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Lagat, Simpson win Fifth Avenue Mile

Bernard Lagat wins Fifth Avenue Mile

Bernard Lagat wins Fifth Avenue Mile

NEW YORK – For almost every athlete participating in the Fifth Avenue Mile, the race serves as a celebratory conclusion to a long competitive season. For Bernard Lagat, this 31st edition also allowed the two-time Olympic medalist and world champion to finally check off a stubbornly resistant item on his racing bucket list.

“It’s been so important to me to win this race,” Lagat said after finally turning the trick in his fourth time on Saturday. “I thought it must feel really good to win here, and now that I have, I have to come back to try to do it again.”

Lagat, 36, used his patented, and today, unmatchable, finishing sprint to pull away from defending champ Amine Laalou of Morocco over the last 100 meters to notch a decisive 1.2-second win, crossing the line in 3:50.5, equaling the 10th fastest time ever recorded in this road race. Three-time USA road mile champion David Torrence was third in 3:52.4. Of the 18 Open male finishers, 15 broke four minutes in spite of humid conditions that had been predicted to be much wetter.

“I looked at a film of 2008,” he said, referring to his debut here when he finished second to Nick Willis by a tenth of a second. “I realized that when I got to 800 and saw the finish line in the distance I took off too early.

“I did the same thing last year,” when he was once again runner-up. “So today, I said, ‘Just run easy after 800, if someone wants to take the lead, let them, just be in contact at 1500 and then go’.”

The strategy worked to perfection, and Lagat, a Tucson resident, let others handle the pace before finally adding the elusive Fifth Avenue title to his numerous other honors, including eight wins in the Wanamaker Mile, on the tiny indoor track at Madison Square Garden, 30 blocks south of today’s finish line. That streak earned Lagat co-ownership of Eamonn Coghlan’s “Chairman of the Boards” nom-de-guerre; after this weekend, he can start to think about adding “Chairman of Roads” as well.

America’s latest middle distance world champion Jenny Simpson used an almost identical strategy to sprint to victory in the women’s heat, which preceded the men by 15 minutes. Unlike Lagat, Simpson proved successful in her first run down the 20 blocks of Manhattan’s most famous thoroughfare, and her 4:22.3 time bettered her track PR for the distance by more than three seconds, just ahead of 2011 World Championships silver medalists Sally Kipyego of Kenya (10,000m) and Britain’s Hannah England (1500m), who both clocked 4:22.6.

“It’s been a long season,” said Simpson, 25, who began racing during the winter indoor campaign. “All year long we keyed on the World Championships, so this was just a fun way to end. I knew it was going to be really challenging. I’ve been closing really fast in my races, so I was confident in my kick.”

Simpson, a 2008 Olympian in the steeplechase, didn’t move to the front until the pack hit the ¾ mark, then turned on the jets, covering the last 200 in the mid-27 second range to decisively nail down the win and the $5000 champion’s check.

The win held extra meaning for Simpson since her younger sister, Emily, now serving in the Army, was there to witness it. “I think it’s the first time I’ve seen her in over a year,” Simpson said. “A lot has happened in that time, so to win with her here, in New York, was really special.”

It was the first double American victory here since Jason Lunn and Kim McGreevy topped the podium in 2000. The event also included heats for runners of all ages and abilities and had more than 4,700 finishers.

31st Fifth Avenue Mile
New York, NY, Saturday, September 24, 2011

1) Bernard Lagat (USA / AZ), 3:50.5, $5000
2) Amine Laalou (MAR), 3:51.7, $3500
3) David Torrence (USA / CA), 3:52.4, $2500
4) Jeff See (USA / OH), 3:52.9, $1500
5) Craig Miller (USA / WI), 3:54.4, $1000
6) Jon Rankin (CAY), 3:54.7, $750
7) Garrett Heath (USA / CA), 3:55.3, $500
8) Jeff Riseley (AUS), 3:56.6, $250
9) Haron Lagat (KEN), 3:57.0
10) Anthony Famiglietti (USA / NC), 3:57.1

1) Jenny Simpson (USA / CO), 4:22.3, $5000
2) Sally Kipyego (KEN), 4:22.6, $3500
3) Hannah England (GBR), 4:22.6, $2500
4) Ingvill Makestad Bovim (NOR), 4:24.6, $1500
5) Susan Kuijken (NED), 4:25.5, $1000
6) Morgan Uceny (USA / CA), 4:26.2, $750
7) Shannon Rowbury (USA / CA), 04:27.0, $500
8) Sara Hall (USA / CA), 4:29.1, $250
9) Brenda Martinez (USA / CO), 4:29.6
10) Barbara Parker (GBR) 4:31.7