There are question marks next to the defending champion’s name, three savvy racers that could surprise, one face we’ve seen for what seems like forever, and one face that’s finally arrived.
 
The Men’s 5K at the U.S. Championships may not be like last year’s two mile jog followed by an all-out mile, but rather, a real race with all the main characters looking to get that winning jump on one another.
 
Below, we’ll give some quick takes about the ageless or aging Bernard Lagat, father-to-be Galen Rupp, the rise of Hassan Mead, and the threatening Bowerman Track Club trio.
 
Bernard Lagat
 
Following a stellar indoor campaign, the five-time and defending U.S. 5,000-meter champion has had an intriguing outdoor season.
 
The 39-year-old Lagat started the spring with an American 5K Road Record at the Carlsbad 5000, where he finished 2nd in 13:19. Breaking long-standing records, defying his age, etc., etc., ad infinitum; this is the norm for Lagat.
 
But then, when Lagat stepped back onto the track two months later at the Prefontaine Classic, something was amiss.
 
14th in the 5K? In 13:31.23? Surely there had to be a typo. A misplaced '1' before that '4' or something.
 
It wasn't, though. Oddly enough, Lagat had an atypical bad race. Apparently he's human. 

Lagat walked straight through the mixed zone at Prefontaine, smiling, of course, so we didn’t get to catch up with him. But a few weeks later at the NCAA Championships, Weldon Johnson of LetsRun.com did get to speak with Lagat’s coach James Li and asked him what happened.
 
“It was his first race and it wasn’t him,” Coach James Li said.

“I’ve never seen him have a race like that,” Johnson laughed. The interview ended short after. 

So, to recap: We still have no idea what happened at Prefontaine. But, hey, everyone has a bad race every once in a while. It’s all swings and roundabouts. It’s just bizarre to see Kip falter.
 
In that interview, Li mentions how Lagat was running the 3K in Ostrava later that week. At the legendary Golden Spike Meeting, Lagat finished 4th in 7:38.30. It’s a step in the right direction, but is Kip finally beginning to lose that other kind of step?
 
Last year, it took a 3:55.05 last mile and 54.22 to beat Galen Rupp. Does the ageless wonder still have it in him?
 
Galen Rupp
 
In 2014, Rupp has set three American Records, but has garnered zero world medals or U.S. titles. Yes, he’s only had one opportunity for each, and, yes, they were both in the under-distance 3K, but there’s something missing from Rupp’s repertoire.
 
His finishing kick.
 
Both coach Alberto Salazar and Rupp have been recently tinkering with Rupp’s ability to close in world-class races. Though the Prefontaine Classic 10K was technically Rupp's first test -- Rupp pulled away from Kenya’s Paul Tanui, who beat him last summer at in World Championship 10K -- a more relevant example would be the Oslo Diamond League 5K.

 
At the Bislett Games, Rupp tried to hang with the two best 5K athletes in the world right now, Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew and Kenya’s Caleb Ndiku, but couldn't match their last lap and wound up in third.
 
Rupp wasn’t too far away, though. Alamirew would kick away to take the win in 13:01.57, Ndiku finished 2nd in 13:02.15, and Rupp held on for 3rd in 13:03.35, his 4th best 5K of all-time.
 
Given the current form of the two, could Rupp once again pip Kip?
 
In the 5K, Rupp’s head-to-head record against Lagat is 2 wins and 10 loses. His last win was more of a technical knockout, with Rupp finishing 6th at the 2013 Monaco Diamond League in 13:05.17 and Lagat DNF’ing for the first time, ever.
 
The other lone win, and knockout punch, was at the 2012 Olympic Trials, where Rupp lead at the bell, was passed by Lagat with 150-meters to go, rallied, and came away with the win, courtesy of a 52.54 last lap (Lagat’s time 400-meters was actually 52.46, a faster split, but he was further back at the bell).

Will we see shades of 2012 or will it be 2013 once again?

The kicker here is that Rupp will be doubling back from the 10K, which normally wouldn't be a problem for him, but the two events are on back-to-back days.
 
Hassan Mead
 
We have not, and will not, overlook the second fastest American of this year and the fourth fastest man in the world, Hassan Mead.
 
Healthy and confident, Mead is fit and open to challengers. He acknowledges that him, along with everyone else, is eyeing to be fit late July and August, but USAs serves as a fine summer starting point.
 
This spring, he's been exceptional. His 13:02.80 2nd place finish at Payton Jordan certainly dropped some jaws and while his 13:19.57 10th place finish at the Prefontaine Classic 5K wasn’t quite what he wanted, he still competed well against the other Americans in the field, finishing 2nd to Chris Derrick by 4-seconds.
 
