Tokyo Rundown Issue #6

Issue #6 of The Tokyo Rundown is brought to you by Railroad Athletics.

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Women’s 1500m Prelims

It seems like every opening round there’s at least one thing that goes awry. Despite having heats of 15 runners, 90% of the action went right to script. The other 10%? That was Sifan Hassan (NED). 

Hassan is attempting arguably the most audacious triple in history, hoping to win gold in the 1500, 5k, and 10k all in the same games*. That triple is every bit as absurd as it sounds, and it almost ended before it began. Hassan was caught up in a fall just after the runners hit the final lap in the second heat. Hassan went down, got up, and then hammered down the next 380 meters to not only catch the leaders, but win the race. Based on splits, she ran roughly 42.x for the final 300 meters. 

Realistically, Hassan split close to a 56 for the final lap. She fell just after the lap started, so it’s hard to say exactly what she ran, but it was very fast. Keep in mind Hassan does have a personal best of 3:51 for the event, so clocking 56 en route to a 4:05 isn’t “superhuman”, so to speak.

Outside of Hassan, things went relatively smoothly. The biggest name to miss making the semi-finals was Aisha Praught-Leer (JAM), who is coming off a very recent meniscus tear. Praught-Leer acknowledged (via Instagram) prior to competition what had happened and the potential impacts it may have on her Olympic performance. 

All three Americans moved on, led by Elle Purrier St. Pierre. The Vermont native cruised through her heat with ease, moving to the front with 400 meters left and riding it out to the finish. Cory McGee finished outside of the automatic qualifiers in Heat 1 but advanced on time, running 4:05. Heather Maclean earned an automatic qualifier in Heat 3, finishing in fifth. Her time of 4:02.40 was only 0.39 seconds off her personal best, which she ran at the US Trials in June.

*Editor's Note: This was written as a live reaction to the 1500 rounds, prior to Hassan competing in the 5k, which will have been finished at the time of publishing.

Women’s 100m Hurdles

How often have runners from the same college finished 1-2 at the Olympic Games? I don’t know off the top of my head but that number is one more than it was yesterday. Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico won gold in a blistering mark of 12.26 seconds, the second gold medal ever for Puerto Rico in any event. Right behind her was world record holder Kendra Harrison of the United States, taking silver in her first Olympic final.

Harrison and Camacho-Quinn both ran track collegiately at the University of Kentucky. The school has a knack for producing top hurdling talent, with both Daniel Roberts (USA, 110mH) and Sydney McLaughlin (USA, 400mH) also competing for Kentucky in recent years.

Taking bronze was Megan Tapper of Jamaica. Tapper competed for the island nation in Rio as well, making it to the semi-finals in this event. Her bronze medal in Tokyo was easily her best international performance and adds to an incredible sprints campaign for the country thus far. 

American Gabrielle Cunningham finished seventh in her Olympic debut. Only 23, her future in the sport looks bright and this experience should set her up well for a 2024 bid.

Women’s 5k Final

One down, two to go. That might be what Sifan Hassan (NED) is thinking right now after capturing victory in the women’s 5k this morning. Her attempt to triple across the 1500, 5k, and 10k is one step closer to being complete, but there is plenty of work left to be done. In some ways, Hassan’s attempt to collect three golds is similar to the Thanos collecting infinity stones plotline. When Thanos collected all the stones, half the population lost their lives. If Hassan collects all three, the entire population will lose their minds.

The tactical choices made during this race were odd. No one really put in a major move at any point, allowing Hassan to sit on the leaders the entire way and use her phenomenal closing speed to shut the door on her competitors over the final 300 meters. When Hassan made her move on the final lap, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri tried to chase but as they hit the final 100 meters, it was clear there would be no catching the flying Dutchwoman. 

Obiri was able to hang on for silver, with Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay clinching bronze. The top four women ran under 14:40, with Hassan’s winning time coming in at 14:36.

Neither American runner was ever really in this race. Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer were in the main pack for the first 2km or so but as the pace ratched up, the Americans quickly fell off. It looked for a second like they may have been able to catch back on when the leaders slowed but that was short lived. Schweizer finished in 11th, with Cranny just behind in 13th. Both ran 14:55.

Men’s Steeplechase Final

Soufiane El Bakkali finally got his elusive championship win, taking gold with a time of 8:08. The Moroccan sat in the lead pack until the final lap, making a move with right around 300 meters remaining. Lamecha Girma (ETH) and Benjamin Kigen (KEN) tried to give chase but were unable to close the gap as El Bakkali sprinted down the homestretch, finishing alone. Girma would take silver, with Kigen securing bronze.

