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Eugene's Pre loads up on more classic matchups

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: MEG WILLIAMS - Portland's Galen Rupp is one of the world's top six ranked 5,000-meter runners, all of whom will compete Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field.Every year, it seems, the quality of the Prefontaine Classic field gets better.

No surprise, then, that the 39th running of the nation’s premier track and field invitational Friday and Saturday at Hayward Field figures to top its predecessor.

“This is by far the best field I’ve ever had,” said Tom Jordan, in his 30th year promoting the annual Tracktown USA spectacular. “I know I say that every year, but I haven’t been lying. I sincerely don’t know how we can do better next year, but we’ll try.”

Only two of the 14 meets on the IAAF Diamond League calendar worldwide this year — last Saturday’s Adidas Grand Prix at New York and the Prefontaine Classic — are in the United States.

Nike’s involvement is the biggest reason why the Pre Classic has gone beyond a major domestic event and become a must-compete date on most of the world’s greatest track-and-field stars’ calendar. Oregon’s sports apparel giant has spent in the seven figures to fly in Olympic and world champions from all over the globe.

The question is no longer which athletes will be competing in Eugene, but how many of them will not.

At world championship meets, competitors in distance races are limited to no more than three representing each country. Plus, they are bound to run several qualifying races to get to the finals, limiting opportunities for record times. That’s not the case in Eugene. Most of the great African distance runners will go head-to-head.

“This is one of the rare opportunities for the world to see all of the best runners in one day,” Jordan says. “They’re all fresh and ready to go, and we’ll have pacers to ensure the chance for record attempts.”

The meat of the Pre meet is set for noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, with NBC carrying the final 90 minutes live and a sellout crowd of 13,000 expected to be on hand.

But nine events also are on the Friday night docket, including a men’s 10,000-meter field that will feature a 7:50 p.m. showdown between Portland’s Mo Farah and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele. Farah won the 5,000 and 10,000 in the 2012 Olympic Games at London. Bekele holds the world record at each distance. “They’re the two best kickers in all distance running,” Jordan says.

The best news is the price. There is no admission charge for Friday’s slate.

“It’s the greatest bargain in all of sports,” Jordan says. “That’s Nike for you. They want people to come out and see the event.”

Saturday’s schedule is loaded with world-class events. Among the highlights:

Bowerman men’s mile: All of the runners ranked by Track & Field News among the top 10 in the world are entered, including defending Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. Makhloufi, 25, never has raced the mile, or in any race in the U.S. Also entered is 2008 Olympic 1,500 champ Asbel Kiprop of Kenya, who won the Bowerman mile three of the last four years, all in sub-3:50 fashion. Kiprop is ranked No. 1 in world. Then there is Silas Kiplagat of Kenya, last year’s Diamond League champion in the event. A dozen competitors who have run 3:52 or better in the mile and 15 who have gone under 3:33 in the 1,500.

“It’s certainly the best mile field we’ve ever had,” Jordan says. “You can’t do any better.”

Mens 5,000: The top six ranked runners in the world are entered, including American record-holder Galen Rupp of Portland, who earned silver in the 10K at London. Also: Bernard Lagat, who has held seven U.S. outdoor and indoor records and has six medals at Olympics and world championships, and Kenyans Thomas Longosiwa, who earned bronze at the distance in London, and 19-year-old Isiah Koech, ranked No. 3 in the world last year and owning the fastest PR in the field at 12:48.64. Nine of the competitors have run under 13 minutes. Farah set the Pre Classic record of 12:56.98 last season.

“It’s conceivable (Farah’s record) could go,” Jordan says. “We’ll set a pace that could break it. Galen is running very well, and you have to say he’s not even the favorite in the race. It’s probably either Koech or Longosiwa.”

Men’s 800: Kenya’s David Rudisha, who set the world record of 1:40.91 in winning Olympic gold at London, will make his first appearance at the Pre Classic. “His wire-to-wire world record at London is the single most-impressive track performance I’ve ever seen,” says Jordan, who has attended every Olympic Games since 1972. Challenging Rudisha will be Ethiopia’s Mohammed Aman, ranked No. 2 in the world, along with U.S. Olympians Nick Symmonds of Eugene and Duane Solomon. “An absolutely loaded field,” Jordan says.

Mens high jump: The five medal-winners from London are on hand, including Russia’s Ivan Uhkov (gold), USA’s Erik Kynard (silver) and Great Britain’s Robert Grabarz, Canada’s Derek Drouin and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, who shared the bronze.

Womens 5,000: Ethiopia’s Tirunehs Dibaba, the world record-holder and a double winner at the 2008 Olympic Games (5,000, 10,000), is the favorite. She’ll be among seven of the world’s top 10 who are entered, including Kenyans Viola Kibiwott and Mercy Cherono. “Dibaba is the greatest women’s long-distance runner ever,” Jordan says. “She wants a fast pace, and there are a couple of women who can go with her.”

Women's 100: Defending Olympic silver medalist Carmelita Jeter of the U.S. has withdrawn due to injury, but it's still a stocked field, including Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won gold at London; Veronica Campbell-Brown, who claimed bronze, and American Allyson Felix, the defending Olympic 200 queen.

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