Josphat Bipkoech Bett

Distance Night at the Prefontaine Classic

EUGENE, Ore. -- Last year, Chris Solinsky ran his first-ever 10,000 meter race on the track. What a debut. He became the first American to break 27 minutes, finishing in 26:59.60. So when meet organizers let it drop earlier this week that Solinsky would be joining what was already an incredible field for the Pre Classic 10k here Friday night, the American track cognoscenti got all geeked up. And for good reason.

Maybe, just maybe, there might be a new American record. And at venerable Hayward Field, no less.

But no.

Instead, what was offered was yet another lesson in the vagaries of distance running, and how both difficult and beautiful it is.

Britain's Mo Farah won the race, in 26:46.57, breaking the European record for the 10k. (To show you how truly, profoundly difficult a sport track and field can be to keep straight: On the official computer board, Farah's record is called an "AR." That doesn't stand for "American record." That means "area record." Which means "European record" and, presumably, "British record," too. Which, of course, he set while running on American soil.)

Twenty-six guys started the race; nine broke 27 minutes. That is a crazy, crazy fast field.

Solinsky was not one of those nine guys.

He dropped out with 18 laps to go. He made a solitary figure walking off the red track as the others whipped by.

By the end, 14 guys in the race would set personal-best times. The 2004 Athens Games bronze medalist, Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea, who finished fifth Friday night, in 26:51.09 -- he did not set a personal-best time. The 2004 and 2008 Games silver medalist, Sileshi Sihine of Ethiopia, sixth here Friday in 26:52.84 -- again, not a personal-best.

Imane Merga of Ethiopia, ranked No. 1 in the world last year in the 5k, finished second -- a personal-best Friday, 26:48.35. Josphat Bipkoech Bett of Kenya, just 20 years old, the 2008 world 10k junior champion, 26:48.99 for third -- a personal-best.

As he emerged later from under the Hayward grandstands, Solinsky, 26, sighed.

He so wanted to race this race, against this kind of field, because last year proved he could do it.

That's why he dropped into the race in the first instance.

But what he hadn't broadcast beforehand was that he'd been battling a wobbly left hamstring. He thought he could hang in there. But he couldn't. His hamstring, he said, is about a week away from being right.

At least he made it to the starting line.

The other top American expected to challenge Friday night, Galen Rupp, didn't start, apparently because of high pollen counts. It happens here in Eugene.

Solinsky not only started but was hanging in there, turning splits in roughly 64 seconds, when he decided, with about 18 laps to go, that there was no point in risking more. The nationals are in three weeks, back here at Hayward. The world championships, in Daegu, South Korea, are at the end of the summer.

"I'm very incredibly angry at myself to give away an opportunity to run with the best in the world," he said.

"It's the Pre Classic," he said. "I didn't want to miss the Pre Classic," this stop on track and field's calendar named for Steve Prefontaine, the middle-distance running icon -- and University of Oregon legend -- who died in 1975  at age 24 in a car accident.

He said, and this is why Chris Solinsky is going to be fine, "I just wanted to compete."