Kipchoge turned toward Dejen Gebremeskel, waved his left hand forward, then pointed in front of him.
Roughly translated, this is runnerspeak for, “Dude, you’ve been drafting off me long enough. Get up here and do some of the work.”
Instead, Gebremeskel kept playing the waiting game. With about 150 meters to go, just past the railroad tracks on Carlsbad Village Drive, the Ethiopian made his move. He roared past Kipchoge and seconds later, just in front of the finish, Gebremeskel made a hand gesture of his own.
He pointed to the finish line.
Gebremeskel got there first, winning the 26th annual race in 13 minutes, 11 seconds. Kipchoge took second in 13:14. It was a flip-flop of the 2010 finish when Kipchoge cashed the $5,000 winner’s check and Gebremeskel settled for second.
The women’s race unfolded like an East African replay of the men’s. Kenya’s Pauline Korikwiang led most of the way, only to watch Ethiopia’s Aheza Kiros surge past her just in front of the tape. Kiros’ winning time to defend her title: 15:13. Korikwiang’s clocking: 15:14.
On a picturesque spring day, 8,688 runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes toured the 3.1-mile downtown/seaside layout throughout the morning. Those who stuck around for the professional races just after noon were treated to distance running’s greatest rivalry, Ethiopia vs. Kenya, and the sit-and-attack style favored by many Ethiopians.
Regarding his hand gesture to Gebremeskel at the 2-mile mark, Kipchoge said, “I told him to go, but he refused to go.”
Gebremeskel offered no apology for his tactics.
“I know he is a strong guy,” Gebremeskel said. “He is faster than me. His personal best (for 5,000 meters on the track) is better than mine (by 7.03 seconds). I thought, ‘Maybe it is better to follow.’”
The Carlsbad 5000 justifiably bills itself as the world’s fastest 5K. Some 16 world and eight U.S. professional records have been set on the course. But it’s been some time since organizers had to fork out bonus money.
Sammy Kipketer’s world mark (13:00) has stood since 2000. (He tied the record in 2001). Meseret Defar’s women’s record (14:46) was set in 2006.
Kipchoge, who won the bronze medal in the 5,000 at the Athens Olympics and the silver in the Beijing Games, put his sights square on Kipketer’s 13 flat.
“I want that record,” he said before the race.
They were on world-record pace after one mile (4:06). But when the pace rabbit dropped out after 1?½ miles, they slowed considerably on the uphill second mile (4:19).
Now, it was about winning. This time, Gebremeskel, 21, got the better of Kipchoge, 26.
While frustrated that he didn’t flirt with the record or win, Kipchoge did not complain about his rival’s strategy.
“That’s racing,” he said.
It’s a style many Ethiopians share.
“It’s an Ethiopian trait,” said Matt Turnbull, who recruits elite runners for the Carlsbad 5000. “They are the world’s best runners. It’s a racing tactic, and one tactic that works for them.
“It’s not bad sportsmanship. It’s good running. Kipchoge knew it was happening. He just couldn’t do anything about it.”
Korikwiang issued the mildest of complaints about Kiros’ strategy.
“I am not really mad because this is a race,” said the Kenyan. “Anyone can win. But to me, if she can push me, we can run a good time.”
As for Gebremeskel, he was asked if by pointing to the finish line he was in essence replying to Kipchoge’s late-race gesture and saying, “The goal is to arrive here first, and I did.”
He hemmed and hawed, dancing around the question like Mikhail Baryshnikov. Finally, his eyes and mischievous smile supplied the answer.
“I’m happy,” he said.
Lenore Montgomery, 80, of Canada set an 80-84 women’s world record, finishing in 29:16, a 9-minute, 25-second per-mile pace. The old mark was 29:23. … Anne Garrett of Oceanside set an American record in the 75-79 class. Garrett, 77, finished in 25:59.