Timothy Cheruiyot on the eve of the 2020 Bauhaus-Galan meeting in Stockholm (© Michelle Sammet)
One of the standout performances at last week’s Wanda Diamond League opener in Monaco was world champion Timothy Cheruiyot’s powerful 3:28.45 victory in the 1500m, just 0.04 shy of his career best. But he was planning to go faster - and intends to go even faster tomorrow at the Bauhaus-Galan meeting here in Stockholm.
“It was good, but it could have been better,” the Kenyan said, “I was expecting to run under 3:28, or 3:27,” Cheruiyot said, seemingly disappointed that he didn’t manage to move up a place or two on the world all-time list from the No.7 spot he currently occupies.
“The first lap was too fast - I tried to maintain the pace so I was able to run 3:28.”
Cheruiyot said both speed and endurance training have been going well. That showed in the power he illustrated in the homestretch last week to hold off Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s late race assault.
“I’ve been testing myself with my coach, running 50 (seconds) for 400 metres and 1:48 for 800 metres. So I have endurance and speed.”
What kind of pace is he hoping for tomorrow?
“I was thinking 1:49,” he said, similar to his opening 800 metres in Lausanne last year when he clocked 3:28.77. “In Monaco I ran 1:52. So I’m capable of running faster. I hope to run a meeting record tomorrow.”
Kipketer’s advice to Brazier: ‘show race confidence'
That record, 3:29.30, belongs to Hicham El Guerrouj, who set it in 1997. That year has special meaning for all-time 800m great Wilson Kipketer, who set his first of three 800m world records that year in Stockholm, clocking 1:41.73.
That was 23 years ago.
When he learned that Donavan Brazier, the world champion over the distance, was 23 years old, Kipketer decided that he had to return to Stockholm this year to watch Brazier race.
He shared plenty of praise but also offered some advice on what the young American has to do next to achieve greatness in the event.
“He’s still young, he still has a lot to learn, he’s running well, he’s strong, smart,” Kipketer said.
“He’s world champion. Then next is the Olympics. Then we have to look at what motivates him, what he does to push himself.”
From now on, Kipketer said, every race for Brazier can’t be just another run.
“You have to dominate in order for people to remember you. You have to be there every day, every race. I need to see a (race) confidence. You have to decide what you want in a race, not depend on what is happening (in the race). You have to determine it.”
At this level, Kipketer, a three time world champion, continued, Brazier has shown he has the foundation for being a great 800m runner - he just has to keep moving up.
“So it's not a game anymore. He has to show that confidence. He has to decide that in this race it's going to be like this, and in the next race it’s going to be different. And then you get the right rhythm. And then the times will come.
“Other runners need to say your name. When I was running, they were saying, ‘he's Wilson Kipketer’. They were thinking about who is going to be number two. Even before we started the race. So I won already. So that's the mental part.”
As the two shared a table, Brazier, who was 83 days old when Kipketer set that record in Stockholm, listened intently, soaking in as much of that wisdom as he could.
“It’s an honour sharing the stage with Wilson,” Brazier said. “Wilson just said some great things about me, but he’ll also go back and say a little shit talk too, so it’s nice. (laughs).
“It definitely does keep you humble because he’s honest with what he says. When he says things like, ‘Yeah, you’re good but you definitely have to work on this,’ he’s not just blowing smoke. He’s saying stuff that’s real. You can see that he wants to see you do the best you can.”
Obiri - ‘I am ready for any pace’
Brazier too arrives on the heels of a strong victory in Monaco, a world-leading 1:43.15. So does Hellen Obiri, who admits that she surprised even herself with her 14:22.12 world lead in the 5000m in her first race in nearly six months.
"I was so happy in Monaco. It was my first race since January and I wanted to do well.
“I was going there hoping to do something like 14:40. So actually if was a surprise for me to do 14:22,” the world champion said, particularly after inconsistent training during much of the Covid-19 lock down period.
As such, she arrives not having done any speed work in her recent training, which will be a key factor in tomorrow’s loaded 1500m field, which includes the likes of Laura Muir, Eilish McColgan, Laura Weightman and Ciara Mageean, all sub-4:01 runners, among others. But her spirits are high.
“When I come to race, I say anyone can win. I don’t target what I can do. For tomorrow, I’m ready for any pace so I hopefully I can do something good. It will depend on the pacesetters and the weather.”
Another world leader on the marquee is Yuliya Levchenko, who produced the season’s first two-metre high jump in Bydgoszcz on Wednesday. Given the difficulties all athletes have faced this year, she’s pleased with that effort and hopes there is more in the tank.
“I think it wasn’t so easy since 2020 is such a strange year. We, all athletes, want to save our condition and show the best results. So it was good.”
Is she finding it fifficult to find focus and motivation this year?
“Truly, I don’t think about it,” she said. “I just focus on the next competition. Now, that’s the best way to prepare for (a good performance). “
She’s also motivated by the success of compatriot Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the world U20 record holder and world silver medallist, who also competes here tomorrow.
“It’s positive motivation because Ukrainian high jump level is very high. It helps me to stay focused and not be so relaxed. I think it’s helped me to improve myself and improve my jumps.”
Duplantis targeting better consistency
Then there is pole vault world record holder Armand Duplantis, the biggest domestic name on the programme, returning to top flight competition in Sweden. He’s looking forward to the opportunity, even in a stadium with no spectators, but is hoping for a more consistent performance that he managed in Monaco last weekend.
“I’d like more first-attempt makes,” said Duplantis, who’s been undefeated in 10 competitions this year. “I got myself into a bind too early, having to take a last attempt at 5.72. It’s just a position that I never want to be in.
“And then (clearing) six metres was great but having to pull it out in the last attempt was something that I didn’t want to have to do. So, just trying to be a little bit more consistent with my jumping (is a goal). Because I know that when I’m lining up against Sam, those little, tiny mistakes, especially at those early heights, really cost you. And they can cost you a win.”
While he’s thrilled to be back in action, Kendricks said that the absence of competition this year won’t impact his lead-in to the Olympics as much as it will athletes who haven’t yet been on the sport’s biggest stages.
“This year lacking a championship is not necessarily going to affect the newly-minted world record holder or the reigning world champion so much as it’s going to affect the next generation,” he said.
“I’ve had five years of grinding towards many championships. The pressure has always been there. I’m not going to forget how it feels. But there are new people that need to feel it in order to get to the next stage. And next year there’s going to be twice as many people clawing for those same spots for the Olympics, for the World Indoor Championships.”
That said, Kendricks said it was nice spend more time at home. “I even came to Europe a little more tanned.”
Stahl promises ‘a show’
Meanwhile, Daniel Stahl has carried heightened expectations into the discus throw ring since winning the world title last year, and hasn’t disappointed. The Swede has won his last 11 competitions and is eager to add to that total tomorrow.
“I'm feeling in really great shape and ready to throw far,” he said. “Tomorrow will be a show.”
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics