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The qualifying window is open, the standards are harder than ever and the stars have assembled.
Thursday’s Payton Jordan Invitational comes with higher stakes than normal. The revamped Olympic qualifying process, which has created plenty of off-season discussion in the track world, have put a premium on hitting fast times. Now it’s time to see if the athletes are up for it.
Though the 2020 Olympic Trials aren’t until next summer, the dearth of high-level distance opportunities gives this meet added importance, particularly for runners like Hassan Mead and Ben True in the 10,000m.
Payton Jordan will also showcase some of the fastest collegiate distance runners in the nation, with distance powers NAU, BYU and Stanford well represented.
Here’s a rundown of the top men’s events, with the women’s preview coming later today.
Men's 5000m: 9:45 PM PT
2019 World Championships Standard: 13:22.50
2020 Olympic Standard: 13:13.50
The last time Yomif Kejelcha was on the track, he shattered the indoor mile world record, clocking a 3:47.01 in Boston. After his winter of record attempts in the 1500m and mile, you almost forgot that the focus of Kejelcha’s career up to this point is the 5000m. He will return to that distance on Thursday night.
The Olympic standard should not be a problem so this race is more about Kejelcha stretching his legs in a race he hasn’t run since the Diamond League final last year. He has two fellow Nike Oregon Project runners entered with him in Eric Jenkins and Suguru Osako. Jenkins hasn’t raced since the Manchester Road Race last Thanksgiving and this race will be a good look at his current form.
Justyn Knight shook off his struggles from the indoor season to run for a third-place finish at the BAA 5K. He has a successful history at this meet--his 13:17 personal best comes from the 2017 installment of Payton Jordan.
Ben Blankenship, Drew Hunter, Lopez Lomong, Sam Parsons and Chris O’Hare add depth to the field. Hunter, a 1500m runner, has his eyes on running in the 13:20s this season. His performance at the US Cross Country Championships (where he finished 9th over 10K)was an indication that he has range.
With all the top professionals, it might be easy to miss the NCAA athletes in this section. NAU, in particular, will roll out Tyler Day, Luis Grijalva and Geordie Beamish.
Men’s 1500m: 9:20 PM PT
2019 World Championships Standard: 3:36.00
2020 Olympic Standard: 3:35.00
2018 was an unmitigated success for Clayton Murphy. He won the US title in the 800m and almost beat his personal best. The injury issues that he had in 2017 are out of the way and it looks like he’s dead set on another year churning out fast times and top Diamond League finishes.
Murphy will open his season outdoors in the 1500m. It’s a distance where he’s also thrived. His 1500m personal best of 3:36 puts him on even footing with two other men in this race--Sean McGorty and Robert Domanic. Both men were in college last year and have had auspicious beginnings to their professional careers. McGorty got that 3:36 last summer in Europe after his NCAA 5000m title in June. This winter, he ran 13:21 indoors in a 5000m. Domanic finished fifth at the USATF Outdoor Championships last summer. Two weeks ago, he won the BAA Road Mile.
Grant Fisher will be racing on his home track in an off-distance for him. Last year, he ran 3:41.24, a personal best in this meet. After his personal best in the 5000m at the Stanford Invite, Fisher looks like he has the potential to go under 3:40.
Men's 10,000m: 10:40 PM PT
2019 World Championships Standard: 27:40.00
2020 Olympic Standard: 27:28.00
In 2014, Ben True and Hassan Mead met in the 5000m at Payton and produced a classic race. True came back in the final straightaway to catch Mead at the line. Both men ran 13:02, times that still stand as their lifetime bests. This year, they will clash in the 10,000m. No doubt they will want to win, but they will both benefit from the other’s presence as they try to hit the ambitious Olympic qualifying mark of 27:28. That time is faster than both Mead and True’s personal best.
True finished second in the BAA 5K two weeks ago, while Mead ran 14:03 at the Carlsbad 5000m and then a 3:40 1500m at the Bryan Clay Invitational. Soufiane Bouchikhi pushed to Shadrack Kipchirchir in 2018, running his lifetime best of 27:41. He’s back this year and has the potential to do the same.
Marc Scott slipped under the 5000m standard when he ran 13:21.97 and looks to be in good position to take a big chunk off his 10,000m personal best of 28:07.
The collegians will be headlined by Rory Linkletter and Connor McMillan of BYU. Neither man has run a 10,000m this year and will no doubt get an NCAA qualifying mark barring disaster.
Men's 3000m Steeplechase: 7:46 PM PT
2019 World Championships Standard: 8:29.00
2020 Olympic Standard: 8:22.00
There’s a good battle of collegians here with Obsa Ali, Steven Fahy, Matt Owens, Emmanuel Rotich and Clayson Shumway. Ali had a magical season in 2018, setting PRs in three consecutive meets on his way to an NCAA title. Brian Barraza of Houston was leading that NCAA final before he hit a barrier with 300 meters remaining. Now a professional, Barraza will also be in the field on Thursday night.
The 8:22 Olympic standard will be a reach, but the 8:29 mark is certainly possible. Jordan Mann ran 8:28 last year on his way to a surprise fifth-place finish at USAs last year. Craig Nowak and Kyle Medina have personal bests of 8:35 and 8:34 and should also be at the front of this race.