By Jonathan Gault
June 23, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Total domination.
That’s the only way to describe what Paul Chelimo did tonight at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, as he massacred the field to win the men’s 5,000 meters by over seven seconds in a meet-record 13:08.62, eclipsing Tim Broe‘s 13:12.76 which has stood since 2005. Chelimo’s win was similar to the 10-second victory he posted in the two-mile at the USATF Indoor Championships in March, but unlike that race, where Chelimo went out in dead last before pushing the pace, Chelimo took it from the gun tonight, running his first lap in just over 60 seconds to break away early.
Indoors, the field could be accused of waving the white flag and ceding the victory to Chelimo. That was not the case in Sacramento. Eric Jenkins’ PR is 13:05. Ryan Hill’s PR is 13:05. Ben True’s PR is 13:02. Tonight, Chelimo ran 13:08, solo, in a championship race run in 80-degree weather, after going out in 60. The rest of the field had no option but to let him go because he is by far the best 5,000 runner in the country.
“We all know he’s on another world of fitness right now,” said Hill.
The battle for the win was over almost immediately, but the battle for the final two spots on the World Championship team would last until the final lap. The U.S. Army’s Emmanuel Bor led the chase pack for a few laps early in the race, but True did the bulk of the work as he moved into second just after the mile and would hold that position for the next six laps.
True led the chasers through 3k in 8:04.33 (Chelimo came through in 7:55.55) and with three laps remaining, there were four guys remaining for two spots: True, Jenkins, Lopez Lomong and Hill. Among the four, only Jenkins had never made a U.S. 5k team.
Those four remained together until the bell, at which point Jenkins moved into the lead. On the backstretch, Jenkins unleashed and by the time he entered the final turn, he had a gap on the others and powered to second behind Chelimo to make his first U.S. team thanks to a 54.06 final lap. That left one spot to London. And, just as he had in 2013, Hill kicked by True over the final 150 after sitting on him for much of the race to take third and leave his rival heartbroken again.
But tonight was all about Chelimo, who sent a message to Mo Farah by making 13:08 look really, really easy.
“Mo Farah is a lethal racer,” Chelimo said. “I gotta be strong [to beat him]. I gotta be really strong.”
Results (lap-by-lap splits)
Quick Take: This was the most dominant 5,000 win we’ve seen at USAs in a long time
Bernard Lagat dominated the 5,000 in the U.S. for years, and Chelimo has looked up to him during his career. The two men have become friendly recently, and Lagat told Chelimo before today’s race that he was “definitely” going to win. Now Chelimo appears set to take over from Lagat and own this event domestically for the foreseeable future.
Lagat relied on his legendary kick to win races, but Chelimo, part of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, has won his two U.S. titles by going wire-to-wire, and as great as Lagat was, it takes a special kind of confidence to go out there and try to break the field from the gun. But when you’re the best and everyone knows it, you can win any way you want. For Chelimo, tonight was more of an experiment than a race.
“You know the army has always told me to be tough. It’s like I was going to war today. I was prepared, I was ready with my tactics and I’m happy about it,” Chelimo said. “I’m trying to test and see what my body can do. Before you do something in a championship, you have to try, you have to test your body and train for it. This is really good for me. And every time I watch the fields out there, all the fans are complaining. We are tired of sit and kick races every day. I hope I made them happy today. I gave them what I wanted. I knew I could make the team in a sit-and-kick race. But I just wanted to make it fast.”
Chelimo lost badly to Farah at the Pre Classic (he was almost 10 seconds behind the Brit) but he looked far better tonight and still has a month and a half to close the gap by London. That’s going to be tough, as Farah has shown that he can kick off any pace — his winning time in Rio last year was 13:03. But Chelimo may not have hit his ceiling yet, and that’s scary to think about a guy who won an Olympic silver medal last year.
It will also be very exciting to see if he can make a run at Lagat’s 12:53.60 American record. Chelimo’s two fastest times are “only” 13:03 and 13:08, but both came in championship finals — the former in Rio last year and the latter tonight.
QT: Eric Jenkins makes a well-deserved first U.S. team
Jenkins was a collegiate star at Oregon (and pretty good runner at Northeastern before that), one of the few U.S.-born NCAA 5k champs in recent years, and it seemed like only a matter of time before he made his first U.S. team after being the first guy out at US Indoors and the Olympic Trials last year. He came through, as he was clearly better than Hill and True tonight and his 54.06 last lap was very impressive given his 13:15 final time.
QT: After a rough spring, Ryan Hill’s kick was there when it mattered
Hill, who won this race two years ago, had a solid indoor season but he’s had nagging injuries in his foot and calf since January that just won’t go away. Though he hasn’t missed any workouts, he’s never felt totally right, and his only 5,000 this spring before tonight was a DNF at the Pre Classic.
Hill said that coming into the race, he thought he had a 50% chance to make the team but said that even on the final lap of tonight’s race, he didn’t know how much of a kick he would have. What Hill did have was enough to make the team, and now he has almost seven weeks to get his body right before Worlds in London. Hill said he has been feeling better of late. Hill was 10th in 2013 and 7th in 2015 at Worlds; can he make enough fitness gains to be in the medal hunt this time around?
QT: Props and sympathies have to go out to Ben True
The thing that makes the US Champs a must-watch event every single year is that it’s pretty much all (top 3 and you go to Worlds) or nothing (4th and you will be watching Worlds on TV like the rest of us). So by those harsh standards, Ben True got nothing as he was fourth once again at a US champs (he was also fourth in the 5k and 10k in 2013).
However, we think True has a lot to be proud of. The way we see it, he basically just soloed a 13:17 in 80-degree weather. He just didn’t make the team as True did nearly all of the work for the chase pack from the very start until the final 250 when Jenkins blew by him.
True was forced with a very tough decision early in the race: try to go with Chelimo (not happening), try to keep it honest and hope to gradually reel Chelimo in gradually or sit back and run the risk of the race turning into a sit and kick. True was burned by the latter strategy in 2013 (he took off with a mile to go, but even a sub-4:00 final 1600 wasn’t enough to make the team) and thus tried to reel in Chelimo. Unfortunately for True, he couldn’t reel in Chelimo on his own or drop any of his chief rivals.
“I knew those guys were behind me with a kick and I knew they were going to come by me at some point,” True said. “I was just hoping when they came by, I could regroup a little bit. And I thought I was gonna be all right until that last 100 meters when Ryan Hill had a little extra gear and pulled away. That’s what you get for sitting out in the front for so long.”
True did make the Worlds team in 2015, but this may have been his last chance to make another as he will be 33 in 2019 and very few 33-year-olds distance runners make teams in any event other than the marathon. But there is always hope — after all, Bernard Lagat was 41 when he won the Olympic Trials last year.
QT: The LetsRun.com singlet is back, baby!
Ben Rainero, the 2016 Heps 5k/10k champ for Cornell, brought the LetsRun.com singlet out of retirement tonight. Though he put a scare into Galen Rupp in the Stumptown Twilight meet last week, the combination of the heat, the hot early pace and two 5k’s in eight days made it tough for Rainero as he finished 16th out of 17. That’s still better than the last time the LRC singlet competed in Sacramento with LRC’s Weldon Johnson getting lapped in the 10,000m and last in his 5000m heat at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Clearly, the singlet does not like the dry heat of Sacramento.
Best-dressed runner in the men's 5k: Ben Rainero. pic.twitter.com/Nu602RnGPb
— LetsRun.com (@letsrundotcom) June 24, 2017
QT: None of the Top 3 in the 10,000m Came Back to Run 5,000m
Hassan Mead said he planned to run the 5,000m after winning the 10,000 last night but he didn’t toe the line. It would have been a near-impossible task to make the team versus this field on 24 hours’ recovery.
The crowd in Sacramento hasn’t been very big but there are some hard-core fans in attendance:
— LetsRun.com (@letsrundotcom) June 24, 2017