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Norwich Union London Grand Prix: Lagat Stungs Bekele, Dibaba Remains Unbeaten
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2006 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
July 28, 2006

LONDON – While Bernard Lagat may not entirely agree, his stunning victory over world record holder Kenenisa Bekele at the Norwich Union London Grand Prix signaled that there is a new kid on the block in the men’s 5000.

With a blistering sub-52 second final lap, the two-time Olympic 1500 meter medallist kicked to an impressive 12:59.22 win, well ahead of the Ethiopian’s 13:00.04. Yet despite his commanding victory, Lagat insists that he’s still a miler who is making occasional visits to the longer distance.

“I’m still learning a lot about the 5000,” Lagat said, minutes after taking down Bekele, reigning and former world champions Ben Limo and Eliud Kipchoge, Commonwealth champion Augustine Choge, and others. “It’s a matter of being comfortable and being confident in new territory.” With his career, best, eclipsing the 12:59.29 he ran last September at Berlin’s ISTAF Golden League fixture, the Kenyan-born American edged ever closer to Bob Kennedy’s 12:58.21 U.S record.

Running comfortably throughout, the 31-year-old double national champion was never further back than fourth, and with the pace suiting him perfectly, he simply bided his time.

“I was running very comfortably. I knew it was going to be a 7:45 pace [for 3000 meters]. So for a miler like myself I knew that that pace was not going to be a killer.”

When Bekele made his decisive move with 500 to go --a move Lagat predicted --  Lagat simply stepped it up a notch as he approached the bell.  “I knew that it wouldn’t have to be a rush to take lead. Just picking it up gradually and getting ready for the sprint.”

“I had a lot left,” Lagat said, suggesting that the 82/100s of a second victory margin was a bit deceiving. “With two laps to go I was very confident. I knew that if it was going to come down to a kick that I’d be very comfortable with that.  It was like running the 1500 again.”

Lagat will now return to his home in Arizona to prepare for a return to more familiar territory, the 1500 at Zurich’s Weltklasse on August 18. But he concedes that his credentials in the longer race were strengthened considerably after his London performance.

“I beat a world champion, the world record holder,” he said. “It tells me that my 5000 strength is there. I think that in the future I’ll be able to enter a 5000 and be very comfortable. And feel confident that I can win regardless of who is in the race. All I have to do is train hard and believe that I can win the 5000 any time, any moment.”

Choge finished third in 13:00.74, exactly one second ahead of Kipchoge, who was fourth. Struggling over the final three laps, Craig Mottram of Australia, runner-up here the past two years, finished a distant seventh.

There was little doubt about the outcome of the women’s 3000 when Tirunesh Dibaba left a would-be contender pack of three well behind at the bell. With yet another sub-60  closing lap, the 20-year-old double world champion won handily with a career best 8:29.55 to remain undefeated in seven track races this year.

Briton Jo Pavey injected a pair of brave challenges to please the sell-out crowd, twice jumping into the lead; first with about three laps to go before fading, then again with 500 to go before being passed by Dibaba, Berhane Adere and Ejegayehu Dibaba. The finishing order remained unchanged, with the elder Dibaba’s 8:35.94 a personal best as well.

Janeth Jepkosgei showed in no uncertain terms that she can be not only fast, but fiercely competitive as well. The world leader and Kenyan national record holder most closely followed the pace setter through the first lap and held on to win in 1:58.54, edging British European Championships hopeful Rebecca Lynn (1:58.69) and Jamaican record holder Kenia Sinclair (1:59.76).

Spaniard Sergio Gallardo held off Olympic bronze medallist Rui Silva in a largely tactical 1500, 3:38.56 to 3:38.75,  with Briton Mo Farah third.

Like the 1500, the men’s 800 was primarily a domestic affair, won by Richard Hill in 1:46.34, fighting off American Jebrah Harris (1:46.56) over the final 40 meters. Harris, who at 27 dipped under 1:46 for the first time to finish third at the U.S. championships last month, led from the outset before being overtaken by Hill with 300 meters to go.

A sell-out crowd of 17,500 turned out for Great Britain’s finest annual athletics event.

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