Weekend Recap: Tefera Crashes Kejelcha's World Record Party

In recent weeks I have been referring to the 2019 indoor season as the winter of Kejelcha, as the Ethiopian’s string of fast performances have made him arguably the top attraction in the sport so far this year. 

But after two close let downs on consecutive weekends-- first a heartbreaking 0.01 miss of the mile world record in New York, and most recently an unintentional pacing job in Birmingham that helped carry Samuel Tefera to the 1,500m world record-- the winter of Yomif Kejelcha has quickly become the winter of his discontent. That may sound a little harsh for a guy who ran 3:48/3:31 in the mile and 1,500m within the span of a week, but you can ask those smashed Millrose flowers what Kejelcha thinks about consolation prizes.

There is, however, a silver-lining for the 21-year-old: another world record attempt awaits on March 3 in Boston--at what distance we don’t yet know-- where the two factors that have thwarted his first two races, erratic pacing at Millrose and an elite adversary in Birmingham, will likely be checked at the door. With any luck, the winter of Kejelcha will see a record thaw just in time for spring.

Here were the top five performances from the weekend:

1. Samuel Tefera Reminds Us Why 1,500m World Records Belong To 1,500m Runners

It was impossible to miss the irony on Saturday of Yomif Kejelcha serving as an ideal pacemaker for Samuel Tefera to set the indoor 1,500m world record (3:31.04), as Kejelcha provided for his countryman exactly the type of rabbiting he himself desperately needed in the Wanamaker mile. 

But the 19-year-old Tefera’s blow-by move on Kejelcha in the final 100m highlighted a bigger point than just savvy tactics: the indoor 1,500m world champion simply has more raw speed than the indoor 3k world champ. 

Now, you can’t be a sub-par miler and challenge the records of Hicham El Guerrouj, but Tefera shifted into a gear in the last lap that Kejelcha couldn’t come close to matching; virtually tied with just 100m remaining, Tefera put more than a half-second gap in that span on a man who last week came within a breath of tying the mile world record. Not a bad tidbit for a teenager to add to his resumé.

Kejelcha has impressively shown he’s fit enough to time-trial his way close to the soft-by-his-standards indoor marks of El Guerrouj, and that deserves our adoration, but his inability to counter Tefera’s move on Saturday was a startling reminder that the best 1,500m running is usually done by 1,500m runners. Kejelcha may one day own the indoor 1,500m or mile world records, or both, but such performances would not be the equivalent of him becoming the greatest indoor miler in the world. Tefera served us that reminder in Birmingham.

2. A Stellar Konstanze Klosterhalfen And Laura Muir Match-Up Awaits At Euro Indoors

In back-to-back weeks we’ve seen Konstanze Klosterhalfen, aka KoKo, and Laura Muir throw down two of the fastest indoor miles in history, as KoKo ran 4:19.98 in a dominant Millrose victory on Feb. 9 while Muir one-upped her with an even more dominant 4:18.75 on Saturday in Birmingham. 

The pair have yet to race in 2019, but that will (hopefully) change soon as European Indoors is coming up in early March. Muir defeated KoKo handily in the 1,500m at Euros two years ago, but the 22-year-old German is likely to be a tougher out for the Brit in a season in which she has looked increasingly fit in every race. KoKo can count Jenny Simpson, Colleen Quigley and Kate Grace among her list of scalps so far in 2019, but still, adding Muir to that list will no doubt be the toughest test yet.

While Muir was setting the British record in the mile, Klosterhalfen was soloing a German 3k record of 8:32.47:

3. Notre Dame Emerges As NCAA DMR Favorite, Michigan Drops NCAA Leader

Notre Dame and Wisconsin waged an epic distance medley relay battle on Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, with the Fighting Irish (9:26.10) and the Badgers (9:26.24) scorching the second and third-fastest times in NCAA history, respectively. (The times won’t officially land on the all-time list because they were run on an over-sized track.) Notre Dame’s victory, even coming on their home track, was a significant upset of Wisconsin, who had NCAA 1,500m champion Oliver Hoare on the anchor.

Yared Nuguse, who led the Irish to a shocking runner-up NCAA DMR finish last year as a freshman, once again played the hero as he out-dueled Hoare with a 3:54 anchor split:

Viewed through the prism of their individual accomplishments, Nuguse’s defeat of Hoare is nearly unbelievable. Hoare just ran 3:54 in the Wanamaker mile last week, while the sophomore Nuguse has yet to even break 4:00 minutes in the mile. He has not thus far qualified for an individual event at NCAAs, so it would appear that he can focus entirely on the DMR and a likely rematch with Wisconsin next month. Since Hoare will be coming back from a mile prelim, the advantage belongs to the Irish heading into Birmingham.

At the same meet, the Michigan women ran 10:54.47 to take the NCAA lead. The Wolverines will face much stiffer competition come NCAAs-- they won on Saturday by over three seconds-- as the women’s DMR appears much more wide open compared to the men’s battle.

Oklahoma State, Boise State and BYU have all broken 10:57 this year, and those squads did it in late January. Michigan may have the lead in the clubhouse, but their mettle won’t truly be tested until nationals.

4. Sifan Hassan, Julien Wanders Set Road 5km World Records (Sort Of)

Both Sifan Hassan (14:44) and Julien Wanders (13:29) accomplished their obvious goals of setting new 5km road world records on Sunday in Monaco, with the Netherlands’ Hassan lowering the previous mark by four seconds and Switzerland’s Wanders nabbing the record by a slim one second:

However, these records deserve significant scrutiny as each has benefited greatly from some IAAF tomfoolery. The international governing body only introduced the road 5km as a world record-eligible event in late 2017, and in doing so has only acknowledged performances from 2018 on as actual records. The “records” Hassan and Wanders beat-- Caroline Kipkirui’s 14:48 and Bernard Kibet’s 13:30-- were both set en route at a 10k in Prague last September, themselves both beneficiaries of the IAAF’s arbitrary line in the sand like Wanders and Hassan.

The actual fastest 5km performances in history belong to Sammy Kipketer (12:59) and Joyciline Jepkosgei (14:32 en route).

5. Bralon Taplin Wishes It Was Always Indoor Season

For the fourth straight season, Grenadian sprinter Bralon Taplin has found himself at or near the top of the 400m indoor list, as the 26-year-old dropped a 45.26 world leader on Saturday in College Station. 

Taplin belongs to a somewhat unfortunate group of quarter-milers, not unlike three-time World indoor 400m champ Pavel Maslak, who are much stronger indoors compared to outdoor. Much of that, of course, is due to the fact that most top 400m runners skip indoors entirely, but in Taplin’s case he truly is just a better version of himself with a roof over his head. 

His 44.88 indoor PR puts him seventh on the all-time list, while his 44.38 outdoor best is only tied for 61st. I’m sure Taplin would gladly trade his indoor strengths for better outdoor results, but his consistency in the winter deserves praise.

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