StEtienne, FranceOn the final day of the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, Ethiopia not content with producing a distance runner who bestrides men’s cross-country running like a colossus, appear to have also developed a talented woman runner to awe the rest of the world for some time to come.
This afternoon 19-year-old Tirunesh Dibaba became only the second woman ever to succeed at winning back-to-back World Cross titles. Following up her feat of yesterday when she became the youngest woman to win the long race at the World Cross Country Championships by adding to it the short-course title at St-Etienne/St-Galmier, and with it a place in history.
Dibaba accelerated away from her team mate, Werknesh Kidane, in the final 100 metres of the 4.2km race with an ease that was more than impressive. Kidane is after all a former World champion herself, yet down the finishing straight here, with the challenge from other teams already despatched, Dibaba left her older team mate looking one-paced.
Dibaba finished in 13:15, waving to the 28,000 spectators, Kidane in 13:16, with Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi, the Olympic 5000m silver medallist, unable to match her rivals’ pace over the final half-lap and collecting a consolation bronze medal in 13:21.
Ochichi was even denied a team gold medal by a single point, as Ethiopia scored 18 points, Meselech Melkamu in sixth and Derbe Alemu in ninth closing in for their country’s fourth team gold of the weekend ahead of Kenya (Prisca Ngetich, fourth; Lucy Wangui, fifth; Beatrice Jepchumba, seventh). The United States, led by 11th-placed Lauren Fleshman, won the team bronze medals from Russia.
Dibaba’s achievement should not be underestimated, not least because of her age: were she three months younger, she might have raced in the junior age group on Saturday.
In the seven previous stagings of the World Cross in which the short race has been included, only Sonia O’Sullivan, on its inauguration in 1998, had managed to do the double of women’s long and short race golds over the course of a weekend.
Perhaps, with the events staged in the reverse order to the men’s, with the more demanding, longer race on the Saturday, the combination has proved more difficult for the world’s top women distance runners. Or, maybe, there has not been a woman runner as outstanding as Kenenisa Bekele, four times the double champion.
For in recent years, the women’s races have been characterised by intense rivalries, such as that between Gete Wami and Paula Radcliffe which met its apogee over a weekend in the mud bath that was Ostend four years ago, when the two women swapped the top two finishing positions in successive days.
Also, in the midst of all this, the women’s short race has also been largely the preserve of Kenya’s Edith Masai, whose sole focus at the World Cross has been the 4km event in which she harvested three golds and a bronze medal in four years. Her absence from St-Etienne/St-Galmier due to an Achilles tendon injury denied her the chance of defending her title.
Given all that, if the end of the trail for the short races comes in Fukuoka next year, its demise will not give Tirunesh Dibaba the opportunity of attempting to match Bekele’s medal count, because on this form, it is difficult to imagine anyone able to challenge her for some time to come.
On Saturday, Dibaba had spoken of how she and the entire Ethiopian team took inspiration from Bekele’s performances. Imagine, therefore, how fired up she must have been for the start of today’s 4km charge around the St-Galmier Hippodrome, having witnessed the latest, and possibly greatest, of Bekele’s wins.
The World champion at 5000m was always to the fore as the leaders hared down the dusty starting straight for this two-lap sprint. The first kilometre was completed in 3:05, the first 2km-plus lap in 7:05, by which time the medal contenders were down to six - three Kenyan and three Ethiopian.
Ochichi bravely tried to take the battle to her rivals, but halfway round the final circuit, Dibaba made her move and Kidane went with her. The Kenyan was soon out of touch.
As the pair of Ethiopians, both of whom had the previous day’s race in their legs, entered the home straight, there was a degree of expectation over how Dibaba might respond under pressure. But as she claimed her second 30,000US$ individual prize cheque of the weekend, Dibaba’s answer was emphatic. She really could be Ethiopia’s female Bekele.
Steven Downes for the IAAF
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