Neither Derrick nor Ben True, who won this year’s Payton Jordan and lead the mile long charge at last year’s U.S. 5K Championship, are in the 5K field.

But for Mead, it’s a complete reversal from one year ago. Back in Des Moines, we heard rumors that he was fit, and some of us picked him to upset the field, but he finished last at USAs.
 
This year, we know he’s fit, won’t just pick him to upset, and will challenge for the win as one of the favorites.
 
We were all witness at Payton Jordan

The Bowerman Track Club Three - Lomong, Hill and Bumbalough
 
Last summer at the World Championships, after he missed the 1,500-meter final, Lopez Lomong said that he was “going to regroup and focus on the 5,000-meters” in 2014.
 
So far this year, it’s been hit or miss. Lomong set an outdoor personal best with his 13:07.95 3rd place finish at Payton Jordan, but couldn’t hang with True and Mead over the last 200-meters. Then, in Oslo, Lomong had a disappointing showing, where he finished 12th in 13:25.80.
 
What’s to make of his form going into USAs? It’s hard to tell. Lomong has sort of lacked that world-class finish in the 5K, with the exception being the 2012 Payton Jordan Invitational, where he miscounted laps.

It should be noted that Lomong is also declared in the 1,500-meters.
 
Another talent from the BTC who’s looking to rebound is Ryan Hill. The first-year professional returns to the championship meet where he emphatically stormed onto the international scene, finishing 3rd in that fast-closing 5K to make his first international senior team.
 
After the winter season, where he finished within arm’s reach of the Ethiopian duo of Hagos Gebrhiwet and Dejen Gebremeskel at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix 3K, it looked as if Hill would be consistently challening the rest of the distance running world.
 
A near personal best and 7th place finish (13:14.31) at the Payton Jordan 5K showed he was primed and ready for something big, but he went in the total opposite direction of what we thought would happen at the Prefontaine Classic 5K, where he finished last in 13:57.12.
 
Maybe it was the heat, wind, injury, or any non-mutually exclusive combination of the three and beyond, but Hill looked out of it.
 
We’ll label that race as the outlier and confidently predict that he’ll not only learn how to properly pour a beer, but will be in the mix in Sacramento.
 
Lastly, we come to Andrew Bumbalough. I’m going to be honest upfront: I want Bumbalough to have his day in the sun. Above everything else, he deserves a win, or, whatever counts as another big breakthrough.
 
Let’s start with this spring. At Payton Jordan, he had an off-day as he finished back in 15th in 13:27.17; at the Prefontaine Classic, he did his job as the rabbit; and then, at the Oslo Diamond League, he closed hard off an early, slow pace, to finish 9th in 13:13.67. 
 
Considering his personal best is 13:12.01 from Heusden last summer, it looks like the stars are aligning for guy who still hasn’t been told why he was disqualified from the USA Indoor Championships.
 
Disqualifications hopefully aside, Bumbi is yearning to be on that USA podium.

At the 2011 U.S. Championship 5K, he finished in that unfortunate 4th place position, but competed for Team USA in place of Chris Solinsky, who withdrew with a strained hamstring. At the 2012 Olympic Trials, he once again finished in that unfortunate 4th place position, but this time, didn’t get to put on that Team USA kit. Then, last year at the U.S. Championship 5K, he was in position to break into the top three, but slid back to 5th in the final 200-meters.
 
Always a groomsmen, never a groom; this is Bumbalough’s shot to finally get on that podium.
 
Those are your favorites. If you’re looking for some dark horse picks, Oklahoma State’s Kirubel Erassa and ZAP Fitness Reebok’s Joe Stilin, who actually gets to compete this year, are solid choices. Oregon’s Trevor Dunbar would be one to watch, but it looks like he’s just running the 1,500-meters.
 
Final Prediction
 
1) Bernard Lagat
2) Galen Rupp
3) Hassan Mead
 
I've taken Rupp over Lagat a few times in the past two years, and it's come back to bite me, so I’ll go with Lagat once again getting the best of his younger rival. If you're one for trying to find patterns, you should note that right before Lagat beat Rupp at the USA Indoor 3K, he finished 4th in a fast 3K in Germany in 7:38.51. The writing is on the wall.

Mead will storm past Bumbalough and his Bowerman TC teammates for third.

The Men's 5K final is scheduled to go off Friday, June 27th at 9:25pm Pacific Time, which is great, because it'll be a cool 60 degrees instead of 93.