Bernard Lagat Wins U.S. 3000m Title

No one could match Bernard Lagat's kick in the men's 3,000m final. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The 39-year-old kicked his way to his fourth U.S. indoor title. 

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

ALBUQUERQUE — He had to beat 18 other men on the 200m oval, but Bernard Lagat kicked his way to his fourth U.S. indoor 3000m title on Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center, clocking 7:46.01 in a sometimes rough and tumble race. By winning here today, he will be able to defend his IAAF World Indoor Championships title at the same distance in Sopot, Poland, early next month.

“I’m excited to go to World Championships, and you know why? Because I’m going there as a defending champion,” Lagat told reporters, surrounded by seven young fans, including his son, Miika, and daughter Gianna. “So, in my head, I’m thinking, can I still do this? This is exactly the kind of world championships race.”

Nike’s Andrew Bumbalough set a strong early pace, taking the pack through 1000m in 2:36.8. In Albuquerque’s thin air, that pace was fast enough to string out the field, and soon there were only five men in contention: Bumbalough, his Nike training mates Ryan Hill and Lopez Lomong, Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp (Nike Oregon Project) and Lagat (Nike). Sitting in fifth place, Lagat liked the way the race was shaping up.

“I wanted to make sure that the guys that I’ve been thinking about and keeping an eye on were all in front,” Lagat explained. “And you know what? It happened perfectly in the middle of the race.”

Bumbalough, who ran the 2000m at the NYRR Millrose Games in New York one week ago, managed to stay on the lead through 2000m (5:13.1), but was clearly tiring. A lap later, he slowed as he came down the homestretch, making it difficult for other athletes to go by him (he was later disqualified for interference). Nonetheless, that set-up a four-way race with 600m to go between Lagat, Rupp, Lomong and Hill. Rupp was the first to make a move.

“Two laps to go, I was feeling really great,” Lagat continued. “I wanted to watch for Galen who is capable of running really hard, all out. So, when I saw him making a move, he made a good move. But, it wasn’t a move that was really too hard for me.”

Rupp led the race with two laps to go, followed by Lagat, Hill and a flagging Lomong. Lagat turned up the heat, clocking 27.8 for the penultimate lap, then scorched the bell lap in in exactly the same time, according to the official splits. Rupp was in third on the backstretch of the final lap and had to dig deep to get around Hill, plus navigate through several lapped runners.

“I knew it was going to come down to a kick whether it was fast of slow,” Rupp said in his post-race interview. “It was hard. I stayed calm the last lap and trusted my speed.”

Closing in 29.6 seconds, Rupp captured the runner-up spot and, like Lagat, qualified for the IAAF World Indoor Championships. Hill took third (7:49.62) and Lomong fourth (7:56.65).

Unlike the men’s contest, the women’s 3000m went out in a sluggish 3:27.1, and nobody wanted to lead. The Boulder Track Club’s Laura Thweatt decided to take the pace, and remained on the front until three laps remained in the 15-lap race. That’s when Brooks athlete Sara Vaughn put in a surge, taking Nike Oregon Project’s Jordan Hasay and Shannon Rowbury with her. Gabe Grunewald, the former Gabe Anderson who runs for Brooks/Team USA Minnesota, was in fourth. A 4:01 1500m runner, she was waiting to unleash her kick.

“That was the plan,” Grunewald told Race Results Weekly. “You never know how slow it’s going to go.”

With a lap to go, Vaughn drifted back to third, and Rowbury took the lead with a powerful move. Hasay was in second, and Grunewald surged to pass her, making contact which later spurred a protest by Hasay’s camp which was ultimately dismissed.

“I was just trying to run and get around her,” Grunewald lamented. “There was contact, but it was not intentional in any way.”

Grunewald, a cancer survivor, got around Hasay and then Rowbury to take the win in 9:23.15, her first-ever U.S. title. Rowbury held on for second (9:25.49) and Vaughn got third (9:26.46). Hasay, who was visibly upset after the race, finished fourth in 9:27.40 and did not speak with the media.

Both Grunewald and Rowbury qualified for the IAAF World Indoor Championships. However, if either were to abdicate their team berth Hasay would be next in line for the USA squad because she has a qualifying time (sub-9:02) and Vaughn doesn’t. Jenny Simpson and Kim Conley, the fastest Americans over 3000m this indoor season, did not compete.

In women’s 800-meter qualifying, the only major casualty was Erica Moore, the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships bronze medalist. The former heptathlete finished second in the first of three heats in 2:05.98 and did not advance. Defending champion Ajee’ Wilson won that heat easily, and will be joined in the final by contenders Chanelle Price, Molly Beckwith-Ludlow and Phoebe Wright.

“My coach told me to just relax, and control the race, and run to how I felt,” Wilson told Race Results Weekly.

In men’s 800m qualifying, times were surprisingly fast given the high altitude (12 men broke 1:50.00). Robby Andrews, the 2011 NCAA 800m champion, led all qualifiers with a victory in the first heat in 1:48.12. Following a fast pace set by former Penn State star Cas Loxsom, Andrews surged into the lead with about 150 meters to go, winning easily.

“I’m here man, I’m here,” the adidas-sponsored Andrews told Race Results Weekly. “I’m not here to mess around. I’m in it to win it baby.”

Nick Symmonds (Brooks) won the third heat in 1:48.79 but had to fend off a surprising challenge from Nick Guarino who finished second in 1:48.99, but did not advance.

“He dug deep that last 50; he looked really good,” Symmonds said of Guarino. “But, coming off the turn I had enough to get by him.”

Erik Sowinski (Nike), the defending champion, completely dominated the fourth and final heat, winning in 1:48.32. Mark Wieczorek (Brooks) won heat-two, and Tyler Mulder (Nike/Oregon TC Elite) also advanced.

Middle distance action continues here tomorrow with the finals of the men’s and women’s 800m and 1500m. The 1500m finals will be held in two sections because of the large number of athletes who qualified for the meet.

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