By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

GATESHEAD, ENGLAND (10-Sep) — Two-time Olympic 800m gold medalist David Rudisha of Kenya ran the fastest-ever 500m time at the Great North CityGames here, clocking 57.69 seconds for the rarely-run distance.

Clad in red adidas kit and wearing road racing flats, Rudisha used the slight downhill start in the opening meters to establish a fast pace along with his top challengers, Martyn Rooney of Great Britain and Mark English of Ireland.  After the first 350 meters on the paved roadway next to the Tyne River, Rudisha successfully managed to step up the steep ramp which brought the athletes onto the four-lane, 180m straight track for the finish. It was there that Rudisha opened his lead and used his superior endurance to maintain his gap to the tape.

PHOTO: David Rudisha after running a 500m world best of 57.69 at the Great North CityGames in Gateshead, England (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
PHOTO: David Rudisha after running a 500m world best of 57.69 at the Great North CityGames in Gateshead, England (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)

“This is my first time running this distance,” a relaxed Rudisha told reporters after the race.  “It was kind of difficult to judge from the front, but… what I knew is just to be right with them and use my (strength) advantage in the 800 in the last 150.”

Although sparse records are kept for the 500m distance, Rudisha’s time surpassed the 59.32 Orestes Rodriguez of Cuba ran in 2013 which Wikipedia lists as the world best time.  The next four men –English, 57.91; Rooney, 59.02; Sebastian Rodger of Great Britain, 59.18; and Jack Green of Great Britain, 59.30– all ran under the previous best time.

“Somewhere around 180, I decided to charge there,” Rudisha continued.  “I knew since I’m strong in 800, I don’t think anyone would come and pass when I get to the soft track.”

A half-miler also won the women’s 500m.  Lynsey Sharp of Great Britain used her experience from the 2014 race here to judge her early pace.  But as she approached the ramp, her leg seemed to buckle slightly at the same time she needed to fend of a strong challenge from compatriot Shelayna Oskan-Clark.  Only a half stride separated the women as they launched down the track for the final 150 meters, and Sharp was able to hold off her rival.

“I think I judged it better that time,” Sharp said of her early pace.  “I was kind of nervous about the ramp, and I probably took the ramp worse this time.  I thought I was going to go down, but I managed to recover.”

Sharp clocked 1:06.62 to Oskan-Clark’s 1:06.89.  Britain’s Anyika Onuora was third in 1:07:04.

In the two one-mile races, which began in Newcastle on the other side of the river and finished on the Gateshead quayside, the favorite won the women’s contest while there was an upset on the men’s side.

Laura Muir, the British 1500m record holder from Glasgow who finished second at the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in New York last Saturday, bolted away from the field just past the halfway point, and took sole possession of the lead.  While she was later challenged by Alison Leonard in the final 100 meters, her top speed was too great, and she won in 4:33.99 to Leonard’s 4:34.42.  American Katie Mackey finished third in 4:35.96.

“I really wanted to win here today,” said Muir, a veterinary student.  “Last race on home soil, so, yeah, job done.”

In the men’s mile, two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat established the early pace, leading through halfway.  But the five-time Olympian fell back when the course turned slightly uphill in the third quarter.  At that point, Tom Lancashire of Britain, Ryan Gregson of Australia, Marcin Lewandowski of Poland, and Jake Wightman of Britain all remained in contention.

Wightman, who finished 16th on Fifth Avenue a week ago, found some extra strength and led the front group up the ramp and on to the track where he began to think he had made a tactical mistake.

“I thought I had gone to early,” Wightman told Race Results Weekly.  “If you come on the track in the lead, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win it.  I thought I wasn’t going to quite hang on, but luckily I had a little bit left to dig into.”

Wightman got the win in 4:05.70 ahead of Lewandowski (4:05.98) and Gregson (4:06.21).

Lagat, 41, who ran his final race in spikes at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin last Saturday, was happy to end his historic season here today where he competed in his fifth Olympic Games.  Today’s race was partially symbolic because Lagat had said that he plans to transition to the roads from the track, and this race combined both surfaces.  In the end, he said, he just didn’t have enough strength left today.

“I took a chance today,” Lagat told Race Results Weekly.  “I’m going to go in front and just maybe I could stay strong towards the end.  I tried.”

The Great North CityGames had a total of 12 events and preceded tomorrow’s massive Great North Run half-marathon which will have over 40,000 runners, including stars Mo Farah, Vivian Cheruiyot and Tirunesh Dibaba.

PHOTO: David Rudisha after running a 500m world best of 57.69 at the Great North CityGames in Gateshead, England (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)