As many championship races go, the pace dawdled for the first half but gradually picked up as the distance went on. There were no major falls during this race which was a bit surprising given the track had been doused with torrential downpours leading in. 

American Bernard Keter started his race similar to his prelim round, sitting off the back for the first lap or two. Keter moved himself up throughout the middle stages but never quite got into the lead group when the pace upped and he ended up fading to 11th. 

This race was the first time in 10 Olympics that the Kenyan men have not taken gold in the men's steeplechase.

Other Events

  • In a devastating blow for Americans, Sandi Morris is out of the women’s pole vault competition. The Rio silver medalist struggled when the event was resumed after a rain delay, snapping her pole on her first attempt. That jump led to Morris landing on the metal area where the pole is lodged during a jump, appearing to cause her significant pain. Her teammate, Katie Nageotte, will move on to the final. 
  • All three American hurdlers are on to the final. Dalilah Muhammed and Sydney McLaughlin easily won their heats of the 400m hurdles. Anna Cockrell had a phenomenal last 100 meters to narrowly finish second, earning an automatic bid for the final. Potential medal favorite Femke Bol of the Netherlands also secured her spot in the final.
  • The men’s long jump was won by Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece with a mark of 8.41 meters. He beat out Juan Miguel Echevarria based on the tiebreaker, as the Cuban also recorded a jump of 8.41 meters. Echevarria’s teammate, Maykel Masso, finished third. JuVaughn Harrison was the lone American in the field, placing fifth in his first Olympics.
  • The favorites in the men’s 400m all moved on to the final. Those include Kiran James (GRN), Steven Gardiner (BAH), Michael Cherry (USA), and Michael Norman (USA). Reigning gold medalist Wayde Van Niekerk (RSA) will not be in the final.
  • Valarie Allman (USA) will be bringing home gold in the women’s discus. Allman easily won the competition, recording a mark of 68.98 meters, over two meters better than the silver medalist. This is Allman’s first Olympic medal and first medal on the international stage.


Men’s 1500m Heats

Let the title defense begin. Five years ago, Matt Centrowitz shocked the world when he claimed the gold medal for 1500 meters, taking down heavy favorite Asbel Kiprop (KEN) in one of the strangest tactical races in history. Since Rio, Centrowitz has switched groups from the Nike Oregon Project to the Bowerman Track Club. He has taken bouts of criticism for underperforming expectations, social media drama with collegiate runners, and even been “dethroned” by said collegiate runner at the US Trials. 

But the King is still the King. Centrowitz recently ran a mile time trial where he chased Alan Webb’s long standing American record in the mile. While he came up short, Centrowitz ran a new personal best of 3:49 and looks to be peaking at the perfect time. When he steps up to the line for his prelim, there will be much hype built on his Rio performance, but the reality is the journey starts off at ground zero on Monday.

Speaking of the collegiate who dethroned Centrowitz, enter Cole Hocker. The University of Oregon freshman won the Olympic Trials in a shocking upset of Centrowitz that lit running social media ablaze. At the time, Hocker did not have the Olympic standard but thanks to the world ranking system, was still able to earn a spot on the Tokyo team. This will be his first time on the big stage and his prelim should serve as a good reference for how he navigates against elite competition. 

Centrowitz is actually the odd-man out here, with the third roster spot going to Yared Nuguse of Notre Dame. Nuguse set the collegiate record for 1500 meters in an epic solo run this spring and followed up with a massive performance at the Trials to make his first Olympic team. Like Hocker, Nuguse will be looking to just get through his first race and settle the nerves. 

All three Americans should have a good chance at making the next round. Similar to the women, expect minimal drama (if everyone stays on their feet) across the board for the favorites.

Men’s 400m Hurdles Final

The battle we have been waiting on; Rai Benjamin (USA) vs Karsten Warholm (NOR). The world record holder vs the #3 all-time man. Let’s be real, there’s not much to preview here. All eyes will be on these two facing off. Warholm finished ahead of Benjamin in their semi-final heat but that likely doesn’t matter to either of them. 

Beyond just who wins gold, the other conversation is on whether the world record will fall. Warholm set it only a month ago and these two seem very capable of lowering it again in Tokyo. While the weather has been sweltering, this event is short enough where heat will likely help more than it will hurt.

Men’s 5k Heats

Some big names will not be in the final. The depth in this event is absolutely incredible. The first heat features seven men who have broken the 13-minute barrier. The second section features an additional six. Not among those men are names such as Marc Scott (GBR), Grant Fisher (USA), Andy Butchart (GBR), and Yemaneberhan Crippa (ITA). While prelim rounds are usually more protocol than entertainment, these could function as both. 

