By: Michael Weidenbruch
The Prefontaine Classic is by far the top professional track meet in the United States each year. The times produced are often world-leading at this point in the season, and the sheer number of Olympic and World Championship medalists in attendance tops nearly all other meets around the world. Being invited to compete at the Pre Classic can be viewed as a sign that an athlete is truly world class, and many athletes compete for years at the professional level before receiving an entry.
This year we saw many recent NCAA graduates competing, as well as a few current collegiate athletes racing unattached. I was lucky enough to be in Eugene to catch the action in person, and it did not disappoint.
Christian Coleman (USA) finished 2nd in the 100m in a time of 9.84. Coleman won the 100m and 200m at last year’s NCAA championship, setting the collegiate 100m record of 9.82 in the qualifying round. Later that summer, Coleman brought home the silver medal from the World Championship in London. In February of this year, the former Tennessee star broke the indoor 60m world record, running 6.34. In his Pre Classic debut, Coleman took down some top tier international competition, further cementing his status as one of the world’s top sprinting stars.
Men’s 110m Hurdles
The Hayward Field crowd erupts every time a current or former Oregon Duck is announced, and they make no exception for Devon Allen (USA). The 2016 Oregon graduate was greeted with thunderous applause and followed it up with a 13.13 run to take 3rd place. Allen has three NCAA titles to his name across indoor and outdoor, as well as a US title and Olympic appearance.
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (Great Britain) graduated from LSU last year, and took 5th in a loaded men’s 200m field with a time of 20.51. Mitchell Blake also finished 4th at the World Championships last summer.
Emmanuel Korir (Kenya) took the win in 1:45.16 against talents such as 2012 Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos (Botswana) and 2017 World Championship silver and bronze medalists Adam Kszczot (Poland) and Kipyegon Bett (Kenya). Korir was the 2017 NCAA outdoor 800m champion as a freshman at UTEP, and turned pro with Nike after the NCAA season ended. Korir boasts a PR of 1:43.10, but his 1:45.16 from Pre is his 2018 season best. Is Korir just a precursor to what his former teammate Michael Saruni could end up doing in the near future?
Men’s International Mile (slower of two sections)
Henry Wynne (USA) was 3rd in 3:57.61. Wynne was the 2016 NCAA indoor mile champion while at Virginia where he also accumulated multiple ACC titles. He graduated in 2017 and signed with the Brooks Beasts shortly after.
Izaic Yorks (USA) finished 5th in 3:58.04. Yorks is a 2016 graduate of the University of Washington where he set a mile PR of 3:53.89. Like Henry Wynne, Izaic Yorks runs professionally for the Brooks Beasts.
Blake Haney (USA) finished 10th in the field in 3:58.70. Haney is currently a senior at Oregon and is redshirting this season, presumably to preserve his eligibility for a 5th year campaign. For the Ducks, it will be nice to have him still on the roster for the 2019 season after Sam Prakel graduates.
Men’s Bowerman Mile (fast section)
Clayton Murphy (USA), the 2016 NCAA indoor 800m and outdoor 1500m champion who also has an Olympic bronze medal to his name placed 5th overall in 3:53.40. In a field that included multiple Olympic and world champions, this is a very impressive finish for the former Akron runner who is only 23 years old.
Craig Engels (USA), who is less than a year into his professional career after graduating from Ole Miss last spring, finished 12th in the field in 4:01.70. While this time is nothing incredible and nowhere near his personal best, Engels still held off some top talents in this race. Overall, his professional performances have been strong.
Men’s 2 Mile
The men’s 2 mile at this year’s Pre Classic was perhaps the most highly anticipated race of the whole weekend. The field was absolutely stacked, featuring world champions and some of the top domestic talent with some serious record threats on the line. The race ended up going out rather slowly, as nobody chose to go with the pace setters. This was rather frustrating to watch, but it made for an exciting finish.
Edward Cheserek (Kenya) was considered by some to be a favorite to win this race after his performances of 3:49 and 7:38 indoors this year. This was the former Oregon Duck’s return to Hayward Field after he missed the NCAA championships last year due to a back injury. The fans didn’t cheer louder at any point during the weekend than they did when King Ches’ name was called over the loudspeaker. Unfortunately, Cheserek didn’t have his best race as he finished 15th in 8:31.43. From what I have found online, this was the first time Cheserek finished anywhere below 2nd place in a race at Hayward Field.
Raevyn Rogers (USA), who holds the women’s collegiate 800m record was 7th in the Pre Classic 800m in 1:59.36. Rogers was at Oregon until last spring where she finished her career with indoor and outdoor 800m titles as well as a thrilling anchor leg on Oregon’s 4x400m relay to win the race. Not only did she earn gold in the 4x400 relay, but her win helped secure the team championship by just a couple points. Rogers is still a student at the University of Oregon and will graduate in just a few weeks.
Dani Jones (USA) who is redshirting for Colorado this season, won the women’s National 1500m (the slower of two heats) in a personal best time of 4:07.74. Jones won the 2017 NCAA indoor 3k title and anchored her DMR team to victory as well. This performance from Jones is exciting because she is only a junior and will likely have two more years to compete for Colorado as her redshirt for this season is clearly not because of injury. She is likely looking to preserve eligibility for a 5th year campaign.
Other Notable Performances
Some other impressive performances to take note of come from the Adidas duo of Drew Hunter and Noah Lyles. Both athletes are only 20 years old and would be sophomores in college right now had they not turned pro. Hunter ran 3:57.29 to finish 2nd in the International Mile against an underrated and impressive field. Hunter was committed to run at Oregon, but signed a professional contract with Adidas at the last second after finishing his high school career.
Noah Lyles won the 200m in a thrilling 19.69, a huge PR for him. Lyles was committed to Florida before he also signed with Adidas. It is crazy to imagine how these two would have an impact on the NCAA had they chosen to compete in college. Noah Lyles would certainly be a title favorite in the 100m or 200m or even both. Hunter would be in the mix for a title, but I think if Josh Kerr runs well, he is simply too fast to be taken down at the moment. Either way, many top collegiates are probably breathing sighs of relief knowing that these two are professionals after seeing the results this past weekend.