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Posted: January 24, 2020:  

(RRW) Athletics: In Compelling Match-Up, Wightman to Face Hoppel In New Balance Indoor Grand Prix 1000m

From David Monti, @d9monti
© 2019 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

BOSTON (24-Jan) -- Meeting in the middle, Jake Wightman and Bruce Hoppel will face each other in the 1000m at tomorrow's 25th edition of the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center here, the first stop of the seven-event 2020 World Athletics Indoor Tour. Wightman, the 2018 European Athletics Championships bronze medalist at 1500m, and Hoppel, last year's NCAA 800m champion and the fourth place finisher at last year's World Athletics Championships, should be well-matched over the five-lap race which will test a miler's strength against an 800m runner's speed.

PHOTO: Jake Wightman and Bryce Hoppel in advance of the 2020 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix where they will run the 1000m (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

"I'm kind of looking at it as doing an 800 and hanging on for 200," said Hoppel at a press conference here today. Although he vaguely recalls racing at the 1000m distance once when he was a freshman at the University of Kansas, no database shows that performance. Nonetheless, the race is likely to serve as a rust-buster for the 22 year-old athlete who only turned professional last year. "I have not set foot on an indoor track yet," he reminded reporters. "This will be the first one, so I'm hoping it's fast."

Wightman has only run the distance once, but it was an excellent performance. At the Bauhaus Galan in Stockholm in June, 2018, he finished third behind Kenya's Ferguson Cheruiyot and Bahrain's Sadik Mikhou in a swift 2:16.27. That made him the fifth-fastest Briton of all time behind only several of the sport's all-time greats: Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram, James McIlroy, and Steve Ovett.

"For me, it's only five laps and not seven and a half," Wightman joked, comparing the distance to his more typical 1500m races.

Like Coe, Cram and Ovett, Wightman, 24, is proud to be an all-around middle distance runner, "something that's been lost the last decade or so," he lamented. Indeed, his 800m career best of 1:44.61 is just a few ticks slower than Hoppel's 1:44.25, and he was Britain's fourth-fastest 800m runner of the 2019 season. Wightman said that the 800m was really an avocation for him, something he did for a personal challenge and satisfaction, but not for medals.

"I enjoy the 800's a lot more than the fifteens," he said while his father and coach Geoff stood nearby. "I can do the 800 and not have the same expectations."

So early in the season, it's impossible to know the level of fitness these man have at the moment. The benchmarks for comparison are the meeting record of 2:17.00 set by by Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz in 2015, and the USA all-comers record of 2:16.76 by the late David Torrence on a different track in Boston in 2016. The world-leading time for the young 2020 season is 2:18.01 by the Atlanta Track Club's Abraham Alvarado.

Interestingly, the reigning world 800m champion, Donavan Brazier, is also entered in tomorrow's meet, but he's running a different event, the 600m. Brazier, who broke Johnny Gray's 34 year-old American 800m record last year when he clocked 1:42.34 in the World Athletics Championships final, said that the 1000m distance didn't interest him, at least not now.

"Sure I could, but I wouldn't want to," said Brazier when asked if he could be competitive in tomorrow's 1000m contest. He added: "I did 1000 at Millrose a few years ago and got destroyed."

The New Balance Indoor Grand Prix begins at 5:00 p.m. with the women's high jump and concludes at 8:00 p.m. with the women's 500m which will feature hurdling sensation Sydney McLaughlin. The meet will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Channel (NBCSN) and the NBC SportsGold app.

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