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Verzbicas Shatters High School 2-Mile Record

Oregon-bounder prep dips under old mark by 5 seconds.

High schooler Lukas Verzbicas runs in the 2-mile at today's Pre Classic. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Oregon-bounder prep dips under old mark by 5 seconds.

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

EUGENE — Bernard Lagat was the last man in the race to walk on the track before today’s two-mile at the 37th Prefontaine Classic here at historic Hayward Field.  His head bent forward, his hands on his hips, the 36 year-old two-time Olympic medallist looked slightly fatigued and tentative.

But a little more than eight minutes later, Lagat made a strong move through the penultimate turn, then ran wide out of the final turn holding the third position behind Kenya’s Edwin Soi and Isaiah Koech.  One of the best tacticians the sport has ever known, Lagat was waiting just a few more meters to launch an explosive sprint which would bring him his fifth Prefontaine Classic victory.

“I kept myself in good position the entire way,” Lagat told reporters after winning the race in 8:13.62, a slower time than he had hoped, despite running the final lap in about 54 seconds.  “I felt comfortable the entire way, honestly.  I wanted to run and win.  I did it, and I’m so happy.”

Lagat had hoped to challenge Matt Tegenkamp’s USA best of 8:07.07 set at this meet in 2007, but had to change plans midrace when the first mile was reached in only 4:10.8.

“My expectation was that it was going to go fast from the beginning, and that somebody was going to push it hard,” said Lagat, who set the USA indoor best for the distance last February in New York City (8:10.07).  He continued: “When it gets slow and slow… I guess the record is out of mind, so I have to go with the flow and win.”

Well behind Lagat, high school senior Lukas Verzbicas came home in 11th –and last– place, but his time of 8:29.46 was well under German Fernandez’s 2008 USA high school record of 8:34.40.  He received a thunderous applause from the crowd, then received a congratulatory hug from Lagat.  The Oregon-bound athlete from Orland Hills, Ill., who will spend the next four years running at this stadium, was clearly ecstatic.

“I stayed a couple of meters off the back in the beginning, but it feels awesome to break the record,” said Verzbicas.  “The crowd: it was amazing.”

At Prefontaine, Lagat has won the Bowerman mile twice (2003 and ’06), the two-mile twice (2008 and ’11), and the 3000m once (2009).  But even with the speed he showed today, Lagat would have had trouble winning today’s Bowerman Mile in which five men,led by Kenya’s Haron Keitany, broke 3:50.

In that contest, pacemaker Mark Wieczorek took the field through the first quarter in 55.7, then the half in 1:55.2.  That eventually set up a vigorous five-way sprint for home with Keitany only clinching the win within the last ten meters over compatriot Silas Kiplagat.  His time of 3:49.09 –helped by a 55.9 second final quarter– was 3/10ths of a second ahead of Kiplagat’s and a world leader.

Back in ninth place, Russell Brown of the Oregon Track Club was the first American, setting a five-second personal best of 3:51.45.  Although satisfied with the time, Brown was disappointed with how competitive he felt in such a loaded field.

“I didn’t expect to feel so unexcited by a super-huge PR like that,” said Brown who was fighting off waves of nausea.  “It was a good time, but as anybody who saw the race knows that I was not in the race.”

Including the International Mile held earlier in the day (won by Australia’s Ryan Gregson in 3:53.86), 21 men broke four minutes here today, one more than last year.

Brown’s training partner, Andrew Wheating, had a decidedly less successful day.  Competing in his first 800m of the season, Wheating did not go with the aggressive first half pace set by pacemaker Matt Scherer which helped Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki to run a meet record and world-leading 1:43.68.

“It’s kind of disappointing,” Wheating told reporters after finishing fifth in 1:45.95.  “I guess I was expecting too much.”  He added: “I was feeling pretty good for a while.”

Reigning USA 800m champion Nick Symmonds, who like Wheating lives in Eugene, had a bad day.  He was the last of eight men to finish, clocking 1:46.78.  The usually talkative Symmonds was terse with reporters, only giving an 8-second quote.

“I’m healthy, I’m just so raw,” said Symmonds.  “I haven’t done any speed work, but that’s no excuse: I should be able to run better than that.  I’ve got three weeks to hopefully sharpen up a little bit (before the national championships meet).”

Jamaica’s Kenia Sinclair scored a dominant victory in the women’s two-lap race, despite getting spiked in the left shin about 300 meters into the race.  Sinclair clocked a world-leading 1:58.29, beating reigning world champion Caster Semenya of South Africa.

“I just went up there, tried to keep my composure, tried not to get blocked in –I got spiked,” said Sinclair, who was clearly in pain.  “But, I didn’t focus on getting spiked, I just ran my own race.”

In the men’s steeplechase, 2008 Olympic and 2009 world steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya won in the final 200 meters over compatriot Paul Kipsiele Koech and Ethiopian Roba Gary.  Kemboi clocked 8:08.24.

The women’s 1500m title went to Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka in a modest 4:04.63.  The race nearly came crashing down with 200 meters to go when American Christin Wurth-Thomas got tripped from behind, then began to circle her arms like a windmill to keep her balance.  Looking strong and leading the race with 300m to go, she slipped back to 10th place in 4:08.55.

“Two hundred meters to go, someone got me from behind,” said the former Arkansas Razorback, clearly exasperated.  “I was getting ready to go.  I tried.”