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By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(15-Nov) -- After a terrific year where he won the British indoor and outdoor 1500-meter titles, earned a silver medal in the same discipline at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, and broke 3:50 at the famed Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games, Scotsman Neil Gourley has just one more big goal on his plate for 2023: defend his title at the Kalakaua Merrie Mile in Honolulu on Saturday, December 9.  That's going to be a tall order for the friendly Scotsman who will have to beat reigning world road mile champion and world record holder Hobbs Kessler and North American mile record holder Yared Nuguse among others.

"Having our defending champion race against the world record holder in the road mile and the American record holder for the mile on the track is a dream come true for our race," said Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, the founders and organizers of the event which is held the day before the Honolulu Marathon.  "Even better, these men have a good chance of lowering the World Athletics record of 3:56.13 on the streets of Waikiki.  Our course record is 3:53.3 by Edward Cheserek of Kenya, so we know it's fast.  We are ready with photo timing and a new World Athletics certification for our course."

Gourley, 28, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., under coach Stephen Haas, showed his mastery of tactics at last year's race where the elite men had to overcome a 29-second head start given to the elite women.  The race has a unique chase format where the elite men chase the elite women and the $10,000 prize money purse is paid based on the overall order of finish, men and women combined.

Last year at the turnaround point on Kalakaua Avenue about 900 meters into the race, the men had made up about half the deficit.  As Gourley and the other men approached the finish they knew they were going to swallow up the lead women and get into the prize money positions.

"It felt weird passing a whole different field, but this event is just really fun," said Gourley, who clocked 3:56.1. and, as the first athlete to cross the finish line, got the $4,000 first prize.

For this year's race Gourley, who represents Under Armour, said he might be a little short of fitness because he got a late start on the base phase of his training after a long track season.  But he's keen to race, he said.

"I'm thrilled to be coming back to Honolulu for the Merrie Mile this year," said Gourley.  "I loved the whole experience in 2022 and was really impressed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. The unbeatable sunshine helped too!"

Kessler, 20, who stormed to the World Athletics road mile title last month in Riga in a new world record of 3:56.13, finished third to Gourley last year in 3:57.0.  The adidas-sponsored athlete ran four road miles in 2023 and won three of them, and he would love to win in Honolulu.  He wouldn't mind taking a swing at breaking his own world record, and the Honolulu Marathon Association has put up a $10,000 bonus pool in case the world record is broken by either the first man or first woman (the pool would be split 50/50 if two records are broken).

"I'm really excited to return to Hawaii for the road mile," said Kessler, who lives and trains in Ann Arbor, Mich.  "It's one of the most fun events on the circuit.  It's now also world record-eligible which adds to the fun and helps to further the road mile as an event."

Nuguse, 24, the reigning USA 1500m champion and fourth-fastest miler of all time with a 3:43.97 personal best, will be running the Kalakaua Merrie Mile for the first time.  Interestingly, the former Notre Dame star, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo., with the On Athletics Club under coach Dathan Ritzenhein, has never run a road mile.

"We're very excited to bring the OAC to the Merrie Mile this year," said Ritzenhein who also coaches two other men in this year's race, Geordie Beamish of New Zealand (mile PB of 3:51.22) and Mario Garcia Romo of Spain (3:47.69).  "We've talked about it for the last few years and it gives some of the team an exciting but fun way to test their fall training. Yared is coming off of his 3:43 American record and Mario off his Spanish record. But both of them better watch out for Geordie because his kick always makes for an exciting finish!"

The field has even more depth, including Matthew Centrowitz (3:49.26 PB), the 2016 Olympic 1500m champion; Mason Ferlic (3:58.05), a 2021 Olympian in the steeplechase; Morgan Beadlescomb (3:52.03), the recently crowned USATF 5-K road running champion; and Vince Ciattei (3:54.07), the 2023 USATF road mile champion.

For Barahal, who introduced this event in 2016, having such a strong elite field is just the icing on the cake.  He's just as excited about the mass race which will precede the elite section.

"I love the elite race, but the People's Mile is just as important," said Barahal.  "We're expecting about 3,000 runners, many dressed in costumes and many families will run together then stay to cheer on the elites.  It's a very special event."

The 51st Honolulu Marathon and the companion Start to Park 10-K will follow the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Sunday.  Barahal expects about 25,000 athletes to compete across all three events.

Kalakaua Merrie Mile Men's Elite Field With Mile and 1500m Personal Bests*

Morgan Beadlescomb (USA), 25, adidas/Very Nice Track Club: Mile, 3:52.03i / 1500m, 3:37.03
Geordie Beamish (NZL), 27, On Athletics Club: 3:51.22i / 3:36.53
Matthew Centrowitz (USA), 33, Nike: 3:49.26 / 3:30.40
Vince Ciattei (USA), 28, Under Armour: 3:54.07 / 3:34.57
Hobbs Kessler (USA), 20, adidas/Very Nice Track Club: 3:56.13r (WR) / 3:32.61
Mason Ferlic (USA), 30, adidas/Very Nice Track Club: 3:58.05 / 3:35.45
Mario García Romo (ESP), 24, On Athletics Club: 3:47.69 / 3:29.18
Neil Gourley (GBR), 28, Under Armour: 3:49.46i / 3:30.60
Yared Nuguse (USA), 24, On Athletics Club: 3:43.97 (AR) / 3:29.02
*Subject to change   i = Indoor mark  r = Road mile mark

The full elite field with short bios is here: