Story by James O'Brien
Boston Marathon weekend 2013 kicked off on Sunday morning (April 14th) with the B.A.A. 5K, the first race in the 2013 B.A.A. Distance Medley, a three-race series comprising the 5K, the B.A.A. 10K and the B.A.A. Half Marathon. The Distance Medley was inaugurated last year, with Kim Smith (NZL) and Allan Kiprono (KEN) taking the overall titles in races that were never anything other than intense. There could hardly have been a better way to kick off the 2013 series than with the Marathon Weekend’s 5K, boasting a field of competitors worthy of a major championship final.
Kiprono was back - he had placed 5th last year’s 5K in a PR of 13:48 - as was last year’s third placer Lani Rutto (KEN), Irish star (by way of South Africa) and three-time Olympian Alistair Cragg, 2012 sixth placer Aaron Braun from Portland, OR and Kenya’s Stephen Sambu, a 61-minute half marathoner, and these to name just a few. All eyes were on one man, however: Dejen Gebremeskel from Ethiopia, the 2012 Olympic 5000m silver medalist, 2011 World Championships 5000m bronze medalist and the man with - by far - the fastest 5000m best in the field, a clocking of 12:46.81 that he recorded in France last year.
It was hardlly surprising, therefore, that these were the men who comprised the bulk of the leading pack once the gun sounded at 8am to send the field of close to 5700 on its way. Also among the hard chargers were 13:08 performer Daniel Salel (KEN) and 21 year-old Australian Brett Robinson, the youngest man in the elite field. What was somewhat surprising, however, was the agression that Cragg showed through the opening mile and a half and the swiftness of his subsequent demise.
From the gun, Cragg surged to the forefront making himself the focal point of the elite race, not to mention the pace-maker for a contented group of a dozen or more front-runners. Chilly, breezy conditions may not have been perfect for the enthusiastic crowds that lined the winding course, but they were ideal for a hoard of super-fast racers cruising through a first mile with 4:25 on the clock. Cragg was the aggressor, but Salel, Braun, Gebremeskel, Sambu and Rutto all hovered within a hair’s breadth, with a knot of five others hanging close just half a stride back.
The first half of the course was composed of short straights and seemingly countless turns. Around 1.5 miles, though, the pack swung onto Commonwealth Avenue and a long half mile stretch that would allow the leaders to settle in with no disruptions to speed or form. That is, no disruptions but one. With the two mile mark passed in 9:00 and with few changes among the leaders, the pack approached the underpass dipping below Massachusetts Avenue. The down-dip was fine; it was the up-dip that put the cat among the pigeons.
Though hardly Heartbreak Hill, the incline was sufficient to do severe damage to the aspirations of the front-runner, Cragg. Almost immediately, he was gone from contention, dropping five meters from the leaders, ultimately placing a disappointed eighth (14:07). Cragg’s departure, though, was all the impetus that Gebremeskel needed to begin asking some questions. Braun drifted to the front momentarily, but quickly the Ethiopian assumed control, injecting a surge and pruning the band of those left with any hope to himself, Braun - running a magnificent race - and Rutto.
The finishing straight of this race is a three-quarter mile, downhill sweep along Boylston Avenue to the finish beneath the Boston Marathon finishing arch. As such, it’s blistering; all the more so when you’ve got one man with a scant advantage and two speedsters breathing down his neck. As the trio swung left onto Boylston, the scene was set for a titantic battle all the way to the line. In reality, as they hammered past three miles in 13:11, this was always going to be Gebremeskel’s race. With the finish line coming ever closer, the Ethiopian star turned on that 12:46 speed, and that was all it took.
Flying across the line, he stopped the clock at 13:37. Braun held on for a superb second in 13:40, with Rutto a further second back. Quickly recovered from his exertions, Gebremeskel, who has never contested a half marathon, appeared more interested in the legendary Boston full distance than he did in his just executed victory. “I want to run the Boston Marathon,” he stated. Then, he corrected himself. “I mean, I don’t want to run the Boston Marathon. I want to win the Boston Marathon.”
Braun was far from disappointed with his second place finish. “I felt smooth,” he explained. “But, he [Gebremeskel] looked really smooth. I thought, ‘It’s not going to be a disappointment to lose to this guy.’ This was just a lot of fun. My goal is to make the Moscow (World Championships) team. I just want to run fast.”
For their wins, Gebremeskel, Braun and Rutto earned $4000, $2000 and $1500 respectively. Just as significant, their prime placings put them in foremost contention for the overall Distance Medley title and a slice of the $100,000 prize purse. If this 5K was intense, just wait for rounds two and three.