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Americans Lagat, Simpson Win Fifth Avenue Mile

Lagat had been trying to win the race for the past three years.

Written by: Sharon Ekstrom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Bernard Lagat and Jenny Simpson after winning the 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile. Photo: Jane Monti

NEW YORK — Bernard Lagat of Tucson, Ariz. and Jenny Simpson of Monument, Colo. won the 31st edition of the Fifth Avenue Mile here in humid, overcast conditions on Saturday. This double USA victory also marked the first time two Americans won the event since 2000.

Lagat, 36, out-kicked defending Fifth Avenue champion Amine Laalou of Morocco, crossing the finish line in 3:50.50, his fastest time here in four appearances at the race.  Laalou was second in 3:51.7, followed by David Torrence of San Francisco, Calif., who was sporting a freshly shaven mohawk and took third in 3:52.4.

The race heated up with Anthony Famiglietti, a former New Yorker and 3000m steeplechase specialist, throwing surges on the uphill in the second quarter as the men reached the halfway mark.  Jon Rankin of Seattle, Wash., slid into the lead at the three-quarter mark with Torrence and Lagat in tow. Rankin’s move was premature and he fell back into the pack.  As Laalou positioned himself for the final sprint, the race culminated in a finish where Lagat’s strategy of “relaxing” before breaking away in the last 100m proved successful. Rankin fell into sixth place and Famiglietti finished tenth.

Lagat’s win here was a long time coming. He finished second, fourth and second, in the past three consecutive years.

“To win this race was so important for me,” said the two-time Olympic medalist.  “I was thinking to myself I will come until I win this race.  And now, I’m going to keep coming. I won and it feels so good.  This was my time. I never really stopped training after Worlds. I wanted to be as ready (for this) as going into a big meet in Europe.”

Simpson, 25, the newly crowned 1500m world champion, took front and center at the start of the women’s elite race and had resolved to be the first to cross the line. But Hannah England of Great Britain, Morgan Uceny of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and Sally Kipyego of Eugene, Ore. would not make it easy for her.

Despite Uceny’s early move to the front and Kipyego’s control of the field after the halfway point (Kipyego picked up the $1000 prime for leading at halfway), Simpson made up about ten meters on Kipyego in the final quarter to win her debut road mile race in 4:22.3. Kipyego just managed to hold off the charging England to capture second; both women were clocked in 4:22.6. Uceny, who was a favorite in the field fresh off her 1500m victory at the Diamond League Final in Brussels, finished sixth. Defending champion Shannon Rowbury finished seventh.

“I knew I needed to stick with the top and then with 100 meters or 200 meters to go really gun for the lead,” Simpson told reporters. “That’s what I did today and it was a successful race.”

Both Lagat and Simpson earned $5000 in prize money for their victories, part of a $30,000 total prize money purse.