World Championships, Day 7: Sitting in the Spectator's Perch for the Men's 5000m Final by M. Nicole Nazzaro

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Farah_MoFV1a-Worlds13.jpg
Mo Farah, photo by PhotoRun.net

M. Nicole Nazzaro watched the men's 5,000 meter run, won by Mo Farah after he had won the men's 10,000 meters last Saturday, in the stands with friends. Here is how she saw the race....


World Championships, Day 7: Sitting in the Spectator's Perch for the Men's 5000m Final
by M. Nicole Nazzaro
 
So, what is it actually like to watch a world championship meet as a spectator?
 
We media types get a little bit spoiled at the world track and field championships. We have free access to all of the seats (except the really, really special ones for VIPs). We have a little café all to ourselves. We can surf the web with free wireless access from our seats. Speaking of seats, we get tables and television monitors and access to the IAAF Commentator Information System, a touch-screen system where we can instantly check live results from all of the events going on at the same time.
 
But how about just watching a race for the race itself? For the simple thrill of sitting in the stands, watching the chess match unfold on the track, maybe glancing up at the Jumbotron to see the big moves in the race, and being enthralled by the sheer energy of the effort expended on the track in the single most important race of the year?
 
That's how I decided to watch tonight's men's 5000-meter final. Nothing fancy. No analysis of the lap times, no slow-motion replays. Does the race go out fast? Slow? Tactical? Who cares! Let's take a pure spectator's look at a pure track race. Here's how it unfolded.
 
Pre-race:  The men emerge from the tunnel for their warmups. If you're paying attention, there might be a little bit of applause from the spectators sitting right near their entrance to the track. And the excitement starts to build. If you're an American, this is a hot one - Bernard Lagat, Galen Rupp, and Ryan Hill. Lagat, the elder statesman. Rupp, the Olympic medalist in the 10,000 who doubles in the 5k with training partner Mo Farah. And Farah, who makes a habit of winning these things. They announce his name, and the crowd cheers: yes, they knows who he is. It's not the kind of cheers the Russian and Ukrainian athletes receive, but it's okay. And then there are the Kenyans and the Ethiopians. Aren't they always in these things?
 
The first four laps: They're lined up on the backstretch and ready to go! A few cheers erupt from the back of the stadium and you  - you always look for what they're cheering - and they're lined up - and they go! If there was a Russian or Ukrainian in this race, you'd instantly know who the crowd favorite was, but there's not a Slav in the bunch and that means we're wondering who the crowd will support. The first part of the race looks so easy we could jump in there ourselves - it looks like these guys are jogging, fluid and easy they look. Farah, in his Union Jack kit, is the easiest luminary to spot. Koech takes it out a litle bit, just a few strides ahead of the pack, while Lagat and Rupp are right behind. It's a nice night for this race, too - quite a bit cooler than for the men's 10,000.
 
One and a half laps in now, and there are two runners taking it out - are they both Kenyans? Jumbotron, show us! (We forgot our binoculars tonight. And yes, this is why some track fans carry binoculars.) Yes, it's the Kenyan, Koech, who is leading now, with an  Ethiopian runner (we can't tell which one) in third. Suddenly the energy shifts on the track for just a moment. Something is happening...or is it? No, no meaningful moves quite yet.  Now two and a half laps in. Two Kenyans, Two Ethiopians, two  Americans, and the then rest of the pack. They're all coming back together now...looks like that Kenyan surge was just a little bit of a tease. And they're back to jogging. 3-1/2 laps in now. That means, well, a lot to go. Koech officially leads after the first 1000 meters - 2:45.12.  I know that because they put it on the big screen. I didn't cheat and look at it on the commentator information system. Really, I didn't.
 
The next four laps: What do you think about when you're running a long track race and suddenly everyone in the stadium is cheering, but you know it's not for you? That's what just happened - must have been one of those shot putters or long jump guys. Back to running. What do you think about when you have more than eight laps to go in a tactical championship race? It's pretty amazing, when you think about it, that you can amass this group of athletes from all over the world and they  can stay within just a few seconds of each other in this pack, lap after lap. On the far side of the track, they're just tiny dots (ah, binocular envy). The pack looks like a centipede, heads bobbing, just with thirty legs attached. A thought: if all distance races on the track are just tactical, why not just run the bell lap and dispense with the boring 4600 meters that precede it? Well, because distance running on the track is a boxing match. And - wait - suddenly Mo Farah leads at 2000 meters! They just posted it on the big screen. That's important, because he's a favorite. And the centipede continues along the road. The boxing match continues. Now a Kenyan slips in front. And 3000 meters are down, and Koech is back in the lead: 8:27.79.
 
Setting up for the final lap: Now things are getting serious, at least a bit more than before. The Americans are mostly a little bit back in the back but we can see their red singlets, and suddenly at 9:32 there's a sense that something a bit more serious is happening. The acoustics in this stadium are terrible from where we're sitting (they're good across the stadium - we're jealous of the people sitting there) so we can't hear the live commentary. The bobbing mass of heads is still more or less together but now they're starting - just starting - to drop a runner. When someone gets dropped, it's sometimes easy to see why: their legs look heavier, their gait is less springy. You look at them and it hurts a little to see them laboring while the rest of the pack begins to fly. And with a little less than two laps to go, wow, now the race is starting! Six hundred fifty meters to go! Farah in the lead! Now suddenly everything changes, and there's no time to think about anything. Rupp is in the back but still in contact with the leaders! Cheers in the stadium! Five hundred meters to go and the bell is going to ring!
 
The bell lap! Now everyone in the stadium is watching and it's a killer dead sprint and wow - here we go! Galen Rupp is 8th? Yes. And...Farah Farah Farah - wow - Farah still in the lead - and suddenly it's over! He wins the 5/10 double! Galen Rupp finishes in 8th place. It's a slightly slow time for a bunch of world beaters - 13:26.98 - but wow. And Farah is lying on the track, hands on his head. Then he gets up - hugs a Kenyan competitor - and there are a whole bunch of bodies on the ground. Who won the other medals? Hagos Gebrhiwet, the Ethiopian, and Isaiah Kiplangat Koech the Kenyan look like they're completely tied, but the scoreboard will tell the tale - all eyes look there and wait, and wait - and it's Ethiopia for the silver! Koech, the Kenyan, is third - and the two of them have the exact same time: 13:27.26. After all of that boxing, the difference between silver and gold is measured in thousandths of a second.
 
And that's why we love this sport.

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