The biennial IAAF World Championships are the most important global track and field competition outside of the Olympics. The championships commence in Beijing with the men’s marathon on Saturday morning (Friday afternoon and evening in the United States). Here is what to look for in the middle-distance and distance events, as well the race your non-running friends probably care most about, the men’s 100.
Beijing is 12 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time. Times listed refer to finals.
Men’s 800 Meters
(August 25, 8:55 p.m. Beijing, 8:55 a.m. Eastern, 5:55 a.m. Pacific)
The two-lapper is frontloaded with defending Olympic champ David Rudisha of Kenya, defending world champ Mo Aman of Ethiopia, and last year’s top runner, Botswana’s Nijel Amos. Amos has beaten Rudisha in six of their last seven races, and may have the edge right now. There’s a formidable European cadre here, too. It will take a world-class time in the semis to make the final, and any of the youthful Americans, led by Casimir Loxsom, should be thrilled if they can sneak into the final.
Women’s 800 Meters
(August 29, 7:15 p.m. Beijing, 7:15 a.m. Eastern, 4:15 a.m. Pacific)
Kenya’s defending gold medalist Eunice Sum is an overwhelming favorite to repeat, though Cuban newcomer Rose Mary Almanza bears watching. Beyond that, the 800 field is not as deep as in previous years. Brenda Martinez, the 2013 bronze medalist, new mother Alysia Montano, or Molly Ludlow, who has the fastest U.S. time this year, could give Americans the bronze. A subplot involves Russian Anastasiya Bazdyreva, who is on the entry list despite being implicated as a drug user in a German TV documentary. Other entrants have made it clear they don’t want her on the start line.
Men’s 1500 Meters
(August 30, 7:45 p.m. Beijing, 7:45 a.m. Eastern, 4:45 a.m. Pacific)
American Matthew Centrowitz won the bronze and silver medals at the 2011 and 2013 championships, respectively. But he’s up against an extraordinary field in Beijing. His 3:30.40, the fastest 1500 ever by an American-born runner, got him only 10th place in Monaco on July 17. He was nearly four seconds behind Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the two-time defending world champion who seems prepared for a third gold. The American-based runner most likely to come home with a medal is Michigan-based Nick Willis of New Zealand.
Women’s 1500 Meters
(August 25, 8:35 p.m. Beijing, 8:35 a.m. Eastern, 5:35 a.m. Pacific)
Anyone who breaks a purportedly invincible 22-year-old world record and beats a world-class field by six seconds, as Genzebe Dibaba did in Monaco last month, is expected to bring home a gold from Beijing. But new American record holder Shannon Rowbury and two-time world championships medalist Jenny Simpson believe that running three rounds will blunt Dibaba’s advantage and lead to a tactical final. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya are on a short list of runners who could keep the United States from having two medalists.
Men’s 3,000-Meter Steeplechase
(August 24, 9:15 p.m. Beijing, 9:15 a.m. Eastern, 6:15 a.m. Pacific)
Evan Jager became a legitimate gold-medal threat with his American record of 8:00.45 on July 4. He’ll be surrounded by four Kenyans who see him as a more formidable foe than ever before. Indications are that Jairus Birech, fastest in the world the past two years, may be slightly weakened by the effects of malaria. Although Ezekiel Kemboi, winner of two Olympic golds and the last three world championships, is the proverbial big meet performer, he’s 33 and not having a spectacular year. A win by Jager would be a historic morale boost for American distance running.
Women’s 3,000-Meter Steeplechase
(August 26, 9:00 p.m. Beijing, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 a.m. Pacific)
Emma Coburn of Colorado ranked second in the world in 2014, and her 9:15 victory on a hot day at the U.S. championships in June stamped her as a medal favorite, maybe even a pick for gold. But the outlook is hazier now. Her performances since then have dipped, and the event has more depth than it did a year ago. The fastest time of 2015, 9:11.28 by Tunisian Habiba Ghribi, is four seconds faster than what Coburn ran in June. There may be no clear indication of who the medalists will be until the final barrier is cleared, and Coburn is likely to still be in the picture.
Men’s 5,000 Meters
(August 29, 7:30 p.m. Beijing, 7:30 a.m. Eastern, 4:30 a.m. Eastern)
Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet have the flashy times that suggest they can defeat two-time world champ Mo Farah in a hard-from-the-gun 5,000, but somehow that never happens. It’s difficult to argue that Beijing will be any different than Farah’s previous triumphs. There’s an experienced Kenyan corps to contend with, too, in the quest for medals. Ben True has a 2015 Diamond League win to his credit and believes that if the pace is brisk but not scorching, he can run a strong enough last lap to grab a medal for the United States.
