Athletics World Cup: Pacemaker who missed the point

American 1500m man faces disciplinary action for quick-slow-slow show

When Steve Ovett set the World Cup 1500m record back in 1977 he did so with style in a classic middle-distance race. He tracked John Walker and Thomas Wessinghage before launching the blistering kick that was to become such a striking feature of the track-and-field circuit for the next four years, clocking 25.1sec for the final 200m and 11.8sec for the last 100m. It was the Brighton man's big breakthrough at global level, and it presaged a decade of British dominance in middle- distance running.

Some sniffed disapprovingly at the wave Ovett gave to his parents as he surged up the home straight in Dusseldorf's Rheinstadion that September night. It was nothing, however, to the shameful antics in Madrid's Estadio Comunidad on Friday night as Ovett waved goodbye to his 25-year-old record. Lesser middle-distance men have sacrificed themselves for more talented colleagues in international races before, but only when running for an individual cause in championship competitions. In performing as a pacemaker for Bernard Lagat, Seneca Lassiter made a mockery of the whole World Cup concept.

It was a staggering sight: Lassiter setting a near world-record tempo for two laps before applying the brakes and virtually jogging the remaining 700m, crossing the line ninth and last, more than 20 seconds behind the athlete in front of him, in 4min 05.82sec. In doing so – leaving Lagat to kick to victory in 3:31.20, 3.15sec inside Ovett's time – the 25-year-old from Fayetteville, Arkansas, dropped precious points for the United States, conceding them to other nations and continents. The World Cup is a team event.

It just so happens, though, that Lassiter and Lagat, a Kenyan running for the African team in Madrid, are training partners in Tuscon, Arizona – and that the individual prize on offer for first-placed athletes at the World Cup is $50,000. Lagat, the second-fastest 1500m runner in history behind Hicham El Guerrouj, the Moroccan in whose wake he has followed on the European circuit this summer, denied that any deal had been cut. "There is nothing financial involved," he said. "He is my friend."

Lassiter dismissed the suggestion too, though his version of events was at variance with Lagat's. "It's not like I got paid for pacing him," Lassiter said. "I just went for it and I wasn't able to hold on. I said I would take it out for the first 800m but I wanted to take it all. I just ran out of gas." According to Lagat, though, Lassiter had agreed to act as his rabbit.

"I wanted a fast race and Seneca said he was happy to pace me," the Olympic bronze medallist said. "We decided at warm-up. He said: 'Lagat, I want you to win. You have helped me out a lot all the time I am training with you. Whatever you want, I can help'. He went in front for the first two laps, ran really fast, and did a good job."

United States team officials and Lassiter's team-mates did not quite see it the same way. They were seething about a loss of points that could well have cost them an overnight lead in the two-day competition. Based on his best time this season, Lassiter was the fourth quickest in the race, and fourth place would have earned six points. Instead, he took just one point, leaving the US team four points behind Africa at the end of the first day.

USA Track and Field, the national governing body of the sport, issued a statement yesterday, saying: "We sincerely regret Seneca Lassiter's behaviour in last night's 1500m race. Such behaviour is grossly inappropriate in any national team competition, but especially this competition, and we apologise to the other teams, the local organising committee and the IAAF.

"USA Track and Field has spoken to Mr Lassiter and informed him that we will investigate fully his actions and will refer them to the national board of review for disciplinary action. Such action may include a written reprimand, discontinuation of financial benefits and other more severe penalties."

Lassiter also issued a statement of apology. "I would like to take the opportunity to apologise to all members of the US team and its coaches and all other World Cup teams for my actions. My intention was in no way to disrespect the team, the US or this competition. I made a mistake that I am greatly sorry for, which will never happen again. I want to clarify that there was no financial arrangement between Bernard Lagat and me. I am sorry to have misrepresented the US and my team. I hope that you can find it in your hearts to forgive me."

Lassiter is understood to have decided his tactic after finishing 10th in the Grand Prix final last weekend, telling a team-mate he felt unable to run a competitive 1500m. If that is the case, his attitude has changed since his profile in the US team handbook was printed. In it, he says his biggest weapon is his "desire to win" and that he gets upset with himself for losing. "I do get mad," he is quoted as saying. "I feel like I have a lot riding on my shoulders. Not just for me. I need to do something for my mom."

On Friday night, though, Lassiter hardly did himself proud for his mom or for his country. He also left one gentleman sitting in the main stand distinctly bemused. "What was that about?" Steve Ovett said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: We are currently looking for a Geog...

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee