Friday, August 24, 2012

Olympic 5000m Recap

Lagat in the mix on the final turn. Farah leads
Continuing a short series of posts - A quick look back at the 5000m Olympic Finals:

Coming into London, the US men's 5000m team looked to be the strongest chance for a distance medal of all the races on the Olymic slate. The team included multiple-world champion and American record holder Bernard Lagat, American record holder Galen Rupp, and former 1500m specialist Lopez Lomong. All three men made it through the heats to the Olympic Final including Rupp, newly minted in silver from his brilliant triumph in the 10000m.

 The looming question was whether Britain's Mo Farah could double up on his gold medal win from the 10000m. The best take on how the race unfolded, a very slow tactical affair with a bunched field until the bell lap, was this note from the Atlantic Wire:
Mo Farah is emerging from these Olympics as Briton's breakout hometown hero. After winning gold in the 10,000 meters last week he said he was tired. He wasn't sure he had enough in the tank to win the 5,000. But then someone reminded him that 5,000 meters is, like, half of 10,000. And he's so good at the 10,000! Gold medal good, even. So Farah was all like, "I got this," and he totally dominated Saturday's race on the way to his second gold of this Olympics.
Lagat congratulating the champion
Hahaha - that just cracked me up because that's a pretty good read of how the race went down. Rupp looked tired too, and although he moved up into a strong position with two laps remaining he almost immediately faded from the front and ended in seventh. Respectable, but out of the medals. Lagat hung tough and may have moved into bronze on the finishing sprint if not for a small stutter and near-trip. He finished fourth. Farah's gold was Britain's first Olympic win in the event. Full results here (Race video here - beginning at 0:55:40)

The reason why most championship races tend to unfold so slowly is because front-running in an elite caliber field is an almost certain way to lose the race (this is the reason rabbits are used in non-championship races - to keep the pace honest). Allowing a slow pace might seem counter-intuitive for runners that lack a kick because such a tactic all but assures that the best kickers will win anyway. But a runner that chooses to push the pace from the front simply allows the rest of the field to easily tuck and draft, then attack with fresher legs at the finish. Often times national teams will employ team-tactics by swapping leads to push the pace, then sacrificing their least talented athlete as the pacesetter toward the crucial point in the race.

In a rare example of what it takes to front-run and win, Kenyan great John Ngugi (below) jumps the field in the 1988 5000m Olympic Final. Ngugi had the skill and credentials to pull this off but to do it successfully he had to surprise the field with sub-4min mile pace for two laps early in the race. A phenomenally bold move to throw down in an Olympic Final. Note the Portuguese who gambles his own race for gold to see just how difficult such a move can be. 

1988 5000m Olympic Final - Seoul, Korea

2012 London Olympics
 - Olympic 800m Recap
 - Olympic 1500m Recap
 - Olympic 3000m Steeplechase Recap
 - Olympic 5000m Recap
 - Olympic 10,000m Recap
 - Olympic Marathon Recap
 - Week One: The Olympic Vortex

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