Bernard Lagat finishes second in 13:19, breaking American 5K road record.

Racing against 39-year-old multiple Olympic medalist and four-time world champion Bernard Lagat at the Carlsbad 5000, 24-year-old Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia knew he had to use experience to his advantage on Sunday morning.

Employing two hard, sustained surges inside the final kilometer of the race, the three-time defending champion out-ran Lagat—and everyone else—to the tape, breaking it in 13 minutes and 13 seconds to claim his fourth straight victory. With the win, Gebremeskel became the only four-time winner in Carlsbad history. Lagat, who was racing in Carlsbad for the first time, held on for second in 13:19, breaking Marc Davis’ longstanding American record of 13:24, set in 1996. Kenyan Augustine Choge finished third in 13:22.

“To win here for the fourth time is very special,” Gebremeskel said after the race. “After the first mile, there was wind and I could not push. Bernard is a 1500m runner, that is his specialty and he has a good kick. I knew I could not sprint with him, so I had to go.”

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Hitting the mile in an honest 4:14, Gebremeskel and Lagat were joined by Choge, fellow Kenyans Edwin Kipyego (4th, 13:26) and Haron Lagat (6th, 13:39), Diego Estrada of the U.S. and Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia (7th, 13:45). Making the sharp hairpin turn north on the Pacific Coast Highway, Choge forced the pace up the gradual incline, but could not shake any of his pursuers.

By 2 miles, passed in 8:34, the pack had been whittled down to four, as Gebremeskel, Lagat, Choge and Kipyego ran four wide across the road to the deafening cheers of spectators lining both sides of the course. Less than 600 meters later, however, it was suddenly a two-man race, as Lagat and Gebremeskel engaged in a 1,000-meter duel to the finish line. Gebremeskel, who was outkicked by Lagat in the 3,000m final at the IAAF World Indoor Championships three weeks ago, put his foot to the gas pedal first, opening up a small gap on the American 5,000m track record-holder with half a mile to go. Lagat covered the surge, but Gebremeskel shifted gears again 400 meters later, opening up another small lead and extending it all the way to the finish line.

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“It’s a big advantage [for him],” Lagat said of Gebremeskel’s course experience. “I knew from history that this course would be a challenge. It’s not that easy, even though it looks flat. I went in with the mindset to have fun, stay relaxed as much as possible. Dejen was right there pushing the first mile, and at halfway I couldn’t even see him, but he was right behind us. He was basically taking a breather at the back—he was waiting. And when he took the turn, he just unleashed it, so experience matters a lot on this course.”

Lagat, while disappointed he couldn’t pull out the win, was happy to walk away with his first American road record.

“I won’t really cry too much about it,” a laughing Lagat said about getting second to Gebremeskel. “Dejen is a great runner. Twenty one days ago I beat him in the 3,000m in Sopot and I knew he wasn’t going to rest until he beat me in this race. He’s a strong runner. And, well, I got the record. That’s another consolation. If I had won today it’d be great. If I won and got the record, that would be a double win for me. But I did not do that, I got second, people celebrated, I was happy with it. I’m glad it went the way it did because I’m going to be hungry for even more next year and the year after that. It was a lot of fun, really fun, the people lining up along the street to watch us, that was special. And I wanted to come and give them something to cheer about.”

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