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Deep Fields Set For Continental Airlines 5th Avenue Mile

The race pits Olympians against world champions.

The race pits Olympians against world champions.

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

Defending champion Shannon Rowbury seeks a repeat win in New York in the Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile. Photo:

NEW YORK — The 2010 defending champions, Amine Laalou of Morocco and Shannon Rowbury of San Francisco, Calif., will take on a truly impressive roster that includes eight Olympians and four 2011 World Championship medalists at Saturday’s 31st Fifth Avenue Mile.  While Laalou and Rowbury failed to advance to the 1500m finals at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea they will seek redemption on Fifth Avenue.

Headlining the women’s field is Rowbury, the two-time defending Fifth Avenue champion, 2009 World Championships 1500m bronze medalist, and second-fastest American miler of all time, who is excited to be back.

“I love the road mile because there is a level of adrenaline you get which is different from the track since it’s up close and personal,” Rowbury said in an interview Thursday at the fashionable 21 Club restaurant.  “Track tends to be very predictable, sometimes before the race, you already know how it plays out from lap-to-lap. For the Fifth Ave Mile, they do a great job. There’s a truck with your time, plenty of markers on the road and an unpredictability with a field of specialists from different distances.”

Despite training through an Achilles injury at the start of the racing season, Rowbury competed three months this summer in good health without much of a base, and proved she could still hang with the best in the world, such as the 2011 World Champion in the 1500m Jenny Simpson of Monument, Colo. This versatile runner has competed in the 800m, 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase where she is the American record holder and an Olympic finalist.

“Running the different distances exposes you to different race plans and different tactical scenarios,” said Simpson, who is also the reigning USA indoor champion at the mile and 3000m.  “On Saturday, you never know; you have Vessey and Montano who excel in the half-mile and you have girls doing longer distances.  It’s my first road race and will be an exciting experience to see how the transition will be.”

Rowbury and Simpson will be joined by 800m specialists Alysia Montano (2011 USA 800m Champion, fourth at World Championships 800m) and Maggie Vessey (sixth at the World Championships 800m), miler Morgan Uceny (2011 USA and Diamond League 1500m Champion) and Sally Kipyego (2011 silver medalist at the World Championships 10,000m).

Although a 10,000m runner now, Kipyego should not be ruled out in the mile.  She has a strong 4:27.19 mile personal best from her indoor track days at Texas Tech when she dominated the NCAA ranks.

“It blew my mind,” said Kipyego of her silver medal in Daegu.  “Ten months ago I didn’t think it was possible realistically, especially with such a strong Kenyan team; but at every meet I just got better at each stage and things were falling into place.”

While she followed up her championships performance in Zurich with a second-place personal best finish in the 5,000m (14:30.42), longer distances may be still fresh on her mind, but not something to affect her road racing debut on Saturday.

“This is exciting for me,” she said.  “A mile and 1500-meter is out of my comfort level and I feel challenged. And I like the challenge.”


The men’s elite race at will be highlighted by four-time World Champion, two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat of Tucson, Ariz., who will once again battle it out against Amine Laalou of Morocco who out-kicked him in the 2010 edition of the race.  Fresh off a recent silver medal in the 5000m in the 2011 World Championships, Lagat’s accolades also include a number of USA national records (outdoors in the 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and indoors in the 1500m, 3000m, and two miles).  At 36, Lagat is not fazed by the critics who wonder how long his career will last.

“Sometimes I run to prove myself, not to fellow athletes, but to the press and the commentators that I can still perform well, even though they write me off as too old and ask me when I am going to retire,” joked Lagat.  “It fires me up when they say I can’t do it.”

What bothers Lagat the most is how a victory at this esteemed event has eluded him, and also the fact his finish times have slowed over the last three years he has competed.  Yet, Lagat remains determined for a victory at the Fifth Avenue Mile and has not let up in training.

“I built a strong base and that will take me. I still feel strength in my legs. I feel light. Mentally, I feel strong. And after Newcastle (where he won a road mile last Saturday) I feel great. On Saturday I was training and later in the day I ran for fun to say hello to all the people in town (Tübingen, Germany). That may be why I came in second on race day. But I am focused. Monday I rested. Tuesday an eleven mile tempo at sixty minutes (5:29 pace). Wednesday I was traveling but I ran six miles in an easy forty minutes in the park.”

If this is what Lagat brings to the table on race day, the other top competitors in the field need to be prepared.

Others on the men’s roster include Nick Symmonds (four-time USA 800m champion, fifth at the World Championships 800m), David Torrence (three-time USA road mile champion), Jeff Riseley (Australian 1500m Champion), and Lagat’s training partner Boaz Lalang (silver medalist at the World Indoor Championships 800m, runner-up at the 2009 Fifth Avenue Mile).

The athletes will be competing for a $30,000 prize purse.