Track Fans Treated to Olympic-Like Meet at Prefontaine Classic

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Fans watch the Bowerman Mile at the 2012 Prefontaine Classic, which was held at Hayward Field Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Rafael Ramirez)
Fans watch the Bowerman Mile at the 2012 Prefontaine Classic, which was held at Hayward Field Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Rafael Ramirez)

The 2012 Prefontaine Classic was being deemed a meet better than the Olympic Trials by many. Among the athletes entered at the meet, there were over 100 Olympic and World Championship gold medals. Track fans in Eugene were once again treated to a world-class meet that didn’t disappoint.

The afternoon began with the men’s 400 meter race. Kirani James jumped the gun early for a false start, but was allowed to restart the race, running under protest. James held a slight lead coming off the final turn, but American Lashawn Meritt was able to surge forward to take the win in 44.91. James finished second in 44.97.

“You train to win so when you get into a race, you want to win,” said Merritt. “I executed my part of my race, which was that homestretch.”

The race also featured Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, also known by his nickname, “Blade Runner,” due to his prosthetic legs. Pistorius was assigned to lane one, not a spot one wants to be in the 400.

“I’m the slowest guy in the field, so it usually works like that,” said Pistorius. “I’ve always believed that I deserve to get in a race like this. I don’t want any special treatment.”

The stars and  stripes continued to fly high in the men’s 100 meter race as American Justin Gatlin broke the tape first in 9.90 seconds. Jamaica’s Nickel Ashmeade finished second in 9.93, a lifetime best.

“I want to go out and just dominate races and go out for the win,” said Gatlin. “Whether it’s a 9.7 or a 10.7, that’s what we worry about, coming out first.”

The women's 3000 meter steeplechase at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday in Eugene produced a world leading time of 9:13.69 by Kenya's Milcah Chemos. (Photo by Rafael Ramirez)

The women’s 3000 meter steeplechase featured world record holder of Milcah Chemos showed why she is the best in the world, overtaking Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa on the final backstretch, winning in 9:13.69, beating her own previous world leading time of 9:15.81. Assefa finished second in a season best 9:15.45, good for second in the world this year.

“I wanted to run under 9:10, but that last barrier, I slowed down,” said Chemos. “I don’t know what happened. But that’s normal.

Bridget Franek, the top American steeplechaser, turned in a disappointing performance, finishing last in 9:52.56.

The 110 meter hurdles featured world leader Liu Xiang of China, who looked stronger and stronger after each hurdle during the race, winning in an impressive time of 12.87 seconds.

In the women’s 3000 meter race, Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco set a world leading time, winning in 8:34.47. Kenya’s Sally Kipyego, who also runs for Oregon Track Club Elite, finished right behind in a lifetime best of 8:35.89. Kipyego beat her previous lifetime best by nearly 15 seconds.

As is common in many track meets, the men’s 800 meter race turned out to be one of the most exciting events of the day. Abubaker Kaki of Sudan broke the tape first in 1:43.71. Kaki held off a vicious surge from Mohamed Aman of Ethiopia as Aman finished second in 1:43.74. Hometown hero Nick Symmonds also had a strong race, finishing third in 1:44.32, the fastest time by an American this year.

“It looks a lot like an Olympic final,” said Symmonds. “This is my Olympic trials. If I can get top three in this race, I should get top three in the Olympic trials.”

In the women’s 200 meter race, American Allyson Felix turned in a dominating performance winning in 22.23, just a hundredth of a second off the world leading time.

Liu Xiang of China is all smiles after winning the 110 hurdles in 12.87 seconds at the annual Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Rafael Ramirez)

The women’s 400 meter race saw another American break the tape first, as a strong finishing kick from Sanya Richards-Ross won her the race in 49.39, the best 400 time in the world this year.

In one of the most anticipated races of the day, Great Britain’s Mo Farah went on to win the men’s 5000 meter race in 12:56.98, a world best for 2012. For a brief moment, it appeared as if former Oregon star Galen Rupp could win the race, as Rupp joined Farah at the front in the last lap of the race. Kenya’s Isaiah Koech was able to overtake Rupp, but could not catch Farah, finishing second in 12:57.63. Rupp rounded out the top three with a time of 12:58.90, becoming just the seventh American in history to break 13 minutes for the 5000, and the first to do it on American soil. Even Rupp was surprised with the time.

“It just kind of happened,” said Rupp. “I was just looking to compete. It was a nice bonus.”

Hayward Field and Eugene will now gear up for the United States Olympic Trials for track & field. The 10-day track festival will begin June 22, and conclude July 1. Reporter Sean Larson will be there each day to bring you full, up-to-the-minute coverage from each day of the trials.

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