Shannon Rowbury Breaks the American 5000m Record (14:38.92) as Almaz Ayana’s WR Attempt Comes Up Short

September 9, 2016

Shannon Rowbury left the 2016 Olympics empty-handed and devastated. She came just one place shy of earning a medal in the women’s 1500 final, denied the honor by longtime rival Jenny Simpson. Rather than pack it in, however, Rowbury has returned to the track with a vengeance, and after winning her first Diamond League 1500 last week in Zurich, she made more history in Brussels on Friday night as she ran 14:38.92 to take down Molly Huddle’s American record (14:42.64) in the 5,000 meters.

The big story entering the race was Olympic 10,000-meter champ Almaz Ayana, who was trying to break Tirunesh Dibaba’s 14:11.15 world record, but Ayana’s WR attempt had no chance after a relatively slow opening mile (though she did win in 14:18.89). However, the pace was still plenty fast for everyone else, and the field took advantage of the near-perfect conditions (mid-60’s and still) to run a slew of personal bests — eight in all, including six of the top eight. That, of course, included Rowbury, whose 14:38.92 was a PR by almost 10 seconds. This was also the first time in history that three women broke 14:30 in the same race (Ayana, Hellen Obiri and Senbere Teferi).

The Race

14:11 is 68-second pace per 400, but a 73-second second lap put the leaders behind schedule early in the race, which played into the hands of Rowbury (the American record is 70.6 400 pace). Rowbury now had women to run with as she hunted the record and came through eighth in a pack of nine at 1600 meters in 4:41. Ayana, running behind rabbit Alice Aprot Nawowuna — the same woman who led the early stages of her 10,000 WR in Rio — hit 1600 in 4:39.

Shannon Rowbury last week after winning the 1500m at the 2016 Weltklasse in Zurich in 3:57.78 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly) Shannon Rowbury last week after winning the 1500m at the 2016 Weltklasse in Zurich in 3:57.78 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

The pace continued to stall for the leaders as Aprot ran 70.43 and 70.05 for the next two laps, falling further behind WR pace. Just before 3k, Ayana decided she had had enough and made a huge move, ripping off a 65.75 split for the eighth lap (8:44.45 at 3k). But the slow early pace gave Ayana a mountain to climb. With four to go (9:50), Ayana was stringing out the field and had a lead of about five meters over Hellen Obiri in second, but needed a 4:20 final 1600 to break the record. That wasn’t going to happen.

Ayana pressed on bravely, however, going 67.07-67.03-67.98-66.64 for a 4:28.72 final 1600 and a much-deserved victory in a meet-record 14:18.89. That would have been a world leader by over seven seconds — had Ayana not run 14:12 in Rome and 14:16 in Rabat earlier this year.

During the middle of the race, the lead pack — which had numbered nine women at 1600 — had split in two, with Rowbury joining the latter half. That group would eventually splinter, but Rowbury had women to work with and women to chase. She hit two to go with 12:23-high on the clock, knowing she needed only a 2:18 for the American record.

Rowbury managed that with ease. She dropped Viola Kibiwot, whom she had been running with on the penultimate lap, to move into sixth and set her sights on Nawowuna, who had stayed in the race after concluding her rabbitting duties. With Nawowuna fading and Rowbury surging, Rowbury passed her just before the line and threw her arms up in celebration upon seeing the clock. She broke Huddle’s American record easily in the end, lopping 3.72 seconds off the old mark to become the first North American ever under 14:40.

5000 Metres - Women                                           
    1 Ayana , Almaz                    ETH   14:18.89    MR     20        
    2 Obiri , Hellen Onsando           KEN   14:25.78    PB     12        
    3 Teferi , Senbere                 ETH   14:29.82    PB      8        
    4 Diro , Etenesh                   ETH   14:33.30    PB      6        
    5 Rowbury , Shannon                USA   14:38.92    AR      4        
    6 Nawowuna , Alice Aprot           KEN   14:39.56    PB      2        
    7 Kibiwot , Viola Jelagat          KEN   14:44.09                   
    8 Kipkemboi , Margaret Chelimo     KEN   14:47.24    PB               
    9 Tirop , Agnes Jebet              KEN   15:02.67    PB               
   10 Grøvdal , Karoline Bjerkeli      NOR   15:03.72                   
   11 Kuijken , Susan                  NED   15:04.20                   
   12 Heiner Hills , Madeline          AUS   15:04.56                   
   13 McColgan , Eilish                GBR   15:05.00    PB
   14 Wellings , Eloise                AUS   15:05.42    
   15 LaCaze , Genevieve               AUS   15:06.67    PB
   16 O'Connell , Jessica              CAN   15:07.72    SB
   17 Twell , Stephanie                GBR   15:14.82
      Tverdostup , Tamara              UKR        DNF

