17 May, 2017

Eugene: English Gardner at Home in Prefontaine Classic Women's 100

  • English Gardner 2016 in Eugene - © Kirby Lee

A historically fast straightaway awaits a Prefontaine Classic women’s 100 field loaded with Olympians, but one runner knows the track better than anyone else.

English Gardner, 25, might want to run every major race at the Pre Classic, though a growing list of defeated rivals would prefer otherwise.  Her success on her former home track at historic Hayward Field is unmatched at the Pre Classic in the sprints: wins over women who won the last three Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters.

The Oregon alum is a thrilling straightaway runner, especially in Eugene.  She won last year’s Pre Classic over a stout field that included two-time Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, who would add bronze in Rio.  A year earlier, Gardner had rocked the house with a same-time 10.84 win over Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson, the Rio gold medalist who has not lost since that 2015 Pre Classic International 100.  (Thompson, of course, is in this year's Pre Classic 200.)

Gardner won her second U.S. 100 title last year with a PR 10.74, the fastest of three under 10.80 on Hayward Field’s fast straightaway.  Gold medalist on the third leg of the U.S. 4 x 100 relay team in Rio, the New Jersey native enjoyed a special moment at last month’s Penn Relays as part of an 800-meter sprint medley relay that destroyed a world best set over 35 years ago by Nebraska.

Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown will return to the Pre Classic, where she has never run anything except 10.78 – winning the 2010 edition and finishing 3rd in the wind-aided 2013 race.  The 35-year-old has an overflowing treasury of medals, with Olympic bookends in 2000 as an 18-year-old and last year in Rio, both with silver medals and three golds in the middle.

In total, she has 21 major medals, and her Olympic total of eight is only one behind Allyson Felix and Merlene Ottey, the latter her idol while growing up and racing for the same high school, Vere Tech.  The final chapter has yet to be written – her 11.06 last month is the fastest posted by any runner in the field this season.

Tianna Bartoletta, 31, is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the long jump and also a fantastic sprinter with a rocket start.  For the third-straight year, she will attempt a Pre Classic double that begins with a Diamond League long jump on Friday night followed by a world-class 100 Saturday afternoon.

Last year in Rio, she jumped a lifetime best 23-5½ (7.15) to win the long jump gold and the next morning was leading off the U.S. 4 x 100 team in the heats – she would eventually earn her third Olympic gold a day later as the Americans blazed lane 1 of Rio’s blue oval in 41.01 – second only to the Bartoletta-led London Olympic world record quartet (40.82).

Bartoletta’s 2015 Pre Classic long jump win was the second-farthest in meet history, a wind-aided 23-4 (7.11).  After a runner-up finish in last year’s stacked Pre Classic 100, she was second in the historic U.S. Olympic Trials race at 10.78 that saw three break 10.80 in the same race for the first time.

Michelle-Lee Ahye, 25, is Trinidad’s second fastest ever at 10.85 and was 6th in the Rio Olympic final, matching her country’s best Olympic finish in any event.  In 2015, she was 5th in the Beijing World Championships 100 and ran the backstretch leg on Trinidad’s bronze-medal 4x100 team.

Murielle Ahoure, 29, of Cote d’Ivoire was the 2013 World Championships silver medalist in both the 100 and 200.  She dipped into sub-10.80 territory in 2016 with an African record 10.78 and was third in last year’s Pre Classic.  In 2015, she was runner-up to Fraser-Pryce in the 2015 Pre Classic as both ran 10.81.  The two-time Olympian is a former NCAA Indoor 200 champ at Miami (2009).

Morolake Akinosun, who will turn 23 on May 17, is a former U.S. Junior champion who was 4th in last year’s famous U.S. Olympic Trials race with a PR 10.95.  She earned Olympic gold as anchor for the U.S. in the 4x100 heats.  Twice an NCAA runner-up for Texas, she was inches short of a title in 2015, her wind-aided 10.97 just behind the 10.96 of Oregon’s Jenna Prandini, who is in the 200 at this year's Pre Classic. Akinosun won the U.S. Indoor 60 crown in March.

Dezerea Bryant, 24, is a two-time NCAA champion in the 200 for Kentucky (2015 outdoors, 2014 indoors).  Her 2015 victory at Hayward Field in 22.18 was the fastest low-altitude time ever by a U.S. collegian.  She missed most of last year to injury, but this year was runner-up to Akinosun in the U.S. Indoor 60.

Simone Facey, 32, of Jamaica is a former NCAA 200 champ running her fastest 100s since she ran 10.95 at high altitude to win the 2008 Big 12 title for Texas A&M.  She led off the Jamaican gold medal-winning 4x100 team at the 2009 World Championships, handing off to Fraser-Pryce, who is out this season on maternity leave.  In Rio, Facey earned her first Olympic medal, running leadoff in the heats as Jamaica finished with silver.

Women’s 100 MetersPersonal Best
English GardnerUSA10.74
Veronica Campbell-BrownJamaica10.76
Murielle AhoureCote d’Ivoire10.78
Tianna BartolettaUSA10.78
Michelle-Lee AhyeTrinidad10.85
Morolake AkinosunUSA10.95
Simone FaceyJamaica10.95
Dezerea BryantUSA11.00