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News18 Mar 2003

Birmingham at a distance


Regina Jacobs of the USA winning the women's 1500m (© Getty Images)

18 March 2003Anticipating when the real racing starts is one of the exciting aspects of watching distance running, and in the respect of 'real races'the competition over 1500m and 3000m races in Birmingham at the 9th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Athletics (14-16 March), did not disappoint.

As expected both the men's and women's 3000m were won by the Ethiopians - Haile Gebrselassie and Berhane Adere - who were overwhelming favourites going into the race. Their main challenge were expected to come from the men’s and women’s European Champions at 3000m (indoors) and 5000m (outdoors), Alberto Garcia and Marta Dominguez of Spain. As it turned out both Spaniards finished second, not managing quite to live up to the enormous challenge. 

The women's 3000m was won by Adere, the World 3000m indoor record holder, in quite convincing fashion. On Friday (14 March), Adere won the first heat after covering the last lap (200m) in 31.1. Finishing third (first four qualifies for the final) in the second heat and qualifying comfortably was Dominguez.

A day later, in the final (15 March) with six of the fifteen laps completed, Adere settled in just behind Haley Tullett of Great Britain who led almost from the start. When the race opened up with 2:59 for the first 1000m, followed by 2:58 for the second 2000m, it was expected that Adere would surge with some laps to go, which was exactly what she did.

Five and a half laps later, with 700m to go, Adere went to the lead and the pace visibly picked up. Only Dominguez, World 5000m silver medallist in Edmonton, was able to stay with Adere, and so began the real racing. Dominguez was glued to Adere for the next two laps. As Adere continued to press on with sub 32 seconds laps, Dominguez finally had to release Adere with 300m remaining, but held off a fast closing Defar. Adere's final three laps (600m) were covered in a quite impressive 1:34:52. This pace if sustained for the entire 3000m translates to 7:52.60, quite respectable time for the men’s 3000m.
“I trained hard for this race, however, I did not train for any specific tactics,” said Dominguez, “Adere was too strong. After I lost contact with Adere, I concentrated on protecting the second place,” said Dominguez.

While Adere confirmed, ”winning matters most in the World Championships and Olympic races, they are not the races in which to set records. So I waited until I was ready to go for the win.”

The story line was quite similar for the men's 3000m. In the first heat on Friday, Gebrselassie, the quadruple World 10,000m winner kicked with little over 100m to go and won his heat. In the second heat, European Indoor record holder Alberto Garcia of Spain qualified in the third place, after leading the race between 2100m to 2800m, a period in which the race was broken open. 

Garcia was also expected to surge with some laps to go in the final, in the hope of taking the sting out of Gebrselassie's kick, and ultimately that was exactly what the Spaniard did with 700m to go, which coincidentally was the same point at which Adere had picked up the tempo in the women’s race.

The two Moroccans Jaouad Gharib and Abderrahim Gourmri took turns leading the early stages of the 3k final (16 March), the chopping and changing apparently confusing Gebrselassie, who was running mostly in third position. Meanwhile, Garcia kept his eyes fixed on Gebrselassie's back all the time.

With four and a half laps to go, Garcia made an effort to break the race open, but it was quite tentative. A lap later, however, he made a stronger move which was covered by Gebrselassie, and when it became apparent that Garcia was unable to get rid of Gebrselassie, the question simply became when would the Ethiopian go? The answer, 2700m.

”I could have gone earlier, but 3000m is so short," said Gebrselassie in the post-race press conference. He apparently did not want to leave anything to chance. Although Garcia made a valiant effort to stay with Gebrselassie, he finally had to let him go in the last 100m, thus as in the women's race, the European champion finished second to the best African.

A slow middle distance race often ends up in an unexpected outcome, which was exactly the case for the first heat of the men’s 1500m on Friday (14 March). After a slow opening 1000m of 2:40.42 set by Michael Stember of the US, France’s Driss Maazouzi, a World bronze medallist at 1500m in Edmonton 2001 started his kick with 200m to go, and matched defending champion Rui Silva of Portugal stride for stride. At the end of a thrilling last lap (final 300m was covered in 38.66), both Maazouzi of France and Hachlaf Abdelkader of Morocco outkicked Silva who finished in third out of the two qualification spots for the final, and did not even make the qualification as a fastest loser.

“It would not have mattered if I was first second or third (in the final), I just really wanted to run in the final,” said a disappointed Silva.

The final (16 March) also started slow. However, perhaps well aware of the threat by Maazouzi and Abdelkader if the pace was kept slow, the Kenyans, first Bernard Lagat and then Cornelius Chirchir, picked up the pace dramatically in the mid-race. While the first 800m was covered in 2:06:50, the next two laps (400m) were covered in 55.13 seconds, which suited Maazouzi fine. 

With a lap to go in the race, Maazouzi was again in the lead. The Kenyan gave hard chase to Maazouzi over the last lap, however, Lagat fell short of the Frenchman by three one-hundredths of the second for silver, while again just like in the first heat on Friday, Abdelkader made up the huge deficit in the final lap to finish close third for bronze.

“Because I am training for cross country and lacked track training, I welcomed the early slow pace followed by faster second half,” said Maazouzi in the post race press conference.  

The women's 1500m final (16 March) including the heats (15 March) started with quite an honest pace. The oldest World record breaker, USA's Regina Jacobs controlled the third heat from the start and easily qualified for the final. In other two preliminary heats, Yekaterina Rozenberg (heat 1) and Natalya Gorelova (heat 2) of Russia, made sure that their races were fast. 

In the final Gorelova made the pace honest again, while the US favourite Jacobs ran most of the time in second position. The American made her attack with 500m to go, and won the race quite convincingly. Jacobs whose performances were sub-par due to asthma problems during the last few seasons is now back to her best.

“She ran a gutsy race. Gorelova made the race,” said Jacobs. “I don't remember the details of the race, but my game plan was to go for the win with 150m to go," said Jacobs. “I will continue to the next Olympics.”

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF