Jairus Birech at the 2014 IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (© Gladys von der Laage)
The world’s top steeplechasers will be heading to the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on 30 May for what could almost be a rehearsal of the battle for the medals at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015, organisers of the IAAF Diamond League meeting announced on Monday (23).
Kenya’s Jairus Birech, the fastest man in the world over the barriers last year and US record-holder Evan Jager are the two biggest names on current form.
Last year, the 22-year-old Birech made a big breakthrough, dominating the IAAF Diamond League with six wins and getting victories at the African Championships and IAAF Continental Cup.
His time of 7:58.41 at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels was the fastest in the world by almost five seconds. Jager broke his own US record by running 8:04.71 in the same Brussels race. He owns the five fastest times ever by an American, all faster than 8:10, and is the only US man with more than one. Last year in Eugene, with this event not on the menu, Jager set a 3:53.33 mile personal best.
Ezekiel Kemboi will also be in Eugene, and is the reigning Olympic and world champion.
At the 2013 IAAF World Championships, Kemboi provided a Kenyan one-two with his young compatriot Conseslus Kipruto, who fell just 0.36 short of becoming part of a select group of athletes who have won titles at world youth, junior and senior level.
After Kemboi, France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Banabbad is the next most decorated runner in the field, with a pair of Olympic Games silver medals and World Championships bronzes from the past two editions of both events.
He was infamously disqualified last summer after apparently winning his third straight European title, for taking off his jersey in celebration before crossing the finish line, but he is the only non-Kenyan to have won an IAAF Diamond League race in this event in the circuit’s five-year history.
Koech seeks Hayward Field hat-trick
The fastest man in the Eugene field is Kenya’s Paul Kipsiele Koech with 7:54.31.
Koech has the world’s most sub-8:00 races in history with nine and has twice won the Prefontaine Classic in 2007 and 2009. He also won the first three Diamond Races in this event.
Abel Mutai, another top-class Kenyan, is the Olympic bronze medallist and one of several Kenyans in the field to have world youth or junior gold medals.
Mutai won the steeplechase at the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2005, as did Hillary Yego in 2009.
Barnabas Kipyego won last year at the Prefontaine Classic's venue, Hayward Field, when triumphing at the IAAF World Junior Championships. Jonathan Ndiku is the only two-time world junior champion in this event, winning in 2008 and 2010.
North Americans Dan Huling and Matt Hughes add more local talent to the field.
Huling is a three-time member of the USA’s World Championships team while Canadian record-holder Hughes was sixth at the IAAF World Championships two years ago.
Organisers for the IAAF
2015 IAAF Diamond League calendar
Doha, QAT – 15 May
Shanghai, CHN – 17 May
Eugene, USA – 30 May
Rome, ITA – 4 June
Birmingham, GBR – 7 June
Oslo, NOR – 11 June
New York, USA – 13 June
Paris, FRA – 4 July
Lausanne, SUI – 9 July
Monaco, MON – 17 July
London, GBR – 24-25 July
Stockholm, SWE – 30 July
Zurich, SUI – 3 September
Brussels, BEL – 11 September