Verzbicas comes up short on sub-4:00 mile attempt.
Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
BOSTON — In what was possibly the most anticipated race of the evening here at the New Balance Grand Prix, American Russell Brown shocked a loaded field in the men’s mile by running away in the final 100m to the biggest indoor victory of his career. In a contest featuring an Olympic silver medallist, an American record holder, and a prep sensation trying to break the four-minute barrier, no one had thought the event would come down to a pair of former college teammates surging away to take the top two spots.
As Christian Hesch paced the field of thirteen through an opening quarter of 58.44 seconds, all of the contestants were together. As soon as he dropped off, though, things began to shuffle. At 800m, Olympic silver medallist and defending meet champion Nick Willis took over, leading the pack through in 1:59.63. As he did, American record holder Alan Webb and Ethiopian Henok Legesse settled in behind, followed by the rest of the field, which had strung out into a single file.
Lukas Verzbicas, the two-time Foot Locker Cross Country champion bound for the University of Oregon, was in last, just where he wanted to be. Despite being a second behind four-minute pace (2:01.08), he was looking smooth with his familiar lanky stride. Trying to become the first high schooler to go under four minutes since Alan Webb turned the trick in 2001, Verzbicas had to have been the most watched last place runner in meet history.
While Willis hit three quarters in 2:58.04, things really began to shake out. Legesse went to second, as Webb dropped all the way back to fifth place. In between were former Stanford teammates Garrett Heath and Russell Brown.
Moving up was Verzbicas. With 400m remaining, the Latvian-born 19 year-old first passed Kyle Miller, then Pablo Solares, Colin McCourt and finally 2008 U.S. Olympian Leo Manzano. With 200m remaining, the only man between him and Webb, who had presented Verzbicas with his Gatorade National Cross Country Runner of the Year Award earlier this year, was Will Leer. Verzbicas ultimately finished eighth in a personal best of 4:03.88.
Back at the front, though, Heath had taken over with Willis and Brown right beside them. Heath and Brown would battle it out until the final stretch, where Brown, a native of Hanover, N.H., simply bolted away.
“I saw Garrett going by Willis, and all I could think was to stay on his shoulder. Then I moved and snuck right past him,” said Brown, who crossed the line in 3:54.81, a person best. Heath followed in 3:55.87, with Willis third in 3:56.29. Webb was seventh.
“I was ready to do something I haven’t done before,” said Brown, who had given himself a five percent chance of victory prior to toeing the line.
With about twenty family and friends in attendance to support him, Brown was returning to the same blue Reggie Lewis Center track on which he competed in high school. But instead of feeling like he was in a race, Brown compared the final laps to his days at Stanford, trailing Heath as if it were a workout.
“The biggest piece of confidence I got was my teammate at Stanford and long-time training partner, Garrett Heath, who took the lead from Willis, and I was sort of [then] transported into workouts we’ve done,” Brown explained. “It didn’t feel like a race anymore, it just felt like a practice we’ve been through. I’m really comfortable running on his shoulder. Following him just felt natural.”
In the men’s 3000m, a showdown played out between Great Britain’s Mo Farah and Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel. After opening the race with a 61-second first 400m, Gebremeskel suddenly lost the green adidas spike on his right foot. Despite the loss of footwear, Gebremeskel didn’t hesitate in the least, sticking with Farah and Kenya’s Nixon Chepseba.
After Chepseba went to the front briefly past 2000m, Farah resumed the pacing duties. With 400m remaining, Farah inserted a quick surge, trying to break Gebremeskel. But the Ethiopian would have none of it. Around the final turn with a homestretch left, the two were shoulder to shoulder.
“Right then he just came past me with a different gear,” said the 27 year-old Farah, the reigning European 5000m and 10,000m champion. “He was running with one shoe, so fair credit to him.”
Gebremeskel kicked home with a 26.33-second final 200m, winning in 7:35.37. Farah was second in 7:35.81, and Chepseba third in 7:37.64.
In the women’s 3000m, a somewhat similar race played out, though all shoes stayed on. As a pack of four –Kenya’s Sally Kipyego, America’s Jenny Simpson, Canada’s Megan Wright, and Ethiopia’s Kalkidan Gezahegn– passed 2000m, Simpson quickly surged, stringing out the group a bit. Then Gezahegn, the IAAF World Indoor 1500m champion from a year ago, made her presence felt by coming up on Simpson.
In the following laps, Kipyego went from fourth to first in a matter of 400m, and would never relinquish her lead despite a last ditch effort by Simpson, provoking memories of the two’s collegiate rivalry when Kipyego ran for Texas Tech and Simpson for Colorado.
Powering away to win by over a full second, Kipyego finished in 8:49.74 to Simpson’s 8:50.78. Wright finished a surprising third in 8:52.01, barely edging Gezahegn by 4/100ths of a second (8:52.05).
The women’s mile saw NCAA cross country champion, Sheila Reid of Villanova, try to pull away from Canadian compatriot and national record holder Carmen Douma-Hussar. The two would run together through the final bend, where seemingly out of nowhere came Serbia’s Marina Muncan. The soft spoken Muncan, now training under Frank Gagliano and the New York/New Jersey Track Club, got the win in 4:34.46. Douma-Hussar finished in 4:34.46, and Reid in 4:35.30.
The women’s 800m was won by Phoebe Wright in 2:01.01. Lindsay Crevoiserat took the girl’s junior mile in 4:52.60, as Miles Schoedler took the boy’s race in 4:16.92.