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The Season of the Kick

A year after Mo Farah won double Olympic gold with explosive final laps in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, the world’s best track runners seem obsessed with showing off their closing speed. It looks as if the elites are trying to send messages to Mo nearly every race, whether he participates or not, and the reigning champ has made a few super-quick statements of his own.  We’ll see who has the last word in Moscow this August.

One consequence of the kick-happy trend has been slower times overall. In 2012, 16 different runners broke 13:00 in the 5,000, for a total of 21 sub-13 performances.  An amazing 11 of them were at one race, the Paris Diamond League event, which was won by Ethiopian Dejan Gebremeskel in a world-leading 12:46.

So far in 2013, there have been only three sub-13s, all in the Rome Diamond League meet won by Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew in 12:54. His countryman Hagos Gebrhiwet was second in 12:55 and Kenyan Isaiah Koech was third in 12:58. None of them would have cracked the top 7 at the 2012 Paris race.

But oh, those kicks: In every big 5,000 over the past few months, the winner has closed in at least 53 or 54 seconds. To put that in perspective, the world-leading 800 meter race this year was Duane Solomon’s 1:43:27 at the U.S. Champs. In that race, Solomon ran his second lap in 53:17.

Here, in reverse chronological order, is a rundown of the Season of the Kick:

Lausanne Diamond League (July 4)  Alamirew runs a final lap of 54-flat and a sensationally fast final 200 in about 24.1 (according to the timers at to beat Gebrhiwet in 13:06.69.

Birmingham Diamond League (June 30) – Farah runs a final 400 of 53.4 and a final 200 of 25.8 with Alamirew and Gebrhiwet in hot pursuit. Mo’s winning time is 13:14.24

U.S. Track and Field Champs (June 23) – Bernard Lagat blitzes by Galen Rupp toward the end of a 54.22 final lap, but Lagat’s winning time is just 14:54.16 after a super-slow opening two miles. N.C. State’s Ryan Hill finishes third with the second quickest final lap, 54.57.

European Team Champs (June 22)  Farah runs the fastest final lap he has ever run in a 5,000 meter race, closing in 50.89. Still, Farah’s winning time is a pedestrian (for him) 14:10.

Rome Diamond League (June 6) – Alamirew’s world leader of 12:54 is punctuated by a 54.02 final lap ahead of Gebrhiwet and Koech.

Prefontaine Classic (June 1) – Kenya’s Edwin Soi closes in 53.5 or 53.6 (again according to to take down Farah, who was coming off an unspecified illness. Soi’s 13:04 win hands Farah his first loss in an outdoor track event in two years.

NEXT UP: The next major international men’s 5,000 is July 19 at the Diamond League meet in Monaco. The World Championships men’s 5000 is August 16 in Moscow.

At the races: Diamond League NYC

097 Hagos Gebrhiwet takes no prisoners

When the women’s 400m runners knelt into their blocks at the adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet on Saturday, there was a vacancy in lane 4 where Sanya Richards-Ross, a late scratch, was supposed to be. It seemed cruelly unfair that the fans who were shivering in the wind and rain were denied this attraction, at a meet already handicapped by a number of absences. In the 5,000m, Americans Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat and Olympic bronze medalist Thomas Longosiwa from Kenya, along with a flotilla of other Nike athletes, were keeping their powder dry for next week’s Prefontaine Classic. Even a specially placed pole-vault runway beside the final straightaway was unused due to the wind and rain. But if the inclement weather and thin fields precluded Olympian high drama, the meet did offer glimpses of the fastest men and women on earth, including a 19-year old who could already be the world’s best long distance track runner: Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet.

At last year’s Diamond League meet in NYC, David Rudisha ran the fastest 800m ever in the U.S. with a 1:41.74. The time was less astonishing than the gap of nearly three seconds he had on the field. Rudisha again won handily on Saturday, even if by half the margin, but it was Gebrhiwet who made the statement of the meet.

Gebrhiwet clobbered the field in the 5,000m, winning with a world-leading time of 13:10 as top contender Dejen Gebremeskel (6th, 13:31) faded badly. The 5,000m is often decided by a sprint kick, but Gebrhiwet broke the field early and the drama was actually in the race for third, as American Ben True, who had steadily moved up through the field as Gebremeskel dropped back, dueled with Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan. Though True (13:16) could not reel Jelian in, he bolstered his credentials with the strong race in tough conditions, and he’s clearly the top American threat to the U.S. Nike-sponsored runners in the 5000m and 10,000m (True is sponsored by Saucony). True will likely run the 10,000 at US Nationals.

IMG_1937 True chases Jelian on the final lap

The women’s 1500 featured a huge field of 19 runners, including pace setters, jostling for position.

035 Here they come (first lap)

and there they go (final lap)  044

Predictably, as Kate Grace (8th, 4:08.92) noted about her first Diamond League race, there was a lot of pushing and shoving. It was no surprise that Brenda Martinez (3rd, 4:06.25) was the top American runner, finishing strong after hanging back at the start. Morgan Uceny (7th, 4:08.49) sliced 9 seconds off her Drake performance. She said after the race that unlike at Drake, she “felt like herself” and that she stayed off the rail to stay out of trouble. After falls in the Olympics and World Champs over the past two years, Uceny is fated to always be cognizant of this issue. The winner of the race was Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi, who like Gebrhiwet, has a commanding early season lead in the “Diamond Race” standings with two wins in two competitions (the Diamond Race is the cumulative result of 7 competitions over the course of the season).

aregawi Flowers for the winner

Elsewhere in the meet, Amantle Montsho ran an impressive 400, 49.91 in far worse conditions than her 49.88 from Doha. Youth was on display with a pair of stellar dream mile races, and the return of Blanka Vlasic to the high jump brought the shutterbugs to their feet. The high jumpers were a sight: impossibly tall and thin, they approached the bar in their warmups like a basketball team completing a layup drill in slow motion. Vlasic was particularly vocal, like a team captain, though she seemed often to be barking at herself.

blanka Blanka takes direction

The one race for which the sun shined uninterrupted was the master’s men’s 75+ 100m dash, won by William Bittner in 14.69. Bittner scored one for the elders, outpacing the Fastest Kids for the boys (Xavier Donaldson, 15.42) and girls (Adaria Reaves, 15.32).


Shore A.C. teammates Alexander Johnson and Michael McDonnell head to the press tent

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