The 23-year-old Ethiopian will have his hands full on Sunday.
CARLSBAD, Calif. — Dejen Gebremeskel can make history at the Carlsbad 5000 on Sunday.
If the 23-year-old Ethiopian wins the World’s Fastest 5K for the third consecutive year, he would join an elite group of three-time champions in the race’s 28-year history: American Steve Scott (1986-88), Kenyan Sammy Kipketer (2000-02) and Ethiopian Dejene Berhanu (2003-05). Since Gebremeskel also finished second in 2010, the combination of three victories and a second would make him the most successful men’s runner ever at the event. (Scott tried for four straight wins in 1989, but finished sixth, and Kipketer went for his fourth victory in 2006, but placed third).
Gebremeskel also will be attempting to break Kipketer’s race and world road record of 13:00, set in 2000 and then matched a year later. Like Kipketer, Gebremeskel’s first two victories were in the exact same time, 13:11. Oddly, that also was the winning time in 2010, when Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge beat Gebremeskel by seven seconds.
Although Gebremeskel won the silver medal in the 5,000 meters at last summer’s Olympic Games, along with a silver medal in the same event at the 2011 World Championships, he will not have an easy path to another Carlsbad title. The men’s field is filled with a group of formidable contenders, led by his countrymen Tariku Bekele and Hagos Gebrehiwet, as well as Olympic 1,500m silver medalist, Leo Manzano of the United States, who is making his 5K road racing debut.
Bekele, the younger brother of world and Olympic 5,000 and 10,000m record holder Kenenisa Bekele, was the bronze medalist over 10,000 meters at the London Olympics and the world indoor champion at 3,000 meters in 2008. He finished fourth at Carlsbad last year in 13:16. Gebrehiwet, 18, won the world junior cross country title last month in Poland. He was also the runner-up last year at Carlsbad in 13:14, a world junior road record. Gebrehiwet also set a world junior record for 5,000 meters (12:47.53) at the Bislett Games last year and added another junior mark — 7:32.87 for 3,000 meters indoors — at Boston this year.
Two other Ethiopians with strong credentials hoping to end Gebremeskel’s dominance are Yenew Almirew and Ibrahim Jeilan. Almirew has a best of 7:27.80 indoors for 3,000 meters, one of the fastest marks of all time, and a 5,000m outdoor mark of 12:48.77.
Jos Hermens, the manager of the great Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, thinks the 22-year-old Almirew is the heir apparent to Gebrselassie.
“Yenew is more than Haile and Kenenisa (Bekele) as a runner of the 1,500 and 3,000 meters,” Hermens said. “With his speed and running style, he looks a lot like (former Kenyan great) Daniel Komen. We think he can become a really good athlete. His preparation is huge, and all the things he does look really impressive.”
Jeilan was an upset winner over 10,000 meters at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, overtaking a stunned Mo Farah, the eventual 2012 Olympic gold medalist, in the closing stages. Jeilan finished fifth at Carlsbad in 2009, setting a then world junior record of 13:30. He also won the 10,000 at the 2006 IAAF World Junior Championships and took the gold at the 2008 World Junior Cross Country Championships.
Two other top contenders in the field are Olympic 1,500m silver medalist Leo Manzano of Austin, Texas, and Collis Birmingham of Australia, who recently finished eighth at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland.
Manzano was the surprise silver medalist over 1,500 meters at last summer’s Olympic Games, becoming the first American to medal at that distance since Jim Ryun earned the silver at the 1968 Games.
“I’m really excited to debut in the Carlsbad 5K, my first road race 5K ever, and the first time to race this year,” the Mexican-born Manzano said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to run on home soil after last year’s success. The distance is a bit longer than I’m used to, but I’m excited for a new challenge and to run against the world’s best.”
Birmingham is the Australian record-holder for 10,000 meters (27:29.73), a two-time Olympian and two-time World Championships participant on the track. This year, he set a half-marathon PR of 60:56 in Japan, winning the race by 20 seconds. He has also run 3:54.30 for the mile.