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WEBB'S 1500m WIN THE HIGHLIGHT IN PARIS
PARIS – With a brilliant display of assertive racing, Alan Webb powered to a 3:30.54 victory in the 1500 to highlight the Meeting Gaz de France Paris-St. Denis, the second stop on the six-meet IAAF Golden League series.
Running aggressively from the outset, the 24-year-old three-time American champion never lost control of the race, despite the relatively brisk pace.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Webb said, explaining his decision to run near the front from the gun despite the pre-race plan for a 2:47 split through 1200 meters. “I could have been in fifth place and it would have been hard.”
Running just off the shoulders of the pacesetters, Webb led at the bell, but was closely shadowed by Mehdi Baala, the meet’s key star attraction. But the Frenchman, who had planned an attack on his own national record of 3:28.98, was on cruise control as well, and appeared calm and collected as he took the lead just before the 1200 point. As Baala passed, it appeared as though Webb would pay for his assertive running. But a gap never appeared.
“I wasn’t giving up,” Webb said. “He put in a big surge at 300 (to go), and I covered that, and I thought, “Gotcha!” Sticking with Baala as they entered the homestretch, Webb moved to the front about 50 meters before the finish and powered through to the finish, his arms raised to frame a look of disbelief.
“I was surprised a little bit at first,” Webb said, smiling widely. “But you know, I put in a lot of work. I’ve worked really hard to get here. In the moment, I was thinking, ‘it’s over, I won!’”
In the process he smashed his previous career best of 3:32.52 set in Rieti in 2005, to become the third fastest American ever over the distance, trailing only Bernard Lagat and Sydney Maree.
“I knew that I wanted to be competitive, and knew that it would need a PB (to win). I knew it was going to be at least 3:31. If I saw 3:27 I wouldn’t at all have been surprised. That’s how good this field was.”
His win comes just a few days after he lowered his personal best in the 800 to 1:45.80, boding well for the upcoming world championships. But Webb said that Osaka is still a ways off.
“I still have some work to do, and I certainly can’t rest on my laurels,” said Webb, who finished ninth at the 2005 Championships in Helsinki. “There’s a lot of work to be done. I want to be on the medal stand in Osaka.”
He described his victory as the biggest of his career, and likened a Golden League triumph to a win on Monday Night Football, the weekly NFL contest when the sporting public’s attention is fully focused on one particular match.
“What does it mean to win Monday Night football? In the big scheme of things, not much. But when you’re in the moment, throwing the touchdown pass on Monday night...” Laughing, he added, “This week I own the track.”
Baala had no reserve once he was passed, and finished second in 3:31.01, bettering his previous season’s best by .04 seconds. Algerian Tarek Boukensa was third in 3:32.77, and well back in seventh and never really in the hunt, Bernard Lagat came home in 3:35.09.
In contrast, the women’s 5000, featuring world champion Tirunesh Dibaba, was anti-climactic. For the most part run at a pedestrian pace --the eighth lap was covered in just under 83 seconds-- things didn’t get moving until Dibaba passed the bell just inside of 14:23, some seven seconds slower than Meseret Defar’s 14:16.63 world record set at the Golden League opener in Oslo on June 15. With a 59.1 final lap the Ethiopian cruised to a 15:21.84 win, two seconds clear of runner-up Kenyan Florence Kiplagat (15:23.85).
In the women’s 1500, an anticipated rematch of Monday night’s race in Athens Olympic stadium between Russian Yelena Soboleva and Bahraini Maryam Yusuf Jamal never materialized. The Russian was the race’s chief force but it was Gelete Burka of Ethiopia who made the contest into a race. Burka led at the bell, but Soboleva, the world record holder indoors, powered by with half a lap to go and won handily in 3:59.91, well ahead of Burka’s 4:00.68. Never in the hunt, Jamal was 13th in 4:07.92.
With a modest tempo in the men’s 3000, the final lap became a kicker’s battle and it was 21-year-old Ugandan Moses Kipsiro who best took advantage. Breaking from a four man pack with about 50 meters to go, Kipsiro bolted to a 7:39.02 national record to nab the biggest win of his young career. Kenyans took the next four spots, with Joseph Ebuya (7:39.53) second, and Boniface Songok (7:40.21) third.
The final event of the evening, the men’s 3000m steeplechase, was an embarrassment for a competition of this level. In a replay of at least two races this writer witnessed last year, miscounting by the lap counters led to a dash for the finish a lap too soon. As in the Ostrava race in 2005, it was Olympic bronze medallist Paul Kipsiele Koech who was leading but in the confusion, he was beaten to the finish by Frenchman Bob Tahri. His 8:08.47 performance will certainly be nullified, given the fact that a barrier had already been removed from the track before the runners completed the final lap.
In front of a crowd of more than 50,000 at the Stade de France, four athletes --100m hurdler Michelle Perry, 400m ace Sanya Richards, javelin thrower Tero Pitkamaki of Finland, and pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva-- remained in the hunt for the $1 million Golden League Jackpot. The chase resumes next Friday at the Golden Gala in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
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