I have watched hundreds of track & field meets in person, on television, and on the computer over the years. But I have never seen some of the things that I saw at the Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday, July 22, 2011. For a brief moment at the end of the men’s 1500 meters I thought I was watching a hockey game instead of a track & field meet. Then less than an hour later, the action during the men’s 5000 meter race looked strangely similar to roller derby.
The men’s 1500 meters was an exciting race won by Silas Kiplagat in a 2011 world-leading time of 3:30.47. However, it turns out that the real excitement would happen after the race. France’s Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who finished ninth and eleventh in the race got into an altercation right at the finish line. This was not just a shouting match or some shoving. There was a head butt and some wild punches thrown.
As a result of their “brawl” as the BBC is calling it, both athletes did not receive their appearance fees and the French Athletics Federation has provisionally suspended them pending further investigation. A disciplinary hearing should take place within the next week. After that, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) will determine if they will take action, such as not allowing these two French athletes to compete at the World Championships in Daegu. If you are to believe the quotes from the athletes, it was all just a misunderstanding.
Forty minutes later, the men’s 5000 meter race was underway. The rabbit set a strong pace early and the race was on 12:50 pace through 2000 meters. Even though it slowed down a bit after that, the leaders came through 3000 meters still on sub-13 minute pace. As the race slowed down even more the lead pack started to get bunched together.
The live streaming video on universalsports.com that I was watching then broke away to cover the triple jump. When the camera returned to the track, the race clock read 10:41 and there were about 900 meters left in the race. The announcers started to explain that less than a lap ago there was a fall by the finish line and Galen Rupp went down and was out of the race.
What a shame! Rupp was certainly on pace to better his PR of 13:06.86. Later Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar would text a picture of Rupp’s shoulder to TrackFocus reporter Doug Binder, with the message, “Scratched up and sore but upbeat, ran good hard workout after, not tired. Has to learn to stay out of trouble.”
Back to the actual race. The announcers had not yet given all the details about Rupp’s fall when there was more pushing as the runners neared the 800 meter to go mark. The announcers stated that Imane Merga of Ethiopia was responsible for a lot of the shoving. The video feed then cut to a shot from a track level camera situated right next to finish line. All of a sudden there was a green jersey coming right at the camera. It was Chris Solinsky! He had been pushed, lost his balance and stepped over the inner rail and off the track. Solinsky angrily pumped his fists at the pack as they continued on without him in the race. The race clock now read 11:02. In the span of twenty seconds, I learned that two top Americans were out of the race.
Later Solinsky would tweet that he let his emotions get the better of him and that he should have gotten back on the track and finished the race. Even if his chances of winning the race, breaking the American record, and setting a new PR were gone, he probably still could have achieved an Olympic A standard for next year if he had completed the race. Kimbia.net has a great sequence of photos of Solinsky being pushed.
The race continued and thanks to a sixty second penultimate lap and a final lap of 53.7 seconds (the last 200 was run in 26.4 seconds), Great Britain’s Mo Farah won the race over America’s Bernard Lagat, 12:53.11 to 12:53.60. Both Farah and Lagat set their respective national records.
There was one final thing at the Monaco meet that I almost witnessed that would have been unique – Usain Bolt getting beat in the 100 meters. However a fantastic final twenty meters and a well timed lean gave Bolt the win over fellow Jamaican Nesta Carter, 9.88 to 9.90.
One of the best performances at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University on Sunday May 1, 2011 was turned in by Sally Kipyego in the women’s 10,000 meters. Twenty-five year old Kipyego edged out Shalane Flanagan, 30:38.35 to 30:39.57.
To some it may be a surprise that Flanagan, the 10,000 meter Olympic bronze medalist and American record holder (30:22.22) coming off a bronze medal performance at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships, was beaten. But Kipyego has plenty of strong credentials as well.
Kipyego, who hails from Kenya, had a storied NCAA career for Texas Tech University from 2006-2009. She won nine individual national championships during her collegiate career (three in cross country, four in indoor track & field, and two in outdoor track & field). In May 2009, Kipyego graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in nursing.
She has put off a career in nursing to pursue a career as a professional runner. She is currently coached by Mark Rowland and runs
for the Oregon Track Club. Last summer she ran a 14:38.64 for 5000 meters at a meet in Brussels. That was six seconds ahead of Molly Huddle, who set the American record in that race with a 14:44.76 (Flanagan held the previous American record of 14:44.80).
The race at Stanford was not the first time Kipyego and Flanagan have raced over 10,000 meters at Payon Jordan. At the 2008 Payton Jordan, Flanagan placed first with a new American Record of 30:34.49 while Kipyego set a then collegiate record, placing third in 31:25.45. Kipyego’s record has since been beaten by Lisa Koll, who ran 31:18.07 in 2010 while a senior at Iowa State.
Kipyego’s PR’s put her with the current to American runners, people like Flanagan and Huddle. Her current goals are to represent
Kenya at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics. However, Kipyego has indicated she is applying for American citizenship. Down the road she could be a Team USA teammate of Flanagan’s and Huddle’s and a possible American record holder. After becoming a citizen she would need to wait one year before she could represent her new country in international competition if her old country agrees to the change, and three years if her old country does not agree to the change.
