The 39-year-old used his blistering kick in the final 150 meters to claim victory.
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
SACRAMENTO — Another year, another national track title for Bernard Lagat.
The 39-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., executed his patented finishing kick to perfection on Friday night at Hornet Stadium, biding his time and surging with a half lap to go in the men’s 5000m. Firing on all cylinders down the homestretch, Lagat claimed a record seventh national crown in 13:31.41.
“It feels so good, man. I came over here, I’ve been training really well,” said a smiling Lagat with son Miika by his side. “I was confident coming here, I was happy how the race went.”
From the start, it was clear the 5000m would be a game of strategy. Zap Fitness’s Tyler Pennel led the field of 17 through one kilometer in 2:48.82, with Nike Oregon Track Club’s Hassan Mead taking the front in the middle mile. At 3000m (8:19.69), all of the contenders were lined up awaiting the signal to go.
Lap after lap, Lagat stayed tucked comfortably in fourth, not worrying about the jostling in front or behind.
“I knew this was going to be a tactical race, honestly. With the way it happened, I am comfortable with that kind of race. All I had to do was just watch where everybody is, try and stay out of trouble, and follow for a long time,” he said, showing the wisdom of an experienced championship racer. “I ran a good race. Followed the guys and felt really good going into that last 800 meters.”
Bowerman Track Club’s Andrew Bumbalough threw in a surge 600 meters from the finish, shaking things up and beginning the chase for home. Clear on his mind was Lagat’s lethal speed, a cobra ready to pounce.
“I always knew he was coming,” said Bumbalough, who led entering the bell lap. “You run a little scared the last 200 meters.”
Lagat would swing wide in the final turn, overtaking Bumbalough and opening his stride all the way down the straightaway, capping a 54.8 second final lap. He is the winningest 5000m runner in American championships history, surpassing Greg Rice (six titles between 1938 and 1943).
“Wait, wait, wait, because I always lose that patience,” Lagat said with a laugh, explaining his thought process over the final circuit. “Just wait until it’s the end.”
Bumbalough held on for second in 13:32.01, with Mead (13:32.42), Ryan Hill (13:32.82) and David Torrence (13:34.95) rounding out the top five.
“It’s a little bit, I guess, devastating,” said Bumbalough when asked to describe Lagat’s finish. “At the same time you’ve got to re-group and know there’s others charging too and you better be willing to hold them off.”
Solomon Cruises Through 800m Semifinals
Reigning 800m champion Duane Solomon executed his pre-race strategy to perfection, winning the opening 800m semifinal in 1:45.61. Going out hard in 50.8 for 400 meters, Solomon was able to lead wire to wire, ultimately cruising through the line just ahead of Casimir Loxsom (1:45.80).
With a hard charge, Robby Andrews went from third to last on the backstretch to third overall at the line, securing an automatic birth for Sunday’s final in 1:46.47.
“I’m happy with how I ran. These guys are good, but I’m just as good,” said Andrews.
When asked about battling fellow New Jersey/New York Track Club members Michael Rutt (fourth, 1:46.76), Brian Gagnon (fifth, 1:47.04) and Ben Scheetz (sixth, 1:47.09), Andrews was frank. “We’re really good friends but, unfortunately, there are no friends on the track. We all train together every day, we all live together, we all respect each other a lot. But, at the end of the day, it’s my job too. It’s every man for himself.”
The second 800m semifinal proved to be exciting and filled with drama. In the span of 100 meters down the backstretch, Oregon Track Club Elite’s Elijah Greer went from seventh to tied for first, battling with fellow Nike athlete Erik Sowinski out front.
The pair continued to duel down the final straight as three others—Nick Hartle, Charles Jock, and Ryan Martin—fought for the final two automatic qualifying positions.
It was in the final meter that Hartle, a student-athlete at UCLA, reached out his arms trying to create a narrow path in which to assure his spot in the final. Making contact with Greer and Sowinski, Hartle appeared to grab the pair’s vests and pull backwards.
“I knew that it was going to be close and I didn’t have position to go around the guys, so I just wanted to make sure I got to the line. I put my hands on Greer and Sowinski but I don’t think it was excessive contact,” explained Hartle.
Despite the grab, Greer and Sowinski held on for first, 1:47.50 and 1:47.54 their times. Hartle crossed in third, but was later disqualified. Jock (1:47.58) and Martin (1:47.65) wound up third and fourth, both advancing on to the final.
Favorites Advance In Men’s Steeplechase Heats
Seeking his third consecutive 3000m steeplechase title, Evan Jager ran well within himself to win the first of two sections, finishing in 8:34.45. Sporting a red Bowerman Track Club vest, Jager finished ahead of fellow 2012 Olympian and early leader Donn Cabral, second in 8:34.77. Rounding out the top three was Cory Leslie (8:35.33).
“We’re going to have some guys at the front of the pack I think. It’s not going to be easy,” said Jager, describing the depth in the discipline this year. “It’ll be really hot so it might not be fast, but it’s not going to be easy [to retain the title].”
For Sunday afternoon’s final, temperatures are expected to be around 93 degrees, according to Weather.com.
Racing in his first steeplechase since last year’s USA Championships final, Ben Bruce claimed the second section in 8:39.44. Bruce became a father on June 14, as wife Stephanie Rothstein Bruce gave birth to the couple’s first child, nine-pound Riley.
“I came over the last 100 and I said to Dan [Huling, the eventual runner-up], I said ‘I want to take this one for my son.’ Regardless of how the final goes, at least that was great to come back after becoming a father two weeks ago and race well,” Bruce said.
On Saturday, finals of the women’s 3000m steeplechase and men’s 1500m will be held.