Women’s 5,000 Meters
(August 30, 7:15 p.m. Beijing, 7:15 a.m. Eastern, 4:15 a.m. Pacific)
The story of this event in 2015 has been the efforts of Genzebe Dibaba and Almaz Ayana to break Dibaba’s sister Tirunesh’s world record of 14:11.15. They’ve come up just short. They’ll likely duel for gold in Beijing, and Ayana, after Dibaba’s 1500s, will be fresher. Kenya’s 2013 world championships silver medalist Mercy Cherono is the beneficiary if the top two knock themselves out. The young American trio, led by Nicole Tully, are unlikely medal contenders, but one of them could place in the top six.
Men’s 10,000 Meters
(August 22 – 8:50 p.m. Beijing, 8:50 a.m. Eastern, 5:50 a.m. Pacific)
Mo Farah of Great Britain, the defending champion, has the year’s best 10,000 clocking, 26:50.97. He ran that in May to defeat Kenyans Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kamworor, who he’ll face again in Beijing. But Kamworor, the world champion in cross country and the half marathon, has since run a 27:11 at altitude in Nairobi. The Kenyans have talked about using team tactics to deny Farah the chance to run his trademark scorching last lap. Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp is the best bet among the Americans, but his 2015 race results don’t hint at a top three finish here.
Women’s 10,000 Meters
(August 24, 8:35 p.m. Beijing, 8:35 a.m. Eastern, 5:35 a.m. Pacific)
This is the toughest of the distance races to forecast. The fastest time of 2015 belongs to an Ethiopian, Gelete Burka, who remains better known as a 1500-meter runner. Track fans will find out how far 2011 world champion Vivian Cheruiyot has come back since giving birth in October 2013 and whether 2012 Olympic silver medalist Sally Kipyego is up to the form that gave her the best 10,000 time of 2014. Shalane Flanagan’s 31:09.02 is the fastest non-Ethiopian 10,000 of the year, and Molly Huddle has had a terrific 2015 against foreign and domestic competition on the road and track. The Americans will be close to the top three, and could medal in an unpredictable race.
(August 22, 7:35 a.m. Beijing/August 21, 7:35 p.m. Eastern 4:35 p.m. Pacific)
This event looks more like a World Marathon Majors race than it ever has at these championships. Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa won his second Boston Marathon in April, Kenyan Wilson Kipsang is the reigning New York City champion, and his training partner Dennis Kimetto is the man who broke his world record. Those could be the three medalists, with an edge going to Kipsang for his finishing speed. Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich surprised by winning the 2012 Olympics and 2013 world championships, but the third time is unlikely to be the charm for him. American Jeffrey Eggleston’s experience at two world championships could lift him into the top five, especially if poor conditions prove to be an equalizer.
(August 30, 7:30 a.m. Beijing/August 29, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. Pacific)
This could be a textbook Ethiopia vs. Kenya battle. Ethiopia has the 2015 London champion Tigist Tufa and 2014 marathon winners Mare Dibaba (Chicago, after Rita Jeptoo’s drug DQ) and Tirfi Tsegaye (Berlin). Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat is seeking her third world title; her teammate Jemima Sumgong was a close second in New York City in November. Japan is experiencing a resurgence in women’s marathoning, and Sairi Maeda might crack the East African hegemony. The best of the Americans is Serena Burla, who could have a top 10 finish if heat and humidity bring the field closer.
And Don’t Forget: Men’s 100 Meters
(August 23, 9:15 p.m. Beijing, 9:15 a.m. Eastern, 6:15 p.m. Pacific)
This race matches track’s only household name, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, against American Justin Gatlin, who has served two drug suspensions and ran his personal best of 9.74 this year at age 33.
Until his 9.87 in London on July 24, defending world champion and world record holder Bolt looked like he might not even make the final in Beijing. His imperfect London race hinted he’d be fit to run faster in a few weeks.
There are other notable presences in the 100, including 2007 world champion Tyson Gay (running well after coming off a drug suspension) and Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, a former world record holder who’s also served a drug suspension and has clocked 9.81 this year. The sport’s up-and-coming fresh face is American Trayvon Bromell.
But they’re bit players. This is Bolt vs. Gatlin, and Gatlin seems ready to end Bolt’s reign.