Eugene, Oregon – The women who swept every medal at the Rio Olympics and last year’s World Championships top a dominant 800 meters for the Prefontaine Classic.
While the top-end world rankers – including American record holder Ajee’ Wilson – will rightly attract the most attention, Hayward Field fans will welcome the return of Raevyn Rogers, who capped her Oregon career in thrilling fashion last June and won The Bowerman Award as the nation’s top female collegian.
No one is more dominating than Caster Semenya. The 27-year-old from South Africa has a 22-meet winning streak that stretches back to late 2015. At Rio she became the event’s first two-time Olympic gold medalist and last summer in London joined Maria Mutola as the only three-time winner of the Worlds.
A two-time IAAF Diamond League winner, Semenya owns impressive range as she added a bronze in the 1500 at London and last week lowered her national record to 4:00.71 as part of a successful Commonwealth Games double.
Her 400 PR of 50.40 came while winning the 2016 Diamond League final and last year she set the 600 world best of 1:21.77. Last year she also lowered her 800 PR to 1:55.16 and moved to No. 6 on the all-time world list.
Semenya won last year’s Pre Classic over a similarly loaded field.
Francine Niyonsaba, who will turn 25 on May 5, won the World Indoor title in England last month, matching the gold she earned in Portland two years earlier. Ranked No. 2 in the world the last two years by Track & Field News, she is as close as anyone has come to Semenya, taking silver in Rio and London.
The first woman from Burundi to earn an Olympic medal, Niyonsaba was only 20 when she won the 2013 Pre Classic with a still-standing Hayward Field record of 1:56.72. She first captured attention as a 19-year-old, finishing 5th in the 2012 London Olympics.
Ajee’ Wilson, who will turn 24 on May 8, had the best season by an American since a 20-year-old Wilson ranked No. 2 in the world in 2014 (only Madeline Manning in the 1960s has ever been a higher-ranked American).
Wilson’s 2017 campaign was also historic. Not only did she shatter the American record by almost a second at 1:55.61, her bronze medal in London matched the best by an American at the Worlds (Brenda Martinez also took bronze in 2013).
A New Jersey native, Wilson swept the 2014 U.S. indoor and outdoor titles, the youngest to do so since a 15-year-old Mary Decker in 1974. As a 19-year-old, she was a finalist in the 2013 World Championships, setting an American Junior record of 1:58.21. Her international experience includes gold medals at the 2012 World Juniors and 2011 World Youth Championships – she is the only American to win either title.
Last month Wilson was silver medalist behind Niyonsaba at the World Indoor Championships as the duo repeated their finish from Portland in 2016.
Raevyn Rogers, 21, is in her first season as a post-collegian, but few ever finished their collegiate career like Rogers did. An hour after winning her third NCAA Outdoor 800 title, Rogers took the baton on anchor leg for the Oregon 4×400 team as the Ducks needed a victory to win the team title to complete history’s first triple crown for women. She delivered victory (and a collegiate record) with a 49.77 split as the Hayward Field faithful went delirious.
It wasn’t the first or last time the Houston native stepped down for relay work normally left for 400 specialists. Last month Rogers made the World Indoor 800 final, taking 5th a day after running in the 4×400 heats for the gold-medal winning U.S. team. In 2015 she anchored the U.S. to gold in the Pan-American Juniors after winning the 800. But her specialty remains the 800, where she carved a dominant career with a collegiate record 1:59.10 and three of the top six times ever.
Margaret Nyairera Wambui, 22, finished just out of the medals in last year’s World Championships, but her bronze in Rio was Kenya’s first Olympic medal in this event since 2008, when Pamela Jelimo struck gold. Earlier in 2016, Wambui was bronze medalist at the Portland World Indoors. She won the World Junior gold medal at Hayward Field in 2014.
Habitam Alemu is the youngest in the field at 20. The Ethiopian record holder ranked No. 7 in the world last year by T&FN. A semifinalist in both the Rio Olympics and London Worlds, she was a finalist in the last two World Indoors, topped by a 4th last month.
Switzerland’s Selina Buchel, 26, has also made two World Indoor finals with a best of 4th, hers coming in 2014. The Swiss record holder won gold in the last two European Indoor Championships and was a semifinalist in Rio as well as the last two Worlds.
|Women’s 800 Meters||Personal Best|
|Caster Semenya (South Africa)||1:55.16|
|Francine Niyonsaba (Burundi)||1:55.57|
|Ajee’ Wilson (USA)||1:55.61|
|Margaret Nyairera Wambui (Kenya)||1:56.87|
|Habitam Alemu (Ethiopia)||1:57.05|
|Selina Buchel (Switzerland)||1:57.95|
|Raevyn Rogers (USA)||1:59.10|