David Rudisha is not often upstaged in a Diamond League race, but though he won the 800m this time around, the audience was clearly distracted. Intermittent and progressively louder roars from the crowd signalled something unusual going on. It was a competition in which not one but two high jumpers – Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko – approached the world record. Some come to these races to watch the sprints, others to watch the distance events, but the jumpers taking flight were the most transcendent performers of the day.
Back to the 800. Because Rudisha is currently a 1:44 guy and not the 1:41/42 version of years past, the question is not how fast he’ll run, but whether he’ll win. Heading in to the race, Duane Solomon had the season’s best time among the competitors, and four others had run faster than Rudisha this year. The pacemaker opened the kind of gap on Rudisha that Rudisha has been known to open on the pack. Solomon was the lead predator on Rudisha’s shoulder, poised to strike.
We asked Solomon after the race whether at any point he thought he had it. “The backstretch from 500 to 600, I was kind of hesitant. I wanted to pass Rudisha. It was kind of windy and I wanted to bide my time. I think I waited a little bit too long. In the last hundred when I really wanted to pass him, he got stronger. He’s still the best in the world. I’ll come back a little better next time, I’ll come back more aggressive.” Rudisha won in 1:44.63, Solomon finished third exactly half a second back in 1:45.13.
The headliner in the women’s 800 was Mary Cain, but it was Jamaica’s Natoya Goule who took hold of the race from the get-go. “There were too many people in the race. I’m not going to be left around by the back getting kicked on and stepped on and all that, because I’m the smallest. I’m not going to stay at the back and get run over,” said Goule.
There were other pleasant surprises, from even smaller competitors. When 10-year-old Jonah Gorevic of White Plains took out the first quarter of the Youth Mile in 71 seconds, gapping a field of bigger 11-12 year olds, it seemed a classic, if plucky, pacing blunder. But the kid kept at it, pulling off 78, 78, and 74 second laps, kicking to a 5:01.55 finish, the fastest recorded time at that age. The press huddled around Gorevic after the race, which the boy, who resembles a cross between Ryan Vail and Galen Rupp, handled with aplomb.
With about 700 meters to go in the women’s 3000m, a race broke out where none had been expected. Kim Conley had moved into second and was closing the gap on leader Mercy Cherono. “My plan had been really to try to wait and then kick hard, but I just couldn’t help myself. Mercy kind of lulled in pace for a second, and I could see that maybe it was possible,” Conley said. Cherono regained her pace, while Conley held on to finish fifth with a 3-second PR of 8:44. She’ll be running the 10,000 at the US Championships.
While Cain opted for the 800, high school junior Alexa Efraimson stuck her nose in the women’s 1500m. At the Pre Classic, another mid-distance wunderkind, Elise Cranny, caboosed the 1,500 and was pulled along to a 4:14. In New York, Efraimson was right behind Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, and Shannon Rowbury at the bell – only two strides behind Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi. Her 4:07.05 was the second fastest high school 1,500 of all time behind Cain’s 4:04.62 last year. Morgan Uceny ran 4:04.87, her fastest 1500 since she crashed to the track at the 2012 London Olympics while being trailed by Aregawi, then competing for Ethiopia.
Efraimson gave everything she had, if the amount of time spent doubled over and breathless after the race is any indication. A few minutes later, by the side of the track, she was still having trouble catching her breath. Written in marker on her calf was an inspirational quote, the kind of thing you’d see in a high school yearbook, and one that seemed to explain her excellent performance.
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