Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury have one of America’s most intense rivalries and their recordbook writing will take on an Olympic theme in the women’s 1500 meters at the Prefontaine Classic.
The fans will have an eye on the two Americans, each of whom is looking to become the first U.S. Olympic medalist ever in the event this summer in Rio. Both sub-4 performers, they are the most dominant Americans over the last seven years, a stretch that has seen one or both rank among the world’s top 10 every year by Track & Field News (four times one has been in the top 3). Head-to-head, Simpson has a commanding 17-7 edge over Rowbury, but they are 2-2 in Olympic/World finals.
Overall, the event will showcase five sub-4:00 racers in a tremendous field that also includes the reigning World Indoor champion, Kenya’s two fastest ever, and an Ethiopian duo led by a 19-year-old who is already a World bronze medalist. The field wants to run fast and can challenge the Hayward Field record of 3:57.05 as well as equaling the most sub-4 runners in one race on U.S. soil (5, from the 2014 Pre Classic).
Jenny Simpson, 29, is the defending Pre Classic winner and fastest-ever American at Hayward Field, but her accomplishments go around the globe. She is one of only two American gold medalists in this event, capturing the 2011 World Championships title (matching Mary Slaney, who won in 1983).
Simpson’s total of six career sub-4 races is second among Americans only to Slaney (8), and she is the only American with more than one sub-4 performance at Hayward Field. Her first sub-4 came at the ’09 Pre, where she established the still-standing Collegiate Record for Colorado. Simpson won that World Championships gold in 2011, though her best season came in 2014, when she won the IAAF Diamond League and was ranked No. 1 in the world by T&FN. She was formcharted for a medal in Beijing last year, but lost a shoe midway through the race.
Shannon Rowbury, 31, broke a 31-year-old American record last year, running 3:56.29 in Monaco to eclipse Mary Slaney’s AR of 3:57.12 set in 1983 (less than two months before Rowbury was born). She owns the two best Olympic finishes by an American in this event with a 6th in 2012 and 7th in 2008.
Rowbury has ranked among the world’s top 10 by T&FN in six of the last seven years, including four times as the top American. Like last year, she won the Millrose Games’ Women’s Wanamaker Mile, but this year followed it with a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Portland.
Sifan Hassan, 23, of the Netherlands is the fastest in the field at 3:56.05 and won gold at last month’s World Indoor Championships in Portland. Born in Ethiopia, she began competing for the Netherlands in 2014, world ranking No. 2 (2014) and No. 3 (2015) by T&FN. Hassan was fifth in 2014’s fantastic Pre Classic, when five ran sub-4. Last year, she improved to 3rd but finished the season as the Diamond League winner.
Hellen Obiri, 26, of Kenya is the fastest to ever run at Hayward Field, setting her best in 2014 at 3:57.05 to win the Pre Classic. Her prior best was the previous Hayward Field (and Pre Classic) record, 3:58.58, set in 2013. Obiri took last year off for maternity, but again appears ready for world-class racing – last month she ran a lifetime best in the 5K of 15:28.5 at some 6000 feet (almost 2000 meters) above sea-level. She owns a gold medal in the 2012 World Indoor Championships at 3000 meters.
Faith Kipyegon, 22, has a rare collection of medals. Silver medalist in last summer’s World Championships, she won the 2011 World Youth and 2012 World Junior titles in meet-record fashion. Kipyegon also owns World Junior cross-country titles in 2011 and 2013. In 2014 she set the World Junior record of 3:56.98, fastest by a Kenyan of any age. She was runner-up in the 2013 Pre Classic 1500 as well as in last year’s Pre Classic 5K.
Gudaf Tsegay is a 19-year-old from Ethiopia. She has already won two championships medals in the state of Oregon, most recently at the Portland World Indoors, where Tsegay earned bronze. She is still eligible for Junior records and her PR of 4:01.81 in February is the best by any Junior ever indoors.
Axumawit Embaye, 21, is an Ethiopian who already has Pre Classic experience, finishing 5th in last year’s race. She followed countrymate Tsegay at the Portland World Indoors, taking 4th. In 2014, Embaye was silver medalist at the World Indoor Championships.
Kerri Gallagher, 26, is an American who has lowered her lifetime best by over 15 seconds since graduating from Fordham University in 2011. The third member of the U.S. team in Beijing last summer, she will be making her debut in the Pre Classic. Her post-collegiate coach is Matt Centrowitz, a four-time winner of the Pre Classic 5K and father of world indoor 1500-meter gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz.
American Brenda Martinez, 28, is known mostly as an 800-meter runner, earning a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships with a best of 1:57.91. But in 2013 and ’14, she was ranked No. 3 in the U.S. in this event by T&FN behind Simpson and Rowbury. This year she won the U.S. Indoor title in the 1500 and finished 5th as the top American in the World Indoor Championships in Portland.
Rababe Arafi, 25, of Morocco finished just outside of the medals in last summer’s Beijing World Championships, taking 4th in the 800. She also was a finalist in the 1500.
Great Britain’s Laura Weightman earned the bronze medal in the 2014 European Championships and then the silver in the Commonwealth Games later that summer.
Renata Plis is a six-time Polish champion in distances ranging from 800 to 3000 meters. She has been her country’s fastest 1500 runner in each of the last five years.
In sum, this year’s Prefontaine Classic women’s 1500 features potentially the best field in the 41-year history of the meet.
Women’s 1500 Meters Personal Best
Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) 3:56.05
Shannon Rowbury (USA) 3:56.29
Faith Kipyegon (Kenya) 3:56.98
Hellen Obiri (Kenya) 3:57.05
Jenny Simpson (USA) 3:57.22
Laura Weightman (Great Britain) 4:00.17
Brenda Martinez (USA) 4:00.94
Gudaf Tsegay (Ethiopia) 4:01.81
Axumawit Embaye (Ethiopia) 4:02.35
Rababe Arafi (Morocco) 4:02.71
Renata Plis (Poland) 4:03.50
Kerri Gallagher (USA) 4:03.56
Fans can follow the event lineups on eugene.diamondleague.com. The direct link to current start/entry lists is posted HERE and will include updates to all announced fields. Additional news, photos, and videos may be found on PreClassic.com, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Tickets for the 42nd annual edition of the Prefontaine Classic, to be held May 27-28 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., are available now at www.GoDucks.com as well as from 1-800-WEBFOOT.
The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track & field meet in America and is part of the elite IAAF Diamond League of meets held worldwide annually. The Pre Classic’s results score has rated No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in each of the last five years by All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the Diamond League. Sponsored by NIKE continuously since 1984, the Prefontaine Classic will be shown live to an international audience and by NBC and NBC Sports Network.
Steve Prefontaine is a legend in the sport of track & field and is the most inspirational distance runner in American history. He set a national high school 2-mile record (8:41.5) while at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, that is the fastest ever in a National Federation-sanctioned race. While competing for the University of Oregon, he won national cross country championships (3) and outdoor track 3-Mile/5000-meter championships (4), and never lost a collegiate track race at any distance. As a collegiate junior, he made the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and nearly won an Olympic medal, finishing 4th in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at age 21. After finishing college in 1973 and preparing for a return to the Olympics in 1976, he continued to improve, setting many American records. His life ended tragically on May 30, 1975, the result of an auto accident, at age 24. The Pre Classic began that year and has been held every year since.