Sacramento, Calif. -- 2016 Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo of the U.S. Army proved he is on an entirely different level than the rest of the U.S. men tonight in Sacramento by breaking the 12-year-old meet record and winning the 5K by seven seconds with a time of 13:08.62.
Eric Jenkins of the Nike Oregon Project, who Chelimo edged out of an Olympic spot at last year's Trials 5K, secured second place with a 54-second closing lap. Ryan Hill of the Bowerman Track Club, the 2016 IAAF world indoor bronze medalist, was just over a second behind Jenkins in 13:16.99 to take third and make his second world team for 5K.
The 26-year-old Chelimo entered the USATF Championships as the favorite and certainly ran like one on Friday night, building a two-second lead by 400m and a seven-second lead at 1600m, which Chelimo passed in 4:09 and the field, led by Ben True, passed in about 4:16.
The trend continued throughout the race as Chelimo split 7:55 through 3K and the field followed nearly seconds later in 8:04. True led the charge for the lead pack during much of the race, with Jenkins, Hill, Lopez Lomong and Emmanuel Bor following in single file. Bor made a move early, around 800m, to separate himself from the chase pack, but he was quickly absorbed again and ultimately finished 10th tonight.
After 3K, Chelimo's projected finish time was 13:13 and it became apparent that Tim Broe's 2005 meet record of 13:12.76 was in danger. The P.A. encouraged the crowd to cheer for Chelimo, whose slowest lap of the evening was a 64.8 split at 3K, and he eagerly used the crowd's deafening adoration to propel himself past the meet record by four seconds to a 13:08.62 finish time. His last 400m split was 59.37.
We talked to Chelimo's coach, Scott Simmons of the American Distance Project, after the win:
Tonight marked the second-fastest 5K of Chelimo's career, behind only his silver medal performance of 13:03.9 in Rio. The win is also his first career U.S. outdoor title. He won his first-ever U.S. title in the two mile at this March's USATF Indoor Championships.
"It is like I was going to war today" he said to the media after the race. "I was prepared and ready with my tactics. I am happy about it. I wanted to make it an honest race. I wanted it to be a good race today.
"I wanted to test myself to the limits. I told you after the Pre Classic, I was not happy with my performance. I was not really happy and I wanted a race to test myself again and see where I was and where my fitness is. Today running 13:08 solo is good. I know something and it tells me something that I am stronger than when I was in Pre, because at Pre, I was able to run 13:10 with a huge group. Now I was able to run 13:08 by myself."
With three laps to go, the chase pack had winnowed itself to four men: True, Jenkins, Lomong and Hill. At the bell, Jenkins --who has rediscovered his 1500m speed this season and taken down, at turns, the likes of Clayton Murphy and Robby Andrews-- finally made his move and split 54.06 for the final 400m to cross the line in second place, 13:15.74, and make his first world team.
"I was counting down to the last laps, trying not to get antsy," Jenkins said to the media. "I'm surprised by how fast the race became, but it put me in a great spot."
Eric Jenkins talks to the media after placing runner-up in the 5K and making his first world team:
True and Lomong were better positioned to secure the last spot to the world team, but Hill split 54.76 to bypass both of them down the final stretch. He would run 13:16.99 as True turned in a fourth place, 13:17.94 performance, and Lomong faded to 13:21.74 for fifth.
"I saved every bit of energy for the last 200m," Hill said to the press. "I knew I didn't have the fitness to afford any wasteful moves so I really waited for the very last moment to put in the big surge. It was a fight just to stay on it. It was pretty good pace, it's pretty warm out, It took every ounce of me to stay in it."
Ryan Hill talks to the press after placing third in the 5K with a 54.7 final 400m: