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A Rainy Weekend for Running Fast at the Prefontaine Classic

A look at the track and field races from this weekend.

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A forecast of storms in Eugene, Oregon, didn’t stop the fans from filling the stands or the athletes from running very, very fast. The Prefontaine Classic, which is the only Diamond League meet held in the U.S. each year, gives athletes the opportunity to  compete at Hayward Field. This year it’s ahead of the World Championships, which will be held at Hayward at the end of July.

10,000-meter U.S. Championships

On Friday night the stakes were high with the only event of the meet to decide qualifiers to the World Championships. All 20 women ran in a pack through the halfway point, but shortly after, Alicia Monson cranked up the pace pretty dramatically. Only Karissa Schweizer could go with her—but in the end, it was revealed Schweizer was just biding her time. She blew past Monson to win in 30:49.56, her first U.S. title. Monson finished second in 30:51.09.

“Normally I don’t wait that long to take the lead,” Schweizer said. “It was a new tactic I was trying and I’m excited by how it played out.”

There was a contentious race for third between Emily Infeld, the U.S.’s highest place finisher at the World Championships over the past 15 years, and Natosha Rogers, who has been “coming to USAs now for 10 years” but has never qualified for a team.

In the end, Rogers bested Infeld by two-tenths of a second and finished third in 31:29.80. “I’ve been working on my kick a lot,” Rogers said coyly.

“I really wanted to prove I still belong on the world stage and I feel really proud of myself for where I’m at even though it wasn’t the result I wanted,” Infeld posted on Instagram after the race. “There’s still more to this year and more years ahead.”

[Read more about the 10,000-meter race here.]

2 mile World Record Attempt

It was announced ahead of the meet that Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba would attempt the 2 mile world record of 8:58.58. After the pacers dropped out, she had a lot of work to do by herself, and she ultimately came up just a half-second short, in 8:59.08, a world lead and the second fastest time ever run in the event.

“I think I am capable of doing what I wanted to do,” Niyonsaba said. “It’s a bit hard to run alone, but I tried to push myself. I think the crowd enjoyed the show.”

Behind her, Beatrice Chebet of Kenya finished second in 9:14.71, and Laura Galván of Mexico finished third in 9:15.74. The top American was Helen Schlachtenhaufen, who finished fifth in 9:17.62.

Gabriela Debues-Stafford Places in the 1500 Meters

In the first lap of the Prefontaine Classic’s 1500-meter race, the women split into two. Only Faith Kipyegon and Gudaf Tsegay could handle the cadence set by the pacer in the first half. Kipyegon, who is the reigning Olympic champion, won in 3:52.59, the fastest time in the world this year. Tsegay finished second in 3:54.21.

“I was not expecting such a quick time today. It was a surprise,” Kipyegon said, making it clear her main goals are for the World Championships at the end of July.

The race for third was contentious. A pack of six women—which included Jessica Hull, Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Sinclair Johnson, and Cory McGee—fought for position heading into the final straightaway, but it was ultimately Gabriela Debues-Stafford who finished in third place in 3:58.62.

Debues-Stafford said she was proud of herself for having a race plan that was more flexible than concrete, making a dramatic move when she had an impulse for it and trusting her instincts. “You have to strike the balance between having respect for your competitors and also not having too much respect that you don’t believe that you can beat them,” Debues-Stafford said. “At the same time, Faith Kipyegon is probably the best 1500-meter runner this sport has ever seen.” She wants to compete with the world’s best come July: “It’s still May, and I still have a few seconds to gain from my training.”

Earlier this year, Debues-Stafford left Nike’s Bowerman Track Club, citing a lack of transparency around the Shelby Houlihan burrito debacle, and now trains in Canada. “I’ve been feeling the best I’ve felt in a long time,” she told Women’s Running. “My anxiety is way down and I’m very happy. It’s a lot of fun to be having fun again.”

Sha’Carri Richardson is Back

In one of the most stacked events of the meet, the reigning Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah won in 10.79. Sha’Carri Richardson finished second in 10.92, narrowly outleaning Olympic bronze medalist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, who finished third, also in 10.92.

After her time appeared on the board, Richardson clapped for herself and then walked backward off the track but didn’t talk to any media on her way out.

In her Diamond League debut, Twanisha “Tee Tee” Terry, who trains with Richardson, finished fifth in 10.98.

5,000 Meters

Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia came into the meet with her eyes on her own world record of 14:06.62, which she set in 2020. She ran the pace required for two miles but in the final mile fell off hard, ultimately being passed by Ejgayehu Taye, also of Ethiopia, who won in 14:12.98, the fastest time in the world this year and a new personal best.

Gidey finished second in 14:24.59, and Hellen Obiri of Kenya (who recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, to train with OAC), placed third in 14:35.03.

An 800 Meters Without Athing Mu

The most recent Olympic champion, Athing Mu, pulled out of the meet earlier this week, citing her slow recovery from COVID. Last year at Prefontaine Classic, she set the American record in the event in 1:55.04. Mu’s absence left the door open for the next best 800-meter runner in the world to win the race. After an unexpectedly fast pace from the gun, Keely Hodgkinson won the race in 1:57.72.

Speaking to Mu’s absence, Hodgkinson said, “She’ll be at the Worlds, hopefully, and I look forward to racing her again.”

Coming off her gold medal at the indoor world championships in Belgrade this winter, Ajee’ Wilson finished second in 1:58.06. Raevyn Rogers, whose image is on the tower at Hayward Field, finished third in 1:58.44.

“I’m content but never satisfied,” Rogers said, underscoring she’s had a bit of a rough patch of training and racing but this race marks a departure from that period. “I love the home crowd. So many people were telling me ‘Good job,’ and I’m really trying to enjoy the moment.”

3,000-Meter Steeplechase

In the first half-lap the three Americans in the field, Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Katie Rainsberger, were running together in the back. A fast pace was set from the gun, and seven women tried to stay with it—but intermittently dropped off the pace and ran alone until they finished. Norah Jeruto of Kazakhstan won the race in 8:57.97, with Winfred Yavi of Burundi in second in 8:58.71.

In the second half of the race, only Coburn seemed to be moving up on the field. “If you see the time and the place, it looks like a bad day, but there are a lot of things I can take away that feel positive,” she said. “I had to run alone in the wind in my first steeple in 9 months.” She continued: “Courtney and I have a standard that we should be in the front. We belong up there.”

Coburn, the World Champion in this event in 2017, finished seventh in 9:18.19. Frerichs was eighth in 9:20.96.