Victorian Collis Birmingham has scored a stunning victory in the 3000m in Rieti, Italy, with the London Olympian clocking 7:37.77 to defeat Kenyan Olympic medallists Thomas Longosowa and Ezekiel Kemboi.
The modest Birmingham declared "if I ran well I thought I'd have a chance to finish high up in the race or even win.“
Birmingham’s performance is his second fastest ever over the distance, coming just two weeks after personal best of 7:35.45 coming at the DN Galan in Stockholm (SWE) just three weeks ago.
Pacemaker Elijah Chelmo, took the field through 1000m in 2.31.21 with the Australian back in 5th where was content to sit for most of the first half of the race.
At 1800m he had moved up to third going through in 4.35.8 behind the second pacemaker Geoffrey Barusei from Kenya and Longosiwa (4.34.5) when he turned up the heat with a 61.1s 400m. It was a decisive move as he hit the lead clocking 5.36.9 at 2200m which had Longosiwa and two-time Olympic 3000m steeple champ Ezekiel Kemboi struggling to keep up.
"I was surprised I so easily opened up a gap," said Birmingham.
Another 61.3s lap further improved the Australian's lead as he surged again contemplating the class field behind him.
"I was worried they could reel me in."
The Australian should not have worred as he was 4 seconds clear of the field when he took the bell for the final 400m (6.37.2). American Bobby Curtis moved into second while Longosiwa was dropping further back.
The crowd seemed stunned as in the 42 year history of the meet only one non-African runner had won the 3000m.
Birmingham was in full flight over the final lap and further improved his lead to 5.88s by the finish. It was a fabulous win as he joined 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.
Training partner Bobby Curtis held on for second in a personal best 7:43.65 and 17 year-old World Youth and World Junior Steeplechase Champion Conselus Kipruto upstaged his more famous compatriots taking third in 7:44.09.
Rieti, a small hilltop town north of Rome is a happy hunting ground for Birmingham with previous personal bests over 1500m in 2009 and 3000m 2010.
“I was disappointed with the Olympics. I wanted to finish off the season well and finish on a high.”
Other Australians in action were Jeff Riseley, who was fifth in the 800m in 1:46.79 and Zoe Buckman, sixth in the 1500m in 4:12.88.
Birmingham runs his final race next week in Newcastle, United Kingdom before heading home to prepare for the Australian domestic season.