Posted by: Joe English | June 10, 2008

Racing: Nike Prefontaine Classic sees record breaking performances

EUGENE — In a preview of the upcoming US Olympic Track and Field Trials later this month, the storied Hayward Field saw blistering track performances this past weekend that included eigth meet records and a new American Record in the pole vault.

World record holder and Olympic and world champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia got the meet off to a rousing, and early start. With a world record attempt on tap, the men’s 10,000m opened the Nike Prefontaine Classic at an earlier-than-usual 9:30 a.m. Bekele put on a great run, staying within seconds of the record and finishing in 26:25.97 to shatter the U.S. all-comers record as well as the meet and facility records. Bekele’s time was the fourth-fastest time in history, though shy of his WR 26:17.51 from 2005, and led a fast field. Two-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman ran the second-fastest time ever by an American, placing seventh in 27:16.99, just off of Meb Keflezighi’s AR of 27:13.98.

Coutrywoman Meseret Defar was next on the track, running a swift 14:28.73 in the women’s 5,000m to break National Track & Field Hall of Famer Mary Slaney’s meet and facility record of 15:06.53, set in 1985. 2007 World Outdoor 10,000m bronze medalist Kara Goucher was the top American, third in a personal best of 14:58.10.

Exciting distance races
Always a featured event of “Pre”, the Bowerman Mile had hair-raising excitement. On the final lap, New Zealand’s Nick Willis moved into the lead with great authority on the backstretch and looked poised to upend a powerful field. Shadrack Korir of Kenya had other ideas, however, nipping Willis at the line, 3:50.49 to 3:50.66. Daniel Komen was third in 3:50.95. Top American was Lopez Lomong, fifth in 3:53.97.

The men’s 800 also provided some crowd-thrilling moments. After a first lap of 49.95, the race really began to take shape on the backstretch. The hometown crowd roared as Eugene-based Nick Symmonds moved up from second-to-last to second place on the backstretch, and coming down the final straight the crowd rose to its feet, hoping Symmonds could replicate his 2007 victory. But Symmonds began to fade as Alfred Yego of Kenya won in 1:44.01 to break the Hayward Field record Dave Wottle set in 1972 (1:44.3 hand timed), as well as Symmonds’ meet record of 1:44.54. Yusef Saad Kamel was second in 1:44:18, andUSA Outdoor champion Khadevis Robinson moved up to third in 1:44.55, with Symmonds fourth (1:45.01).

Double world champion Bernard Lagat pleased the partisan crowd in the men’s 2 mile, winning in 8:12.45 over Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain (8:13.16) and Paul Koech of Kenya (8:13.31).

African champion Geleta Burka put on an outstanding show in the women’s 1,500m. After being paced through 800m in 2:06.5 by Nikeya Green, Burka kept cruising for a meet-record win in 4:00.44, breaking her own mark from 2007 by .04. Nancy Lagat of Kenya was second in 4:03,80, with USA indoor champion Christin Wurth-Thomas third in a personal-best time of 4:04.88.

Maria Mutola, competing for the final time at Pre, and known as the grande dame of the women’s 800, sprinted away to win Sunday in 1:59.24. She was overcome by emotion as she crossed the line for her 16th career victory at this meet. For a moment, it looked as it might be a passing of the torch, as Mutola came off the turn shoulder-to-shoulder with high school sensation Chanelle Price, who boldly took the lead down the backstretch. Although Price faded in the final 100, she placed sixth in 2:01.61 to be #2 all-time among American high schoolers, behind only two-time Olympic medalist Kim Gallagher’s prep record of 2:00.07. American Alice Schmidt was second on Sunday in 2:00.01, with Hazel Clark-Riley third in 2:00.51.

Pole Vault sees new American Record
The 2007 world champion, Walker looked magnificent throughout the pole vault competition. He had just one miss, at his opening height of 5.70m/18-8.25, then passed to 5.90m/19-4.25, which he cleared on his first attempt and which won the competition for him. Walker then elevated the bar to 6.04m/19-9.75. On his very first attempt, he cleared, brushing the bar just a bit, but leaving it up. The world-leading clearance broke Jeff Hartwig’s American record set in 2000 of 6.03m/19-9.25 and also bested living legend Sergey Bubka’s meet record of 5.95m/19-6.25. It was the highest clearance in the world since 2001.

After two tries at a world-record height of 6.15/20-2, Walker called it a day. Derek Miles finished second at 5.80m/19-0.25, with Olympic gold medalist Tim Mack third with 5.70m/18-8.25.

The Nike Prefontaine Classic drew a meet-record 14,221 fans to Hayward Field, site of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field June 27-July 6.

For a gallery of photos, click here to visit the USATF web-site and then click on the photo gallery link.

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