General News London, UK

Defar, reborn in London and heading towards the Marathon

Meseret Defar of Ethiopia holds up a picture as she won the gold medal in the Women's 5000m Final on Day 14 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 10 August 2012 (Getty Images)Meseret Defar of Ethiopia holds up a picture as she won the gold medal in the Women's 5000m Final on Day 14 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 10 August 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
The final boost for Meseret Defar may have come from her adopted five-year-old daughter: "I was on the phone with my little girl and she said to me: Please win and bring back the gold medal", recalls Meseret Defar, who took her second Olympic 5000m gold medal after Athens 2004. In London she had not been the big favourite but she managed to edge out Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot and her fellow-Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba.

Meseret Defar now is the only athlete to have won two Olympic gold medals at this distance and a total of three medals (adding her bronze from Beijing in 2008). Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) once managed a similar feat, when she regained the Olympic 10,000m in 2000, which she had first won in 1992. "Winning a second gold after eight years is an extraordinary achievement for me. I feel as if I was reborn today," explained the 28-year-old, who unfolded a small religious picture after crossing the line, showing a baby in a cradle and kissed it. She had carried this in her jersey. "I thank God that he gave me the victory today. I am very happy, it is a great day for me."

"Since 2008 I have tried everything to succeed today, because I had not been able to win the gold medal in Beijing," Defar said. One way to success was to concentrate on just one event. "I decided to go only for the 5000 metres and not the 10,000. My programme during the whole season was totally focussed on the Olympic 5000 metres. I only ran three Diamond League Meetings and turned down other inviations," said Defar, who had placed second in each of these races: the 3000m in Doha and the 5000m in both Rome and New York. Since the race in the US on 9th June she did not compete again. Instead she only trained for London.

"I changed something in training. So I was very well prepared for such a tactical race," explained Defar. "In contrast to some other championships in the years after my 2004 Olympic gold medal this time I was healthy and in very good form. Today was a great day for me since not a lot of people had expected me to take the gold medal."

While she had won the World Indoor 3000m title four times and most recently in 2010 the last time she had taken a gold medal at a major outdoor global championship was five years ago: In 2007 she took the 5000m in Osaka.

Defar had watched the 10,000m final a week ago on TV. "I was very happy for Tirunesh Dibaba to take that gold medal. But I also knew that for those running the 5000 metres afterwards it would be tough. It is very hard to run both events. Still I was aware that Tirunesh Dibaba and Vivian Cheruiyot are athletes difficult to beat."

Looking back at her three Olympic Games and three medals she said: "I would think that my biggest win was the one in Athens 2004. It was the first one and it already been tough to get in the Ethiopian team. With three medals in three Olympics I think I have done my duty for Ethiopia. May be these were my last Olympics," said Defar, whose husband Teodros Hailu, a former football player, had accompanied her to London.

But the London Olympic gold medal will not mark the end of her running career during which she had broken the 5000m World record twice in 2006 and 2007 (14:16.63), besides a series of World indoor records and a 5k road world best (14:46) she also broke the Two Miles world best on the track (8:58.58).

"In the future I want to step up to the marathon," said Defar, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. She has already run a half marathon two years ago, winning in Philadelphia with 67:45. So her Olympic career may not yet be over if she can successfully transfer her track speed to the Marathon distance.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF