Two big sets of questions heading into this weekend’s USATF LA Grand Prix. The first set revolves around the meet itself. One criticism of USATF in the 2010s was that it did not host enough meets in major American cities. And to its credit, USATF has addressed that, with the Golden Games at Mt. SAC in 2021 and 2022 and the NYC Grand Prix in 2022 and 2023. New this year, the LA Grand Prix, which will be held at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on Friday and Saturday, is USATF’s latest attempt to revive professional track & field in the country’s second-largest city. Nobody is expecting one regular-season to save the sport, but will it succeed in creating any buzz as Los Angeles gears up to host the Olympics in 2028?
USATF looked to have made a smart choice when it signed Bobby Kersee to promote the meet back in January, given that the Los Angeles-based Kersee, coach of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Athing Mu, controls the racing schedule of two of America’s biggest track stars. But last week, Kersee pulled McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu from the meet. Now Michael Norman and Rai Benjamin (whom Kersee does not coach) have withdrawn as well. Various explanations have been offered. Kersee claims McLaughlin-Levrone tweaked her hamstring and Mu is coming back from COVID; Norman’s agency says he’s dealing with a knee injury while Benjamin is out with a sore quad, per his agent.
The bottom line is this: none of LA’s four biggest track stars — three of them reigning world champions — will be competing in LA’s biggest professional track meet for more than a decade.
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Even without those headliners, however, this meet packs some star power: Sha’Carri Richardson in the 100, Mondo Duplantis in the pole vault, Ryan Crouser in the shot put, Christian Coleman in the 100, and a men’s 1500 featuring Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Reynold Cheruiyot against Matthew Centrowitz, Hobbs Kessler, and reigning US champ Cooper Teare.
The second set of questions this weekend has to do with what happens on the track. We’re into the fourth week of May, six weeks out from USAs. It’s becoming harder and harder to write off a poor result as a “rust-buster.” Who is in shape? Who still has work to do? If there are problems, time is running out to fix them (which is why it is worrying that Cole Hocker, whose 2022 season was derailed by injury and who has not raced since January, scratched from the 1500 here).
The events in LA will be held over two days, with a distance night on Friday followed by the main program (including the top sections of the mid-distance events) shown live on NBC on Saturday from 4:30-6 p.m. ET. Here are the biggest things to watch for:
What: 2023 USATF LA Grand Prix
When: Friday, May 26 – Saturday, May 27
Where: Drake Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif.
*Schedule, entries, & results *TV/streaming information
Craig Engels had a year to forget in 2022. After a strong run of finishes in the 1500 (5th in 2016, 4th in 2017, 10th in 2018, 1st in 2019, 4th in 2021), a shin injury forced Engels to miss USAs for the first time since 2014. After the year was over, he made the tough decision to leave Pete Julian and the Nike Union Athletics Club to reunite with college coach Ryan Vanhoy, now based in San Luis Obispo, Calif. But the reunion is off to a slow start: Engels missed the first three months of the year with an Achilles injury. Which means his 800 on Friday will serve as his 2023 opener.
Does the 29-year-old Engels, who was one spot away from the Olympic team two years ago, have what it takes to make another US team? This race, which also includes the likes of Devin Dixon and 1:43 man Tonatiu Lopez of Mexico, will give us an idea of where his fitness is at.
Elise Cranny is the two-time defending US champion in this event but right now has neither the 14:57.00 World standard nor a world ranking high enough to qualify her (though she’s in a strong position to go in the 10,000). Cranny’s agent Tom Ratcliffe told LetsRun it’s still TBD which event(s) she’ll run in LA (she’s also entered in Saturday’s 1500 and could run both) but she’ll be the favorite in this race if she runs it. Cranny’s former Bowerman TC teammate Colleen Quigley is also double-entered in the 1500 and 5,000; either would be her first track race since June 2022.
The final event on Friday night (technically Saturday morning on the East Coast) is also the best of day 1. Woody Kincaid, Abdihamid Nur, and Emmanuel Bor, who went 2-3-5 at USAs last year are all lining up for this one, which will serve as a huge test in an exciting year for the 5k in the US. With reigning US 5k champ Grant Fisher, reigning US 10k champ Joe Klecker, and a rejuvenated two-time Olympic medalist Paul Chelimo all likely lying in wait at USAs, this could be the most competitive year for the 5000 in US history. In this race, Nur, Bor, and Ethiopia’s Addisu Yihune (12:58 pb, reigning World U20 champ) will have to drop the big-kicking Kincaid before the bell, because if he’s anywhere close, we know how this will end.
Very Nice TC teammates Morgan Beadlescomb and Ben Flanagan, both running well in 2023, will try to be part of that lead group after going 2-3 at the Sound Running Track Fest three weeks ago. Ace British miler Neil Gourley is also stepping up for this one after running 13:16 indoors this season.
One other storyline to watch: Newbury Park High School’s Lex Young told the LA Times he is chasing the US high school record for 5,000 meters, which stood at 13:37.91 by Galen Rupp until Missouri’s Connor Burns lowered it to 13:37.30 three weeks ago. Young is currently #3 on the list thanks to the 13:43.95 he ran last year; in his most recent attempt at the record, he ran 13:44.83 at the Bryan Clay Invite on April 14.
Four of America’s top 800 men — Bryce Hoppel, Clayton Murphy, Isaiah Jewett, and Isaiah Harris — will take on a field that includes World Indoor silver medalist Noah Kibet of the Nike Union Athletics Club. But the viewers at home may not be able to see this one as the race is at 4:22 p.m. ET and there doesn’t appear to be any sort of live stream for the Saturday events outside of the TV window.
When I interviewed Trey Cunningham earlier this year about why the top high hurdlers don’t seem to dodge each other — unlike so many events — he explained that hurdlers like to race a lot to keep their rhythm going. But also: “We don’t really have another event we can go hide in.”
That’s why Grant Holloway and Cunningham have raced each other five times since going 1-2 at Worlds last year, and it’s why we have a great women’s matchup in LA with world record holder/world champ Tobi Amusan against Olympic champ Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, whose wind-aided 12.17 in Bermuda last weekend is #3 on the all-time all-conditions list, behind only Amusan. American Tia Jones, who beat Amusan at Drake last weekend, is also running here.
Josette Andrews‘ first season with the On Athletics Club is off to a flying start. She was 2nd at Millrose in the mile in February, then ran a 14:43 5k pb at Mt. SAC three weeks ago. The big decision for Norris this year is whether to target the 1500 or 5k (or both?) at USAs. Given Norris has run 3:59 and was 3rd in the Diamond League final in 2021, the 1500 is probably her best bet when it comes to contending for a medal at Worlds this year. But that goal is looking tougher and tougher. Reigning gold and silver medalists Faith Kipyegon and Gudaf Tsegay aren’t going anywhere, and Sifan Hassan is back (who knows what she’ll run at Worlds, but she’s doing a 1500 in Hengelo next weekend).
Then there’s Ethiopian Diribe Welteji, who came closer to beating Kipyegon in the 1500 in Doha this year than anyone did in all of 2022. Only 21, Welteji has already run 1:57, 3:56, and 8:33 and will be the favorite in Los Angeles against Andrews. Americans Elise Cranny Whittni Morgan, Dani Jones, and Emma Coburn are also entered here, but none figures to be battling for the win. Welteji is too good.
Ajee’ Wilson has not run particularly fast yet in 2023, but it’s hard to argue with her results considering she has won all seven of her races so far. She’ll get her biggest test yet in LA as she faces Halimah Nakaayi, who won at the Track Fest at Mt. SAC on May 6 and who upset Wilson for gold at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
Here’s what makes this race great. You’ve got 2019 world champ Timothy Cheruiyot, who will be making his 1500 debut after running well at 3000 (7:36) and 800 (1:44) already this year facing fellow Kenyan Reynold Cheruiyot, the World U20 champ who has been on fire this year (3:32 win over Abel Kipsang at the Kip Keino Classic on May 13).
Both men have something to prove. Timothy is the 27-year-old veteran who was nearly unbeatable from 2018-21. But his form slipped last year — he didn’t win a single race. Reynold, meanwhile, is trending in the other direction, running two pbs already in 2023 in addition to finishing 2nd in the U20 race at World XC. Which trend will continue in LA: Timothy’s slide or Reynold’s rise?
This will also serve as a measuring stick race for the Americans. The entire 2022 Worlds roster is here — Cooper Teare, Josh Thompson, and Johnny Gregorek — along with Matthew Centrowitz, Sam Prakel, and Hobbs Kessler. Are any of them even close to the Cheruiyots right now, or is this going to be one race for first and one race for top non-Kenyan?
Who wins the men’s 1500 in LA?
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Who is the top US finisher in the men’s 1500 in LA?
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Sha’Carri Richardson has been making a lot of noise recently about being blocked from the 100 meters at meets in Gaborone and Nairobi. No such problem in LA, where she will get to run her favorite distance against one of the world’s best, Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, as well as Aleia Hobbs, who has been in great form in 2023. Richardson enters as the world leader thanks to her 10.76 in Doha on May 5, but Ta Lou, who tied her pb of 10.78 in Clermont on May 14, is clearly fit as well. Hobbs, meanwhile, may be Richardson’s biggest domestic rival: so far this year, she has run an American record in the 60 indoors (6.94) and clocked 10.86 (#2 on the US list) in the 100.
Christian Coleman got a big win over Noah Lyles last week in Bermuda and should win in LA as well considering his top competition consists of Jamaican Ackeem Blake (whom Coleman beat also in Bermuda) and Marvin Bracy-Williams, who has yet to regain the form that propelled him to a silver medal at the 2022 Worlds. Of course, maybe this is the meet that Bracy-Williams (10.03 for 3rd in Nairobi his last time out) turns things around, in which case we could get a real battle between two of the fastest starters in the world.
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