American Record Attempt: Can Paul Chelimo Become The 7th Man In History To Break 13:00 Indoors?

By Jonathan Gault
March 4, 2021

Only six men have ever broken 13:00 for 5000 meters indoors. Four of those six are all-time legends — Bekele, Gebrselassie, Komen, and Kipchoge — and the other two both have global medals.

The All-Time Sub-13:00 Indoor 5000 Performers
Rank Mark Competitor Nat Date
1 12:49.60 Kenenisa BEKELE ETHETH 20 FEB 2004
2 12:50.38 Haile GEBRSELASSIE ETHETH 14 FEB 1999
3 12:51.48 Daniel KOMEN KENKEN 19 FEB 1998
4 12:53.29 Isiah Kiplangat KOECH KENKEN 11 FEB 2011
5 12:55.72 Eliud KIPCHOGE KENKEN 11 FEB 2011
6 12:58.67 Thomas  LONGOSIWA KENKEN 10 FEB 2012

Coach Scott Simmons is hoping that number rises to seven as Paul Chelimo — himself a two-time global medallist in the 5000 — will lead his American Distance Project/WCAP teammates in a 5000 on Thursday at the brand new Virginia Beach Sports Center, which will host the NCAA championships in 2025. A press release has hyped the event as an American record attempt — and Galen Rupp‘s record is 13:01.26. Is that a realistic goal?

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Simmons says it is.

“I don’t post a lot. I don’t talk a lot. We just kind of stay low-key and focused. For us to say that [that Chelimo was leading an American record attempt in a press release], you have to believe that I think that the fitness is there,” Simmons told LetsRun.com on Wednesday night.

The plan is for WCAP’s Benard Keter to lead the first mile, with Willy Fink taking the field through 3,000 meters in 7:48 (Fink has run 3:59, 7:52, and 13:42 this winter). After that, it will be down to Chelimo (and anyone who is still with him) against the clock, though Simmons has a few more aces up his sleeve. First, the Light Speed Pacing System — a series of lights set up on the inside of the track — will be set to 13:00 pace to guide Chelimo along. Second, the bank of the track. Initially, Simmons believed Virginia Beach’s hydraulic track maxed out at a 10-degree bank. When he checked out the facility on Wednesday, he was pleasantly surprised to learn it could be increased to 12 degrees, which it will be set to for the men’s race on Thursday.

“If you talk to Geoff Burns, the researcher from Michigan, that’s the perfect bank for the paces that we’re running,” Simmons says (for more on why, check out this article).

Some of Simmons’ athletes will target the Olympic standard of 13:13.50 — a group that likely includes 2016 Olympian Leonard Korir and three-time NCAA steeplechase champ Anthony Rotich. Others will simply be running for a personal best. But Chelimo may have company up front: Simmons says Emmanuel Bor (13:10 pb) is in the shape of his life right now.

In the two-person women’s race, Elvin Kibet and Ednah Kurgat (the 2017 NCAA XC champ for New Mexico who recently received her US citizenship) will aim for the Olympic Trials standard of 15:20.00.

Simmons’ optimism has impressed my bosses at LetsRun.com. They only found out about the meet on Monday but have decided to stream the record attempt live to the world on LetsRun.com, YouTube, and Periscope (broadcast starts at 5:20 p.m. ET/11:20 p.m. CET; women’s race is at 5:30, men’s race at 6:00, entries here).

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If you think finding competitive opportunities during a pandemic is hard, try doing it while serving as a member of the US Army’s World Class Athlete Program. Twice in December, Simmons had two of his Army WCAP athletes ready to go after something big — first Bor in the 10,000 meters at the Sound Running Track Meet in California, then Olympic Trials 5th placer Augustus Maiyo at the Marathon Project in Arizona. Twice, they were told by their superiors at the last minute that they were not allowed to compete.

“The Army put a no-travel order out and nobody could travel,” Simmons says. “The only way would be to get an exception for that from a much higher level…It’s been a tough year because of that. We see people getting the standards that we need and we don’t have the opportunities.”

Chelimo winning USA Indoors in 2020 (Phil Bond photo)

That is what inspired Simmons to stage his own indoor meets. The first on Thursday will be known as the Firefly Recovery 5,000m. Two weeks later: he’s staging another event in Virginia Beach, an indoor 10,000-meter race — that’s right, fifty laps — geared toward hitting the Olympic standard of 27:28.00.

Simmons came up with the idea after the 2019 season, when he sent four of his athletes to the Stockholm Diamond League to chase the 10,000-meter World Championship standard, only for all four to come up short in wet and windy conditions. With relatively few world-class 10,000’s on the calendar, and an even tougher standard to hit for the Olympics (the 2019 World Championship standard was only 27:40.00), Simmons decided to pull a page from Jerry Schumacher‘s playbook and create his own meet in which his athletes could chase qualifiers. One in which the weather would not be a factor.

“After 2019, I said we’re gonna control that,” Simmons says. “It’s just too much.”

Initially, the plan had been to run at Boston University in 2020. COVID nixed that, and with BU still not hosting meets in 2021, Simmons needed a new venue. Simmons opted for Virginia Beach, in part because of the city’s low COVID transmission rates. He also opted to keep the meet as small as possible so all of the athletes would come from the same bubble: the Firefly Recovery 5,000m features just 13 athletes; only the pacemaker, Fink, is not a member of Simmons’ training group. With those safeguards in check (Simmons is also requiring two negative COVID tests for each athlete), the Army signed off on the meets. Which meant Simmons’ athletes finally had the chance to race.

It has been a long time coming. 13:15/27:20 man Leonard Korir and 2020 US XC champion Anthony Rotich have not raced in over a year. Chelimo hasn’t raced on the track since his win at USA Indoors last year. And while Bor was able to race as recently as November, his late withdrawal from the Track Meet has lit a fire in his belly that Simmons believes will propel him to great things once he is finally unleashed on Thursday.

“People have worked hard for sure and progressed,” Simmons says, speaking generally, “but they’re so appreciative of the opportunity to compete that I don’t think you can minimize the importance of that.”

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Targeting an American record and breaking an American record are two different things. Even with ideal bank angles, super spikes, and a burning desire to race, taking down Rupp’s record is going to be hard, very hard. Sub-13:00 is no joke.

Chelimo has the credentials to do it, with two global medals (silver in 2016 and bronze in 2017) and a pb of 12:57.55, but it’s been a few years since he was in top form. In 2019, Chelimo’s sb was 13:04 and he was 7th at Worlds. And he will be coming into Thursday’s race having lost his last two races. In November, he ran 23:54 for 8k cross country in Terre Haute where he was beaten by Mason Ferlic. Then he clocked 28:13 for a road 10k in Madrid in December in which he was soundly beaten by winner Daniel Simiyu (27:41). Chelimo will need to be back to his best to challenge this record. Can he do it?

That, as they say, is why they run the race.

*Timing site

Discuss: MB: It’s On: Paul Chelimo 5000 American Record Attempt – 6:00 pm ET – Official Discussion Thread

Men’s Entrants

Section 1  Timed Finals
  1  Chelimo, Paul                    Nike                     NT 
  2  Bor, Emmanuel                    US Army                  NT 
  3  Korir, Leonard                   US Army                  NT 
  4  Rotich, Anthony                  US Army                  NT 
  5  Kibet, Elkanah                   US Army                  NT 
  6  Tonui, Frankline                 US Army                  NT 
  7  Kirwa, Daniel                    US Army                  NT 
  8  Keter, Benard                    US Army                  NT 
  9  Malyo, Augustus                  US Army                  NT 
 10  Jordan, Michael                  US Army                  NT 
 11  Fink, Willy                      Under Armour             NT

Women’s Entrants

success