July 20, 2012 | Monaco
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If Olympic athletes were college students, Friday's Monaco Diamond League meet would be like the final quiz of the semester. It's the last chance for them to boost their grades before the final exam - in their case, the Olympic Games that begin in exactly one week.
Here are a few storylines to look out for during the meet.
The Big Three are out!
Leo Manzano, Matt Centrowitz and Andrew Wheating have all pulled out of the men's 1500 meters....that's the whole US Olympic team in the event. This would have served as the last opportunity to race the World's best before the pressure cooker of the Olympics. Robby Andrews, who had a chance at redemption on his countrymen after failing to make the Olympic team a few weeks ago, will have to setting for a great opportunity against the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists in Asbel Kiprop and Nick Willis. Willis has been in good form all season but has yet to run a fast race. He will need a good race here to give him confidence heading into London. And don't count out Nixon Chepseba, the dark horse for Olympic gold with his new PR this season of 3:29.90 when he won one of the deepest 1500 races of the year in Hengelo.
Fast steeple for Jager
Evan Jager has been at the front of all the steeples he's run in his career but will get to run in a time trial-type setting on Friday. The Olympic Trials champ thinks he's in 8:10 shape, putting him in the range of challenging the American record of 8:08.82 held by Dan Lincoln. The pace is set to go out in 5:16 through 2k for Kenyan Paul Koech to challenge the world record. If Jager can sit back early and pick people off late, he could give Lincoln's mark a good run for its money.
Distance standouts meet at middle ground
It's rare to see America's top middle and long distance runners meet in a single race but we will see three of the best in the Monaco 3000 meters. Shannon Rowbury, second at the Olympic Trials for 1500 meters, is the most accomplished at the 3k with her 8:31.38 personal best set at this meet in 2010. Jenny Simpson also knows the distance well given her experience in the 3000 meter steeplechase, an event in which she holds the American record. Simpson has a 8:42.03 best in the flat 3k from her solo win at the 2009 NCAA Indoor Championships. Olympic Trials champion Julie Culley comes in with the fastest season's best of 8:52.41.
The American record of 8:25.83 was set by Mary Slaney back in 1985. Although the record is unlikely to go down, a special day by any three of these women could threaten the mark.
World's quarter-milers best face off
LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James are the clear number one and two 400 meter runners in the world. Other than the Pre Classic where James false started, the two haven't faced off since the Daegu World Championships where James became the youngest world champion in the event's history. So far this year Merritt has been the more dominant runner, running the world lead of 44.12 seconds at the Olympic Trials while James has yet to find the same stride he had in 2011. The winner of this head-to-head will enter the Olympic Games as the favorite to win gold.
Merritt looks to continue hurdle hot streak
Aries Merritt has been the man to beat in the hurdles this season. He's run 12.93 seconds twice his season and could - given good weather conditions - challenge the world record of 12.87 seconds. He'll have world champ Jason Richardson along with Olympic Trials third placer Jeff Porter and the always dangerous David Oliver to challenge him.
Alysia looks to stack up against medal contenders
Alysia Montano was fourth at last year's World Championships, making the goal of an Olympic medal inevitable in 2012. Montano nearly set her personal best running 1:57.37 at the Prefontaine Classic but struggled over the last 100 meters in her win at the Olympic Trials. In Monaco she'll take on Caster Semenya and Russians Irina Maracheva and Yelena Kofanova, both 1:57 runners this year. London Diamond League champ Molly Beckwith is also in the field.