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Kiplagat Upsets Lagat At U.S. Open Mile

No sub-4's at Madison Square Garden.

No sub-4’s at Madison Square Garden.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — Youth trumped experience on Saturday night when Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat shot past Bernard Lagat on the final lap of the men’s mile to win at the inaugural U.S. Open at Madison Square Garden.

Kiplagat, 22, last summer’s IAAF World Championships silver medalist at 1500m, spent the first four laps of the 11-lap race in fourth position, before sliding up to second place with six laps to go behind pacemaker Matt Scherer. One lap later Scherer retired, and Kiplagat’s compatriot Daniel Kipchirchir Komen took over the lead for two laps. Lagat, 37, waited for one and one-half laps to go before sprinting to the lead, but just after he took the bell, Kiplagat surprised him by shooting ahead of him on turn-1. That is where Kiplagat would stay for the remainder of the race.

Photo Gallery: Distance Highlights From The U.S. Open At Madison Square Garden

“It didn’t go well today,” Lagat told reporters. “He just did a smart thing again, just pulled under on the curve. He surprised me by going at the curve right there.”

Although Lagat quickly responded and made it close, Kiplagat was determined to stay in front and get the win. It meant a lot to him to beat an athlete of Lagat’s stature, especially since the American had won on the Garden’s 145.5m track on eight previous occasions when the Millrose Games were held here.

“I’m very happy today ’cause of winning here in Madison for the first time,” Kiplagat said.  “Beating someone like Bernard Lagat is a very big achievement for me.”

Kiplagat’s time was slow (4:00.65 to Lagat’s 4:00.92 and Komen’s 4:03.82), but running at the Garden has always been more about winning than about time. Nonetheless, Lagat had hoped to run faster tonight in a race he saw as an important first step towards winning a medal in the 5000m in the London Olympics this summer.

“I’m quite disappointed with the time today,” he said.

Running faster in relative terms was North Shore High School’s Samantha Nadel. Running away from the field in the girls’ high school mile, she clocked 4:47.66, just a bit slower than her personal and season’s best of 4:46.11. Her teammate Brianna Nerud was a distant second in 4:54.65.

“I knew it was a strong field, but I knew I was just going to go out there and run my race,” Nadel said. “I actually looked back to see if they were close, but my coach told me not to look back. I just ran.” She added: “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, recently.”

Zavon Watkins of Liverpool, N.Y., got his second consecutive indoor mile victory of the season here tonight. The Penn State-bound senior, who won the boy’s varsity mile at the recent New Balance Games, ran in fourth place for most of the race. But Watkins, who fell during the Millrose Games high school mile at the Garden last year, moved up to third with two laps to go, then shot to the lead at the bell. He was able to hold off a final charge by Wesley Gallagher of Pembroke, Mass., in the final 50 meters to win in 4:19.86 to Gallagher’s 4:20.01.

“It was really exciting to come here and race again,” Watkins said looking a little stunned. “The pace went out a little bit slower, but it was perfect for me because I didn’t have to do too much to keep up with them, and at the end, I could just use more for my kick.”

Like Watkins, Brenda Martinez was also a winner at the New Balance Games one week ago, and she looked just as strong here tonight. Running behind pacemaker Lesley Higgins, Martinez took the lead when Higgins stepped off the track with six laps to go. She was never seriously challenged, holding Sara Vaughn at a comfortable distance, and winning in a career indoor best of 4:34.62 to Vaughn’s 4:37.12. Olympic steeplechaser Anna Pierce finished third in 4:39.97.

“I never really focus on indoors, but I’m having a blast now and really having fun,” Martinez told reporters. “I’m still learning and have a lot to learn until Olympic Trials.” She added: “I felt really strong.”

In the other middle distance event contested here tonight, Ethiopia’s Fantu Magiso won over a weak field in 2:07:54. High schooler Ajee Wilson finished second.