Caster Semenya produced another peerless display of middle-distance running to set a meeting record and world lead of 1:55.92 in the women’s 800m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on Saturday (26), the highlight of the midde-distance action at the third meeting of the IAAF Diamond League.
The South African seized command of the race with 300 metres to run after covering her first lap in 57.9, well behind the pacemaker who went through in 57.25.
From there, Semenya steadily shifted through the gears and down the home straight, Francine Niyonsaba simply had no answer to the world champion’s pace, with Ajee’ Wilson coming through strongly for second in 1:56.86. Niyonsaba took third in 1:56.88.
Semenya’s time was the fastest 800m ever run by a woman on US soil, and the 27-year-old was suitably delighted with the run. “It was an amazing race,” she said. “I saw the split was 57 so I tried to maintain 57 again.”
Cheruiyot takes the mile spoils, Ingebrigtsen the records
In what was the final international meeting at Hayward Field before renovations begin, there was a fitting climax and farewell to the historic stadium in the Bowerman Mile.
Timothy Cheruiyot cracked the 3:50 barrier to take victory, but for the second year straight it was Norwegian wunderkind Jakob Ingebrigtsen who stole the show, finishing fourth in 3:52.28 to set a European U20 record.
Early in the race it looked like Ingebrigtsen may be struggling among the best milers in the world as he ran at the back of the pack.
However, the 17-year-old crept through the field on the penultimate lap, charging up the home straight to challenge world champion Elijah Manangoi for third, the Kenyan just about holding him off with 3:52.18. Ingebrigtsen’s mark carved four seconds off his previous best, and the teenager is now looking forward to competing on home soil at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo next month.
“I wasn’t expecting the race to be that fast, of course the pace was a bit breaky the first couple of laps so I had a lot more to go the last lap,” he said. “It felt really good coming into the home stretch.”
Up front, Cheruiyot was once again highly impressive, the world 1500m silver medallist showing Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera a clean pair of heels around the final turn, kicking off the front to take victory in 3:49.87 to Tefera’s 3:51.26.
“I like Eugene, every time I come I improve my time,” said Cheruiyot. “My goal for the season is to run under 3:28 in Monaco.”
Kigen upsets the steeplechase big guns
There was a shock result in the men’s 3000m steeplechase as unheralded Kenyan Benjamin Kigen overturned compatriot Conseslus Kipruto and Olympic silver medallist Evan Jager of USA.
After a slow early pace – 1000m was reached in 2:43, 2000m in 5:30 – Kipruto appeared in cruise control at the front, the race apparently playing into the hands of the lightning-fast Olympic and world champion. However, as Kipruto began to wind up the pace in the final lap he had unwanted company in the shape of Kigen, who blasted by him entering the back straight and swiftly opened a gaping advantage.
Kipruto simply had no answer, and it was soon clear that he would taste defeat in his specialist event for the first time since 2016, leaving aside his dropout in Rabat last summer.
Kigen was awkward off the last barrier but by then the damage was done, the 24-year-old hitting the finish all alone in 8:09.07. Kipruto edged a photo finish with Jager for second, both credited with 8:11.71.
Houlihan’s big surprise
The upsets continued in the women’s 1500m, Shelby Houlihan timing her run perfectly to charge past race favourites Laura Muir and Jenny Simpson as the line approached, the US athlete hitting the line in 3:59.06. Muir claimed second with 3:59.30 while Simpson, who had led the pack throughout the race behind the pacemakers, faded to third in 3:59.37.
“Going into the last 300 I said I’ll try to switch gears every 100, and I felt good at that point,” said Houlihan. “I hoped it’d be enough to catch them and it was. I was picturing winning the last few weeks and it’s surreal for it to play out the way it did.”
Dibaba dominates in outdoor debut
Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba was once again dominant in the women’s 5000m, the Olympic 1500m champion showing an impressive turn of speed in the final 400 metres to take victory in 14:26.89, well clear of fellow Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey, who clocked 14:30.29.
“I’m in good shape and training is going well,” said Dibaba. “I can run faster, it just depends on the pacemakers and their speed.”
After a disappointing outing in Doha earlier this month, Hellen Obiri showed signs she is returning to form by finishing third in 14:35.03.
There was another small piece of athletics history etched in the books in the international mile, where Australia’s Luke Mathews became the 400th athlete to run a sub-four-minute mile at Hayward Field, Mathews playing his cards late and to great effect when swooping to victory in 3:57.02. Drew Hunter claimed a decent second in 3:57.29, with fellow US athlete Henry Wynne third in 3:57.61.
“It means a heap for me,” said Mathews. “I’m a bit of a running nerd, so I’ve watched about every race ever of track and field on YouTube. It’s really special.”
On a day when nostalgia hung in the air about the past – as more than 12,000 fans bid an emotional farewell to the much-loved stadium – there was no shortage of excitement about the future, particularly the sense that when the 2021 IAAF World Championships come to town, the new-and-improved Hayward Field will make a memorable host.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF