Lagat Unstoppable at USA Indoor Championships
Running a flawless race, Bernard Lagat won his third consecutive USA indoor 3000m, winning by over four seconds and thrilling the crowd at the Albuquerque Convention Center with a blistering 25.42-second last lap. Lagat, 37, clocked 7:47.54, the fastest winning time at these championships in five years.
"I just wanted to show these guys that Daddy can still kick," Lagat quipped while his son, Miika, stood at his side. "Seriously, I felt good. I felt really good." He added: "I was just coming for nothing but the win."
The much anticipated showdown between Lagat and Galen Rupp, who just took away Lagat's USA indoor two mile record, never really materialized. Rupp took the lead from the gun, stayed there for 11 laps of the 15-lap race, and kept the pace high. Rupp hit the first kilometer in 2:37.85, and the second in 5:14.77. Lagat stayed right on Rupp's heels, while 2008 Olympian Lopez Lomong stuck close to Lagat.
"I knew I was going to run with Galen," Lagat explained. "I'm not going to underestimate Galen or Lopez. Really, I had those guys in my mind."
Lagat took over the lead from Rupp at 2300m. Rupp, who was visibly laboring after looking so smooth for two-thirds of the race, quickly fell back and out of contention. Lomong stayed close to Lagat, but could not match the double-Olympic medalist's speed over the last two laps.
"I thought, if I was to run kind of fast at the end I think I would have it," Lagat concluded.
Lomong, who had not run a 3000m race indoors since winning the NCAA title in 2007, was pleased to finish second in 7:51.75 and qualify for his first World Indoor Championships.
"It went well," Lomong told Race Results Weekly. "It was supposed to be a two-man race, you know?" He continued: "This country is the land of opportunity, and I thought I would give it a try."
Rupp finished third in 7:57.36 and did not speak with the media.
In the women's 3000m, world 1500m champion Jenny Simpson got an easy win in 9:19.15 off of a very slow early pace. Simpson --one of the few athletes to compete here who lives and trains at a higher elevation than Albuquerque's 1500m-- said she forced herself to hold back.
"It was a good day at the office," said Simpson, who also won here last year. "I was really nervous coming into it because, you know, I felt like I had a lot to lose." She continued: "I wanted to run as economically as possible, and as smart as possible, and I really fell like I totally nailed it today. I ran exactly the right race."
Jackie Areson, last year's NCAA indoor 5000m champion for the University of Tennessee, won the battle for second over Sara Hall, passing Hall with 110m to go, and qualifying for her first IAAF World Indoor Championships.
"I still haven't decided if I'm going to do it," said Areson, who clocked 9:20.61. "I guess I'll decide tonight. That's kind of cool."
Hall, who finished third, is guaranteed a team spot because Simpson has already said she will not be running at the World Championships. She was a little down about her performance, but could have been fatigued after winning the USA Cross Country Championships last Saturday in St. Louis.
"Not great," Hall replied when asked how the race felt. "I didn't quite feel the same snap I usually have."
In men's 800m qualifying, Duane Solomon (1:48.81), Tevan Everett (1:49.74), and Michael Rutt (1:50.44) were the three heat winners, and automatically advanced to tomorrow's final. Solomon's time was the fastest, followed by Mark Wieczorek's 1:48.88 in the same heat.
"Considering how the race went, I'm pretty happy with it," said heat 1 winner Rutt. "I just wanted to stay relaxed and it felt great."
Erica Moore led all qualifiers in the women's 800m, winning the first of three heats in 2:03.24. Latavia Thomas won the second heat (2:04.94), and defending champion Phoebe Wright won the third (2:05.76) and was never seriously challenged.
"That was the game plan; just coast through it and get ready for tomorrow," said a confident Wright who said she could really feel the high altitude. "My lungs are burning!"
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The USA Indoor Championships conclude in Albuquerque tomorrow with the men's and women's 800m and 1500m finals. Simpson will be defending her 1500m title, but will have to beat a resurgent Brenda Martinez.
By David Monti (c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved; Used with permission