The sports world is brimming with talk about Lopez Lomong, the American runner who set a world record in the men's 5,000-meter race in California Sunday. It was Lomong's first race at that distance (just over 3 miles), which he covered in 13 minutes and 11.63 seconds. But the race took a very unusual turn in its final laps.
The race, called "incredible" by the Recover Your Stride blog and others, is archived by the Flo Track site, so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about (skip to the 11:30 mark, if you want to save time). In it, you can hear how the announcers' comments go from "Look at him go!" to "Uh-oh!"
(Spoiler alert: We'll now be talking about the race itself.)
The video shows how Lomong launches himself from second place, setting up a strong sprint to the finish line. Crossing the line, Lomong takes up a slowdown trot with his hands raised, as many runners do. But most of them wait until the end of the race to do that and there was still one more lap remaining in Lomong's event.
The crowd and race officials point and wave, urging him to keep running. After a brief delay, Lomong speeds up to a jog to get back on the pace. And all the while, the pack of runners he had left behind was trying to catch him.
Lomong maintained a gap on the other runners as he won the race. But his stride wasn't as free and easy as it had been, and he later said the lactic acid that had built up in his muscles took away some of his kick.
"I kinda miscalculated," a visibly winded Lomong told Flotrack moments later. "I kinda paid a little price out there."
Lopez said that when it dawned on him that he had another lap to go, he thought, "Oh my goodness, I thought, 'No way, it's not going to happen.' When somebody said, 'You got one more lap to go,' I was like, 'Oh, okay!'"
For the record, on standard 400-meter tracks, runners must race 12.5 laps to rack up 5000 meters.
"I guess I slept the whole way and didn't know what was going on," Lopez told The Mercury News. "It's a lot of laps, you know."
The race, part of the Stanford Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, was a continuation of Lomong's effort to compete in longer distances. He is widely regarded as the top U.S. threat in the 1,500-meter distance for this summer's Olympics.
Lopez's time Monday was the best in the 5000-meter distance this year. The current all-time world record for the event is 12:37:35, a time set by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in 2004.
At just 27, Lopez Lomong has already overcome many setbacks in his life. In fact, as NPR has previously reported, Lomong "started out running for his life" in his native southern Sudan. He was kidnapped by rebel fighters when he was six, but he escaped after several weeks. His website describes how:
"After weeks of watching other boys slowly die in the rebel camp, Lopez was able to escape through a hole in the fence with the help of three other boys. Lopez and these boys ran for three days through the African plains until they reached Kenya and were placed in a refugee camp."
After 10 years in the camp, Lomong became one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan," emigrating to the United States. He went on to star in track at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
And as Tom Goldman reported back in 2008, Lomong was chosen to carry the American flag during the Beijing Summer Olympics' opening ceremonies.