**Tactical Races Dominate First Day of Two-Day Meeting**
By Bob Ramsak
THESSALONIKI, Greece (12-Sep) -- David Rudisha's near gun-to-tape victory was among the key highlights on the first day of the final edition of the World Athletics Final in this northern Mediterranean port city tonight.
Continuing his impressive post-world championships streak, the 20-year-old Kenyan powerfully and confidently beat back the challenge of an impressive field en route to a 1:44.85 victory, the fastest ever over the seven years of this season-capping meet.
"I'm very glad that I'm starting to build an unbeatable record in this event," said Rudisha, who led the field from the break through the finish line. Since failing to advance from the most difficult heat at the world championships last month, Rudisha has gone on to register four straight victories. After a personal best 1:43.52 in Zurich two weeks ago, he improved further still, clocking a blistering 1:42.01 African record in Rieti, Italy, last Sunday. He's now the fourth fastest ever over the distance.
With an impressive homestretch run of his own, Canadian Gary Reed swung wide over the final turn to eventually finish second in 1:45:23, 0.30 ahead of world champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.
The Day One middle and long distance program began with the women's 3000m steeplechase, won impressively by Kenyan Ruth Bisibori.
Bouncing back from a sub-par performance at the world championships where she was seventh, the 21-year-old Kenyan ran at the front and alone virtually from the gun to clock 9:13.43, another WAF record which was just 0.27 seconds shy of her personal best set earlier this season.
Less than two laps into the contest, Bisibori was already a few steps ahead of her compatriot Milcah Chemos, who took surprise bronze in Berlin. With three laps remaining she extended her lead to five meters, and more than doubled it a lap later.
"I trained very hard this year and I was aiming for a good result here," said Bisibori, whose only disappointing outing came in the Berlin final. Two years ago she was fourth in Osaka when still running as a junior, just a few months after winning the African Games title running barefoot. "The body didn't respond in Berlin," said Bisibori, who took victories in Doha and Oslo this season. "This is my first major championship win and I expect more in the future." Financially, it was her biggest as well: event winners here earn $30,000.
Likewise Chemos was never threatened for the runner-up spot. The 23-year-old newcomer to the event, who dabbled briefly with the 800 and 1500m, clocked 9:20.19, ahead of Gladys Jerotich (9:21.18) to complete a 1-2-3 sweep for Kenya.
The remaining races were predictably slow and tactical, producing results both predictable and surprising.
The men's 3000m featured a homestretch battle similar to one waged between Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele and American Bernard Lagat in the 5000m final in Berlin last month. The result was the same, with Bekele, propelled by a 52.03 final lap, again outkicking Lagat to win in 8:03.79, the slowest 3000m time Bekele has registered in ten years.
Although he was provisionally entered, Bekele said he would forego tomorrow's 5000 race, citing fatigue. He may still have another race to run at next week's Golden Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Meanwhile Lagat, who also took bronze at the world championships 1500m, will wind down his season at the Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City in two weeks.
The women's 5000 featured a similar scenario. Covering the final lap in just a tick or two over 58 seconds, Meseret Defar passed a well-rested Tirunesh Dibaba about 80 meters from the finish to defend her title by 0.61 seconds in 15:25.31. Tomorrow she'll return in the 3000 where she'll be targeting a ninth WAF title.
A year ago, Nancy Lagat didn't produce a victory until crossed the line first at the Olympic Games in the 1500m. This year, the 28-year-old Kenyan apparently saved the best for last as she collected her first win of the season in the final edition of the World Athletics Final over the same distance.
"To be honest, I didn't expect to win," said Lagat, who took advantage of a sluggish pace to collect her first win in eight outings over the distance. "The race had a very slow tempo which was an advantage for me."
With no one forcing the pace or making a move, the tightly wound pack took more than 73 seconds to cover the first lap, and nearly 75 to cover the second.
Still smarting from being knocked to the ground and out of the final in Berlin, Ethiopian Geleta Burka made the first move when she jumped to the lead about 900 meters into the race, taking the bell in 3:14.85. But she didn't really manage to break away from anyone, with world champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain shadowing her closely, and Russian Anna Alminova just another step behind. Burka still led midway through the final turn, but with plenty in reserve, others positioned themselves to stake their claims for the podium.
Finishing strongest was the Olympic champion who passed by the Ethiopian on the inside to reach the line unchallenged in 4:13.63. With much of the field running in lanes two, three and four, Briton Hannah England found an opening on the inside to finish a surprise second (4:14.05), just edging American Christin Wurth-Thomas. It was certainly the highest profile finish for the 22-year-old England, who improved to 4:04.29 this season. Like Lagat, both England and Wurth-Thomas are headed to Fifth Avenue to end their seasons.
Meanwhile, Jamal, who came to Thessaloniki with four straight WAF titles under her belt, faded to fourth in 4:14.12. American Shannon Rowbury, the Berlin bronze medallist, took fifth (4:14.18).