Meb Keflezighi in the men's 10,000m heats at the 2000 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
In the near perfect night for the distance running in the Stanford University, Toshinari Takaoka set a Japanese national record at the 10,000m. But he was not the only one who set a national 10,000m record.
Mebrahtom Keflezighi set the US record, 27:13.98, while Jeff Schiebler improved his Canadian record to 27:36.01.
In addition, the race produced the fastest 10,000m on the US soil, 27:04.20 by Abraham Chebii, displacing 27:07.34 by Haile Gebrselassie recorded in the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.
The race which was billed as a fastest 10,000m on the US soil started very fast, passing 1000m in 2:41.9 and the 2000m in 5:23.3.
Bob Kennedy who was going after the US national record ran in the sixth place behind five Kenyans in the early part of the race. Two Americans, Mebrahtom Keflezighi and Alan Culpepper also stayed with the leaders.
By 2000m, six Kenyans and three Americans started to break away from the rest of the field. A lap later, however, Culpepper was slowly losing the contact with the leaders.
Eventually on the tenth lap, Culpepper was caught by the second group of four runners - Toshinari Takaoka, Jeff Schiebler, Abdi Abdirahman, and Satoshi Irifune. Takaoka, Culpepper and Abdirahman took turn leading the second pack.
Meanwhile, up in the front, two Americans Kennedy and Keflezighi were running well under the US record pace. The US record, 27:20.56 by Mark Nenow was set in Brussels back in 1986.
In the second pack, Takaoka and Irifune were running under the Japanese record pace. The Japanese record, 27:35.33 was also an ancient record. It was set by a marathon runner, Takeyuki Nakayama in the World Games in Helsinki back in 1987.
Before the race, Abdi Abdirahman who finished 10th in the Sydney Olympics came up to Takaoka who finished 7th in the Games and asked him if they can help each other to the fast time. Abdirahman was planning to run 13:45 5000m pace. Takaoka who said, “I am planning to run 66 seconds lap (translates to 27:30 10,000m)” agreed and they ran much of the race together in the second group before Abdirahman fell back.
After Martin Keino, a initial pace setter dropped out of the race, the pack of seven runners including five Kenyans and two Americans were running together, passing the 4000m in 10:49.8. Nearing half way, Kennedy seemed to be in trouble. He was at the rear of the lead pack, and from time to time a small gap opened between Kennedy and the rest of the lead pack. By half way (13:34.3), the lead pack was down to six runners.
With 10 laps to go, Kennedy started to lose contact for good. A lap later, he was more than 20m behind the lead pack. Another lap later, Kennedy dropped out while the lead pack broke up into two groups - Chebii and Maiyo in front and Kipkosgei and Keflezighi about 20 m behind. On the next lap, Keflezighi fell behind Kipkosgei by some 25m, but he was still under the US record pace. The crowds started chanting “Lets go Meb! Lets go Meb!”
With this encouragement, Keflezighi started to reel in Kipkosgei. While Kenyans Chebii, Maiyo and Kipkosgei finished ahead of him, Keflezighi celebrated the US 10,000m record by crossing the finish line with both hands up. “I just came down from altitude, so I was not sure how it wasgoing to turn out, but I gave it a shot (at the record), and I was able to pull it off,” concluded Meb Keflezighi.
As for the second pack, with eight laps to go, Abdirahman was falling behind, and with four laps to go, Irifune was the next casualty and the second pack was down to three runners - Schiebler, Takaoka and Culpepper. It was Jeff Schiebler who led most of the time during final few laps. These three runners passed 9200m in 25:30. Takaoka must run the last two laps in 2:05 to break the national record. It was Schiebler who first started to push the pace with 500m to go. Both Takaoka and Culpepper chased hard. At the end Culpepper had a better kick, but Takaoka who knew that national record could be his, charged hard down the home straight, and even leaned at the finish line. The clock changed from 27:34 to 27:35 as he crossed the line.
It was a long wait for the official time for Takaoka who was really hoping hard that he had broken the record. “Although it was fast in the beginning, I felt very good during the first half,” said Takaoka who passed the 2000m in 5:27. “It was good to start fast. I was able to built up some cushion (for the national record). It was not a problem to pass the 5000m (13:42) faster than my plan. I was feeling well at the half way,” continued Takaoka whose original plan for the 5000m split was 13:45.
But then as expected the race became harder around 6000m for Takaoka. “As the race was getting harder physically, it was also getting harder psychologically. Hearing 67, 68 seconds (for the lap time) instead of 65 and 66 was not good psychologically. I almost gave up my goal (of setting national record) around 6000m to 7000m.” Then the official time, 27:35.09, was announced. It was 0.24 seconds under the existing national record. When the news was in, Takaoka was ecstatic. “I really wanted this record” said Takaoka who was shaking hands with everyone around him.
“I will run the marathon next year, after running 10,000m in Edmonton,” concluded Takaoka. It will be one of the most anticipated marathon debuts in Japan.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1) Abraham Chebii (KEN) 27:04.20 US All-Comers Record; previously 27:07.34 by Gebrselassie
2) Ben Maiyo (KEN) 27:07.55
3) Luke Kipkosgei (KEN) 27:12.37
4) Mebrahtom Keflezighi (USA) 27:13.98 NR; previously 27:20.56 by Mark Nenow
5) Alan Culpepper (USA) 27:33.93
6) Toshinari Takaoka (JPN) 27:35.09 NR; previously 27:35.33 by Takeyuki Nakayama
7) Jeff Schiebler (CAN) 27:36.01 NR; previously 27:45.75 by Jeff Schiebler
8) Satoshi Irifune (JPN) 27:53.92
9) Abdi Abdirahman (USA) 28:01.02
10) Toshihiro Iwasa (JPN) 28:24.31