The Olympics might be in the rearview mirror, but the track season certainly is not with four Diamond League meets left to finish out the season. The first of the them was Thursday afternoon in Lausanne and it featured many Olympic medalists looking to capture their peak fitness in more of a time trial format. As such, rabbited paces were set to breakneck and, in the leadup to the meet, world records were put under watch, especially in the women’s 3000m and men’s 1000m races.
It didn’t turn out quite like that, as no world records came under any real threat, perhaps due to the hectic travel schedule that it likely involved to travel to Rio, from Rio, and to Lausanne for many athletes. Still, with names like those featured in Lausanne, the races were bound to be fun. And they were.
There was some talk of a world record attempt as it seems women are intent on taking down the string of Chinese distance records from the 90s. With rabbits scheduled to come through 1000m in 2:43 and 1500m in 4:05, there was clearly some intent to attack the 8:06.11 record in the event.
But then, the rabbits didn’t rabbit. They came through 1k in 2:55 and then didn’t pick it up over the next 1000 meters, coming through 2000m in 5:52. It’s a mystery to me why that happened with people literally paid to ensure the race goes considerably faster than that, but it did.
What that set up was a kicking win for Genzebe Dibaba, who picked up the pace in the last two laps to break Hellen Obiri and Mercy Cherono with a 57.47 second final 400m to win handily in 8:31.84. It’s phenomenally difficult to outkick Dibaba when the race comes down to a short distance and it’s not surprising Obiri and Cherono didn’t have it in them.
The field took a hit when Margaret Wambui withdrew, but with Francine Niyonsaba, Lynsey Sharp, Eunice Sum, and Melissa Bishop, it was still tantalizing. The rabbit here was set to go out in 58, which, really, what’s the point? All these women would probably go out between 57-59 on their own anyway. Why pay someone to do work the field was likely to do themselves?
With that controlled early pace, the main contenders were all together for 600m until Niyonsaba showed why she got silver in Rio: she can kick with the very best in the world. She opened up on Sum, Sharp, and Bishop over the last 100m to win in 1:57.71, leaving the rest behind.
The women’s 800m right now is insane. Five women finished under 2:00 in a field that didn’t feature Semenya or Wambui. Running under 2:00 used to get a lot of attention, but now, it just gets you in the conversation.
Women’s 100m Hurdles
Americans sweep again. This was three different Americans than swept at the Olympics. World Record holder Kendra Harrison won easily in 12.42 (faster than the 12.48 that won gold in Rio) and was followed by Dawn Harper-Nelson and Jasmine Stowers. The United States dominating this event is just becoming ho-hum at this point. Put three Americans in a field, and odds are they will be the first three finishers.
Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
With an aggressive targeted pace of 2:38 through 1000m and 5:17 through 2k, this race figured to be interesting. Though the top runners went with the 1000m pace, they all sort of dropped off in the second kilometer, and let the rabbit run out on his own for a bit.
By that point, Jairus Birech, who entered the race with the fastest time in the field this season, was looking a bit ragged from the early pace and Nicholas Bett and Abraham Kibiwott emerged as the two front runners. It looked like Bett was going to take it and cement the Bett name in history (another Nicholas Bett had already won the 400m hurdles), but faltered a bit on the final water jump to allow Kibiwott to overtake him and hold him off over the final 100m. Kibiwott finished in 8:09, with Bett close behind in 8:10.
With Ezekiel Kemboi and the Kenyan old guard getting older, it appears safe to say that they have another generation of steeplechasers who will still be at the front of most international competitions. Bett is only 19, Kibiwott 20, and Olympic Gold Medlaist Conseslus Kipriutoat 21, Kenya will likely continue to be a force in the steeple for some time.
The marquee event of the afternoon was undoubtedly the men’s 1000m with a potentially vulnerable world record in a stacked field full of Olympic and World Championship medalists. The world record wasn’t to be, but we did get a good race.
It was clear from the start that Asbel Kiprop and Matt Centrowitz weren’t quite attuned to the tactics of a 1000m, which resembles a 800m much more than it does a 1500m. Both approached the race, it appeared, like a tactical 1500 and were content to not mix it up early, but others were.
Among them was eventual winner Ayanleh Souleiman. After coming through 800m in just under 1:46, he decisively put away Robert Biwott in the last 200m to win in 2:13.49, which now ranks 5th on the all-time list in the event, trailing active athlete Taoufik Makhloufi by only .41 seconds on the list.
Back to Kiprop and Centrowitz though. Kiprop unsurprisingly responded a bit better to the tactical error—he’s built a career on tactical errors, after all—to grab third in a time of 2:14.23, which only superficially challenged for the top three. Centrowitz never even had a superficial moment in the spotlight as he had to settle for sixth in 2:16.67.
The Diamond League visits Paris on Saturday, so there will be more track on deck to satisfy our collective post-Olympic withdrawal.