INDIANAPOlIS - USA Track & Field on Tuesday hosted a media teleconference featuring Dathan Ritzenhein, who set a new American record in the men's 5,000 meters when he crossed the finish line in 12 minutes, 56.27 seconds at last week's Weltklasse meet in Zurich.
Ritzenhein's performance bettered the 13-year old standard of 12:58.21 set by Bob Kennedy, and made him the third American ever to break the 13-minute barrier at 5,000 meters.
Ritzenhein is coming off of the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany, where he finished the 10,000 meters in a personal best time of 27 minutes 22.28 seconds, which is the best time ever by an American at a World Championships. His sixth-place finish in that event is the highest ever by an American at Worlds.
Excerpts from today teleconference follow:
Opening Statement by Bob Kennedy: Dathan, I know we had a chance to talk for a couple minutes right after your race, but it was a little broken up. I wanted to take this opportunity to say congratulations. I had an opportunity to watch the race and it was a helluva performance, gutsy and disciplined, and congratulations on your record. I'm very proud of you.
Dathan Ritzenhein: Thanks so much, Bob. It was an awesome feeling. As you know the atmosphere in Zurich was just amazing and you just kind of get into your own world there almost. It felt so awesome that finally after 13 years to see that amazing record come within the grasp of American distance runners.
Questions for Ritzenhein:
Q: As a young runner, what did you think about Bob's record, and how does it feel to be the person to break a record that has been there so long?
A: When I first started getting interested in distance running and started really getting good at it, I was at that age when Bob was in his real prime when he ran that time, and that was an inspiring moment for me. I remember watching the Atlanta Olympics and he was an idol of mine for so many years and he still is. That was a pinnacle moment for my interest in running, when Bob ran that record. The record has lasted for 13 years and it's a testament to how difficult that record is, and there's been some great runners to go through and have not approached that yet. For me to be the person to finally make the big jump and actually get it, I'm so thrilled to be able to have that. In the future, should I hopefully continue to improve and have great races, and maybe run faster than that, this will be one that will always stick in my mind because it's a turning point, I think.
Q: Was there a point in Friday's race in Zurich when you thought that you could get Bob's record?
A: Yeah. I was nervous going into the race because they had talked about a very fast pace, and they did the pace they said they were going to. For me I had to hold on for dear life because Alberto (coach Alberto Salazar) told me beforehand, he said, 'You can't go out in 4:02 or 4:03 the first mile, but you can't get dropped either, because if you get dropped, you can't run fast." So I just had to hold on to the back, and it was so fast that I had to really stay focused and bring it back slowly and try to run a fairly even pace. That was really difficult for me at first because it was so fast that I felt awkward through the first half of the race, but through the middle part of the race I started to catch people and feel good, and then with about four laps to go I realized that I had a very good shot at breaking Bob's record because I felt great at that time and I had been running an even pace and hadn't fallen off at all. I knew I was going to break it with 200 meters to go because I saw the clock and knew that I would have to really, really fade (to not break the record). I think I was at 12:25, and I knew that I would have to run 33 seconds the last 200, and I was still feeling good enough at that point that I knew I could hold it.
Q: Was it sobering to run that fast and not win? (Ritzenhein finished third in the race)
A: No. I was so ecstatic at that point because I was really just thinking about competing as much as possible and when I got into the later stages in the race especially, I saw Bekele close enough to me. The greatest runner in history was not that far ahead and I was closing on him, so I know I ran as good as I could and ran an awesome race. Of course I didn't win the race, but that doesn't happen that often with as strong and deep as distance running is, so it would be really greedy for me to say that I was disappointed at all because I didn't win the race. I think I ran an amazing race, and even if I didn't break Bob's record I still was able to get in there and compete and that's really the step in the direction we're trying to take.
Q: In addition to your record-setting performance in Zurich, you set a 10,000m personal best at the World Championships in Berlin. To what do you credit all your recent success?
A: I started the year off slow, but I seemed to improve at the right time. For me the biggest change for me after the London Marathon, where I was disappointed with my finish there when I thought I was really ready and it was a big blow for me, and so that's when I had to make a hard decision, and it's always difficult to break out of your comfort zone and I think that was the biggest thing in making that one step across the line. So, when I went to work with Alberto it really breathed a new fresh life into me. Alberto has been able to get me excited about racing again, excited about running, and he got me believing that I can run with the best guys in the world, and that's something that I kind of lacked over the last few years.
Q: What's next for you, and do you plan to run a fast 10,000m race anytime soon?
A: Next up for me is the World Half-Marathon Championships (October 11, 2009 in Birmingham, England). The thought behind that is coming off from this season we still feel that I'm the best fitted over the longer distances. Ultimately that means the marathon and that's really what I love to do, although I've gotta say that I really have enjoyed track this summer. Alberto wanted to avoid, though, getting into the actual full on, big training of the marathon because we really wanted to take this next year, year and a half, to get efficient again and get fast and work on my form and technique. To do that we needed not to do a fall marathon, which was a hard decision, but at the same time we didn't want to go for so long without doing the long, hard effort close to that. There was originally a thought of doing a half-marathon, but he said after the 10K that 'you're one of the best runners in the world and you need to race the best runners in the world.' The World Half-Marathon Championship field is going to be so deep and so strong that it's going to be something where we can really mix it up, and that will give me the confidence the next time I step on the line in the marathon. As far as running a fast 10,000, I just don't see it happening anytime soon.
Q: Are you back in Eugene now, and where are you in terms of your living transition from Eugene to Portland?
A: Right now I'm in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I stopped back here for a few days to say hi to the family, and we really didn't know what I was going to do after the track season. I'm coming back to Portland at the end of the week, or the early part of next week. To tell you the truth, as far as the transition, I feel like a nomad. I don't think I've been home in three months and I've been all over the place. We have a house for sale in Eugene and as soon as the Half-Marathon Championships are over we're going to find a place in Portland and try to really settle into a full on routine.
Q: When will you run your next marathon?
A: I have no idea really. I want to do one more full track season and give it a real good go at running some fast times again. Things always seem day to day with Alberto, especially. I'm just enjoying this right now and enjoying racing again. In all likelihood, I'd like to do it sooner than later because I'd like to concentrate on that for the 2012 Olympics, so I'll have to get back to it, but at the same time I want to give it as good a shot as possible to run fast this summer.
Q: Are you also looking to someday own the American 10,000m record?
A: Definitely. I think that I never really was someone to shoot for records so much. I always liked to compete more and the hardest thing about 10k's is that there's not a whole lot of them. But at the same time, I think sometimes it doesn't work to go out and try to break a record. Sometimes it has to just happen in a race. So if it happens it happens, and if it doesn't maybe it'll have to wait for another year. For me to go out and say I'm going to break it at this race, I don't think it's good to put that kind of pressure on myself. I know after these last couple races that I'm capable of it, but I just have to get in a race and when it happens it'll happen.
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