Ethiopia expects much from their heroes and heroines and Meseret Defar did not disappoint her nation, crossing the 5000m finish line in a time of 14:50.19 on Saturday night.
A last lap of 60 seconds ensured the gold medal was Ethiopia’s and the 29-year-old provided her now-familiar salutation of kneeling on the track and kissing the blue Mondo surface.
To be fair, she made it all look very easy but later she would admit the pressure was immense, especially when the federation decreed that neither she, nor her arch rival Tirunesh Dibaba, could double up in the 5000m and 10,000m.
“There was big pressure on me for this race,” said Defar.
“If Dibaba raced here it would be less pressure because Ethiopia must win the gold medal. One of us would take the gold medal, so there was a lot of pressure when I ran but (Ethiopian team-mate Almaz) Ayana did a good job and we took two medals gold and bronze, so we are happy too.
“I wanted to run both the 5000m and 10,000m. I had qualified for both but the federation decided each of us would run one event.
"Dibaba and I decided we would do one event to give an opportunity to young athletes. They gave them an opportunity and they ran very well and I am so happy for this.”
This was Defar's second IAAF World Championship gold medal at this distance after winning in Osaka six years go.
In addition she is the proud owner of two 5000m Olympic gold medals. Having run the world-leading 10,000m time of 30:08.06 in Sweden at the end of June, she certainly was in shape to double and does not shy away from a duel with Dibaba.
“Yes, I hope to run against Dibaba,” added Defar, with a smile. “She is the strongest athlete and my biggest rival. I like to run with Dibaba.”
Despite the pressure on her, she seemed surprised that she didn’t feel nervous until earlier in the day. After a dinner of macaroni, chicken, potatoes and salad, she retired to her hotel room.
“Yes, I relaxed,” she said with a smile. “My husband is also here so we were talking together and around maybe 11 o’clock, I went to sleep comfortably. Sometimes, before a championship race I cannot sleep. Last night was very nice. I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning and went for a little jog. I felt good and thought ’today will be good, I will make it.’”
Before the race, she and the latest Ethiopian surprise, Almaz Ayana, plotted a way to beat the Kenyans, who would offer the biggest challenge to victory.
Ayana went to the front and the pace picked up in the final kilometre. Along the back straight, on the final lap, Defar looked back at the Kenyan challenger Mercy Cherono and stared at her for a second or so before launching into a sprint.
“We decided to go the last four laps because Ayana, she is good, and we helped each other,” revealed Defar. “She went faster and we did it. The Kenyan, the silver medalist, is a very strong athlete and because of this we wanted to go fast at the end.
“I was worried because 200 metres is a long way (to sprint). I looked back and my body was feeling good and I thought ‘if they come I will go fast.’ When I saw they were a little bit back I was confident, I was very confident in the last 150 metres.”
Defar believes she is in better shape than when she ran what remains her best of 14:12.88 in 2008.
Next up for the champion is an outing over her gold medal distance at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm this Friday
After disclosing that news, she locked arms with an official and literally ran through the mixed zone to be on time for her medal ceremony – smiling all the way.
Paul Gains for the IAAF