She is hoping to avoid the controversy that occurred when Bernard Lagat became an American citizen. Lagat was born in Kenya and came to the United States in 1996 at the age of twenty-one. He attended and graduated from Washington State University. While in college he met Gladys Tom, who he eventually married. He and his wife now live in Tucson, Arizona with their two children. Lagat technically became an American citizen on May 7, 2004, more than three months before the 2004 Olympics in Athens. At those Olympic Games, while wearing the Kenya uniform, Lagat won the silver medal in the 1500 meters. In March of 2005, Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune broke the story that Lagat had become an American citizen before the Athens Olympics. Kenyan federation rules do not allow dual citizenship, so as soon as Lagat became an American citizen he lost his Kenyan citizenship. Despite this controversy, Lagat was allowed to keep his silver medal from the 2004 Olympics. He was declared ineligible for the 2005 World Championships as part of the three years he was required to wait before competing for his new country. Lagat made his debut representing the USA in international competition at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, where he won gold in both the 1500 meters and the 5000 meters.
Unlike some Kenyan athletes who have been lured by money to become a citizen of an oil-rich Gulf state (like Qatar), Lagat’s desire to become an
American citizen was genuine. He said in an article by Cool Running that, “I want to settle (in the United States) and I want to be able to bring up my family here. I want to live here and work here,” It appears Lagat started the process of becoming an American citizen in late 2003, thinking it would take over a year. However things happened fast and he ended up being sworn in as a US citizen before the 2004 Olympics.
An interesting note due to his citizenship history is Lagat’s records. His 1500 meter personal record of 3:26.34, run in 2001 when he was a Kenyan citizen, still stands as the Kenyan record. The United State of America Track & Field (USATF) rules state that an athlete has to be a US citizen competing in a sanctioned competition to be eligible to set a national record. However, at the 2005 USATF annual meeting, Lagat’s 3:27.40 in the 1500 meters, run on August 6, 2004 in Zurich, was not ratified as an American record. It’s unclear why it was not ratified since the race took place after Lagat was sworn in as an American citizen, even though hardly anyone knew it. The USATF did however ratify three American records for
Lagat from races in 2005. First was the indoor mile (3:49.89) run on February 11, 2005. En route to that 3:49.89, his 1500 meter split was 3:33.34, which also was ratified as an American record. This performance also took place before it became public knowledge that Lagat was an American citizen so it’s unclear why the indoor marks were counted as records but not the 3:27.40 from Zurich. Then in Rieti on August 28, 2005, after publically announcing his citizenship change, he ran 3:29.30 for the 1500 meters outdoors. This mark was ratified by USATF and currently stands as the American record. Since 2005, Lagat has set more American records (with less controversy), including the outdoor 5000 meters record (12:54.12) in Bislett on June 4, 2010.
While his citizenship was controversial at first and it is somewhat confusing as to which of his performances count as American records and why,
six years after becoming a citizen, Bernard Lagat is generally well accepted as an American citizen. Like Lagat, Kipyego was born in Kenya but attended college in the United States and is making the US her post-collegiate home and training base. The next step for Kipyego will be to become an American citizen. Then she can attempt to set records and win medals for Team USA like Lagat has.
In the wee hours of Thursday morning west coast time, the Melbourne Track Classic took place in Melbourne, Australia. It being summer in the southern hemisphere this was a great opportunity for some good outdoor track & field action. The competition in the men’s 800, 1500, and 5000 meters was particularly strong.
In the men’s 800, world record holder David Rudisha opened his 2011 season with a 1:43.88. In second place was American Nick Symmonds in 1:45.08. This was Symmond’s fastest first race of the season, which bodes well for him for the 2011 season.
In the men’s 1500, the big names included Olympic gold medalist Asbel Kiprop, Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis, American mile record holder Alan Webb, and Australian Jeff Riseley. Last year at this meet Riseley impressed the home country crowd by beating Kiprop. Could he do it again?
1 Jeffrey Riseley AUS, 3:36.71
2 Asbel Kiprop KEN, 3:37.63
3 Alan Webb USA, 3:37.82
4 Nick Willis NZL, 3:38.76
The best race, however, was expected to be the men’s 5000 which featured Americans Bernard Lagat, Chris Solinsky, and Matt Tegenkamp. Lagat, Solinsky, and Tegenkamp represent three of the five Americans to ever break thirteen minutes in the 5000 (Dathan Ritzenheim and Bob Kennedy are the other two). Lagat made it known that his goal for this race was to achieve the World Championship “A” standard of 13:20.00.
Lagat won the race in 13:08.43. However the surprise of the meet was Australian Ben St. Lawrence who hung with the lead pack, challenged Lagat for the win, and outpaced Solinsky to earn a well deserved second place with a fifteen second personal record of 13:10.08. What a meet it was for rising Australian distance runners Riseley and St. Lawrence! Solinsky was third in 13:10.22, Tegenkamp fourth (13:16.27), and Andrew Bumbalough (13:16.77, a fourteen second personal record). All five runners were in under the “A” standard, a solid showing for such an early season meet.
This meet also marked one of the final track & field competitions at Melbourne’s Olympic Park. The stadium which hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics as well as hundreds of scholastic, local, regional, and national meets, is going to be converted into a training area for football teams. Next year a new track will open in nearby Albert Park. In an IAAF article about the final meets at Melbourne’s Olympic Park Len Johnson said, “It’s going to be sad leaving Olympic Park. If you’re a Victorian who has done athletics you have probably competed there for school, club or in state or national championships. Olympic Park’s reputation was built by the athletes who competed there. In a short time, the new centre at Albert Park will have its own John Landy, its own Cathy Freeman, its own history.”