Ethiopian Dejen Gebremeskel entered the BAA 5K as the overwhelming favorite Sunday. Not only does his résumé include a 5,000-meter silver medal from the 2012 London Olympics and a 2011 World Championship bronze medal over the same distance, but Gebremeskel also owns the fifth-fastest 5,000 meter time in history (12:46.81). So, relying on his superior speed, Gebremeskel easily accelerated with 300 meters remaining and captured first place in 13 minutes 37 seconds.
“This is my first 5K in Boston, so I wanted to win the race,” said Gebremeskel, who will contest the BAA Distance Medley with a 10K set for June 23 and a half marathon Oct. 13. “It was a little bit cold and that’s why I was not running fast. But near the finish, I gave it a big push. I’m a good sprinter from the track. In the last 200 to 300 meters, I changed my speed and my stride to the finish.”
American Aaron Braun finished second in 13:40, crossing the line one second ahead of Kenyan Lani Rutto. The lead group went out in a 4:25 mile, then slowed to 4:35 over the next mile.
At that point, Braun knew everyone was saving for a fast final mile.
“I wanted to run the last mile really hard, just knowing I’m running neck and neck with Gebremeskel,” said Braun, who trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., and posted personal bests last year in the 5,000 (13:20.25) and 10,000 (27:41.54). “Gebremeskel is so smooth, but for the longest time I felt like I was smooth right there with him. The last 200 meters I kind of smashed into a wall. I didn’t really sense a move from Gebremeskel. It was probably him increasing and increasing his pace. He’s not the silver medalist for no reason.”
In the women’s 5K, New Zealander Kim Smith pushed the pace around the 2-mile mark and broke away from the lead pack. Running at a 4:54 pace, she covered most of the final mile alone and took first in 15:16. The victory puts Smith in good position to defend her BAA Distance Medley championship.
“I feel like [the 5K] is kind of my weakest distance at the moment,” said two-time Olympian Smith. “So it’s nice to have a win at that. The longer it goes, the stronger I feel. It gives me confidence for the rest of the series for sure. The win puts me out front early and takes a little bit of the pressure off.”
Preparing for the outdoor track season, Smith has focused on covering shorter distances and building speed. It is a welcome change from her preparation for the women’s marathon at the London Games. She finished 15th in London with a time of 2:26:59. Still, she has mixed feelings about not competing in today’s Marathon.
“It’s hard not being out there,” said Smith. “But the 5K feels like a lot less pressure. It’s kind of nice to be over in 15 minutes as opposed to two hours and more.”
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Coming down the Boylston Street homestretch in the men’s BAA Invitational Mile, New Zealander Nick Willis had enough time to engage a grandstand full of spectators. He waved his arms to encourage cheers, then gave a man in the crowd a high five. After Willis outkicked his competitors for the win in 4:03, he ran up and down the homestretch high-fiving fans and soaking in the Boston Marathon weekend enthusiasm.
Willis, the silver medalist in the 1,500 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, felt good throughout the race and surged ahead with 300 meters remaining. His strong finish made for a fun, confidence-boosting race after a disappointing London Games.
Great Britain’s Ross Murray finished second in 4:08 and South Africa’s Peter Van Der Westhuizen took third in 4:10.
Currently, Willis plans to do a block of racing, then a block of training, then go back to racing. He is not thinking about the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow in August. Instead, with his wife pregnant, he is looking ahead to a new addition to the Willis family. When the baby comes, he will take some time away from racing and devote his energies to fatherhood. Until then, he hopes to enjoy more big racing moments like the one he experienced Sunday.
“It’s like being at an indoor meet, but outdoors, having the crowd so close,” said Willis of the Invitational Mile atmosphere. “They swing you out over that final turn and there’s only three or four yards between the rail and where the fans are. And these are not your traditional track meet fans. These are a lot of the public who also love running. That’s what our sport really lacks, a way to integrate the marathon and the road running community into the elite side of it. This is such a fantastic marriage of those two facets.”
Like Willis, American Brenda Martinez showed impressive closing speed, relished the crowd support, and high-fived fans post-race. After the women’s race started slowly, Martinez picked up the pace with roughly a third of a mile left. Then, on Newbury Street, she made her move with around 300 meters to go. Looking strong, she crossed the line with a winning time of 4:51.4. American Gabrielle Anderson placed second in 4:52.7 and American Heather Kampf was third in 4:53.5.
“With a lap to go, I was feeling good and wanted to get the momentum going,” said Martinez. “With the last two turns, I said I was going to go all out and whoever was going to be with me was going to be with me. I was glad to go away with the win.”