Meseret Defar (ETH) in action in the women's 3000m heats (© Getty Images)
Budapesty, HungarySlowish tactical 3000m races are the norm at major indoor championships but often offer great spectacles. Ken Nakamura gives his brief analysis of the respective merits of both the men’s and women’s 3000m at the 10th IAAF World Indoor championships in Budapest, Hungary (5 – 7 March).
In Budapest, both men's and women's 3000m started out very slow but the pace wasn’t so quiet and as such we were able to ascertain not just who the best kicker was but who were truly the best distance runners in Budapest.
In the men's 3000m, Craig Mottram of Australia took over the lead at 1800m to save the race from oblivion, while the pace gradually picked up from 1200m onward for the women's race.
After AntonioJimenez of Spain had led for the first two laps (400m in 69.70), Abiyote Abate of Ethiopia took over the lead at the beginning of the third lap. When his team mate Markos Geneti joined Abate in front during the fourth lap, the prospect of the Ethiopians controlling the race as in the Paris 10,000m was a distinct possibility.
In the World Championships 10000m in Paris last August. Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele took over the lead to control the race, and by making the second half of the race very fast (in fact the fastest in history), it completely destroyed everyone including Kenyans.
"The race could have been slow or very fast, but more than likely I expected the race to be very fast (because) I expected the Ethiopians to help each other to make the race fast, like they did in Paris" said Bernard Lagat after the race.
However, on Saturday night in Budapest, unlike Paris, Ethiopians did nothing, or at least it was not obvious what they were trying to do. After they moved into the lead, the pace actually slowed even more, passing 800m in 2:21:18 and 1000m in 2:56.59 (8:49.77 pace for 3000m).
Then at the beginning of the tenth lap, at 1800m, Craig Mottram of Australia took over the lead and markedly increase the pace. Despite only running hard from 1800m to 2000m, the 400m leading up to 2000m was a scorching 59.29, and the field was strung out. The real racing had started and the race was saved. Mottram did exactly what is needed to make the race not only interesting, but also honest one.
Mottram continued to push the pace, passing 2400m in 6:32.20, another sub 60 seconds 400m.
At that point, with three laps to go, Bernard Lagat passed Mottram taking over the lead for the first time, and further strung out the field. One of the runners stayed close contact with Lagat was Rui Silva of Portugal, the runner known for his blazing kick. Silva won the 1500m in the World Indoor Championships on the home soil three years ago.
So another racing scenario was developing. The classic showdown between the strength of Lagat versus the speed of Silva. As expected, Silva made his move with a lap to go.
Coming from the third place, after passing Geneti, Silva tried to pass Lagat as well. However, Lagat held him off around the curve. Down the back-straight for the final time, Lagat was able to open the gap on Silva instead. Knowing that the gold medal was out of reach, Silva looked behind him in the middle of the final bend to make certain silver was secure.
"In the last 100m, I was running to protect my silver medal" admitted Silva after the race.” Lagat won in 7:56.34, covering the final lap (200m) in 26.63.
After the race a happy Lagat said, "I have never beaten Silva when it came to the two man race." Perhaps the faster than usual pace leading up to the final stage had sapped Silva’s energy enabling Lagat to draw away from the kicker.
Judging from the results of the heats where the defending champion Berhane Adere and her teammate Meseret Defar won with the benefit of good kicks the final was set to be a showdown between two Ethiopians.
Unlike in the men's 3000m where the pace suddenly increased nearing two-thirds of its distance, in the women's 3000m, the increase in the pace was gradual.
Historically this tactics of gradually increasing the pace at the end of a championships race has worked for some runners. For example in the 1976 Olympic 5000m, Lasse Viren ran several laps of the last laps gradually faster in his attempt to kill off the speed of former milers like Rod Dixon, Dick Quax and Brendan Foster. It was quite successful, for Viren who was able to hold off the faster sprinters in the final lap of 5000m in his successful quest for the fourth Olympic gold medal.
It is not known whether Marta Dominguez of Spain was aware of such history, but effectively she employed the similar tactics in Budapest. However, incontrast to 76, the initial pace may have been simply too slow and the increase in the pace was not quite enough, for in the end Dominguez was unable to hold off Adere and Defar.
The first three 400m splits, controlled by Dominguez who finished second to Berhane Adere a year ago in the same event, were 80.37, 80.71 and 79.23 respectively. The 1000m split of 3:21.10 translates to ridiculous 10:03.30 for the full distance.
The pace continued to be so slow that Galina Bogomolova (RUS) who was running one step behind Dominguez tripped just before the completion of the seventh lap.
Fortunately for the race, this turned out to be the exact stimuli needed to change the complexion of the race. The fourth 400m was covered in faster 74.83, while the fifth 400m leading up to 2000m was covered in even faster 72.42.
However, it was only a prelude to the real fighting to come, as at 2400m Defar moved up to Dominguez's shoulder and Adere also responded. The pace continued to increase; the 400m leading up to 2800m was covered in 65.12.
Then just before the bell lap, Defar who was running mostly second for the last two laps passed Dominguez. Adere who was running mostly third or fourth during the same time not only followed her younger teammate, but she passed Defar before the start of the curve.
Down the back-straight for the final time Adere led Defar by a step. Around the final bend Defar moved up to Adere's shoulder and then ran side by side with her. Finally in the final metres down the home-straight Defar finally moved ahead of Adere to win by 21 hundredth of the second.