Date: 28 Aug 2009

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Ritzenhein breaks 13-year-old U.S. 5K mark at Swiss meet

Dathan Ritzenhein, considered a 10K and marathon runner, produced a stunning U.S. record in the 5,000 meters Friday at the Weltklasse meet in Zurich, Switzerland.
Finishing third behind 5,000/10,000 Olympic and world champ Keninisa Bekele of Ethiopia (12 minutes, 52.32 seconds), Ritzenhein’s time of 12:56.27 broke the 13-year-old mark of 12:58.21 by Bob Kennedy.

Ritzenhein, coming off a sixth-place finish in the 10,000 in a personal-best 27:22.28 at the world championships in Berlin, had run a 5,000 best of 13:34.00 this year and a best-ever of 13:16.06 in ’06.

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“I was thinking he’d run in the 13:05 range,” said Alberto Salazar, Ritzenhein’s coach, who watched the race at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. “With his workouts and what he’d done in Berlin, I thought he was ready for a big PR (personal record). I’d be a liar to say I thought he was going to break the American record.”

For much of the early going Friday, Ritzenhein was in last place. He had been warned by Salazar that the front-runners were shooting for a record 12:45 pace. In a Thursday phone call, Salazar said he told Ritzenhein to not to lose contact with the runner ahead of him.

Salazar told John Capriotti, Nike’s head of track and field, who was in Zurich, “He might be in last but he ain’t going to stay in last.”

As runners ahead of him began to fade under the scorching pace, Ritzenhein started passing people. With 800 meters to go, he needed to run 2:03 for the final two laps to crack 13 minutes.

“With three or four laps left, he started blowing by people,” Salazar said. “He has this unbelievable ability to grind by himself like that.”

Ritzenhein reached second at one point, but was passed with about 150 meters left.

He became the fourth non-African to break 13:00 behind Kennedy, Germany’s Dieter Baumann (12:54.70) and Australia’s Craig Mottram (12:55.76).

“What Dathan did today validates what everyone in this country has been trying to do — to show Americans can run with the best East Africans,” Salazar said.

“What we needed was a kid born in this country — here’s a kid from the Midwest (Michigan) — able to run with them. This is a huge shot to prove you don’t have to be East African to be a great distance runner.”

Salazar, a winner of the New York and Boston marathons, has been coaching Ritzenhein for just three months. In April, after finishing 11th in the London Marathon in a personal-best 2:10:00, Ritzenhein decided to leave coach Brad Hudson, whose training group was in Eugene, Ore. By June, Ritzenhein left Eugene for Portland and Salazar’s group.

“No doubt about it, Brad Hudson deserves a lot of the credit for this, the majority of credit,” said Salazar. “He’d gotten him in great shape from all the marathon training, very aerobically fit.”

Salazar, whose training group also includes current NCAA and U.S. 10K champ Galen Rupp, immediately gave Ritzenhein a dose of speed training.

“We were very careful because if you give someone too much stuff too fast, you can hurt them,” Salazar said. “We were very careful in bringing him into the workouts Galen was doing. They wouldn’t always run together.

“He ran workouts like he’d never done before, showed speed he never showed before. Looking back he literally has not had a bad workout. He’s hit every single workout the last three months.”

Salazar, Rupp and some other runners were whooping it up outside Portland as they watched Ritzenhein surge to the record. “Galen’s going to be running these kinds of times,” Salazar said. “(Matt) Tegenkamp ran 13:04 a couple years ago. We need to be breaking records from 15 years ago. How can we be getting better if we can’t break a record Bob Kennedy set (13) years ago? This shows we’re closing.”

The race was probably the last one on the track for Ritzenhein this season. He’ll get back to training and plans to run the World Half Marathon Championships Oct.11 in Birmingham, England.

“If you go out now and run an unbelievable half marathon, that’s going to be a big confidence builder,” Salazar said. “These track performances will transfer to the roads and eventually the marathon.”

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