COLLIS Birmingham upstaged two London Olympic Games medallists to become the first non-African to take out the 3000 metres in the 42-year history of Italy’s premier track and field meet.
Ballarat’s Birmingham put in a stunning performance at the IAAF World Challenge event in Rieti to defeat Kenyans Thomas Longosowa and Ezekial Kemboi, who each finished in the medals in London.
Birmingham produced the second fastest 3000m of his career, seven minutes, 37.77 seconds. He set a personal best of 7:35.45 in Stockholm last momth.
Birmingham’s training partner Bobby Curtis ran second with 17-year-old world youth and world junior steeplechase champion Conselus Kipruto finishing third as the first Kenyan across the line.
“If I ran well I thought I’d have a chance to finish high up in the race or even win,” Birmingham said.
Rieti has been a happy hunting ground for Birmingham. He ran personal best times at the small hilltop town north of Rome over 1500m in 2009 and 3000m in 2010. Birmingham was content to sit fifth for most of the first half of the race.
He had moved to third at 1800m, and was four seconds clear when he took the bell for the final 400m. It was a decisive move as he hit the lead, with two-time Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi struggling to keep up.
“I was surprised I so easily opened up a gap,” Birmingham said. “I was worried they could reel me in.”
Birmingham was in full flight over the last lap and further improved his lead to 5.88 seconds by the finish. He joins Sally Pearson in 2007 (100m) and Debbie Flintoff-King in 1989 (400m hurdles) as one of the rare Australian winners of an event in Rieti.