The Tokyo Rundown Issue #3 (7/30/2021)

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Men's 10,000m Final

The first Olympic medal of track & field has been awarded and Selemon Barega of Ethiopia is the recipient. Bargea bested a group of hard-charging men over the final 400 meters, holding off Ugandans Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo over the final 150 meters.  

This race had some interesting tactics not often seen at the Olympic level for the sport. Stephen Kissa (UGA) got off to a hot start and dragged Barega and Rhonex Kipruto (KEN) with him. The group mirrored a typical breakaway in cycling, running well off the front of the field, eventually coming back to the field at around 4km. Kissa then proceeded to drop out, clearly entered to disrupt the pacing tactics of others.

Track rarely sees these kinds of tactics and there’s sure to be some outrage on the social feeds about integrity and the likes. I don’t necessarily love the move, but there’s nothing that says you cannot do it, so it’s certainly a legal (and smart) maneuver if you’re willing to sacrifice your Olympic dreams.

Americans Joe Klecker and Woody Kincaid both faded over the second 5km, with the pair finishing in 15th and 16th respectively. Both were making their Olympic debuts. Kincaid will be coming back to run the 5k as well.

Speaking of Americans, Grant Fisher “had himself a day”. Fisher was the top American and finished fifth overall, three seconds outside of medal position. With 400 meters to go, Fisher was in the lead group but somewhat boxed in near the back. When moves started to happen, he attempted to cover but got stuck behind a number of runners, forcing him to swing around and lose a couple steps on the leaders. By the time Fisher was in the clear, he was too far off the leaders to compete for a medal. 

For the United States, this race highlighted how far we have come and how far we still have to go on the world stage. All three Americans were competing in their first Olympics, with Fisher and Klecker both being rookies in the professional distance world. Kincaid struggled with health issues for much of his early career but has since found his stride. All three looked to be competitive at the highest level, and although today’s results may not have been ideal, there is plenty of reason for optimism.

Women's 5,000m Prelims

Sometimes it sounds a bit copy and paste to say things went “as expected”, but when you get into prelim rounds with the best in the world, they tend to know what they’re doing. The women’s 5k was much of the same, with the favorites advancing through to the final.

In Heat 1, Sifan Hassan cruised to victory in 14:47, leading a slew of women under 15 minutes. Japanese runner Ririka Hironaka led the field through 3km before giving way to Yasemin Can of Turkey. Can led until 400 meters left, fading back to sixth but good enough to earn a spot in the final. 

The Ethiopian duo of Senbere Teferi and Ejgayehu moved through with ease, both clocking 14:48 for third and fourth. Karissa Schweizer (USA) earned a trip to her first Olympic final with a seventh place finish, coming in 14:51. Hironaka’s hard work did end up paying off as she also made the final. In fact, all of the time qualifiers came from Heat 1, with Andrea Seccafien (CAN) as the last runner in. 

Heat 2 was a much different story. The race was substantially slower than the first heat, with Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) and Hellen Obiri (KEN) doing much of the work during the race. Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay came away with the win in 14:55, with Obiri and Nadia Battocletti (ITA) right on her heels. Elise Cranny (USA) had a phenomenal Olympic debut and took fourth in the heat to advance to the final. 

Coming up just short, Rachel Schneider (USA) finished in seventh, only three seconds out of a qualification position. Schneider was also making her Olympic debut.

Men's Steeplechase Prelims

We said that track would start with a bang and we weren’t lying. Heat 1 went out blazing fast thanks to Carlos Andres San Martin (COL). The pack stayed tight for much of the race, with all the big names staying out of trouble. Lamecha Girma (ETH) took the win in 8:09 with the other heat favorite, Benjamin Kigen (KEN) finishing third in 8:10. Sandwiched between the two was Ryuji Miura (JAP) who set a personal best and national record en route to a massive performance for Japan.

American Mason Ferlic was consistently at the back of the lead pack, continuing to hang on when others fell off. He eventually faded off but finished strong, coming across in 8:20. The mark was good enough for eighth in his heat which had him in a qualifying position at the time, but he was pushed out by a faster second heat.

Heat 2 was much of the same, with the favorites moving on relatively easily. Abraham Kibiwot (KEN) took the win in 8:12, with Getnet Wale (ETH) and Ahmed Abdewalhed (ITA) finishing in second and third with the same time. Matt Hughes (CAN) came across in fourth, putting together a massive season best with his time of 8:13. He had not broken 8:30 prior in 2021. Many are familiar with Hughes as a former member of the Bowerman Track Club. He was part of the group of strong steeplechasers including Evan Jager, Andy Bayer, and Dan Huling, who all trained on BTC together.

Bernard Keter (USA) had a huge performance in Heat 2, coming across in 8:17 for a new personal best and putting himself into position to make the final. Keter was off the back from the gun and looked out of it before it really began. Watching live, I assumed Keter was toast but he worked his way back up and when moves were made late, he was able to cling to the back. Kudos to Keter on a massive performance after being a huge surprise at the Trials.

Remember how I said Heat 3 had the advantage? Apparently they should have subscribed to the newsletter because tactically, they botched it. The heat went out very slowly and through 2km, it became clear only the automatic qualifiers were coming out of this heat. 

Hillary Bor (USA) sat in second for much of the race but started to fade a bit over the final lap. Bor was working particularly hard to maintain his position heading into the final straight but after the last barrier, was passed by a number of hard charging runners. Bor was the top-ranked American coming in but only Keter managed to move on to the final. 

The biggest surprise from Heat 3 was Ethiopia’s Bikila Tadese Takele failing to make the final. The final will take place on Monday morning (US time).

Women's 800 Prelims 

In contrast to the steeplechase, the women’s 800 began a bit more chaotic. Heat 1 went almost verbatim to expectation but Heat 2 brought more drama. Natoya Goule (JAM) looked dominant, taking the lead into the bell lap and holding off the field down the home straight. The big surprise was Hedda Hynne of Norway holding off the 2019 World Champion, Halimah Nakaayi, for the third and final automatic qualifier. 

What was almost a major upset was Ajee Wilson narrowly earning an automatic qualifier in Heat 6. Wilson (USA) was in fourth coming around the final curve and didn’t move into a qualifying position until the final 20ish meters. 

When it comes to experience, the lack of it didn’t seem to impact the youngsters. Athing Mu (USA) easily won Heat 3, looking composed and relaxed throughout the entire run. She maintained position well and didn’t seem phased when people would make occasional surges or shuffle around. Similarly in Heat 4, Keely Hodgkinson (GBR) made a move to the front with 400 meters to go and waited to kick until the last 50 or so, holding onto second place without looking too strained. Raevyn Rogers (USA) won Heat 4, pulling away down the homestretch. 

Despite a few casualties, the big names moved through fairly easily. Natoya Goule ended with the fastest qualifying time while

Event Preview

Women’s 400m Hurdles

There might not be a more exciting moment in athletics than when Sydney McLaughlin steps on the track. The sport’s biggest young star set a world record in the event at the US Olympic Trials and became the first woman to eclipse 52 seconds in the process.

McLaughlin will have all eyes on her but her teammate, Dalilah Muhammad, should attract just as many. Until their showdown in Eugene, Muhammad was the world record holder and the “rivalry” that has formed between the two has elevated this event to a whole new level of exciting.

It will be interesting to see how Anna Cockrell (USA) does after such a long season. The former USC Trojan has been competing for months thanks to NCAA seasons. With just over a month since the US Trials, Cockrell may have had enough time to decompress a bit before her first shot on the biggest stage.

Men’s 800 Heats

On the topic of USC Trojans making their first Olympic team, how about Isaiah Jewitt? The young American has a strategy of getting to the front early and holding the lead for as long as he can. Will that work against the best of the best?

Like the women’s heats, I expect the men to see most of the big names move through with little trouble. This race will feature big names such as Ayanleh Souleiman (DJI), Emmanuel Korir (KEN), Nijel Amos (BOT), and Ferguson Rotich (KEN), to name a few. One name it does not feature is reigning world champion Donovan Brazier of the United States. Brazier failed to qualify after a challenging final at the US Trials.

Along with Jewitt, Bryce Hoppel (USA) will also be making his Olympic debut. Hoppel has arguably the toughest heat, with Souleiman and Korir both toeing the line. He also faces Wesley Vazquez (PUR) who owns a personal best of 1:43.83, making a top three finish more challenging than it sounds.

The other big name to keep an eye on is the reigning bronze medalist, Clayton Murphy (USA). As Kyle Merber pointed out earlier this year, there was a stretch of time where Americans continually discredited Murphy for no particular reason. That didn’t seem to bother Murphy much, as he took the win at the US Trials and comes into Tokyo looking in terrific form. With no clear gold medal favorite, could Murphy win it all?

