain with an emblem for The Flash, has much bigger goals in mind.

“My goal is to be the fastest guy in the world,” he said. “I’m super into superheroes, and The Flash is kind of my idol as far as superheroes go.”

Baker, who admitted he is more of a Marvel guy and loves Iron Man, took down a field that included the reigning world indoor gold and silver medalists Christian Coleman and Su Bingtian. He won the 100 meters in 9.78 seconds and if the wind would have cooperated, his time would have put him in the top 30 all-time.

After earning world indoor bronze earlier this year and defending his Pre Classic 100 title Saturday, the American believes that his name should be in the conversation more. “It would be nice to see my name in an article once in a while,” he said.

Coleman, who ran 9.84 for second place in his season debut, is coming off a right hamstring injury that caused him to drop out of the Shanghai Diamond League two weeks ago. “I’ve gotten a lot of treatment this week. It feels a little bit different,” he said. “But no excuses, you know. I got out on the line, so I was ready to go.”

Coleman finished just .06 behind Baker, and he was not surprised by the winner’s performance. “We were pretty much even the whole way. He just pulled away from me the last 80 or 90 meters,” Coleman said. “Ronnie is a great runner, good competitor, and I’m looking forward to running races with him.”

Baker was also not surprised by his performance. “I really think I executed really well the first 30 meters of my race,” he said. “I just went through and executed my race just like I do in practice, and stayed relaxed.”

Working with coach Darryl Anderson, Baker has been paying extra attention to his start. “We go through and analyze each race, and we try to pick out one thing that I need to work on. So far it has been opening up my stride with my arms in my first 30 meters,” Baker said. He saw the benefits at Hayward Field.

Baker looks to better his standing May 31 in the Rome Diamond League, where he will again face Coleman and Bingtian in the 100. He will be a big part of the conversation in that race.

Shelby Houlihan uses strong kick for a PR and 1,500 victory

By Chiann Nobrega

Shelby Houlihan let the adrenaline kick in on the final lap Saturday and chased down the leaders to win the women’s 1,500 meters at the Prefontaine Classic. 

“Going into the last 300, I was kind of visualizing what we do in practice where we’re just cutting down every 100 meters and accelerating and switching gears,” Houlihan said. “That’s what I was trying to do, and I felt really good going into the last 100.” 

Houlihan earned a new PR with a time of 3 minutes, 59.06 seconds, ahead of Scottish runner Laura Muir, who took second with a time of 3:59.30, and American Jenny Simpson, who was third in 3:59.37.

This was Simpson’s first 1,500 of the season, and she was in a consistent front spot until the end. But she is happy with her sub-4 race and proud of the hard work she put in.

“There is some fun in that, to see how hard you can push,” Simpson said. “There is a bit of a disadvantage putting yourself out there, to say I’m going to put myself in the most vulnerable spot. But I am really proud of that.”

Muir, who holds the British national record in the 1,500, made her outdoor debut. She’s a future veterinary doctor who recently passed her finals, and she had a rough past couple of months juggling both school and running. But she said she trained through it and is “very pleased” with the race.

“I think I timed it really well,” Muir said. “Shelby was really strong in the finish, and it was a close finish.”

Houlihan is off to a great start for the outdoor season and believes she is in the best shape possible. Consistent training has been very important, and she has been doing that at Mammoth Lake for the past month. The high altitude leaves her feeling fresh and ready for events like this. Having Jerry Schumacher as a coach is also helpful.

“You can tell he believes in you and tries to put you in the best position that he can,” Houlihan said. “And you’ve just got to go do it. Also just having teammates that are as good as me or if not better around me. We’re just making each other better every day. That is a huge thing.”

Houlihan and her teammates have a fun relationship off the track. She and Colleen Quigley have created a social media competition between Quigley’s “French braid Friday” and Houlihan’s “French bread Friday.”

“It is kind of funny,” Houlihan said. “Colleen actually started French braid Friday. She wanted to do it as a motivational thing for young girls and building confidence, and I kind of had the idea to do French bread Friday just as kind of mocking it a little bit and poke fun a little bit.”

“French bread Friday” has now become popular among fans, and the two athletes often collaborate together on their posts. Quigley, who was entered in the race, withdrew due to a stress related injury in her foot.

Jamaican 400-Meter Hurdler Janieve Russell Shines in victory

By Jenny Sanchez

Jamaican Olympic hurdler Janieve Russell won the 400-meter hurdles Saturday at the 44th Annual Prefontaine Classic in 54.06, edging American Dalilah Muhammad by .03 seconds.

“I was expecting a faster time,” said Muhammad. “I was ready to run, but some days aren’t your best. I was just not mentally prepared, and it got to me at the end.”

Muhammad, 28, earned her first IAAF Diamond League trophy last season. In 2016, she became America’s first female Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, an event the U.S. annually dominates. Her lifetime best of 52.88 still stands as the Hayward Field record, but she could not surpass the record nor Russell.

“My step patterns weren’t there today,” said Muhammad. “I have never stuttered. I think the first time I have ever stuttered was in high school. So, I don’t know what that was, but it happens, and it caught me off guard.”

Russell, 24, is Jamaica’s youngest Olympic finalist in the event. This year, she is fourth in the world rankings after ranking seventh last season, and she recently won a Commonwealth Games championship.

With many things running through her mind before and during the race, Russell reminded herself of her coach’s thoughts of freeing her mind and giving her all at Hayward Field.

“I was a little nervous,” said Russell. “Everyone is feeling the same pain, and everyone is running the same distance. I had to go out and pull off my best for the fans, but I was feeling the crowd, which reminded me of my home country, Jamaica.”

American Ashley Spencer, 24, finished seventh after winning last year’s Pre Classic with a personal best of 53.38.

“I was not myself today,” she said. “I lost footing and noticed my chances of winning slipping away. I did all that I could, but I was just not mentally prepared for this.”

Russell will take the week to prepare for her upcoming Rome Diamond League race on May 31. Her goals for the season are to qualify for the Diamond League final and to race below 53 seconds.

“I feel pretty good and very confident,” said Russell. “I’ve been racing this circuit with these ladies since 2015. With this win, it gives me the confidence boost I need for the season.”

Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Phyllis Francis finish 1-2 in women’s 400

By Melissa Ingabire

Phyllis Francis returned to her alma mater to run at Hayward Field in its original glory during the final Prefontaine Classic there before construction of a new state of the art track. Despite being excited about the new arena, Francis couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.

“Now it’s really starting to hit me — it’s just so great to be out here with the fans,” Francis said. “It brings me back to memories of my college years. But you know — out with the old and in with the new.”

Francis took an early lead in the 400 meters Saturday, but in the last 50 meters of the race, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas closed in to win in 49.52. Francis finished in second place in 50.81.

“I’m not too stoked about the time, but it’s an opener and I’m trying new things,” Francis said. “I’m just glad that I executed hard from the start.”

Miller-Uibo’s time was her quickest opener in the 400 meters, but she thinks she can do much better. She said simply: “I can live with it.”

Fresh off the finish line, she was already thinking about tweaks she can make.

This was Miller-Uibo’s fourth time competing in Eugene, but she said this year was different. “I had to change up the race a little, but I was able to power home and finish strong,” she said.

According to Miller-Uibo, one thing about Hayward Field never changes- is the fans.

“The crowd is always really great and supportive which helps,” she said. Having previously won the event at the 2016 Pre Classic, she said, “It still feels really good to win again.”

Jenn Suhr wins pole vault showdown against Eliza McCartney

By Bryce Dole

Six years ago was the last time the women’s pole vault was held at the Prefontaine Classic. The winner that day was Fabiana Murer of Brazil, who cleared 15 feet, 2 1/4 inches.

The caliber of women vaulters today has grown to a new level.

The most experienced athlete in the field was 36-year-old Olympic champion and 17-time U.S. champion Jenn Suhr, and she took the title by clearing 15 feet, 11 inches, the same height as 21-year-old Eliza McCartney of New Zealand. McCartney had more misses at lower heights, so she finished second. Both jumpers beat the Pre Classic record.

“It was pretty cool to watch Jenn and Eliza jumping because Jenn is the older generation and Eliza is the new generation,” said Sandi Morris, who finished third at 15-5. “There’s more than 10 years of age gap between the two of them, and here they are both competing at the highest level possible. It’s cool to be a part of this new wave of women’s vaulters.”

Injuries have plagued Suhr over these past few years, but after Saturday’s performance, her confidence in her health is continuing to grow.

“I’ve been more healthy lately than in my entire career. I think the older you get the smarter you get,” said Suhr. “I haven’t been in a full competition like this with elite, world class girls in a while, so to be able to come out, be focused but still not be under stress and anxiety was great.”

McCartney’s clearance broke her own national record and set a new Oceania record. McCartney said the performance was because of her positive attitude.

“If I’m not smiling and enjoying it, that just means that my head isn’t in it,” said McCartney. “It just comes out. I mean, I don’t sit there and force a smile. It just means that I’m really in my zone and ready to go.”

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