When Meseret Defar smashed the World indoor 5000m record* on Wednesday, running 14:24.37 in Stockholm, it confirmed a stellar start to the year after a 2008 that saw her lose both her outdoor World record and 2004 Olympic gold medal over the distance to fellow Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba.
“It was great,” a high-spirited Defar told the IAAF in an exclusive interview on Wednesday night after her record run. “Today I was in excellent shape. From the beginning til the end, I felt very good. After I passed the first two kilometres, I was certain I was going to break the record and I began to speed up. I ran the last kilometre very fast and that’s why I broke the record.”
Defar smashed more than three seconds off Dibaba’s two-year-old 14:27.42 mark, running a last kilometer of 2:46.6, after being led through 3000m by three pace-setters. “The pace they ran for me was perfect,” said the World 5000m champion Defar.
Redemption for both Beijing and a near-miss in Stuttgart
“When I ran the 3000m in Stuttgart last week, I missed the mark by three seconds,” said the world indoor 3000m champion Defar, who on 7 February targeted the 8:23.72 world indoor record she had set in 2007 but clocked 8:26.99. “It was my own mistake, so today I was determined to make up for that.”
In Stuttgart, Defar was chased by Anna Alminova who finished second in 8:28.49. “A Russian was close behind me and I was of two minds, thinking, ‘What if I lose?’ So (in Stockholm ) I was determined to run a fast time.”
For the Athens Olympic 5000m champion who in 2008 took bronze behind Dibaba, Wednesday’s indoor 5000m World record even helped make up for her crushing disappointment in Beijing.
“Yes, very much so,” said Defar. “This year has been providing redemption for me from the start of the year.”
“Although the Olympics caused me pain because I came away with a result I never expected, since then I’ve had good races, especially in Stuttgart and here,” said Defar, whose Olympic defeat had at first been followed by another 5000m loss, at the Memorial Van Damme Golden League meet. “In Brussels, the weather conditions were wet. I was not in a good place because of the Olympics, and in the final metres I was beaten by Vivian Cheruiyot and was second.”
But she returned to her winning ways in a busy September that included a London road race and the Stuttgart World Athletics Final 3000m and 5000m. “In Stuttgart, I was able to win both races, and in Hyde Park, I ran 5K on the road in 15:01,” she said. “I ran a good time.”
“After the Stuttgart final, I took a one-month break,” said Defar. “I began training on the 5th of Tikimt, according to the Ethiopian calendar [15 October]. I competed after about three and a half months of intense training.” The fruits of that preparation include a huge improvement on her own best time in the indoor 5000, which she had only run a couple of times previously, clocking 15:53.14 in 2004.
Vacations and wedding wishes for Dibaba
Defar spent much of her 2008 month off traveling with her husband. “I was abroad on vacation,” she said. “I went to Spain and Greece.”
She was back home just in time for teammate and track arch-rival Dibaba’s wedding to Olympic silver-medallist Sileshi Sihine. “It was a beautiful wedding,” said Defar, who sent the happy couple a warm letter from abroad before the wedding.
“It was broadcast on the radio,” said Defar, who recalled the gist of some of the words she had written the pair: “I wish you a happy wedding. Sileshi, take care of Tirunesh. As I have entered into matrimony ahead of the two of you, I also want to tell you how wonderful it is.”
Defar’s husband, Tewodros Hailu, is her partner in her career as well and was with her in Stockholm when she broke the record. “I ran the exact time he predicted,” said Defar. “He had said, ‘I’m sure you will run 14:24.’ He was very happy.”
An equally-elated Defar looks ahead to another indoor appearance in Prague and beyond to the outdoor season.
“So far, I’m just running indoor track and haven’t decided what I’ll run after that,” she said, but one thing is certain for the defending World champion: the 15-23 August IAAF World Championships. “My major goal is Berlin, the 5000,” she said.
Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF
* pending the usual ratification procedures