CARLSBAD — Meseret Defar came to Carlsbad searching for another world record. NC Times
Mother Nature and personal emotions got in her way.
Defar, who had a world-record run here four years ago, became the first three-time women’s elite champion for the Carlsbad 5000 on Sunday when she capped a day of road racing with another championship performance under cool, breezy conditions.
“My feeling was good, and my body was not tired, but when I came across the finish line and saw the time, I was disappointed,” said Defar, who still won in convincing fashion with a time of 15 minutes, 4 seconds over Carlsbad’s 3.1-mile seaside course. “I thought I could get a world record, but the wind was not too good.”
Whether it was Defar, a five-year veteran of the Carlsbad 5000, or first-year runner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, who won the men’s elite race with the fourth-fastest winning time in event history, the wind played a role in their respective races.
“This course is perfect,” Kipchoge said after making his first Carlsbad 5000 test a winning one with his time of 13:11 in the men’s invitational race. “But I can’t control the nature.”
Defar and Kipchoge were both champions on a day that saw almost no sun, but had a persistently annoying wind that seemed to have no sense of direction at times throughout the morning.
“From the first mile, I wanted to go out,” said Kipchoge, 25. “But the wind was too much. It was saying, ‘No, no.’ ”
Defar, 26, was making a bid to surpass her world-record road-race performance of 14:46 set here in 2006, despite the fact she had not raced in Carlsbad the previous two years.
“It was windy the first kilometer, and it was a little bit fast (2:47), and after that it was a bit more windy,” said Defar, who followed up her record performance in 2006 with another win in 2007. “But it’s not that big a disappointment. It’s my own record.”
Defar, defending champion Aheza Kiros and Meskerem Assefa, all from Ethiopia, came around the first turnaround together along Carlsbad Boulevard before Assefa dropped off the pace. After Defar passed two miles in 9:41, she increased her lead over Kiros to the point where Defar had an 11-second lead at the final 180-degree turnaround near the Army-Navy Academy.
“I tried to go at her pace, but she was faster,” said Kiros, whose runner-up time was 15:26. “The pace was too hard. I knew I was racing for second.”
Assefa completed the Ethiopian sweep with a third-place showing of 15:56.
Canadian Malindi Elmore of the Calgary Athletic Club placed fourth in 16:01, and right behind was Poland’s Kaolina Jarzynska in 16:05.
Defar made her Carlsbad debut in 2003, when she placed fifth. The biggest difference between then and now?
“When coming here the first time, Mike Long was here, and now I am very sad,” said Defar, referring to the long-time elite athletes recruiter for the Carlsbad 5000 and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon who died in July 2007. “He was a great man, and a great supporter of athletes. He is not here, and I am very sad for that.
“He used to take me shopping and buy me clothes and shoes. He would cook food and buy me a telephone card. He was like my father.”
Another condition that worked against Defar was the lack of competition at the end.
“In 2006, (Isabella) Ouichi went with me and we pushed together,” Defar said referring to the 2004 Carlsbad women’s champion. “There was no push this time.”
Kipchoge, 25, vowed to make another run at the men’s 5K road-race record. Sammy Kipketer ran back-to-back 13:00 races in 2000-01 for a mark that still stands.
“I was trying, but unfortunately I did not get it,” Kipchoge said. “But it is not the last time. I will try again.”
Pacemaker Jordan Horn ran the leaders through a 4:09 first mile, well off the amazing 3:59 Kipketer ran in 2000.
“The pacemaker didn’t run through the first mile,” said Kipchoge, 25. “The second thing was that the wind was a big problem.”
Despite that, Kipchoge forged an eight-second lead over the final mile to win with ease.
“It’s a very tough race,” said 20-year-old Dejan Gebremesekel of Ethiopia, also a first-time Carlsbad participant who finished with a runner-up time of 13:18.
“After two miles, I was slow.”
Defending men’s elite champion Bekana Daba was third in 13:24, and the top American finisher was Joe Gray of Lakewood, Wash., who placed 10th in 14:37.
Each elite champion earned $5,000, and both vowed to return to defend their titles.
“Of course, yes,” Kipchoge said when asked if he would make a return trip to Carlsbad in 2011. “It’s fantastic course and a fantastic crowd. You get a sense of America.”