The two-time Olympian isn’t intimidated by anyone in the star-studded field.
Don’t expect Anthony Famiglietti to be awed on Sunday when he faces some of the world’s top long-distance runners at the Carlsbad 5000, billed as the World’s Fastest 5K. It’s not in his makeup.
“I’m happy to be healthy and confident to be able to go to the starting line with the best in the world,” said Famiglietti, 33, of Davidson, N.C. “I don’t get intimidated. I feel like I can run with the best in the world when I’m on. I’m not backing down.”
Famiglietti’s forte is not the 5K, but the 3,000-meter steeplechase, an event in which he has twice been an Olympian. However, he has raced distances ranging from 1,500 meters to the half marathon–and run well at all of them.
For example, his 10,000-meter best of 27 minutes, 37.74 seconds and his mile PR of 3:55.71 were set within four weeks of each other. Two weeks ago, he won the 49er 5K Classic at UNC Charlotte in his first outdoor track race of the season, and the following day, he won an 8K road race in 23:56. “I was so tired the next day,” he admitted.
The fun-loving Famiglietti is a bold and fearless runner, not afraid to take the lead from the outset. Sometimes he has been accused of running recklessly and his style embodies the front-running spirit of the late Steve Prefontaine.
“The reason I’m still in the game (he’s been a pro for 12 years) as an elite athlete is [to see] what your potential is,” he said. “You can’t do that by sitting back. You have to go from the gun. It hasn’t hurt me by going out too fast.”
Famiglietti tried that strategy in the steeplechase final at the 2008 Olympics, but because of the heavy Beijing air, he had trouble breathing. “After two laps in, I started wheezing,” he said.
But he wouldn’t quit, eventually finishing a disappointing 13th. “I just gutted it out,” Famiglietti said of that race. “There’s no way you cannot give your best in an Olympic final.”
That disappointing finish followed his even worse showing at the 2004 Games, where he finished eighth in his opening round heat and failed to qualify for the final. Aside from those setbacks, Famiglietti has been a consistently good competitor over the years. He is a six-time U.S. champion, including road titles at 5K, 8K and 15K. He also was the steeplechase gold medalist at the 2001 World University Games and the steeplechase bronze medalist at the 2003 World University Games. In 2007, he ran 13:11.93 for 5K, the fastest by an American on U.S. soil.
“I wasn’t a high school superstar or a college superstar,” he said. “I didn’t really develop until I turned pro. I’ve developed so slowly over the years. I’ve faced different obstacles over the years that have gotten in the way of me reaching my full potential. I’ve faltered because of mistakes I’ve made or different illnesses that have come up or other weird stuff.”
Famiglietti believes he’s in a good place now and can still contend with the world’s best. Sunday’s field at Carlsbad includes Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel, the defending champion and last year’s 5,000-meter bronze medalist at the World Championships; Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the 2011 Carlsbad runner-up who was ranked No. 1 in the world over 5,000 meters in 2010 and has silver and bronze medals in the 5,000 from the past two Olympic Games, and Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele, a former world champion over 3,000 meters indoors and with a best of 12:54.45 over 5,000 meters.
“This is the strongest field we’ve had in the last four years,” said Matt Turnbull, elite athlete coordinator for the Competitor Group. “It should be a very closely contested race. So many guys are capable of breaking 13 minutes on the track, but when it comes to Carlsbad, it just hasn’t happened. It shows how good the world record is. It’s been there since 2001.”
The world record for 5K on the roads of 13:00 was set by Kenya’s Sammy Kipketer at Carlsbad in 2000. He matched that time a year later.
“Gebremeskel has done some amazing things since winning last year,” Turnbull said. “If he and Kipchoge, who’s in great shape, can help each other, maybe we can get the world record. But it’s all about racing, not necessarily times. I’ll be happy with a 13:01 or 13:02, if we get a close race down to the finish.”
Turnbull noted that Famiglietti “was in shape to break the American record in 2009, but just missed it,” running 13:28. The American mark of 13:24 was set by Marc Davis at Carlsbad in 1996. This time, Famiglietti could take down the record if he tries to keep pace with the elite internationals. “He’s up against the world’s best,” Turnbull noted. “He and (Alistair) Cragg (of Ireland) are front-runners and hang on as long as they can.”
Famiglietti’s front-of-the-pack tactics earned him the nickname of “Iron Man” earlier in his career “because I went out so fast,” he said.
“I’ve learned to adapt over time,” Famiglietti said. “Winning is good. Running fast is better.”