Ethiopian Teenager Yomif Kejelcha Runs Away with the Prefontaine Classic 5000 metre title

Yomif Kejelcha, back at Hayward Field for the first time since last year’s IAAF World Junior Championships, outkicked a world-class field to win the 5,000 meters Friday on the opening session of the Prefontaine Classic.

Yomif Kejelcha, back at Hayward Field for the first time since last year’s IAAF World Junior
Yomif Kejelcha, back at Hayward Field for the first time since last year’s IAAF World Junior

The 17-year-old Ethiopian, who won the world junior 5,000 title in 2014, made a strong move with 300 meters left and pulled away to finish first with a time of 13 minutes, 10.54 seconds.

The time was a personal record by more than 14 seconds.

Edwin Cheruiyot Soi was second in 13:11.07.

Local favorite Galen Rupp, the former University of Oregon star who now runs for the Portland-based Nike Oregon Project, made a game bid to seize control of the race with 600 meters left.

But Rupp, running for the first time since shutting down the 2015 indoor season because of illness, couldn’t hold it.

He crossed third in 13:12.36, and afterward pronounced himself satisfied.

“It’s May,” Rupp said. “So I know what I need to do. This was a great season opener for me.”

It was perhaps better for Kejelcha, who gave the big, boisterous crowd estimated at slightly more than 9,000 a reason to be excited with the race’s finish.

Kejelcha came through the mixed zone, but begged off interviews, apparently not able to speak English.

In other events on Friday, Joe Kovacs launched a monster shot put of 72 feet, 7 inches to win on his final attempt.

David Storl had pulled into a tie at 71-11 with Kovacs on his sixth attempt in the six-throw series.

Throwing next, Kovacs then uncorked the winner.

He said the crowd gave him a lift before he threw.

“Coming to Hayward is always great,” Kovacs said. “I remember the first time I came here and watched the shot put competition in the stands.

“There were people next to me who had nothing to do with throwing, but they knew more stats than I did. That’s what Eugene is. It’s always great to have this crowd, because they’re always engaged. And they know what’s happening.”

Piotr Malachowski captured the discus with a best throw of 215-2, edging Robert Urbanek, second at 214-7. Urbanek managed only three legal throws.

Tianna Bartoletta won the long jump, going 23-4. Christabel Nettey was a distant second at 22-11¼.

Much of the crowd was here to see Rupp, the local star who went global after winning a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics in the 10,000.

Rupp made it interesting, and noted there is a long season ahead of him.

“Obviously getting better at the finish is the main takeaway,” said Rupp, who came down from the Oregon Project’s altitude camp in Utah to run in the race.

“But I was really happy the race was really tactical, like a lot of 5ks now. I know my strength is good.”

Ditto for longtime rival Bernard Lagat, who crossed fourth in 13:14.97.

“Being my first race (of the season), I didn’t know how it was going to be,” the 40-year-old Lagat said. “I realized I was in good shape. The only thing I need to do is make sure I fine tune it, so when I get to U.S. Nationals, I’ll be back here feeling strong and fast.”

The USATF Championships are June 25-28 at Hayward Field.

Lagat said he opened at 15:31 last year, so this obviously is a big step forward for him.

He ran the 15:31 in Eugene last year.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “This is a special place for me. I was embarrassed. I was telling everyone, ‘sorry’ because I ran bad. I vowed not to do the same thing.”

Here are the results from the Friday events at the Pre Classic.


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