Kipruto, Obiri lead Kenyan cast at Pre-Classic

A rich array of stars will once again descend on Eugene for the third meeting of the IAAF Diamond League this Friday and Saturday as Hayward Field hosts the 44th edition of the Prefontaine Classic.

In a town like Eugene, which has a long-running love affair with distance running, there will be no shortage of masters of the endurance craft to delight the fans, with the men’s steeplechase looking a particularly captivating contest.

Conseslus Kipruto has been nigh-on invincible in the event over the past two years, winning everything in sight in a variety of ways with class, charisma and no shortage of confidence.

However, the 23-year-old Kenyan faces what may prove his toughest assignment of the year, with world silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco and Olympic silver medallist Evan Jager of USA in opposition, along with a host of fellow Kenyans looking to take his throne.

The women’s 5000m features a high-calibre clash between Kenya’s Hellen Obiri and her Ethiopian rival Genzebe Dibaba. Obiri is the fifth fastest of all time at the distance and arrives after a recent victory at the Commonwealth Games.

Riveting Race

South Africa's Caster Semenya (front) runs to win the Women's 800m Final during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016. PEDRO UGARTE / AFP

She holds the narrow 8-7 edge against Dibaba in their matchups, though Dibaba has been imperious so far in 2018, having won double gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham over 1500m and 3000m.

The women’s 800m should be another riveting race, with the all-conquering Caster Semenya facing the three women who have given her most to think about in recent years: Margaret Wambui, Francine Niyonsaba and Ajee Wilson.

The 27-year-old South African has not been beaten since 2015, though, and after coming off a highly impressive victory over 1500m in Doha earlier this month, will likely have her eyes trained on her South African record of 1:55.16.

In the men’s 800m on Friday night, Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir will prove a tough problem to solve for his competitors, having been highly impressive when winning on his seasonal debut in Doha earlier this month.

However, Nijel Amos, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist who trains locally with the Oregon Track Club, should be up to that task if he has fully recovered from the injury which saw him trail home eighth in the Commonwealth Games final last month.

Of all the events replete with astonishing depth – and there are many – the women’s 400m stands out, boasting the first four across the line from the IAAF World Championships London 2017.

There’s Shaunae Miller-Uibo of The Bahamas, the Olympic champion who will make her 2018 debut in the one-lap event after a lightning start to the year at shorter distances, winning the Commonwealth Games 200m title in 22.09 before taking victory at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai in 22.06.

She will take on world champion Phyllis Francis and world indoor champion Courtney Okolo of USA.

And that’s before we even get to Allyson Felix, the darling of the home crowd who, inclusive of relays, has six Olympic gold medals and 11 world titles to her name.

The women’s 100m is just as loaded, pitting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica and world champion Tori Bowie of USA against each other.

Intriguing Contest

Christian Coleman runs in the Men's 200m First Round during Day 3 of the 2017 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Hornet Stadium on June 24, 2017 in Sacramento, California (AFP Photo/Patrick Smith)

Also in the line-up is Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands, the two-time world 200m champion, though perhaps the most likely winner is Marie-Josee Ta Lou, who powered to victory in Doha earlier this month in a world-leading 10.85.

Her fellow Ivorian, world indoor 60m champion Murielle Ahoure, should also be in the shake-up, along with Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor.

The men’s 100m will be another intriguing contest, with Christian Coleman, who broke the world indoor 60m record earlier this year, competing in his first individual event of the outdoor season.

China’s Su Bingtian and Britain’s Reece Prescod, a surprise winner in Shanghai this month, should give him most to think about.

Less than 90 minutes after the 100m, another rising US sprint star will highlight the 200m. 20-year-old Noah Lyles has won all three of his IAAF Diamond League races to date, most recently in Doha where he set his PB of 19.83. He will take on world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, world bronze medallist Jereem Richards, Ameer Webb and Isaac Makwala.

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