Chris Solinsky said that he and his teammates went into Saturday night’s 10,000 meters at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., just “hoping to have a good performance and boost our spirits heading into the heart of the track season.”

Amazing what a couple of national records can do for your mood.

Solinsky, a former University of Wisconsin track and cross country standout who now runs professionally for Nike/Kimbia, obliterated the American record in the 10K when he crossed the line in 26 minutes, 59.60 seconds. In the same race, Nike/Kimbia runner Simon Bairu, who starred with Solinsky at Wisconsin, smashed the Canadian 10K record when he finished in 27:23.63.

“It was definitely a great night for our team,” Bairu said. “It was pretty awesome.”

Solinsky and Bairu spent a good deal of time on Sunday returning congratulatory phone calls, texts and e-mails after returning home to Portland, Ore., where they are part of an elite team of runners training under former UW coach Jerry Schumacher.

Solinsky slashed more than 14 seconds off the old American record of 27:13.98, set in 2001 by Meb Keflezighi. The Eritrean-born distance running star was one of the well-wishers to leave messages for Solinsky after the race, along with track legends Bob Kennedy and Bernard Lagat.

“It’s kind of humbling to have people that you looked up to when you were in high school and college, and they’re calling to say they’re impressed and inspired,” said Solinsky, who was a five-time NCAA champion and 11-time All-American for the UW track team, both program records.

An auspicious debut

What made Solinsky’s accomplishment all the more stunning was that Saturday night was the first time he had run a 10K on the track. The 25-year-old Stevens Point native has been focusing on the 5,000 meters since turning professional after finishing up his storied UW career three years ago. A five-time NCAA track champion for the Badgers, Solinsky was fifth in the 5,000 at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, and second to former UW teammate Matt Tegenkamp in the event at last year’s national championships.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s 10K race, Solinsky said on his Twitter account that he was approaching the event as a “glorified tempo run.” But the approach changed a little bit when Nike runner Galen Rupp stated that he was going to take a shot at the American record. Two rabbits, or pace-setters, were in place, and Solinsky said he heard there was a postrace press conference set up for Rupp.

“It was definitely fuel for the fire for me,” Solinsky said. “You see somebody that you’ve been competitive with throughout your career and they’re talking about doing that kind of thing, and you’re like, ‘Well, I know that I’m just as good if not better than that person. If they can do it, then I know I can do it.’

With all the talk about the American record, Solinsky did check Keflezighi’s time before the race, but didn’t give the mark much thought.

“My mission was to win the race. If we would have gotten off pace and the winning time would have been 27:25, I would have been completely OK with that,” Solinsky said. “My only mission was to win the race.”

He did that by making a strong move to the front with a little over 900 meters to go, passing Rupp on the outside on the turn into the homestretch. Solinsky ran the final half-mile in a blistering 1:56, and raised his hands in triumph when he saw the clock upon crossing the finish line.

Rupp, a former Oregon star who finished fourth, led the lead pack — which included Liberty’s Samuel Chelanga, Kenyan Daniel Salel, Solinsky and Bairu — past the pace-setter on the 17th of 25 laps. Solinsky was laboring to keep up at that point, suffering through an abdominal cramp that briefly had him entertaining thoughts of dropping out.

“That kind of put a lot of panic in me. When that happened, I just kind of took it lap by lap,” Solinsky said. “When it finally went away (with about six laps to go), I just got shot full of adrenaline and that kind of carried me through to the finish.”

Solinsky averaged just under 64.8 seconds per lap for the race, and he was just as surprised as anyone at the pace.

“There were a lot of moments in the race where we started dropping 63-, 64-second quarters, which is good for a 5K, let alone doing two of them back to back and throwing those in in the middle (of a 10K),” Solinsky said. “There was definitely doubt that creeped into my mind, but I just wanted to make sure I was relaxed. I kind of had an all-or-nothing mentality, just follow it and see what happens. If I blow up, I blow up. If not, something great can happen.”

Bairu races to redemption

Something great happened for Bairu as well, at the site of a bitter disappointment a year ago. Bairu, who grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, missed qualifying for the 2009 World Championships by less than four seconds in the 10K at last year’s Cardinal Invitational.

Saturday night, he fell off the lead pack with seven laps to go, but held on to fifth place and shaved more than 12 seconds off Jeff Schiebler’s Canadian record of 27:36.01.

“It was basically me against the clock and how badly I wanted that record,” said Bairu, who was competing in his final track meet of the season. “I knew it was going to be a long year if I didn’t get that record. I knew if I didn’t get that record, it would kind of put a damper on the season.”

Bairu, the only two-time NCAA cross country champion in Wisconsin history, is focusing his professional efforts on longer distances. His next big event will be the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7.

Solinsky, meanwhile, remains locked in on the 5,000 despite his record effort in the 10K Saturday night. He has said that he is aiming to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics in the 5K, then move up to 10K to take a shot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, before progressing to the marathon for 2020 and beyond.

He has two 5K races scheduled for the summer — June 4 in Oslo, Norway, and July 3 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., where he hopes to become the first American to break 13 minutes on U.S. soil.

“It’s tempting to maybe venture into the 10K a little bit more, because the 5K is kind of a crapshoot a lot. The 5K at the World Championships or Olympics kind of turns into what a 1500 is, a last-lap sprint,” Solinsky said. “The 10K is more of a grind-it-out and see who has the aerobic capacity. If you’re fit, you can run well in the global championship 10Ks.

“But my heart is still in the 5K. I feel like I still have unfinished business there. I want to fulfill what I believe I can do in that event first.”

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