Elite Runners Enjoy Top Finishes at Cardinal Invitational

May 3, 2004

Stanford, Ca - Now in its ninth year, the Cardinal Invitational has continually enjoyed universal appeal among athletes as a prime opportunity for achieving qualifying times in middle and long-distance events for global competitions. Friday's meeting (30 April) saw four season-leading performances from the runners who congregated on the Stanford University campus for what has now become regarded as a 'don't-miss-it' competition.

If the main purpose of this year's meeting was to pull as many runners under the Olympic A-standard as possible, then the men's 10,000 meters stood out strikingly from the rest of the events as nine runners dropped under the required 27:49 level behind the winning performance of Mebrahtom Keflezighi (27:24.10).

Already assured of a place on the U.S. Olympic team in the marathon, the soon-to-be-29 'Meb' was returning to the site of his American record (27:13.98) three years ago and found himself at the starting line aside a most unlikely pacemaker in the person of two-time world 1500-meter silver medallist Bernard Lagat.

'It was my first time working as a pacemaker,' said the Kenyan, having relished the experience after taking the field through the 5K in 13:33.5. 'I did it for my training partner Abdi Abdirahman (who finished fourth in a PB 27:34.24), but I'm happy that things worked out well for Meb.'

Having recently finished a high-altitude training camp at Mammoth Lakes in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, the Eritrea-born Keflezighi agreed that 'Bernard did a great job pacing,' but then lapsed into a bit of self-criticism. 'I came here hoping to better my personal best, but it was a little too much to run alone for the last 3800m (after Lagat dropped out). True, I already have a team spot in the marathon, and if I had run '27:0something' then it might have given me something to think about.'

A pair of young runners took big strides in the event, as well. Twenty-year-old Kenyan Thomas Kiplitan lowered his PB by almost a minute with his second-place 27:32.30, as he and many others quickened their pace while Meb's tempo ebbed in the final laps.

And 21-year-old Dathan Ritzenhein of the U.S., who had to beg to be released from a university competition with his Colorado team this weekend, moved quickly into the big time in his first-ever 10K with a sixth-place 27:38.50.

Bob Kennedy also showed that there is lots of life remaining in his nearly 34-year-old legs as he chased resolutely after the others in the closing laps and finished with a fifth-place PB 27:37.45.

Ireland scored big by winning both of the 5000 meter races. For Sonia O'Sullivan, the 14:58.43 world-leading time came after a high-altitude training camp in Mount Laguna near San Diego, and it showed the Sydney silver medallist with all aspects of her racing in top form.

'It was good to get under the A-standard (15:08.70). Now I can plan my season properly,' was her initial reaction to the time. After reflecting a moment on the fact that she was running alone after the 2000-meter mark, O'Sullivan admitted she 'felt the time slipping away.'

Although the A-standard seemed never to be out of reach, she had to reach for a 65.5 final lap to ensure a sub-15 time. Now, with husband Nick Bideau and two children in tow, O'Sullivan will return to her London home this weekend.

Finishing behind O'Sullivan and also bettering the Olympic A-standard were Americans Shayne Culpepper (15:01.36) - the 3000m world indoor bronze medallist last month in Budapest and the wife of U.S. marathon trials champion Alan - and Carrie Tollefson (15:04.07).

One of Ireland's newest acquisitions - by way of South Africa - is University of Arkansas student Alistair Cragg, and the wiry 23-year-old showed why U.S. observers are so keen on his future potential after his world-leading (and PB) 13:16.98, more than twenty-seven seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.

Pacesetter Mark Fountain of Australia was leading Cragg and the others midway in the third kilometer when the pair decided to step up the pace sharply with a 62.2 lap just before the 3km mark. That was all it took to put Cragg on the track alone with just over five laps remaining. With the clock as his only rival, he closed out the evening with a 61.5 last lap.

'That (running under the A-standard 13:21.50) was a little harder than I thought,' said Cragg, still mopping off the sweat after his race and adding that 'perhaps that's why it's the A-standard.' But he wasn't afraid of running the final two kilometers alone.

'I knew there wasn't just a vacuum behind me. The others were there. But the immediate feeling from tonight was like taking a big boulder off my foot. Now I can go to Europe this summer and get into one of those crazy sub-13s and see what I can really do.'

The remaining distance event, the women's 10,000 meters, was won by Sally Barsosio of Kenya in 31:18.72. The 26-year-old Kenyan - whose PB of 31:15.38 came eleven years ago as a 15-year-old in her bronze-medal performance at the 1993 Stuttgart World Championships - was already running solo as she passed the midway mark in 15:38.2.

Despite not receiving any push from the others during the final stages of the race, Barsosio the 1997 world champion nonetheless saved her fastest kilometer for the end, as she finished in 2:59.8 with a 68.4 final lap.

Also achieving the A-standard for Athens were Ireland's Marie Davenport (31:28.78) and American Kate O'Neill (31:34.37).

The remaining pair of world-leading marks came in the two steeplechase races. In the women's event, Kassi Andersen sped past early leader Briana Shook for a 9:48.74 victory, as Shook ran 9:52.31 for second.

Britain's Justin Chaston moved to the lead midway through the second kilometer of the men's race, and with a 65.8 final lap, hit the finish in 8:24.88. With this performance, the seemingly rejuvenated Chaston, at age 35, edged to within a second of his PB, set ten years ago in Nice, and was agonizingly close to the A-standard of 8:24.60.

Standout performances also came in the 1500 meter events, won by Jason Lunn (3:38.96) and Malindi Elmore (4:09.85).

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