The eagerlyanticipated battle of the dueling D’s – defending champion Meseret Defar and 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba – in the 5000m came down, as expected, to the final lap. It just took the Ethiopian duo an excruciatingly long time to get there.
Simply put, Dibaba became the first woman in Olympic history to add 5000m gold to a 10,000m triumph. And she did it with the slowest winning time ever. For Dibaba, who ran 29:54.56 one week ago to take 10,000m, the second fastest performance in history, it was just as well.
“I was expecting a much faster pace,” Dibaba said. “The 10,000 was really tough. But today we were running for gold, and it was also tough.”
Certainly the toughest 15:41.40 race she’s ever run in her life. And the opening laps were quite painful for the spectators as well.
With no one wanting to lead, it was Russia’s 3000m Steeplechase champion Gulnara Galkina-Samitova who was forced into the pacing duties. Passing the first 1000m in 3:39.20, it was obvious she wasn’t too happy with the chore.
Elvan Abeylegesse, the 10,000m silver medallist, was apparently bored with the pace as well, and made a move to the front at about the 1500m mark to up the tempo a bit and reach the end of the second kilometre in 6:45.41. The sluggish pace continued for the next several laps, with a dozen women still in the lead pack. That heavy traffic produced quite a bit contact, most notably to Defar who was clipped from behind and nearly knocked off balance with just over four laps to go.
While the lead changed hands several times, it was again Abeylegesse, just as she did in the waning stages of the 10,000m, who upped the tempo again considerably with 800 metres to go. Dibaba remained on her should, with Defar and Ethiopian No. 3, Meselech Melkamu, looking strongest.
The action hit fever pitch at the bell when Dibaba took command, with Defar and Abeylegesse tagging along. She gapped the pursuers just before entering the turn, but surprisingly, it was the Turk who was doing the chasing. Finishing in just under 60 seconds, Dibaba was never challenged as she approached the line. Nor was Abeylegesse (15:42.74) who deserved her second silver of the Games. Defar couldn’t summon her trademark kick, but held on to take the bronze in 15:44.12.
“I tried to do my best to win,” said the Ethiopian-born Abeylegesse, whose double distance silver was also an Olympic first. “My coach told me that I had to accelerate in the race, and I tried to do that.”
Defar, whose disappointment showed during the victory ceremony, said she ran with pain in the lower part of her right leg over the last few laps, one reason why her kick failed her. Of the dawdling pace, she said, “I just thought it would be best to wait until the end to up the pace.”
In the mad scramble for bronze, Kenyans Sylvia Kibet (15:44.96) and Vivian Cheruiyot (15:46.32) fell a bit short, finishing fourth and fifth. Russian Lilia Shobukhova was sixth (15:46.62), and Turk Alemiute Bekele (14:48.48) seventh.
Out of contention in the late stages were American Shalane Flanagan, the 10,000m bronze medallist, who faded to 10th after running near the front for much of the race, and Galkina-Samitova, who was left behind with about 800m to go. The 3000m Steeplechase World record holder finished 12th.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF