Australian athletics fans will be treated to three of the nations most talented 1500 metre runners taking on some of the most formidable middle distance fields on the Diamond League calendar when the third leg of the series kicks off this weekend in Eugene, Oregon.
All Victorian-based athletes, Linden Hall (1500m), Luke Mathews (International Mile) and Zoe Buckman (1500m) will race at the Prefontaine Classic, a commemorative meet, held annually since 1975, named for the late University of Oregon distance great, Steve Prefontaine.
Each competing Australian bears a connection with Hayward Field, with the iconic venue playing host to a past World Under 20 Championships and many NCAA National Championships. The venue will be renovated in preparation for the 2021 IAAF World Championships.
Mathews has fond memories of the track that kick-started his international career, racing in the semi-finals of the World Under 20 Championships 800 metres in 2014, Mathews returned as a professional representing Nike in 2017, finishing sixth in the International Mile in 3:54.53.
Mathews describes the meet as his favourite of the Diamond League circuit, citing the knowledgeable crowd with the town of Eugene embracing the sport and the support of Nike drawing outstanding international fields.
A student of the sport, Mathews was specific in describing what makes the track so special, “So many great athletes have ran at this track. Alan Webb broke the high school mile record here, Craig Mottram broke the Australian 2 mile record here in ‘07 (and smashed the meet record), Galen Rupp ran sub-13:00 for the first time at this meet. That amongst many things make it special. The crowd and the atmosphere is special. Even when there isn’t an event on, there seems to crowd interaction. It’s amazing.”
The Prefontaine Classic offers the Bowerman Mile and the International Mile to competitors, with the latter often the birthplace of many professional careers, a race won by fellow Australian Ryan Gregson in 2011. Mathews enters ranked third in a largely American field, featuring World Relays silver medalist Patrick Casey (USA, 3:52.62), and in-form teenager Drew Hunter (USA, 3:56.72) riding high on confidence following a mile victory in Boston over Chris O’Hare (GBR), a 3:52.91 indoor miler. A Kenyan contingent will challenge Mathews over the course of four laps, including World Under 20 champion Jonathan Kiplimo Sawe (KEN, 3:55.76) and 2014 Commonwealth Games 1500m champion James Kiplagat Magut (KEN, 3:49.43), winner of the 2013 edition of the race.
Mathews will toe the line optimistically, reflecting on his time as a junior on the same track, “Four years on and I feel like I’ve matured as an athlete who can compete on the highest level. Last year I was 6th in 3:54. I’d like to do better than that. But, as any race, I don’t race to come second. So I’ll try put myself in the best position to win.
Hall has found great success at Hayward Field previously, enjoying three NCAA national 1500m final berths as a Florida State University athlete, and in 2016 running to her personal best of 4:01.78, the third fastest time in Australian history.
Eugene marked Hall’s first Diamond League experience as a professional, a meet the 26-year old thoroughly enjoys, making note of the historical venue and the middle-distance friendly crowd.
“They certainly know how to put on a track and field meet in Eugene; they always bring incredible crowds and athletes together. It’s always a packed stadium, which isn’t something we get to experience at every Diamond League meet.”
Hall spends most of her time on global start lines located on the back straight, the typical 1500 metre starting point, a cauldron of nervous energy and opportunistic excitement, “When I reflect back on any race I’ve ran at Hayward Field, my first thought is always standing on the 1500m start line, staring down the back straight. The back straight crowd in so close, mildly reminiscent of a vintage Melbourne Olympic Park back straight, it always has you ready to fly off the line and get racing.
Hall’s time as a Florida State ‘Seminole’ proved educational, providing the metric miler time to experience numerous race situations, taking those skills around the world with her today, as she carves out a professional niche. The Athletics Essendon athlete reflected on her time spent racing at Hayward Field collegiately, “Every year coming back to Hayward, be it for NCAA championships or Prefontaine gets me excited. Of course, having so many positive memories from both college and Pre adds to that. Collegiately, racing in Eugene was always the biggest meet of the year – NCAA Championships. So it really ingrained that coming to race here was a big deal, and pretty special to part of the action. Which definitely holds true this weekend.”
The women’s 1500m field will be headed up by World Indoor medalist Laura Muir (GBR, 3:55.22), World and Olympic medalist Jenny Simpson (USA, 3:57.22) and World Indoor medalist Dawit Seyaum (ETH, 3:58.09). Hall plans to focus on racing first, and take time improvements as they come, “I want to enjoy racing this weekend, and do so confidently and put myself into the race. Obviously chasing down PBs is part of the game, however I am wanting to make my focus on the race rather than the clock. Ultimately, I want to walk off the track knowing I ran the best race I could, and by doing this the time should come.”
Fellow 1500m representative Buckman bears the closest connection to the University of Oregon as a former student from 2007-2011, “Competing at Hayward Field means a lot to me, and I know there will be a real lift from the crowd. I’ve run a personal best and an Olympic qualifier here, so I’m expecting to go 3 out of 3 of with another good performance. I just ran a PB in the 3k so I’m hoping that will transfer to a strong run here.”
The Prefontaine Classic pits multiple Olympic and World champions against each other, with notable duels including pole vaulters Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) and Thiago Braz (BRA), the German 90m trio in the javelin Hoffman, Roehler and Vetter (GER), 2.40 metre-plus jumpers Barshim (QAT) versus Protsenko (UKR), eight sub-20 second men in the 200 metres and Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz (USA) racing World outdoor and indoor champions Elijah Manangoi (KEN) and Samuel Tefera (ETH) in the Bowerman Mile.
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