Ten years after it first started, could we see another chapter in the extraordinary head-to-head rivalry between Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar in the 5000m?
There have been reports in the Ethiopian media that Dibaba might just concentrate on the 10,000m in Moscow while Defar will only contest the 5000m but, as of 8 August, they are both due to duel over both distances so let’s take a moment to reprise a rivalry in which the pair – occasionally interrupted by Kenyan stars such as Vivian Cheruiyot – have swapped Olympic and world titles and World records.
Dibaba broke through as a teenage winner of the 5000m at Paris 2003, where Defar was run out in the heats. A year later, Defar thwarted Dibaba’s ambitions of an Olympic gold medal, relegating her to third in the 5000m.
Helsinki 2005 was all about Dibaba: she took the distance double, having made her debut at 10,000m earlier that same year, and beat Defar in the 5000m. Two years later in Osaka, the duo shared titles, Dibaba taking the 10,000m, Defar the 5000m.
Now, it was Dibaba’s turn to strike back. She took an historic Olympic double in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium in 2008, relegating Defar to third in the 5000m.
Both went into relative decline over the next three years.
Dibaba, battling a series of injuries, did not compete at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships in Berlin or Daegu. Defar went for the double in Berlin, but went from likely winner to fifth in the final metres of the 10,000m that was eventually won by Kenya’s Linet Masai, then was beaten by Vivian Cheruiyot and Sylvia Kibet in the 5000m.
The Kenyan pair repeated the dose over 5000m in Daegu, where Cheruiyot took the distance double.
The London 2012 Olympic Games saw normal service resumed for the Ethiopian duo.
Dibaba retained her 10,000m title, and then Defar reversed what was starting to look like her decline with a stunning victory over Cheruiyot and Dibaba in the 5000m.
Cheruiyot will not defend her title in Moscow as she is expecting her first child, so it looks like it could be back to Defar and Dibaba again.
However, Defar and Dibaba are one and two on the 2013 list for 10,000m too, so will be doubling up after first competing at the longer distance.
Each has won one of the major 5000m races this season.
Dibaba ran an outstanding world-leading 14:23.68 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris, holding off her teammate Almaz Ayana, who close behind in 14:25.84 to improve by more than 26 seconds. Ayana will also be among the medal contenders in Moscow, after previously being better known as a steeplechase, and there is the possibility that Ethiopia could replicate their 2005 feat when, led home by Dibaba, they filled the top four places at this distance.
Defar, for her part, ran the year’s third-fastest time, 14:26.90, comfortably defeating Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot in Oslo.
Kibiwot is one of a strong Kenyan trio in Moscow.
Mercy Cherono, the former World Youth and Junior champion, won the Kenyan trials from Kibiwot and this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships fifth place-getter Margaret Wangari Muriuki. All of them will have to step up, however, to challenge the Ethiopian trio.
Jenny Simpson won the US Championships 5000m title but she will run the 1500m in Moscow, leaving Molly Huddle, Shannon Rowbury and Kim Conley to represent US interests in Moscow.
The 1500m bronze medallist at Berlin 2009 and a finalist again over that distance in London 2012, Rowbury is in good form as indicated by her fourth behind Simpson in the Monaco 1500m in 4:01.28. Her 5000m personal best is 15:00.51 but that may be revised considerably in Moscow.
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Len Johnson for the IAAF