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Posted: May 31, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: Dibaba Defeated, Willard & Wurth-Thomas Step Up At Reebok Grand Prix

From David Monti

© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

**Kogo Beats Lagat at 5000m**

NEW YORK (30-May) -- Tirunesh Dibaba was handed a rare defeat, while Anna Willard and Christin Wurth-Thomas got convincing wins at the 5th annual Reebok Grand Prix, here today at Ichan Stadium in sunny but windy conditions.

Dibaba, the reigning Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion, admitted to coming into today's meet shy of top fitness. Nonetheless, she followed pacemaker Marina Muncan of Serbia through the first kilometer in 2:51, joined by her younger sister, Genzebe and Kenya's Linet Masai. Muncan stepped aside at 1800m, and Dibaba waved her hand for Masai to help with the lead, a move the Ethiopian would come to regret. Masai took over the race, led by a step through 3000m (8:43.21) and, despite the swirling winds, ran away from Dibaba to win in world leading and personal best 14:35.39. Dibaba finished second in 14:40.93.

"I feel great because I've really done something," said Masai who was fourth in last summer's Olympic 10,000m, and who will run the 2000m at next Sunday's Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore.

Masai's victory broke Dibaba's unbeaten streak at 5000m which stretched back to 2006. Her last defeat at the distance came in September, 2006, when she finished second to Meseret Defar at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin.

Anna Willard, the reigning USA steeplechase and indoor 1500m champion, stepped way down in distance to contest the 800m, and rolled over a solid field of two-lap specialists with a personal best 1:59.29. Jamaica's Kenia Sinclair was second in 1:59.66. Willard, who will marry steeplechaser Jonathan Pierce later this year, credited her superior endurance for her victory.

"We know that at 800 I just don't have as much experience," said Willard, her hair died with a pink streak to match her new Nike uniform. "The plan was just to know that I had another gear at that 700 meter mark, and just really put it in."

It was a similar story for Olympian Christin Wurth-Thomas in the women's 1500m. The only athlete to follow the pacing of Mardrea Hyman, the former Arkansas Lady Razorback ran away from the field in a meet record and personal best 4:03.96, easily holding off a late-race charge by Canadian Malindi Elmore (4:06.94).

"You never know where you are in the race," said Wurth-Thomas who only saw improvement ahead for herself under coach Lance Harter. "I could have closed a little harder the last 200, and that's what I need to really start working on."

For Elmore, Wurth-Thomas's performance wasn't unexpected. "I'm not surprised," said the former Stanford University star. "Christin is really good at putting herself out there."

In the much-anticipated men's 5000m, Bernard Lagat had his eyes on Bob Kennedy's USA record of 12:58.21. But the swirling winds made that already difficult goal impossible, never mind the battle the two-time Olympic medalist had on his hands with Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Micah Kogo of Kenya. Behind solid pacemaking by Haron Lagat (no relation to Bernard), who set a personal best of 7:50.69 just before dropping out at 3000m, Lagat and Kogo were joined by two Ethiopians, Dejen Gebremeskel and Merga Imani (world cross country champion Gebre Gebremariam had already been dropped). The group of four stayed together all the way through the final curve, and the race came down to a 100m sprint between the American and the Kenyan. Despite clocking a swift 57.1 seconds for his final circuit, Lagat was beaten on the line, 13:02.90 to 13:03.06, and the two Ethiopians finished a close third and fourth. Kogo's time was the fastest ever run on American soil.

"I know he is a 1500m guy and I know he can run faster more than me," said Kogo who looked startled after his victory. "But I saw in the last 200 that he couldn't go." He added: "I was hoping to run under 13, but it was so difficult because of the wind."

The race clearly took a lot out of Lagat, who looked a little woozy in the mixed zone. When asked how he was feeling, the usually talkative Lagat was brief. "Tired," he said. "I worked hard with the wind, so it's not too bad. I wanted to run fast and I consider this to be a fast race. Thirteen-oh-three is not too bad. I think it's maybe the third-fastest time of my life, so it's really good. I'm not upset at all."

In other middle and long distance action, Khadevis Robinson edged Canada's Gary Reed in the men's 800m, 1:46.00 to 1:46.22, and Leonel Manzano scored a meet record 3:34.14 win in the men's 1500m over South Africa's Juan van Deventer. Alan Webb continued to struggle, finishing well back in tenth place in 3:42.58.

* * * * *

The highlight of the meet was clearly Tyson Gay's blazing, wind-legal 19.58 in the 200m, the #3 time in history, signaling that the double world sprint champion from 2007 is back to full fitness after injury problems last year. The capacity crowd at Ichan Stadium, saturated with Jamaican fans, loved Gay's performance, but were miffed by Asafa Powell's seventh place finish in the 100m in 10.10 seconds (wind +3.1). Powell didn't speak to the press.

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