The two best steeplechasers of the modern era are of course from Kenya, home of every Olympic gold medalist for the past 28 years. One is king of the Diamond League, having won all three previous titles, while the other has claimed the lion’s share of major gold medals in recent memory. Paul Koech and Ezekiel Kemboi headline a stellar field at the Prefontaine Classic.
The 39th Prefontaine Classic, to be held June 1 at historic Hayward Field, annually provides America’s best fans with the world’s best talent. The Pre Classic is a member of the prestigious IAAF Diamond League, comprised of the 14 best meets around the globe.
This year’s men’s steeplechase field will include all three Olympic medalists from London, as well as an incredible nine of the top 10 ranked runners in the world as rated by Track & Field News.
Koech and Kemboi have dramatically different world-class resumes. Koech is the only steeplechase Diamond League winner. Yet Koech owns only one major medal, the silver from the 2004 Olympics. Meanwhile, Kemboi has seven major medals, including golds from the 2004 and 2012 Olympics as well as the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. The two have battled a stunning 48 previous times in the steeple, with Kemboi owning a 28-20 edge. The two oldest athletes in last year’s T&FN steeple world rankings, Koech (No. 1) and Kemboi (No. 3) will be 31 when they race again at the Pre Classic.
The youngest world-ranked steepler last year is also from Kenya, 18-year-old Conseslus Kipruto. Kipruto won the 2012 World Junior Championships after taking gold at the 2011 World Youth Championships. His best of 8:03.49 is the fastest ever by an 18-year-old, and he ranked No. 4 in the world last year by T&FN.
Two more London medalists are in the loaded Pre Classic field. Silver medalist Mahiedine Benabbad of France and bronze medalist Abel Mutai of Kenya are set to make first-time appearances in the U.S. Benabbad was also the Olympic silver medalist in 2008. Mutai was ranked No. 5 in the world last year by T&FN, while Benabbad was No. 7.
American record holder Evan Jager is an obvious bright spot for U.S. fans. The Wisconsin graduate made his first commitment to running the event last year and shattered a 6-year-old U.S. record in only his fourth final ever. Another American, Princeton grad Donn Cabral, won the NCAA title last year. He was runner-up at the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field. Former national champ Dan Huling also helps to bolster the American presence, having a best of 8:13.29.
An experienced Ethiopian and yet more world-class Kenyans are also confirmed in the Pre Classic field. The Ethiopian is 31-year-old Roba Gari, who finished 4th in the Olympics last year, moving up from a 5th in the 2011 World Championships. He was runner-up at the 2009 Pre Classic.
The remaining Kenyans are a great mix of talent. Jairus Birech, just 20, was ranked No. 6 in the world last year. Hillary Yego, now 21, was the 2009 World Youth Championships gold medalist. Bernard Nganga is 28 and has a best 8:05.77. Even the pacesetter, Haron Lagat, a former collegian at Texas Tech, has run 8:15.80!