Women’s 100 Meters

Despite having 55 women entered, the first round of the 100 went right to script. All three Americans moved on to the semi-finals, as did the big names across the board. Marie-Josee Ta Lou recorded the fastest time during these heats, coming across in 10.78 seconds. 

Right behind her were the pair of Jamaicans, Elain Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, in 10.82 and 10.81. The biggest surprise of the heats was arguably the Swiss duo of Ajla Del Pointe and Mujinga Kambundji, who both went under 11 seconds in prelims. Kambundji tied the national record at 10.95 in Heat 2, only to see Del Pointe lower that record with her 10.91 in Heat 5.

So what does this all mean for the semi-finals? Not a whole lot.

With all of the favorites moving through, the favorites to win are still Ta Lou, Thompson, and Fraser-Pryce. All three Americans had solid first rounds but only Teahna Daniels appears to be in a position to make the final right now. 

Both the semi-finals and finals will take place during the Day 2 Evening Session (Saturday morning in the US). 

Women’s 800 Semi-Finals

Now it gets serious. With 24 athletes competing for eight positions, qualification got that much harder in this round. All three heats are absolutely loaded.

In Heat 1, Jemma Reekie (GBR) faces off with Ajee Wilson (USA), Natoya Goule (JAM), and reigning world champion Halimah Nakaayi (UGA). Wilson, Reekie, and Goule have all run 1:56 or faster and only two women in this heat have never broken 2:00. With only two automatic qualifiers coming from this heat, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ajee Wilson did not make the final after struggling a bit in the first round.

Heat 2 isn’t quite as strong but features the young superstar, Athing Mu (USA). Yesterday, I mentioned if there was any concern about Mu, it would be with tactics coming into the Olympic rounds. Clearly that was not an issue and I expect her to be the favorite in the final after the way she has been running.

Heat 3 also features a trio of heavy-hitters with Rose Mary Almanza (CUB), Keely Hodgkinson (GBR), and Raevyn Rogers (USA) all looking in great form. This heat could certainly produce one of the two additional time qualifiers, as one of those three won’t earn an automatic bid.

Back in 2012, Galen Rupp medaling in this event was somewhat of a revelation in American distance running. The idea the United States could run with the Kenyans and Ethiopians seemed a bit of a stretch until Rupp ran into the record books. Now, in 2021, there are three who could follow in those footsteps.

The Bowerman duo of Woody Kincaid (USA) and Grant Fisher (USA) will be doing everything in their power to get to that final lap. We’ve seen these two (and other BTC runners) show they can close out a race like no one else, highlighted by Kincaid’s blistering finish at the Trials. If these two can hang for the first 24 laps, anything can happen. 

How realistic is that? Going off personal bests, Fisher and Kincaid sit 12th and 13th in the field. They’re over a minute behind the top man, Joshua Cheptegei, who happens to be the world record holder. On paper, the East Africans could easily turn this into a time trial of sorts and likely break a bunch of men in the process. Along with Cheptegei, Jacob Kiplimo (UGA), Yomif Kejelcha (ETH), Selemon Barega (ETH), and Rhonex Kipruto (KEN) are all among the favorites. So what’s going to stop them from running away with it?

At the time of race, the weather in Tokyo is slated to be 80 degrees with 81% humidity and scattered thunderstorms. Have you ever gone running when it’s 80 and that high of humidity? Living in the Midwest, that’s a pretty typical summer day but let me tell you, it sucks. I don’t enjoy running easy on those days, let alone trying to run sub-27 for 10k. So the idea that this could become a kickers race is a very realistic possibility.

Keeping that in mind, the other Bowerman athletes in this field also should be in a great spot. Marc Scott (GBR), Mo Ahmed (CAN), and Kieran Tuntivate (THA) are all going to be strong over the last lap(s). Ahmed is the only one from this group I realistically see competing for a medal but the others could be top ten if things go their way.

And of course, as a Minnesota-based group, we’d be remiss to leave out the On Athletics Club man, Joe Klecker. The Colorado alum is from Hopkins, MN, and has been having a huge season in his first year as a professional. Klecker making the team may have surprised some but as someone who has followed his running over the years, it was anything but. 

Joe is a true grinder. I remember in high school, seeing Snapchats of his Garmin while out in Colorado where he was cranking out sub-6 pace while not even acclimated. Being from the Midwest, I have the utmost faith that Klecker will be right at home in the Tokyo humidity and it could be a big advantage for someone who comes in on the lower end of the personal best list.


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