I go to the Pre Classic every year – I think I’m on my 10th (2003-now, with a couple missed). It’s a special meet for me, a special place for athletics, and a great place to kick off the bucket list road trip! See, I’ve been going to Pre Classic since before the Diamond League, but since the DL started up, I’ve seen these other amazing places and wondered what it’s like to watch a meet there. Uniquely high on the list, near Hayward Field, is Bislett Stadium in Oslo, home of the Bislett Games and the Dream Mile – Hayward has more sub-4 miles than anywhere in the world, but Bislett has seen more mile world records. I’ve dreamed of seeing a mile run in Oslo since I was 12 years old. So this year I decided..the hell with it. I’m gonna start in Eugene, go to Oslo, and just attend whatever meets come up in the middle! So as the schedule shook out, it’s Eugene, Rome, Birmingham, and Oslo – 4 meets in 4 countries in 12 days. I don’t have an audience anymore, not really, I haven’t written about track in forever (seriously! Since 2012!), and frankly I’m so busy with the day job that I can’t follow every Harry Jerome classic and Hoka One One invitational that happens, so I’m not as in the loop as the Flotrack guys or RunBlogRun, but I’ll do what I can to document what I see both on the track and as I travel. 🙂 And first up: Eu – gene!

Track's version of St. Peter's

Track’s version of St. Peter’s

I’m curious if this trip will undo my image of Hayward as the best track venue on the planet. I’m describing Hayward/Bislett to friends as St. Peter’s Basilica/St. Paul’s Cathedral – both are church, you just have to decide which one’s best. For me, until further notice, Hayward is the class of the field. Every year the quality of competition improves, the meet is annually in the top 3 competitive meets in the world (same with Zurich – next year’s bucket list?), and you can’t even quantify the quality of the crowd. So knowledgable, so passionate, so LOUD. The athletes are involved and excited to be there, and it shows. This year, with a few exceptions, met the annual standard of greatness.

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First, the competition. Seeing Justin Gatlin push his residual dope store and Ben Johnson-esque eyes to a 19.68 second 200 meters, Mutaz Essa Barshim showing an otherworldly fluid jumping style to clear 2.41 meters, Renaud Lavillenie threatening his world record in the pole vault..the list could (and does) go on. Pre also has an International Mile – basically a rung below the beasts who run the Bowerman mile – and this year they introduced an International 100m for the women. In the 100, the International race was not just on a par with the full product for quality, but for actual performance. English Gardner’s 10.84 showed she’s back from injury in the 100m, and would have placed her fourth in the DL 100…and she effectively tied with Elaine Thompson in her own race! Genzebe Dibaba ran a brilliant 5000m, running solo after around 2k and threatening her big sister’s world record, before finishing with a sublime 14:19.76. Tirunesh, prepare to be unseated…

Jenny Simpson and Sofia Hassan continued their rivalry in the 1500, running shoulder to shoulder behind Shannon Rowbury, who is trying some new things like frontrunning, before a furious and brilliant kick over the last 150m showed Jenny to be, as in 2014, the class of the field. The women’s 1500 at US Nationals is going to be RIDICULOUS – the American women are suddenly loaded in the middle distances, and I could see them threatening for more than one medal in Beijing. Mo Farah showed flashes of anger at the pacemaking on Friday night, but after finally getting them off the track and sharing work with Paul Tanui, managed to run a 26:50…and be upset that it wasn’t faster. And Kirani James absolutely blowing up the field, making 43.95 look easy. I can go on – Evan Jager is clearly ready to challenge for medals in the steeplechase, but Ezekiel Kemboi is probably untouchable right now (and is a better dancer), we could be ready for a changing of the guard in the women’s javelin…but I want to talk about some things I saw that I didn’t love.

Evan Jager making his last push on the way to 8:05

Evan Jager making his last push on the way to 8:05

First, the pacemakers in the 10,000 weren’t doing what was asked of them (as has been pointed out elsewhere, finding guys willing to sacrifice themselves to run a 13:20 5k and then a bit more just for Mo’s amusement is going to be hard in a world championship year), but with that exception (and the women’s 1500), the pacers did their work and the runners simply didn’t go with them. Again, it’s a world championship year – I wouldn’t be shocked if the athletes are just more interested in working on tactics until after Beijing, and then they can chase times. I guess we’ll see… Next, Pre has historically had all event winners run a victory lap, and they’re always willing to do it, mostly enthusiastically but at times more bemused. This year, we had a lot of them just not do it. One of them was Tyson Gay. I happen to be a Tyson Gay fan, although I’m bothered by his positive test last year, but one of my long-time complaints is that Tyson is just kind of…not pleasant on the track. He routinely ignores the flower girls after winning races, doesn’t acknowledge the crowd, etc. In the case of the flower girls, they’re little kids volunteering, and they’ve been told they HAVE to give him those flowers – I mean, the guy doesn’t have to be Usain Bolt personality wise, but don’t be a jerk to little kids! Anyway, he could use some feel-good with the fans, and after his run he just walked off the track and didn’t acknowledge anyone, while Justin Gatlin was out there shaking hands and taking pictures and signing programs and doing his best to rebuild a following. It was just disheartening.

All in all, from a competition standpoint? I think it’ll be tough to beat.

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