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home : sports & recreation : sports & recreation September 23, 2017

6/13/2017 11:53:00 AM
Running commentary
Kenyan 18-year-old Celliphine Chespol was one of four teenagers who stole the show at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. She ran a world-leading time and beat the world record-holder, Ruth Jebet, also pictured, in the process. photo by Charlie Kanzig
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Kenyan 18-year-old Celliphine Chespol was one of four teenagers who stole the show at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. She ran a world-leading time and beat the world record-holder, Ruth Jebet, also pictured, in the process.

photo by Charlie Kanzig

By Charlie Kanzig

Eugene, Oregon hosted the most high-caliber track and field meet in America last week as world-class athletes jumped, threw, and ran world-leading marks at the annual Prefontaine Classic, a Diamond Level meet that honors Oregon's own Steve Prefontaine, considered one of the finest American distance runners of all time, who died in a car accident in 1975 at the peak of his career.

Mo Farah of Great Britain, who trains under Alberto Salazar's Nike-sponsored Oregon Project, was the crowd favorite among all entrants. The two-time 5,000- and 10,000-meter Olympic champion did not disappoint, taking control in the final two laps of the 5,000 meters to beat a world-class field in a world class time of 13:00.7. Farah says this is his last season on the track before turning to marathon racing. Seeing him for the last time on the track made it worth the trip to historic Hayward Field.

To be sure, every event included Olympic medalists competing, but to my surprise, four teenagers turned out to give the most memorable performances of the meet.

Friday evening featured seven events, including two official Diamond League contests, but it was the high school girls' 200-meter race that got the evening off to a surprising start as Tamari Davis, 14, who is actually not in high school but is an eighth-grader, won the race in 23.21, the fastest time ever recorded by someone of that age. For comparison, the fastest high school girl in Oregon this year ran 24.58.

More impressive yet, Celliphine Chespol of Kenya, who turned 18 just three months ago, won the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase in 8:58.78 defeating both the Olympic champion Ruth Jebet and American record-holder and Olympic bronze-medalist Emma Coburn in the process despite having to pause to put her shoe back on in the second-to-last water jump.

On Saturday, teenage pole vaulting sensation Armand Duplantis, 17, who has dual citizenship here in the U.S. as well as Sweden, faced off with both the world record-holder Renaud Lavellenie and the American Olympic bronze-medalist Sam Kendricks, where he finished fourth. Kendricks won with a mark of 19 feet 2.7 inches while Duplantis finished at 18 feet 8.8 inches.

Earlier this season the young vaulter broke the world age group record when he cleared 19 feet 1 inch. For comparison, the Olympic winner in 2016 cleared 19 feet 9.4 inches.

Not to be outdone by his teenage counterparts, Jakob Ingebritsgen of Norway became the youngest person ever to break the four-minute-mile barrier as he clocked 3:58.07 in the International Mile. Jakob's two brothers are both world-class milers - Henrik ran 3:53.79 in the same race as Jakob, while Filip ran 3:53.23 in the Bowerman Mile, which concluded the meet. In the press area after his race, he spoke in fluent English about his record and how the cheering crowd spurred him on to the finish.

The remainder of the meet included a slew of Olympians, world record-holders, and national and world champions making it the most high-powered track and field meet on American soil this year. Five men ran under 13:05 for 5,000 meters, two men jumped over 59 feet in the triple jump, four men broke 3:50 in the mile, six women cracked two minutes in the 800 meters, a shot-putter tossed the metal ball over 73 feet, the women's 200 was faster than the Olympics, and six men dipped under 10 seconds in the 100 meters. Non-stop, high-level action all packed into an amazingly efficient time schedule.

The Diamond League schedule this season started in early May with meets in Qatar and China and includes 11 more throughout the summer, all but one in Europe, and concludes September 1 in Brussels, Belgium.

In other words, this meet provided Oregonians with the chance to experience a gathering of some of the finest athletes this side of the Olympics or World Championships right in our own backyard. If you didn't make it this year put it on your calendar for next year. If the idea of attending a high-caliber track and field meet is attractive, tickets for the NCAA Division 1 Championships set for Hayward Field June 7-10 may still be available.

If you love track and field, we've got the best America offers just over the hill in Eugene.

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