“I realize I will make history if I win a fourth race in Carlsbad,” said Gebremeskel, who won the silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics. “It's a special race for me and a special race in American road racing.”
The 24-year-old Gebremeskel and the 39-year-old Lagat have met several times in recent years. Each time, the native-born Kenyan has preceded the Ethiopian across the finish line. Their rivalry began in 2009 when Lagat finished second and Gebremeskel was third in the 5000m at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York. They met a year later over 3000m at the Boston Indoor Games, with Lagat winning and Gebremeskel the runner-up. In 2011, Lagat won the silver medal in the 5000m at the IAAF World Championships and Gebremeskel was third. And earlier this month, they again finished 2-3 in the 3000m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships at Sopot, Poland.
This will be Lagat's debut in the Carlsbad 5000 and the naturalized American has his sights set on breaking the U.S. record of 13:24 set by Marc Davis in 1996.
“I'm so happy to finally make it to the start line of the Carlsbad 5000,” Lagat, one of the most decorated long-distance runners in history, said. “It's been on my radar for some time, it's a truly iconic U.S. road race with a great history of world records with many of the finest athletes of all time adding their name to the list of champions.”
The Carlsbad 5000 is the premier 5K road race in the world, accounting for 46 of the top 50 men's all-time performances according to ARRS. To date, 16 world records have been set and eight U.S. records have been established, making it the world's fastest 5K course. With Lagat and Gebremeskel in the race, along with several other talented runners, the world record of 13:00 set by Kenya's Sammy Kipketer in 2000 (and equaled by him in 2001) could fall.
Kipketer, who also won in 2002, and Steve Scott, the champion in the first three editions of the race from 1986-88, are the other three-time champions in the race's storied history. Gebremeskel made his Carlsbad debut in 2010 and finished second. He then reeled off his string of victories, winning in 2011 in 13:11, in 2012, also in 13:11, and last year in a tactical race in 13:21.
After his triumph in 2013, the elated Gebremeskel said, “Today was special to win three times. Carlsbad is like family, so I will come every year.”
It would be extra special to become the race's first four-time champion, but Lagat promises to make it very difficult for him. Lagat has a combined 11 medals from the world championships and Olympics, including five golds.
He is the American record holder at 1500m, 2000m and the mile indoors, and the 1500m, 3000m, and 5000m outdoors, and he is still the Kenyan record holder at 1500m indoors. In winning the silver medal in the 3000 meters at the recent world indoor championships, he became the oldest ever medalist (39 years, 87 days) in a men's event at the meet. In qualifying for that meet, he won at the USA Indoor Championships in 7:46.01, the fastest by an American in meet history.
While Lagat and Gebremeskel are the two most prominent runners in the field, the men's elite invitational also includes Tariku Bekele and Debeli Gezmu of Ethiopia and Augustine Choge of Kenya. Bekele was the 10,000m Olympic bronze medalist in 2012 and was fourth at Carlsbad in 2012. Gezmu is the younger brother of Olympic gold medalist and 2010 women's Carlsbad winner Meseret Defar, and Choge, a former world junior champion over 5000m, was the 2012 world indoor silver medalist at 3000m.
The 29th running of the Carlsbad 5000 takes place Sunday, March 30. For the first time in 2014, U.S. only prize money will be added to the elite invitational and the races will be broadcast live on the web. Also for the first time ever, the men's and women's 30-39 category will be combined, with the men’s and women’s elite races running at separate times nearly two hours earlier than last year.
“The goal is twofold, we are trying to make the day even more spectator friendly than it already was by condensing the schedule,” said Tracy Sundlun, SVP of Competitor Group, which organizes the Carlsbad 5000. “And separating the men’s and women’s professional events allows for both elite races to be better showcased with the addition of U.S. only prize money and a live webcast.”
Race day begins at 7:05 a.m. with the Masters Men 40 and over, the first of seven races that will take place throughout the morning. The ‘Party by the Sea’ gets started as soon as the first runners cross the finish line. After enjoying the scenic 3.1-mile course, runners aged 21 and over can step into the beer garden, sip two free beers from Pizza Port and enjoy a live band.
The first of two main events, featuring the world’s fastest professional athletes, begins at 10:45 a.m. with the elite women, followed by the elite men’s race at 11:15 a.m. For more information or to register for the event, please visit Carlsbad5000.com