No world records fell at today’s 27th Carlsbad 5000, but on a sun-splashed and windy day hard along the bright, blue Pacific Ocean, two previous champions from Ethiopia, Dejen Gebremeskel, defending men’s champion, and Tirunesh Dibaba, 2005 women’s champion, marked their readiness for the Olympic campaign ahead by posting impressive winning times over Olympic-caliber competition under less than ideal conditions. It was the second victory for each in the “World’s Fastest 5K”.
Gebremeskel’s winning time of 13:11 equaled the third-best time ever over the famous Carlsbad loop course, and tied the winning times from the previous two years when both he and today’s third-place finisher (second in 2011) Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya hit 13:11 in 2011 and 2010. Today’s runner-up, Hagos Gebrhiwet, just 17 years old, trailed just three seconds behind his countryman (13:14), leading places two through six to the fastest times for those places in CBAD history. Ireland’s Alistair Cragg’s 13:26 in sixth produced the lone record of the day, a new Irish and European road 5k record.
“My plan was to run sub-13:10,” said third place finisher and 2010 champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya (13:14). “But it was not possible because I could not feel comfortable with everyone on my back. I thought people would work together.”
And how many times have you raced against Ethiopians, Eliud? Have they ever shown an inclination to assist with the pace? Exactly. You might make a note come London this August.
With the two-time Kenyan Olympic 5000m medalist- bronze in 2004, silver in 2008 – towing the field through the first two miles – 4:12, 8:33 (4:21) – the Ethiopians were content to draft in behind, thus saving energy for the long slog into the wind heading north along Carlsbad Boulevard after mile one. But after passing through boisterous crowds along the center of the T-bar course, the road continues along a desolate stretch to the far turnaround. It was on that silent patch of road around 4Km that Gebremeskel made his winning move.
“There was no wind there anymore,” explained Gebremeskel, the fifth place finisher at the March 11th IAAF World Indoor Track Championships 3000m in Istanbul, Turkey. “I like Carlsbad because coming off the indoor season running 3000 meters this is a good transition to prepare for the 5000 meters outdoors. But I was surprised with my time, because of the wind. When I was running I was thinking maybe 13:20. Then I saw 13:11. But I had more speed from the indoor season. It helped me here.”
Though he has finished first, second, now third over the last three years, Kenya’s Kipchoge is still a big Carlsbad booster.
“It can’t be compared to any other course in the world,” he enthused. “It has its own character. I like it very much. It is the best course.”
When it was pointed out that Steve Scott of the USA and John Walker of New Zealand, two of the greatest 1500m/milers in history had designed the layout, Kipchoge cracked, “I give credit to them for it. It is the best 5K on the road. If you want to run fast, come to Carlsbad.”
Women’s winner Tirunesh Dibaba (15:01) also dispatched her final competitor, countrywoman Werknesh Kidane, at the 4K mark as the course neared the second 180-degree turnaround on Carlsbad Boulevard. But unlike men’s champion Gebremeskel, Dibaba had done the brunt of the work in the lead during the first two miles – 4:49, 9:43 (4:54).
“I am happy with the race,” said Dibaba afterward, “but it was not a fast time because of the wind. But after today I am ready for the Olympics. No problems anymore.”This was Dibaba’s third competition, and third win, of 2012 following a New Year’s eve road 10K in Spain and an indoor 3000m in Boston in February. This current streak comes she missed nearly a year and a half to stress reaction and stress fracture injuries to her right shin. It was the first serious injury of a career which has produced two Olympic and nine World Championship gold medals on the track and cross country.
“The training now is just like before the injuries,” she said through the translation of men’s champion Dejen Gebremeskel. “Before Boston I had only been on the track one or two sessions. Now I am back. I knew all along I would be.”
This was Dibaba’s fourth visit to Carlsbad, her first coming in 2002 as a 16 year-old when she took second (15:19) to American Deena Kastor’s then 14:54 world record. The following year the woman nicknamed the “Baby-Faced Destoyer” by the late elite athlete coordinator at Carlsbad, Mike Long, finished third (15:00). Then she won it in 2005.
The 2008 Olympic 5000 and 10,000m gold medalist will next compete at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon in June, where she will be looking for an Olympic qualifying performance. She hasn’t declared whether she would run the 5K or 10K in Eugene, but unlike the USA, which conducts an Olympic Trials competition per se, the Ethiopians, like many other nations, select their teams after a designated season of competitions. Top three times per each event are chosen. So in Eugene this June Dibaba must produce the goods to guarantee a spot on the Ethiopian Olympic team. Then do it again somewhere else in her other distance. Tall order, even for this 5’5″, 101 pound dynamo.
While she has matured into an ethereal beauty with a visage not quite as babyish as before, what she and the sport wanted to see most was whether the Destroyer still could be summoned. And the answer to that was a decided yes. And what better place to show it off than at Carlsbad?
Global Athletics prez Mark Wetmore was on hand in Carlsbad. Friend of current Competitor Groupd elite athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull and former coordinator, the late Mike Long, Wetmore said that Tirunesh Dibaba and 4th place finisher Tariku Bekele had to personally lobby the Ethiopian Federation to get permission for their contingent to run Carlsbad.
In an Olympic year the Ethiopian federation is very reluctant to allow athletes time out of country to compete in road races. But with the assist of Wetmore the athletes explained that with no track competitions in the near term on offer, Carlsbad gave them the best competitive opportunity to transition from the indoor to outdoor track season. Only after they showed federation officials their travel documents, showing they weren’t hanging around SoCal for an extended vacation, was permission granted.While Dibaba and Gebremeskel look to make the 2012 Ethiopian Olympic team, Dejen in the 5000 where he is the reigning World Championships bronze medalist, and Tirunesh in the distance double as she attempts to defend both her Olympic 5000 and 10,000m titles, another of Global Athletics champions, marathoner Gebre Gebremariam, is currently on the outside looking in.
“Right now they’ve selected the top three from the Dubai Marathon,” explained Mark Wetmore. “GG is running Boston, and is not on the team now. It’s crazy not to take him. He’s a 26:30s 10K guy, and the odds are London will turn into a last 7K race.”
Like defending Boston champion Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, GG, who took third in Boston in 2011 (2:04:53) and is the husband of Carlsbad women’s runner up Werkenesh Kidane, will have to provide strong evidence to his nation’s Olympic selectors on April 16th that he is London worthy.
One of Ireland’s greatest ever runners, Sonia O’Sullivan was back in Carlsbad for the first time since finishing seventh in 2002. The Villanova grad, 1995 World Champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist was on hand taking care of a squad of athletes managed by her husband Nic Bideau who was back home in Australia.“Oh, I ran sixth of seventh today in the master’s race,” said the always upbeat O’Sullivan. “16:56 or :57 won it, I think. The Polish girl (Dororta Gruca, 16:58). We have eight of nine in our group, many of them youngsters on their first trip away from home. Afterwards we are going up to Mt. Laguna for some training at altitude before becoming the Aussie Distance Medley team at the Penn Relays. We’ve had good success in the past training up at Laguna, so we’re looking forward to getting back there.”
Also ahead for Sonia is her position as Chef de Mission for the Olympic Council of Ireland for the 2012 London Games. The position is more along the lines of mentor than proctor, coach, or guide. It isn’t just for the track team, but for all the Irish Olympians. Having won an Olympic silver medal in 2000 in Sydney, Sonia knows just a little about how to bring out the best performance in a very stressful environment.
“This is my first ever business card,” she laughed, handing me a sample. “My job is more to talk to them to create the right mindset, the right atmosphere in the village so they can concentrate on the their performances.”
2008 UCLA grad Claire Rethmeier won the women’s 29 and under race in a seven-second PR of 16:40.
“In college I was a little fish in a big pond,” she said after her win. “It was demoralizing at times. Overall the experience at UCLA was very happy, but in terms of running it was the wrong choice. I needed more balance.”
Today, Claire lives in Escondido where she works as an accountant in her mother’s firm, and competes for Movin’ Shoes with her boyfriend Chris Guarino.
“I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for him,” she said with a playful nod in his direction. “We get up every morning for our workouts, and I’m doing such different training now. I knew I was fitter than ever. And though I love running fast just for the feeling, there’s nothing like winning.”
In all, over 8500 entrants signed up for Carlsbad 2012. The crowds along the course seemed smaller than in previous years, though I hadn’t covered the event since 2009. What had grown is the outdoor expo, and the crowd inside the beer garden. Odd how at 11:00 a.m. after all the master’s races were over the place was SRO. An hour later, it was as if the ballgame was a blowout and the crowd had all emptied out.
1. DEJEN GEBREMESKEL – Eth – 13:11
2. HAGOS GEBRHIWET – Eth – 13:14
3. ELIUD KIPCHOGE – Ken – 13:14
4. TARIKU BEKELE – Eth – 13;16
5. JOHN KIPKOECH – Ken – 13:24
6. ALISTAIR CRAGG – Irl – 13:26
7. RYAN GREGSON – Aus – 13:39
8. HARON LAGAT – Ken – 13:39
9. ANDY VERNON – GBR – 13:40
10. JUAN CARLOS ROMERO – Mex – 13:48
15. ANDREW CARLSON – Min. – 14:13
16. ANTHONY FAMIGLIETTI – N.C. – 14:21
1. TIRUNESH DIBABA – Eth – 15:01
2. WERKNESH KIDANE – Eth – 15:13
3. PAULINE KORIKWIANG – Ken – 15;22
4. GOTYTOM GEBRESLASE – Eth – 15:32 (17 years old)
5. AHEZA KIROS – Eth – 15:41
6. JULIA BLEASDALE – Gbr – 15:47
10. ALLIE KIEFFER – Az. 15:57