The Tokyo Rundown Issue #5

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Men's 100m Semis and Finals

Who saw this one coming? If you read the newsletter yesterday, clearly not me. With one major exception, the semi-finals followed expectations. That one exception was gold medal favorite, Trayvon Bromell (USA).

On the men’s side, the headline of the 2021 season was Bromell’s comeback after years away dealing with injuries. He had been on fire and consequently pegged as the betting favorite to win it all in Tokyo. After struggling in the first round, I brushed it off as nerves and figured he would be back to form in the semis. I was very wrong.

Bromell finished fourth in his heat, running a (for him) pedestrian 10.00 seconds and seeing his Tokyo campaign come to an end. We’ll save the speculations on his future for another day but seeing Bromell out was a major shock for US fans.

The other big news from the semis was Heat 3. The top four men from the heat all ran 9.90 or faster, with Bingtian Su (CHN) winning in a national record of 9.83. Ronnie Baker (USA) and Lamont Marcell Jacobs (ITA) ran 9.83 and 9.84, setting personal bests as well. That mark was a short-lived national record for Jacobs.

After such a fast semi-final heat, it was less of a shock to see the final follow in those footsteps. In what might be the biggest upset of the 2021 games, Lamont Marcell Jacobs is taking the gold medal to Italy. The 26 year-old reset the national record in the final, clocking 9.80 to edge out Fred Kerley (USA) by 0.04 seconds. Jacobs' personal best coming into the Olympics was only 9.95, which he ran with a decent tailwind (1.5 m/s). He is the first Italian to win an Olympic medal in this event.

And how about Fred Kerley? The American shocked fans when he opted to run the 100m and 200m at the Trials rather than the 400m but his decision was clearly the right one. Setting a personal best in the final, Kerley came away with the silver medal and proved he shows up when it matters most. His previous personal best came in the US Trials final, earning him a trip to Tokyo.

It was great to see Andre De Grasse (CAN) back in form as well, coming away with a personal best and the bronze medal. De Grasse has struggled a bit since Rio, where he was also third in this event, but set a new personal best of 9.89 seconds to get back on the podium. 

Ronnie Baker was the other American in the final, coming in fifth. Baker was competing on his first Olympic team and set a personal best during the semi-final rounds.

Women's Shot Put

Raven Saunders is bringing the silver medal back to the United States after a great final round in the shot put. Saunders is a veteran of the sport and has been one of the best American throwers in recent years. The 25 year-old was fifth in Rio and improved three places in Tokyo, bringing home her first Olympic medal. She also has been rocking some great masks in competitions this season, bringing a “can’t miss” persona to this event.

The other American in the final had a rough go of it. Jessica Ramsey struggled during the prelim rounds but was able to earn a qualifying mark after scratching her first two throws. Unfortunately, nerves got the better of her in the final and she did not record a mark. It was Ramsey’s first time representing the US at the Olympics.

Women's Steeplechase Prelims

Before we dive into the results, I want to echo what the announcer mentioned yesterday on the qualifying process. He noted that since the top three plus next six fastest women advance from three heats, it would make more sense to take four from each heat and the next three fastest, putting the emphasis more on competitive racing rather than time chasing. I wholeheartedly agree with this and think it’s a bit odd how they structured the prelims. Anyways, what actually happened?

The Americans had themselves a day, with all three moving on to the final. Emma Coburn looked relaxed throughout her heat, sitting in the top three the entire way and coasting across the line. Frerichs' race was a little more contested but the American was able to pull away over the final lap and take the win over fairly strong heat. 

The most exciting race came down to Val Constien. First, Constien pulled off an incredible look with her sunglasses. It takes next-level confidence to rock the shades during a track race, let alone your first Olympic prelim. It does make you wonder why more runners don’t wear sunglasses though, considering how sunny it is on the track. 

Constien was the story of the steeple in the United States, grabbing the final Tokyo spot after Leah Falland fell. It’s fair to say many may have been skeptical of her making the final in Tokyo but Constien put herself in the race from the start, determined to stay with the leaders. She lost contact with the top three by the slimmest of margins during the final lap but never waivered, charging hard down the home straight to finish fourth. Her time of 9:24 was good enough to earn a ‘q’ and move her on to the final. While Coburn and Frerichs garner much of the media attention, the story of Constien has been one of the most exciting this Olympic cycle.

Outside of the Americans, the big names did what big names have done in Tokyo; advanced. None of the heats were blistering quick and we really didn’t learn anything about what to expect in the final. My best guess is the combination of Winfred Yavi (BRN) and Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) will be looking for a fast race and Coburn and Frerichs will be right on their heels.

Men's 800m Semi-Finals

This was a tough one for Americans. It started in Heat 1, where Bryce Hoppel faded over the final 100 meters, seeing his Olympic medal dreams disappear. As the group hit the home straight, Hoppel was sitting in third and primed to grab a top-two position. Unfortunately, he didn’t have that final gear and faded to fifth. Patryk Dobek (POL) and Emmanuel Korir (KEN) took the two qualifiers from this race.

Heat 3 may have been even more tragic.Isaiah Jewitt was sitting second through halfway and the young American was making a hard charge when he and Nijel Amos (BOT) became tangled up, causing them both to fall. Amos would make the final on protest and will be one of the favorites. Jewitt will be heading back to the US.

The lone American to make the final was the veteran, Clayton Murphy. Ever the savvy tactician, Murphy was fifth with 200 meters remaining but finished the race second. Peter Bol (AUS) won the heat in a national record of 1:44.11. Murphy certainly looks to be a serious contender for the podium, with potential to be atop it. As we saw with Jewitt and Amos, anything can happen in the 800 but the experience Murphy has in a variety of settings should bolster confidence in his ability to navigate whatever happens in the final.

As for Hoppel and Jewitt, it’s unfortunate they didn’t have their best races but Americans should be excited about their future in the 800. Both have shown their ability to compete with the world’s best and considering they’re both very young, this experience should be huge in their development over the coming years. Keep in mind, the reigning world champion is also back in the United States, making this one of the best middle-distance groups in the world.

Event Preview

Women’s 5k Finals

The first medal in the women’s distance events will be handed out on Day 3 (Monday morning in the US). This event, on paper, is going to be a slugfest. The race features three Ethiopians, three Kenyans, two Americans, and Sifan Hassan (NED). As they say in the business, this is “can’t miss television”.

The Ethiopians bring a pair of heavy hitters in Gudaf Tsegay and Ejgayehu Taye. The pair have the fastest personal bests in the field, which were also run earlier this year. They cruised through the prelim round and could make this race fast if they’re feeling ambitious.

Veterans Hellen Obiri (KEN) and Sifan Hassan (NED) are almost certainly going to be medal contenders. Hassan has been putting down other-wordly performances over the past two years, including setting a (short-lived) 10k world record. She has the closing speed to be there when moves are made and will be dangerous no matter the tactics. Obiri has plenty of medals to her name and her personal best is right near the top of this field. Coming in at 31 years of age, Obiri may be nearing the end of her Olympic career and will be looking to make this result count.

And how about those Americans? Karissa Schweizer and Elise Cranny have been two rising talents on the world stage and could be darkhorses to land on the podium. Both are very young and relatively inexperienced on the world stage. That inexperience didn’t seem to hurt them in the preliminary heats and if heat and humidity continue to factor in, these two could be there with a lap to go.

Men’s Steeplechase Final

Is there even a true favorite in this event? As we’ve mentioned previously, the big names of history are no longer here, leaving the door open for a new king of the men’s steeplechase. Soufiane El Bakkali (MAR) has been the man most often noted as the favorite but he will face stiff competition from Lamecha Girma (ETH) and Getnet Wale (ETH). 

Kenya also has a pair of contenders in Abraham Kibiwot and Benjamin Kigen, who will be looking to take over for Conselus Kipruto in this event. Matt Hughes of Canada is a darkhorse who has plenty of experience in this event as well.

The only American in the field is Bernard Keter. Keter was a surprise to make the US team and being the only one in the final was even more shocking. While I’m not sure what to expect from him in the final, he did set a personal best in the preliminary round so his ceiling is clearly higher than anything we have seen to this point. 

With no real favorite, this should be an incredibly exciting final.

Women’s 1500m Prelims

Things here hopefully shouldn’t get too exciting until the next round. With six women from each heat (plus the next six fastest) advancing to the final, all of the big names shouldn’t have any issues moving on to the semi-finals. The two favorites in this event will be Sifan Hassan (NED) and Faith Kipyegon (KEN). Kipyegon ran the #4 all-time mark of 3:51.07 earlier this summer, beating out Hassan by 2.5 seconds in that race. Hassan currently sits at #7 on the all-time list.

All three Americans should move on when looking at how their season bests stack up. Elle Purrier St. Pierre has the best medal odds of the three, having run 3:58 this season without facing any serious competition. Cory McGee and Heather Maclean have run 4:00 and 4:02, marks that should get them through if they can replicate similar performances. 

While the first round should be largely business as usual, the 1500 always seems to have a bit of chaos so it’s worth tuning in to see how things unfold.

Other Events

-The women’s 200m will feature a great battle between Shaune Miller-Uibo (BAH) and Elaine Thompson (JAM). The prelims and semi-finals are slated to take place tonight and tomorrow morning (US times), with these two headlining the event. Gabby Thomas will be the marquee American to watch after a phenomenal performance in the US Trials. 

-The men’s long jump final is tonight, with American JuVaughn Harrison looking to earn his first Olympic medal in his first Olympic Games. Harrison is third when ranking by season bests, giving him a real shot at the podium.

-Dalilah Muhammed and Sydney McLaughlin will be back at it in the 400m hurdles semi-final. Both should move through with ease, setting up for a huge showdown in the final.

-The women’s 100m hurdle final is tonight, with Keni Harrison (USA) leading the charge. The world record holder missed out on the Rio team back in 2016 and will have a chance for redemption tonight. Gabrielle Cunningham (USA) also made the final after only making the US team due to Brianna Rollins-McNeal’s suspension.

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