The best pro field is in the 400-meter hurdles, where Puerto Rican* Javier Culson— the world leader and a medallist at three global championships— takes on Americans Johnny Dutch (2014 US champ) and Reggie Wyatt (2013 NCAA champ). With Dutch and Wyatt in the field, the only man missing from 2007’s best high school long hurdlers is Robert Griffin III.
*SCORCHING HOT TAKE: If Scots and Welsh compete in the Olympics under the Great Britain banner, then Puerto Ricans should be part of American teams, right?
The biggest race of the night for American distance fans is the Men's Mile. US pros Jordan McNamara, Matt Elliott, Jeff See, Kyle Merber, Trevor Dunbar (who has collegiate eligibility remaining but told Justin Britton at USAs that he’s going pro), Tommy Schmitz, and Riley Masters plus Jordy Williamsz (who is neither American nor professional, but is the man) are in the field. Here are three questions on the eve of that race.
1) How fast will Jordan McNamara run in his first race back from an injured foot?
McNamara told LetsRun that his goal for the summer was to run 3:50 in the mile, even after suffering a scare with his right foot that kept him out of USAs. He’s the biggest name on the start list, and this is his first race since he took his 800 PR from 1:52 to 1:47 in Portland.
It seems reasonable to assume that McNamara wouldn’t have flown over here unless he’s healthy and ready to run fast— how fast is the question. His mile PR is 3:52.42, and one calculator has his 3:34.00 1500 being equivalent to a 3:51.12 mile.
2) Can world's fastest kindergarten teacher Matt Elliott recapture the class he showed in 2013?
While Elliott’s 3:44.56 on Saturday in Oordegem is nothing special, it marks a massive improvement from his three races before that— a 4:10 full mile, a 3:53 1500, and a 3:55 last place at USAs.
Here’s a theory: the school year and teaching lifestyle is simply not conducive to racing fast, but you can get in quality training in between grading tests and emailing ornery parents. AJ Acosta spent the year working as a substitute teacher and churning out mediocre results; a few weeks after the school year ended, Acosta grabbed a surprising sixth-place finish in Sacramento. With school out for the summer, we’ll see if Elliott takes another step in the right direction on Tuesday night. And no matter what, we'll be sure to interview him.
3) Will anyone else capture lightning in a bottle? (Or alternatively, unCORK their speed (Editor's Note: Stop, seriously))
Williamsz, Merber, Sam McEntee (who’s in the 3k), and your slow-ass correspondent all owe their current 1500 PRs to the 2012 Swarthmore meet*. That night was a testament to what can happen in a field with perfect weather, excellent pacing, one or two borderline world-class talents, and a load of national-class talents. On that idyllic night in the woods of County Delaware, Nick Willis provided the excellent pacing for borderline world-class talents Nate Brannen and Will Leer, and the whole field just didn’t get tired.
Tomorrow night in County Cork has three of those four ingredients: it’ll be 57 degrees and clear (though 15 mph winds are forecast), 3:34 man JMac, and a large and hungry pack. One tiny wrench is that there are twenty guys listed on the start list: that’s a somewhat crowded track for fast racing. Hopefully the pacing is quick enough to string out the field very quickly.
Merber and Dunbar missed the final at USAs, while Masters ran 3:40 for 7th in the final. Since NCAAs, Williamsz has run 3:59.40 for the mile in Leixlip (2nd place) and 3:43.80 for 1500-meters in Belfast (7th place). Out of this group, the best picks to run fast are Williamsz and Masters, though Dunbar has shown wheels on Oregon's DMR as well. Nobody would have picked Merber to run 3:35 and win at Swarthmore, though, so we could be in for a surprise.
See, and Schmitz also ran on Saturday in Oordegem (which Mitch Kastoff has called the "Swarthmore of Europe"); Schmitz was the faster of the two at just 3:40.92, so it’s hard to imagine either running faster than 3:56 on Tuesday night.
*I know what you’re thinking. Stop it. If the track were short, times would be abnormally fast in other events. And they’re not. (I may be a little sensitive about this one)
The two best women’s races of the night are the 800 and the 3k. After pacing her second world leading time in a row in Paris (and being the far more competent half on an on-camera duo previewing the meet), Phoebe Wright is out to get hers in Cork. American Heather Kampf (silver in the 4x1500 at World Relays) and British and Euro champ/recent joiner of the sub-2:00 club Lynsey Sharp have shown the best recent form in the field, and are the slight favorites. (LATE NOTE-- Sharp is scratched with a mild hip injury)
The 3k took a page out of the hipster handbook and has curated a very eclectic mix. There are three distinct generations of athletes to watch:
The Masters: Helen Clitheroe (Great Britain)* vs. Maria McCambridge (Ireland). It isn’t quite fair to refer to McCambridge as a master— she turns 39 on Thursday. Clitheroe is 40. Both were European track superstars a decade ago and have mostly hit longer distances in recent years.
The Quasi-Collegians: Marielle Hall vs. Emily Sisson. Hall is fresh off an NCAA 5k win, while Sisson redshirted outdoors. Her last race was the Adrian Martinez 5K on June 5th, where she finished 3rd in 15:45.64.
The Pros: hometown favorite Fionnuala Britton vs. American Jess Tebo. Britton is actually based in Wicklow, three hours away, but she’s by far the best Irish runner in the field— twice the European cross-country champ and thrice top 16 at World Cross. And the Brooks Beast Tebo has set PRs at 1500, 3k, and 5k this year. She’ll surely be looking to break 9:00 for the first time.
No offense to the big names listed above, but out of all of them, nothing compares to Irish runner Sinead O’Connor. Hopefully she improves.
Other corkers (sorry) on the docket:
The men’s 3k has four guys who have broken 7:55: Mexican Juan Luis Barrios (who’s shown amazing range in his career), American Craig Forys, Kiwi Zane Robertson*, and Sam McEntee, Williamsz’s** fellow Aussie/Villanovan.
*Obligatory mention that Robertson is one half of a genetically identical pair that trains in Kenya.
**There’s a hell of a name to make possessive.
The men’s 400 features NCAA 4th-placer Brycen Spratling of Pitt (I bumped into him in the meet apartments earlier and he’s cut his hair, so no annoying questions) and Olympic hero Manteo Mitchell.
I’d be remiss to post this without mentioning that meet organizers Dick Hodgins and Tony O’Connell and their staff are unbelievably hospitable and competent.