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The End is Near: Diamond League Zurich Recap

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With the Diamond League season winding down to a close, Zurich featured top fields, but few truly fast times.

2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials - Day 10 Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Post-Olympics Diamond League races are always a bit of a drag simply because it’s impossible to replicate the high of the Olympics themselves. Even so, the Lausanne and Paris meets had the vibe of the late-night slice of pizza you get after the bars close on Friday night. They were the perfect continuation to an already excellent season of track and field. Zurich felt more like the long subway ride home where you wish you had just foregone the pizza and gone to bed earlier.

Men’s 5000m

Though he only finished third, this was Evan Jager’s race. Early on—as in, 100m in, Jager was alone with the rabbits out front of the race with none of the other competitors interested in chasing a fast time this far removed from their targeted Olympic peak. Jager took advantage of the field’s reticence early and opened up a 12 second lead in the first mile. He didn’t give much of that back over the next 2400 meters as he came through 4000 with an eight-second lead on the main pack and entered the bell lap holding on to a six-second lead.

That lead, however, was not big enough to hold off a field that had run a more controlled race than Jager. As the field of Gebrhiwet, Rop, Kejelcha, Lagat, Iguider, and Chelimo began to kick at the bell, Jager clearly had nothing to respond. Gebrihwet stormed by him with 100m to go and put a full two seconds on Jager over that final 100m and Paul Chelimo passed him in the final meters to earn yet another second-place finish in the 5000m. Jager had to settle for third in 13:16.86.

All told, four Americans finished in the top-10 of this field, with Lagat (6th) and Ryan Hill (9th) following Chelimo and Jager. Even in an end-of-season race the U.S. continued to look like a real distance power. Ethiopia placed three runners in the top 10 (1, 7, 10) and Kenya had no runners in the top-10. It has been a great year for U.S. distance running.

Women’s 200m

The one thing I really wanted out of the remaining Diamond League meets was to see more showdowns between Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers at 200m. Though Thompson made easy work of Schippers in Rio, Schippers’ body of work suggested the gap between the two was closer than the Olympics led many to believe. We got that showdown in Zurich and it showed that a Schippers/Thompson rivalry is more reality than speculation.

Schippers got off with a lead on Thompson and had a couple meters on her coming off the turn, but she couldn’t hold off a huge final 100m from Thompson as the Jamaican just snuck by Schippers at the line to win by .01 seconds and set a Diamond League Record of 21.85. Both are young enough that this is has the makings of a rivalry that could last for some time.

Allyson Felix finished third in a season-best time of 22.02.

Women’s 800m

If you didn’t already know that Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba, and Margaret Wambui had a huge gap on the rest of the world in the 800, this race put that fact clearly apparent. All three went out hard and, with 600m to go, it became a three-woman race. The final 100m featured the three battling out for the win with the rest of the field 5-10 meters behind them. Semenya finally pulled away and put a cap on an undefeated season that was the most dominant we’ve seen in athletics in some time, especially given the frequency with which she has raced.

From an American perspective, Kate Grace ran her typically smart race, sitting with the pack for the majority and relying on her kick to move up to fifth in the final straight and record a PR of 1:58.28. 10 women ran under 2:00, which is just becoming normal at this point.

Women’s 1500m

Shannon Rowbury had a difficult run at Rio where she finished fourth behind rival Jenny Simpson, but she got back at Simpson in Zurich with a win in the penultimate Diamond League meeting of the season.

In the race, four women—Rowbury, Simpson, Laura Muir, and Faith Kipyegon—went out with the rabbit in 2:08 and, unlike Paris, where Muir opened up a lead upon the rabbit’s exit, all three women went with her. Coming into the bell lap, Kipyegon took the lead from Muir and the pack of four was still together up front.

Muir reclaimed the lead coming off the final turn with Simpson fanning out wide to potentially make a pass. Rowbury opted to stay close to the rail and passed Kipyegon with a bit over 50m to go and found another gear over the final 50m to pass Muir on the inside on a lean at the line that sent the American on a fall after making slight contact with Muir. It was a season-best time of 3:57.78 for Rowbury. Simpson finished back in fourth as she wasn’t able to hold off Sifan Hassan’s kick.

Though Muir had to settle for a close second in this one, she does take home the Diamond League title with Kipyegon fading back to 7th in the final straight. Muir has long been on the international scene in the 1500m, but 2016 cemented her place among the truly elite in the world.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase

Prior to last week’s meet in Paris, we discussed the stratification of the women’s steeplechase into four clear tiers of 1) Ruth Kebet, 2) Hyvin Kiyeng, 3) Emma Coburn, and 4) everyone else. This race continued the establishment of that clear hierarchy in the steeple.

Having already broken the world record in Paris, Jebet was content to simply win this one as she went out in a more controlled (for her) 6:03 for 2000m after a quick 2:57 first kilometer that only Kiyeng, Chepkoech, and Chespol saw fit to go with. All the while, Emma Coburn was biding her time sitting way back with the chase pack. A little before 2k, with Jebet running away from Kiyeng and Kiyeng running away from everyone else, Coburn made a move away from the pack to pick off the casualties of the first kilometer’s fast pace. She made easy work of Chepkoech and Chespol and entered the final lap with an outside shot at Kiyeng who had about a 50m lead, but appeared to be fading.

The gap proved to be too much, but Coburn did take third to cap a season where she only lost to two women—Jebet and Kiyeng. The times were slow for everyone with Jebet “only” running 9:07 for the win, Kiyeng following in 9:10.15, and Coburn coming in at 9:17.42. but, the tiers remain intact as the three all proved that they are truly the top-3 women’s steeplers in the world.

We only have one more meet of the Diamond League season with the Brussels meet next Saturday. Until then, we still have the 5th Avenue Mile tomorrow afternoon, which features, as usual, a diverse field of the top talents in middle-distance and distance running all meeting on the roads at the same distance.