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Lagat Seeks First Fifth Avenue Mile Win

Published by
Chris Nickinson   Sep 23rd 2011, 3:42am

Fifth Avenue Mile: Lagat Seeks First Win; Women’s Field is Fast and Loaded

Bernard Lagat has been known to run a mile pretty well in New York City—witness the indoor Millrose Games, where he has won the Wanamaker Mile a record eight times.

On Fifth Avenue, however, the two-time Olympic medalist and four-time World Champion is still looking for his first title.

"It's about time I take it outside for the victory," Lagat said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "I really want it so bad. I'm going to be with a good field here, so it's not going to be easy."

In Saturday's 31st annual Fifth Avenue Mile, the men's race is shaping up to be a rematch of last year's top two finishers: Lagat and defending champion Amine Laalou of Morocco. Promising challengers include USA Road Mile champion David Torrence and 800-meter specialists Nick Symmonds of the U.S. and Boaz Lalang of Kenya.

But it's the women's race that features what is almost certainly the best and deepest field in the history of the event.

"I have so much respect for the women in this field," said Maggie Vessey, the two-time U.S. 800-meter runner-up, at a press conference on Thursday morning. "No matter what happens I'm going to go out there and run as hard as I can and hang on for dear life." Vessey will be running her first road mile.

The list of top women includes:

    • Morgan Uceny, whose 1500-meter time of 4:00.06 in Brussels last week is the fastest in the world this year. That win gave Uceny the 2011 Samsung Diamond League title;
    • Jenny Simpson, the 2011 World Champion at 1500 meters. Her winning time of 4:28.60 at the New Balance Games in January has held up as the fastest mile in the world for 2011, indoors or out;
    • Hannah England of Great Britain, the 2011 World Championship silver medalist at 1500 meters;
    • Shannon Rowbury, the 2009 World Championships bronze medalist at 1500 meters and two-time defending champion of the Fifth Avenue Mile; and
    • Sara Hall, the 2006 Fifth Avenue Mile champion who was runner-up to Rowbury last year and won the USA Road Mile Championship earlier this summer.

This won't be the first time Uceny has squared off against Simpson and England this month. Thanks to a breakout season that included an emphatic victory at the U.S. championships, the 26-year-old Uceny went into the World Championships among the favorites for gold. A third-lap crash ended her quest as Simpson surged in the final 100 meters to the biggest win of her career.

Joining Vessey as Fifth Avenue Mile rookies will be another pair of athletes better known at other distances: Sally Kipyego of Kenya, the 2011 World Championships silver medalist at 10,000 meters, and three-time U.S. 800-meter champion Alysia Montano.

On the men's side, Lagat is wrapping up a season that saw him take the U.S. 5000-meter title before picking up his 11th major international medal with a silver at 5000 meters at the World Championships. In addition, he set two more American records, in the 2-mile indoors and 5000 meters outdoors, to bring his current total to eight.

Lagat is among the many professional athletes for whom the Fifth Avenue Mile will be their season finale, and he hopes to end it on a high note after two seconds and a fourth over the past three years here. In 2008, Lagat was edged by New Zealand's Nick Willis by one-tenth of a second in a photo finish; in 2009 he was in contention near the end but finished fourth; and last year he was passed late in the race by Laalou but edged defending champion Andy Baddeley of Great Britain for second.

On a quest to end that unwanted streak, Lagat has returned to New York for the fourth time this year, after the Millrose Games in January, the NYRR Deuce Record Challenge at the Armory in February, and the adidas Grand Prix on Randall's Island in June.

"People in New York love me and I love them back," said Lagat. "That makes me want to come to New York to do races. Four times to New York this year! That's number two to Tucson, and I live there. I haven't been to Phoenix that often."

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