Three athletes in their early 20s are expected to vie for the win in the IAAF Diamond League 800 meters at this year's Prefontaine Classic.
Already a veteran at the age of 22, Botswana’s Nijel Amos improved by 5 ½ seconds in one year to earn the silver medal at the London Olympics at age 18. Amos soared to instant recognition by clocking an astounding time of 1:41.73 to earn Botswana’s first Olympic medal of any kind.
Relatively unknown a year ago, the 23-year-old Berian will be at the center of attention in the Pre 800. That’s what a 5½-second improvement and world gold medal will do. His progression from unknown to world class is the stuff no one even in Hollywood has dreamed of (at least not yet). A year ago, his PR by over 2 seconds stood at 1:46.16 – that would end up as his slowest outdoor time of the year (excluding prelims) as he improved in practically every race. During the summer, he waged tactics with the world’s best and finished at 1:43.34 – the world’s 4th fastest and best by an American since 2012.
This year, Berian has yet to lose or be challenged. In March, the Coloradan bolted to a lead in the World Indoor Championships and ran wire-to-wire to win the gold medal, and among the vanquished was the reigning two-time champion, Mohammed Aman.
Aman, still only 22, owns three such major medals, winning the 2013 World Championships in Moscow along with the 2012 and 2014 World Indoor Championships. The Ethiopian record holder is the defending Pre Classic champ in a four-year stretch that has consistently seen him at or near the top, winning twice and finishing second twice. Aman was first world ranked by Track & Field News as a 17-year-old in 2011. He has made every international final he has run in, with the exception of last year’s World Championships due to a judgment disqualification. Any Olympic medal this summer would make him Ethiopia’s first in an event less than 3000 meters.
Collectively, these top 3 already own Olympic and World Championships medals, the last four IAAF Diamond League trophies, and the last three victories in the Pre Classic 800.
That's not to say the rest of the field is ceding victory, however.
Poland’s Adam Kszczot, 26, earned the silver medal in last summer’s World Championships in Beijing. He recorded the world’s best indoor time this year at 1:45.63, but did not compete at the Portland World Indoors in order to prepare for the Rio Olympics. He also owns World Indoor medals from 2014 (silver) and 2010 (bronze).
Amel Tuka, 25, was the world’s fastest 800-meter runner last year at 1:42.51 and claimed the bronze medal at Beijing, becoming the first medalist for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is Europe’s fourth-fastest ever – two ahead of him are former world record holders Seb Coe and Wilson Kipketer.
Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich, 26, finished just 0.05 seconds behind Tuka for the last medal at the Beijing World Championships. He has been world ranked by T&FN in each of the last three years.
Qatar’s Abdulrahman Balla, 27, is the only runner to make the final in last year’s Beijing World Championships (6th) and this year’s Portland World Indoors (5th), while Antoine Gakeme of Burundi claimed the silver medal at the World Indoors.
Seven of the confirmed entrants have run under 1:44-flat, and 4 under 1:43-flat!