Quick Take #1: What a fortnight by Shannon Rowbury, who now owns the American record at both 1500 and 5,000 meters

Rowbury was understandably crushed after narrowly missing out on a medal in the 1500 in Rio, but her performance there (she closed in 1:59.3) showed that she was clearly in phenomenal shape. Since then, she’s ripped off a 3:58.00 in Paris on August 27 (her second-fastest ever at the time), a 3:57.78 in Zurich on September 1 (her second-fastest ever and her first DL 1500 win) and now a 14:38.92 American record in the 5,000.

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Obviously Rowbury would have loved to have earned the bronze, as that may have been her last shot at an Olympic medal (she’ll be 35 in Tokyo). But what she’s accomplished the past two weeks is not a bad consolation prize.

Rowbury is now the first woman to hold the American records at both 1500 and 5,000 simultaneously since Mary Slaney (Slaney had both records until PattiSue Plumer broke the 5k record in 1989).

Quick Take #2: Rowbury knew she was ready to break the American record despite not having run a 5,000 in over two years.

“In retrospect I maybe had to follow the leaders,” Rowbury said after the race. “I did not run the 5K for two years, but could run very relaxed today. My feeling was really great. I knew I was the fastest of my little group at the end. My training was way better then when I ran 14:48, so I knew I could beat the national record. I was just a little afraid to come into another event against the top of the world.”

*Discuss Rowbury’s record run here

Quick Take #3: Ayana may not have won the 5,000 gold in Rio, but her 2016 season was phenomenal

At the start of the year, in the history of the women’s 5,000, only four women had ever broken 14:20 and they had combined to do it a total of six times (one of those women was Ayana herself). In 2016 alone, Ayana has done it on three occasions: 14:12 in Rome, 14:16 in Rabat and 14:18 in Shanghai. Of course, the greatest season doesn’t always make you the champion (just as the Golden State Warriors) as Ayana was upset at the Olympics and only finished third in the 5,000 behind Vivian Cheruiyot and Hellen Obiri.

If Ayana ran like she did tonight in the Olympic final, she’d likely have earned a second gold to go with the one she earned in the 10,000 in Rio. In Brussels, Ayana made her typical hard mid-race move, but she waited longer this time (2800 vs. 1700 in Rio), which enabled her to keep up a quick pace all the way to the finish instead of fading late. Of course, Ayana had a lot more rest for this one, which certainly helped. She hadn’t raced in three weeks leading into Brussels, whereas in Rio, she had run the 10k WR a week before the 5k final and made an unnecessarily fast midrace surge in the 5k prelims just three days earlier.

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The 5 women behind Ayana all ran better than they had ever in their lives and Ayana crushed them all.

Quick Take #4: One final personal best for Genevieve LaCaze

Tonight was the final track race of the season for Australia’s Genevieve LaCaze, who has put together a season she’ll never forget: tonight was the 16th personal best (in 28 races) of 2016 for the 27-year-old. The complete list:
1. January 30: 4:10.20 1500 Glendale (AUS)
2. February 13: 15:41.74 5000 Hobart (AUS)
3. May 1: 15:41.33 5000 Palo Alto
4. May 18: 2:04.77 800 Nijmegen (NED)
5. May 22: 9:32.67 3k steeple Rabat
6. June 5: 15:27.13 5000 Birmingham
7. June 9: 9:30.52 3k steeple Oslo
8. June 16: 9:23.19 3k steeple Stockholm
9. June 19: 15:29.92 5000 Lapinlahti (FIN)
10. June 25: 2:04.05 800 Kuortane (FIN)
11. August 15: 9:21.21 3k steeple Rio de Janeiro
12. August 16: 15:20.45 5000 Rio de Janeiro
13. August 19: 15:10.35 5000 Rio de Janeiro
14. August 27: 9:14.28 3k steeple Paris
15. September 6: 8:52.28 3000 Zagreb
16. September 9: 15:06.67 5000 Brussels
Note: LaCaze said tonight was her 17th PB of the year on Twitter, but All-Athletics and Tilastopaja only list 16. So if we’re missing one, let us know.

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