Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel notched up his fourth consecutive victory at the 29th annual Carlsbad 5000 road race, crossing the line in 13:13 and coming home five seconds ahead of local favourite Bernard Lagat on Sunday (30).
Employing two hard, sustained surges inside the final kilometre of the race, Gebremeskel left Lagat, who was racing in Carlsbad for the first time, trailing in his wake but the latter held on for second in 13:18, breaking Marc Davis’ long-standing US best of 13:24, set in 1996.
Kenya’s Augustine Choge finished third in 13:22.
“To win here for the fourth time is very special,” said Gebremeskel. “After the first mile, there was wind and I could not push. Bernard is a 1500m runner, that is his specialty and he has a good kick. I knew I could not sprint with him, so I had to go.”
Hitting the first mile in 4:14, Gebremeskel and Lagat were joined by Choge, fellow Kenyans Edwin Kipyego (who eventually finished fourth in 13:26) and Haron Lagat, USA’s Diego Estrada and Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele.
Making the sharp hairpin turn north on the Pacific Coast Highway, Choge forced the pace up the gradual incline, but could not shake any of his pursuers.
By two miles, passed in 8:34, the pack had been whittled down to four, as Gebremeskel, Lagat, Choge and Kipyego ran four wide across the road to the deafening cheers of spectators lining both sides of the course.
Less than 600 metres later, it was suddenly a two-man race, as Lagat and Gebremeskel engaged in a duel over the last kilometer almost all the way to the finish line.
"It’s a big advantage (for him)," Lagat said of Gebremeskel’s course experience.
"I knew from history that this course would be a challenge. It’s not that easy even though it looks flat. I went in with the mindset to have fun, stay relaxed as much as possible. Dejen was right there pushing the first mile, and at halfway I couldn’t even see him, but he was right behind us. He was basically taking a breather at the back, he was waiting. And when he took the turn, he just unleashed it, so experience matters a lot on this course."
Lagat, while disappointed he couldn’t pull out the win, was happy to walk away with his first US road best. He becomes the first American to simultaneously hold the US 5000m record on the track and 5km road best.
"I won’t really cry too much about it,” said a laughing Lagat. “Dejen is a great runner; 21 days ago I beat him in the 3,000m in Sopot and I knew he wasn’t going to rest until he beat me in this race. He’s a strong runner. And, well, I got the record, that’s another consolation. If I had won today it’d be great. If I won and got the record, that would be a double win for me. But I did not do that, I got second, people celebrated, I was happy with it.
"I’m glad it went the way it did because I’m going to be hungry for even more next year and the year after that. It was a lot of fun, really fun, the people lining up along the street to watch us; that was special. And I wanted to come and give them something to cheer about."
In the women's elite race, Great Britain’s Julia Bleasdale made her second trip to Carlsbad a memorable one, with a win in 15:06.
"I haven’t raced in four months so it was good to get back on the racing scene," said Bleasdale, who, after finishing sixth at the Carlsbad event in 2012, went on to finish eighth in the London 2012 Olympic Games over both 5000m and 10,000m.
"I just wanted it to be a good, honest hard race. One mile in I was surprised it was that fast, it felt pretty easy. After two miles, I wanted to give it a bit of a go and see what I could do because I knew that there were some big kickers in the field and knew that I would be out-kicked if they were still with me."
Kenya’s Betsy Saina finished a distant second in 15:22 while Ethiopia's Etalemhu Habtewold took third in 15:23. The 2013 IAAF World Championships 800m bronze medalist Brenda Martinez was the top American finisher in fourth, running 15:25 for a 19-second improvement on her fifth-place finish here last year.
Both of the world 5km road bests were set in Carlsbad: 13:00 by Kenya’s Sammy Kipketer in both 2000 and 2001, while Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar ran 14:46 for the women’s best in 2006.
Organisers for the IAAF