The professional indoor season hits its apex this weekend at the 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships this weekend in Birmingham, England. FloTrack will be on site to provide coverage from the year’s only global track championship.
Men’s 800m: Will Brazier Keep His Dream Season Going?
First Round: March 2, 7:13 PM local time
Final: March 3, 7:35 PM local time
Notable Entrants: Emmanuel Korir, Donavan Brazier, Alvaro De Arriba, Drew Windle, Adam Kszczot, Antoine Gakeme
The top two seeds in the men’s 800m have take completely opposite approaches to the indoor season. Donavan Brazier’s winter campaign began in earnest in December when he ran a mile and a leg of a 4x400m in College Station, Texas. When the heart of the indoor season rolled around, Brazier kept racing. Three weekends in a row in February, Brazier raced an 800m — with each performance faster than the next. All of the times were in the 1:45s. His most recent race, a 1:45.10 in Albuquerque at the 2018 U.S. Indoor Championships, was only 0.1 off the American record.
During these three weeks of personal bests, Brazier only lost once. Emmanuel Korir of Kenya ran 1:44.21 at the Millrose Games to beat Brazier by over a second. That race makes up the entirety of Korir’s indoor season. One appearance, one month ago. His run at Millrose was so dominant that it alone is enough to give him the status of favorite heading into the world indoor championships. But it also raises question about whether Korir will be fresh or rusty by the time he gets to the starting line in Birmingham.
Questions about freshness can also be applied to Brazier. Racing three weekends in a row at a high level is hard to sustain. Assuming he makes the final at the worlds, Brazier will have run six 800s in five weeks when factoring in rounds.
Both Korir and Brazier have world championships experience, and any issue that Brazier had with rounds earlier in his career seems to be minimized by his overwhelming talent. If Brazier can keep it rolling, a gold medal and an American record is in reach. But if Korir is anywhere near the form he showed in New York, expect a wire-to-wire victory for the Kenyan.
If the race gets slow, tactical, or quirky, Poland’s Adam Kszczot will make his presence known. The four-time global medalist is undefeated in his six races this year. His season best of 1:46.47 isn’t close to Brazier or Korir’s, but Kszczot is perennially in the mix in championship races. He’s never won a gold medal in his career, but is typically well-positioned to pick up the pieces when something inevitably goes haywire in an elite 800m.
In that same spirit, it’s important to keep tabs on Drew Windle. He was third behind Korir and Brazier in Millrose and runner-up to Brazier in Albuquerque. This indoor season he’s made it a habit of being in last place and then passing most of the field in the final 400m. Windle ran his personal best indoors of 1:45.53 at Millrose and his conservative early race strategy plays well in the rounds.
Alvaro De Arriba of Spain ran a personal best of 1:45.53 season best and sits fourth on the yearly list of best marks. His approach to the season has been more like Brazier than Korir — racing seven 800s in 2018. Also entered in the race is Burundi’s Antoine Gakeme. He had the meet of his life at the 2016 World Indoor Championships, taking the silver medal behind Boris Berian and running a lifetime best.
Men’s 1500m: Can O’Hare and Wightman Wow The Home Crowd?
First Round: March 3, 11:15 AM local time
Final: March 4, 4:12 PM local time
Notable Entrants: Ayanleh Souleiman, Abdalaati Iguider, Samuel Tefera, Vincent Kibet, Aman Wote, Jake Wighman, Chris O’Hare, Ben Blankenship, Jakub Holusa, Craig Engles
With both Matthew Centrowitz and Nick Willis taking a pass on this meet, the stage is set for two British athletes to take a run at the podium. Chris O’Hare won the Wanamaker Mile at the beginning of February and took the 1500m the next weekend at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. Indoor races are typically a bit more honest than 1500s outdoors, though O’Hare has shown himself to adept at both styles of racing. In the Wanamaker Mile, he was the only runner who followed the rabbit and had to do some solo running to secure the victory.
His British teammate Jake Wightman looks to be peaking at the right time. He was second to O’Hare at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix and then won the 1500 at the British national championships. He followed that up last weekend by posting a personal best in the 800m in Glasgow, where he finished third in a very competitive field. O’Hare will receive most of the press (and pressure) this weekend, which might help Wightman fly under the radar. He will get the benefit of having the home crowd without all the expectations that accompany it.
Ayanleh Souleiman and Abdalaati Iguider have the two fastest times on the year and are both set to race in Birmingham. Souleiman’s 3:35.39 is close to his personal best. He's has been inconsistent in prior seasons, but if he's at his best the rest of the field is in trouble. He won this race in 2014 from the front and has the highest ceiling of anyone in the race. Samuel Tefera of Ethiopia just beat Iguider in France, setting the world junior record of 3:36.05 in the process. Tefera is only 18 years old, but he has major championship experience from last summer. Vincent Kibet of Kenya has run four solid 1500s this year; the best of group was a 3:36.86 at the beginning of February.
The Americans are represented by Ben Blankenship and Craig Engels. Blankenship’s savvy tactics and good closing speed secured him a second-place finish at the U.S. indoor championships. Craig Engels finished third behind Blankenship and Paul Chelimo in Albuquerque, but earned his spot when Chelimo decided to only race the 3000m (the 3000m/1500 double is logistically impossible with the world championship schedule).
This is the first global championship appearance for Engels, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to competing in a worlds setting. Blankenship is a steady racer and looks like he is good form at the right time of the season.
Men’s 3000m: Can Paul Chelimo Get Atop The Podium?
First Round: March 2, 12:50 PM local time
Final: March 4, 3:35 PM local time
Notable Entrants: Paul Chelimo, Selemon Barega, Hagos Gebrhiwet, Yomif Kejelcha, Abdalaati Iguider, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Adel Mechaal, Bethwell Birgen, Davis Kiplangat
Paul Chelimo earned the silver at the 2016 Olympics and bronze at last summer’s world championships. The two people who beat him in those races — Mo Farah and Muktar Edris — won’t be on the start line this weekend in the 3000m. But this is a deep field, so Chelimo will need to be at his best to win the first gold medal of his career.
Chelimo looked sharp in Albuquerque. He was in command in both the 1500 and 3000, looking equal parts strategically brilliant and physically superior. Last weekend in England, he lost by 0.01 seconds to Justus Soget, but Soget isn’t competing at world indoors.
Instead, Chelimo’s best competition should come from a trio of Ethiopians. Yomif Kejelcha won the IAAF World Indoor Tour and earned a wild card entry into the meet. He is the defending gold medalist in the event. Kejelcha will be joined in Birmingham by Selemon Barega and Hagos Gebrhiwet. Barega, only 20 years old, was fifth at the world championships last year and is the world leader in the 3000m. His 7:36.64 was a personal best and moved him ahead of his countryman, Gebrhiwet. Gebrhiwet has a wealth of international experience and should be rested having only raced twice this year. Kejelcha has had a more aggressive racing schedule and has posted the third-fastest time in the world.
Chelimo’s teammate, Shadrack Kipchirchir, is capable of breaking up the Ethiopian squad and, perhaps, working together with Chelimo to control the race. The duo did just that in Albuquerque (with the help of another World Class Athlete Program teammate), but this weekend will be a significant upgrade in competition. Kipchirchir’s 2018 has been nothing short of sensational. He posted lifetime bests in every distance and has developed the finishing speed that is necessary to win medals in championship settings. He was slightly behind Chelimo in Albuquerque, but being a little behind Chelimo might be enough to get a medal on Sunday.
The Kenyan contingent features Bethwell Birgen and David Kiplangat. Birgen is a legitimate medal threat. He has run 7:32 outdoors and just won the 1500m in Glasgow. Kiplangat ran 7:42.38 to finish fourth in the Glasgow 3000m. The 19-year-old went out in the first round of 2017 World Championships in the 5000m.
One wild card to watch is Adel Mechaal of Spain. Track viewers might remember him from the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, where he held the lead in the 3000m in a race eventually won by Edward Cheserek. Mechaal has run eight times this year in disciplines ranging from 1500m on the track to an 11 kilometer cross country race.