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DEFAR AND KAKI (and Ismail) IMPRESS IN THEIR ’09 DEBUTS IN STUTTGART
-- Five World Leads in Middle & Long Distance Events

By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

STUTTGART, Germany (07-Feb) – Meseret Defar and Abubaker Kaki may have come up short in their world record-setting bids, but the pair still managed to rewrite the all-time lists at tonight’s 23rd edition of the Sparkassen Cup in Stuttgart. In all, world leads were set in five of the program’s six middle and long distance races in front of a packed house at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle.


Yet again, Defar was reminded of how difficult a task she set for herself when she lowered the 3000m world record to 8:23.72 on this track two years ago. And for the second year running, she gave it an honest run. Reaching 2000m in just under 5:40, she was still within a half second of record pace, but looming just behind her shoulder was Russian Anna Alminova, giving the Ethiopian an unforeseen, if ultimately, unsuccessful challenge. Defar reached the line in 8:26.99, the third fastest time in history, with Alminova hanging on long enough to clock 8:28.49 and become the fourth fastest ever with the sixth fastest performance.

“It was a very nice surprise to run that fast,” Alminova said after missing Liliya Shobukhova’s Russian record by just 0.63 seconds in her indoor debut over the distance. “I could only dream about winning a race against (Defar).” But she did say she could run faster next time.

For her part, Defar was pleased as well. “I was going for the world record, I didn’t succeed, but it was only my first race and it was a fast time. So I’m quite happy.”

Whether it came down to some pace-setting difficulties or just a matter of knocking free the rust in his first appearance since the 800m semis at last summer’s Olympic Games, Abubaker Kaki’s assault on Wilson Kipketer’s world standard in the 1000m never fully materialized. But the 19-year-old, still managed to easily outkick French record holder Mehdi Baala in 2:16.23, the eighth fastest ever, but only the third fastest for the Sudanese teenager.

“I’m feeling good,” the reigning world indoor 800m champion said. “For my first race, it was a fine race.”

Baala crossed the line in 2:17.29, not far from his national record of 2:17.01 set four years ago.

Kaki’s run apparently inspired his training partner, Olympic silver medallist Ismail Ahmad Ismail in the 800m. Kenyan Wilfred Bungei and Russian Yuriy Borzakovskiy, the last two Olympic champions, were virtually even at the bell, until Borzakovskiy took the lead and began to pull away midway through the backstretch. Ismail stayed with him and stormed by him over the final 15 meters to take a convincing victory in 1:45.73, another world leader.

“It was my first race and I just wanted to win,” said Ismail, who chopped more than three seconds from his previous indoor best. “I think that is like running 1:43 or even 1:42 outdoors.” While that assessment could be debated, it’s clear that the 24-year-old Sudanese’s current form is certainly stronger than that which brought him a 1:44.34 outdoor best last year in Monaco.

Borzakovskiy, the winner here last year, was second (1:45.96) with Bungei third (1:46.66).

Likewise, Bernard Lagat was delighted with his commanding 7:35.41 victory in the 3000m --nearly a second clear of Ethiopian Abreham Cherkos-- even though he fell well shy of his 7:31 pre-race goal.

“I felt really good, I could have gone faster,” Lagat said, but realizing that the 5:07.62 split at 2000m had already put his own American record of 7:32.43 out of reach, the decided to simply run for the win. Running comfortably near the front throughout, he remained calm when Cherkos took the lead at the bell, and decided not to pounce on the Ethiopian teen until he reached the final straight.

“I’m not mad about it though,” Lagat said. “It told me that I’m in good shape.” His next outing is set for Tuesday at the Meeting du Pas-de-Calais in Lievin, France, where he’ll run the mile.

Cherkos was second in 7:36.36 with Kenyan Shedrack Korir third (7:37.09).

World indoor champion Deresse Mekkonen coasted to an easy victory in the 1500 in 3:36.41, another world leader, well ahead of Kenyans Augustine Choge (3:38.62) and Gideon Gathimba (3:39.21). The women’s race produced an even wider victory margin, with Briton Susan Scott winning in 4:13.37, nearly four seconds ahead of Russian Nataliya Panteleeva (4:17.36).

    

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