PALO ALTO, Calif. (03-Jun) -- Stanford University proved to be a wonderful guest host for the 45th edition of the Prefontaine Classic here today, the seventh only stop of the 2019 IAAF Diamond League series in the United States. Following the demolition of 99 year-old Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., the meet's traditional home, the competition was moved here to Cobb Track & Angell field for just one edition, and the athletes took full advantage of the warm, dry conditions to post some of the fastest performances ever in the United States.
PHOTO: Sifan Hassan wins the 3000m at the 2019 Prefontaine Classic at Cobb Track & Angell Field at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. (photo courtesy of IAAF)
The action got started with the women's steeplechase where world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech lived up to her top billing. Off of a 2:53 opening kilometer, the 27 year-old Kenyan overwhelmed the field with a world-leading and meet record 8:55.58, the fifth-fastest time in history. She completely dominated the race, winning by nearly ten seconds.
"I ran the race and I ran 8:55 and that's what I am happy about," Chepkoech, who is sponsored by Nike, told Race Results Weekly. "It's a meeting record."
Behind her, reigning world champion Emma Coburn of Team New Balance, overcame a self-inflicted fall on the backstretch about two-thirds of the way into the race to finish second in 9:04.90, the second-fastest time of her career. She said later that she simply tangled her own two feet, and lost only about a second in the fall.
"I definitely died the last kilometer," Coburn told a clutch of reporters, explaining that it was her plan to go out hard today. She continued: "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."
In the men's two-mile, recently-crowned IAAF world cross country champion Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda/Nike won a thrilling homestretch sprint over 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships 3000m silver medalist Selemon Barega of Ethiopia/Nike and 2016 Olympic 5000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo who also represents Nike. Barega dropped a 60.2-second lap after the three-quarter mile mark to break up the race, and began the bell lap with the lead. Cheptegei ran him down, passed him, then found himself having to fend off the charging Chelimo who sprinted furiously the last 200 meters. Cheptegei just edged Chelimo, clocking a world-leading 8:07.54, to Chelimo's 8:07.59. Chelimo's mark was just 52/100ths off of Matt Tegenkamp's American record.
"I can say it was really fantastic," Cheptegei said of his final sprint. "I'm preparing for a 10K (at the world championships) in Doha that's why I came for a two-mile here in Stanford. The last time I did a 3000m in Oslo (on June 13), so I think I'm doing a perfect plan."
As expected, Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya of South Africa/Nike dominated the women's 800m running 1:55.70, the fastest time ever on U.S. soil and surpassing her own meet record of 1:55.92 set last year. Behind her, the next five women broke two minutes, led by 2017 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Ajee' Wilson of Neptune, N.J. (adidas), who ran a season's best 1:58.36.
Semenya was permitted to run the two-lap race here after a Swiss court overturned --at least for now-- a decision by the Court of Arbitration For Sport which mandated that she and other intersex athletes with hyperandrogenism not compete in middle-distance events unless their testosterone levels were lowered with medication.
"The race was good," Semenya told a big group of reporters in the mixed zone. "Being able to win, being able to run the fastest time on American soil, I think it was fantastic." She continued: "I think other people's perceptions of me are their own problem, not my problem."
Wilson said she had no problem competing against Semenya, and that her presence in the race didn't change her plans or her goal of getting down to 1:55 by the end of the season.
"Absolutely, I think she should be allowed to run," said Wilson. "I think anybody's beatable; that's the mentality me and my coach go into training with."
The women's 3000m may have been the best race of the day. Ethiopia's Letsenbet Gidey (Nike) led at the bell with Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan (Nike Oregon Track Club), compatriot Genzebe Dibaba (Nike), and Germany's Konstanze Klosterhalfen (Nike Oregon Track Club) a few meters back giving chase. Hassan, who had won the 10,000m at the Payton Jordan Invitational here last month, used her powerful kick to overhaul Gidey on the backstretch and smoke the last lap in 63.4 seconds to run a Diamond League record 8:18.49, easily the fastest time ever on U.S. soil.
"I always do my best here," a giddy Hassan told reporters. She added: "This track is very beautiful for me."
Klosterhalfen beat Gidey in the final sprint to set a German record of 8:20.07, while Gidey set an Ethiopian record of 8:20.27 in third. Remarkably, seven women broke 8:28 including recently crowned IAAF world cross country champion Hellen Obiri who finished sixth in 8:27.26 after being near the front for most of the race. The top American was Karissa Schweizer of the Nike Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., who clocked a personal best 8:42.15. All 18 finishers broke nine minutes.
Reigning Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon (Nike) showed that she is still on the top of her game after taking maternity leave last year, winning that discipline here in 3:59.04, getting past Britain's Laura Muir (Nike) on the final lap. Muir ran 3:59.47 and was just able to hold off the final charge of defending champion Shelby Houlihan of the Nike Bowerman Track Club who ran 3:59.64.
"I've never run here so this is my first time," said Kipyegon. The Kenyan continued: "It's really amazing because I was not thinking that I was going to win today. But, I really thank God for this gift and happy to be back again."
In the meet's signature and closing event, the Bowerman Mile, the nearly 8000 fans in attendance did not go home disappointed and were treated to 14 sub-4:00 performances. At the front, the winner was no surprise. Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot (Nike), the fastest 1500m runner in the world last year with a 3:28.41 personal best, muscled away from his rivals in the final 200m with his distinctive, forward-leaning style. His time of 3:50.49 was an outdoor world leader (Ethiopia's Yomif Kejelcha ran faster marks indoors). Djibouti's Ayanleh Souleiman (Nike) finished second in 3:51.22 and Norwegian brothers Filip and Jakob Ingebrigtsen finished third and fourth in 3:51.28 and 3:51.30, respectively (both represent Nike).
Cheruiyot ran well despite a travel delay caused by a visa problem which only allowed him to arrive in the Bay Area last night. He told reporters that the delay wasn't a problem.
"I was coming to win the race today," said Cheruiyot with an almost zen-like calm.
The 2016 Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz of the Nike Bowerman Track Club put in an excellent performance off of only five weeks of hard training, clocking a 2019 IAAF World Championships qualifying mark of 3:52.26. It was only his first race of the year, after battling several injuries and he was clearly pleased with his effort.
"The time wasn't special, but it was the standard," said Centrowitz who needed to run at least 3:53.10 to be qualified for Doha. "I didn't have the standard coming in to this, so that was pretty big for me to get because I only have a few opportunities between now and USA's."
The 2019 IAAF Diamond League moves to Lausanne, Switzerland, for the next and eighth stop on July 4 and 5. The 14-meet series concludes with two finals in Zürich on August 28 and 29, and Brussels on September 5 and 6.