RIO DE JANEIRO—In what is most likely his Olympic swan song, 41-year old Washington State University hall of famer Bernard Lagat (left/photo courtesy IAAF/Getty Images) will lace up the custom made neon yellow/pink/black Nike spikes one last time in the men’s 5000 meter finals Saturday night at 5:30 pm Seattle time (9:30 pm in Rio) at Estádio Olímpico João Havelange.
He will be joined by fellow Team USA members Paul Chelimo and former Emerald Ridge HS standout Hassan Mead as they try to pull the upset in beating favored Mo Farah of Great Britain and the Nike Oregon Project.
With so much at stake over the 12.5 laps of the Estádio Olímpico oval, the hunch among veteran track & field observers is that the pace will be slow for the first 3000 meters, with the last 2000 being run at breakneck speeds, meaning a last 800 under 2 minutes, and a last 400 at 54 seconds or faster.
If that story holds, this scenario plays directly into the hands of the five-time Olympian (twice with Kenya, where he owns a bronze medal from 2000 and a silver from 2004, both in the 1500) Lagat, who I called in an interview with Seattle NBC affiliate KING TV as one of the great tacticians of our generation, adding, “he knows how to race, and he knows how to race when it counts”.
Though he has a personal best and the American record of 12:53.60, that mark was set five years ago. He enters the Olympic final with a season best of 13:14.96 set at the London Diamond League meet last month, a time bettered by 13 of the 16 men in the field.
Of the athletes in Saturday night’s field, three have broken 13 minutes this season including Farah, and another six have broken 13:05, so logic dictates that to get rid of one of the most feared kickers in the field, someone has to ensure that the pace is fast from the start.
A key benchmark for those of you watching the race is the split at 3000 meters (5 laps to go): If the pace is at 8 minutes or faster, the pace is honest. But if it’s between 8:08 and 8:22, this plays into the hands of Lagat, and for that matter, Farah, who has evolved into one of the most feared racers.
It would be in the best interests of the three Ethiopians—Dejen Gebremeskel, Hagos Gebriwet, and Muktar Edris, all of whom have season bests of 13:00 or faster--to work together to ensure a fast pace to run the kick out of Lagat and Farah.
Amazingly enough, there are no Kenyans in the field, though Lagat and Chelimo of the USA and Albert Rop of Bahrain are former citizens.
NOTE: The IAAF and USA Track & Field contributed to this report.