On the way to a splendid maturity to which he approaches the race, Mo Katir, a great competitor, a unique class athlete, from Mula, Murcia, 25 years old, was world champion of the 5,000m up to 10 meters before the final line . Only then, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the phenomenon of the century, was able to surpass him.
It was his elbow to elbow, 26.59s after running 4,800m in an extremely humid environment, one of the best 200 meters of the entire championship, even better than the final of the tremendous Noah Lyles, almost as good, tighter, more sweaty, more agonizing, than the splendid ones of the Jamaican woman, Shericka Jackson. It was an oxygen-depleted sprint from two extraordinary middle-distance runners, and those who watched live at Sydney 2000 the 200m mother of all 200m long-distance events, Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat’s desperate battle in the 10,000m felt the same thrill, the same electric shock, the goosebumps that only great exhibitions give, the fight of two equalized athletes for a gold medal in a World Cup.
Ingebrigtsen was never there, world distance champion a year ago as well, European champion a year ago in Munich ahead of Katir too, closer to defeat in the 5,000m of a major championship. Finally, 13m 11.30s, he beat Katir by 14 hundredths, less than a blink, than a sigh (13m 11.44s). Third, the Kenyan Jacob Krop (13m 12.28s), who was second after Ingebrigtsen in Eugene 2022.
The silver for Katir, Spanish record holder of the 1,500m (3m 28.76s), the 3,000m (7m 27.64s) and the 5,000m (12m 45.01s), marks that only the world superelite can approach, is the first medal of the Spanish 5,000m, the distance of Javier Álvarez Salgado and Mariano Haro, the parents of the fund, in the 40-year history of the world championships.
300m left. The bell has rung and Hagos Gebrhiwet, the last of the Ethiopians, the finisher of the work of his partner Berihu Aregawi, once again changes the rhythm. The group speeds up. They are some of the fastest in the history of the 5,000m. Athletes who run under 13m 50s almost without opening their mouths. Mo Katir, among them, bites his teeth. He waits. He still waits. He restrains himself. He has a plan. “I wanted to make a change. A definitive change ”, he says later, breathing hard, in the mixed zone. Happy. “’When I hit it,’ I thought, ‘no one will have to pass me. Nobody can’. So I did it. And only in the last meter Jakob passed me. Everyone already knows that Jakob is the best athlete today. To win that guy you have to do your best. I thought he was going to win, but my legs already hurt. Between the 1,500m, the 5,000m semifinals and the final, everything was already hurting”.
The rival is Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the Norwegian ice, as cold as the ice vest that, combined with sunglasses under the humid moon of Budapest, allow him to reach the point, at his ideal point, at the end of redemption. The 5,000m. A few days after the 1,500m along the Danube, in which a Scotsman, Josh Kerr, repeating the blow at 200m from the end that another Scotsman, Jake Wightman, had dealt him in the 1,500m final, Ingebrigtsen is ready to the career that will redeem him as then. So is Katir. He is also looking for a victory that will make him feel like one of the best athletes in the world again, show his unique stride, the verticality of his body, his ability not to break down his gesture even in moments of maximum effort. Eliminated in a stupid semifinal, of the 1,500m, the distance in which he was bronze in 2002, he needs to erase with a victory that goes around the world, his victory. The defeat again in Budapest, of the untouchable Norwegian. “He is screwed, it is screwed not to be in a final. At least I, with my level, should have been in the 1,500m final. And even so I couldn’t, it made me very angry. But, well, that’s the way sport is and, look, today I’m going home with a 5,000m silver”.
300m left. The Scots defeated Ingebrigtsen over close range with a 200m attack. Katir can’t take that long. He needs to break free. Give meaning to the race. Release the horses. After the curve after the bell, he progresses and accelerates. Then he changes hard. Impatient. Explosive. Dry. Ingebrigtsen is slow to react. The Spaniard has surprised him, who usually, in other races, waits for his attack to try to overcome him at the end. The one who attacks now is the Murcian. To Ingebrigtsen, now the myth, the 22-year-old boy exploited by his father, the protagonist of a Norwegian Big Brother, the master of double threshold training and lactate control that everyone wants to imitate, the king of the treadmill in the concentrations of Sierra Nevada, in which he coincides so many times with Katir, the 180 kilometers a week in 14 sessions, the five intense 600m at 1.26 with hardly any rest, he has to climb behind a boy who came to Mula as a child with his migrant parents from the other side of the Strait.
The Norwegian takes time to approach. It takes time to arrive. In the last corner, it even seems to give way. He recovers. Katir refuses to be caught up. His legs bleed from kicks received, from the rivals’ nails in the first few laps, when everyone went back and forth, measuring themselves, looking at each other’s faces, calculating. He only gives a millimeter, an inch, not much more for each stride. The final line recedes. Ingebrigtsen’s breath, his sweat, invades him. He defeats her.
In front of the journalists, Katir looks at his leg and says, “it doesn’t matter. My body hurts more than the wounds.” “What is the value of this silver?”, she asks herself. “It is the power of the mind. If your mind says you can, even if you’re physically exhausted, you can. If your mind says you’re going to fight it, you’ll fight it even if your body doesn’t want to.
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