Even with the depth of names, expect that the medal contenders will move on. Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) is the world record holder and won silver in the 10k already. Jacob Kiplimo (UGA) and Getnet Wale (ETH) have been running very well this year. And how about those Canadians? Mo Ahmed and Justyn Knight have been incredible, running 12:47 and 12:50 in 2021. This might be the first time (ever?) that the Canadians have better medal odds than the Americans in a true distance event.

As for those Americans, Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher will be doubling back from the 10k. Kincaid had a tough go in the 10k but has historically been a stronger 5k runner. Fisher was incredible in his Olympic debut, finishing fifth in what was only his third 10k ever. The Bowerman men have been running very well in 2021 but even so, making the final will be a tall order. Both are outside the top five of their heats based on personal bests. Given the final takes the next fastest five times (along with top five in each heat), faster racing may benefit these two more than others.

And of course, there’s Paul Chelimo. If you missed it, we previewed him a bit in our first newsletter, specifically on his tactical approach. Chelimo is the reigning silver medalist from Rio but there was plenty of drama in that race that involved a DQ and subsequent reinstatement. It’s rare a race with Chelimo is not exciting, so this will be worth tuning in for based on that alone. I expect he will be right near the front early and do as much as possible to avoid being boxed in at any point.

Women’s 800m Final

In 2019, Athing Mu burst onto the American scene when she set the indoor 600m American record at the US Championships. Then 16, Mu was titled “the next big name” in American running. That seems to happen a lot, especially in the days of high school runners increasingly training like professionals. Well, now Mu is 19. And those headlines were pretty accurate. The one spot they missed was that not only is Mu “the next big name” in American running, she’s the next big name in running - period. 

Mu is the favorite to win gold on Tuesday. She has cruised through the first rounds with ease. She can race any way. When she set the collegiate record this spring, she actually negative split by a good margin. For those unfamiliar, that is the opposite of how 98% of 800m runners clock a personal best. No matter what way you slice it, Mu has a very good chance at winning gold.

Of course, it won’t be without challenges from the likes of Natoya Goule (JAM) and Jemma Reekie (GBR). Those two are the only other women besides Mu to run under 1:57 in 2021. Goule was a great runner in college but really elevated as a pro when she worked through some underlying health issues. Reekie has really come onto the scene in the past two years and will have some teammates joining her in this final.

The other 19 year-old in this race is Keely Hodgkinson (GBR). She won her semi-final heat and has looked very composed despite being a youngster on the biggest stage. Alexandra Bell (GBR) also made the final and has run 1:58 this year. 

Raveyn Rogers is the other American in the final after sneaking out of the semi-finals. Rogers hasn’t looked in great form during the rounds but is the reigning silver medalist from the 2019 World Championships and shouldn’t be counted out.

Women’s 200m Final

All the biggest stars will be lining up for this final. The Jamaican duo of Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are coming off a 1-2 finish in the 100 meters and have plenty of momentum for this race. Thompson-Herah is the reigning gold medalist from Rio and has the second-fastest mark this season.

The fastest time run by any of these women in 2021 belongs to Gabby Thomas of the United States. The Harvard graduate won the US Trials to make her first Olympic team and has clocked a personal (and season) best of 21.61 in 2021. 

Shaune Miller-Uibo (BAH) will also be a big name to watch. She is the reigning gold medalist over 400 meters but has never competed in the 200m at the Olympics. Expect Marie-Josee Ta Lou (CIV) to also contend for a podium position.

Other Events

  • The women’s long jump final features two Americans with serious medal aspirations. Brittney Reese won gold in London and followed up with a silver in Rio. She has won four World Championship gold medals and sits #3 in the field based on season bests. Newly turned pro Tara Davis is a rookie at the Olympics but has the #2 seasons best in the field. Davis set the collegiate record while competing for Texas this past spring.
  • The men’s 200 meters kicks off with preliminary rounds and semi-finals taking place tonight and tomorrow morning (US time). Noah Lyles (USA) may be the most electric runner in the men’s sprints but rising star Erriyon Knighton (USA) is quickly becoming must-watch television. Knighton is only 17 years old but has already run 19.84 for the distance. 
  • Three American women have serious medal potential in the hammer throw/. Gwen Berry, DeAnna Price, and Brooke Andersen all qualified for the final on Tuesday morning. Andersen had the third farthest qualifying mark, with Berry sitting in seventh and Price in ninth. Based on season's bests, they sit fourth, first, and second respectively. None of the three have won a medal at the Olympics, although Price is the reigning World Champion in this event.

Harrier Moment Of The Day