For most people, déjà vu is a feeling, an impression that something that is happening to you has happened before.
For Linet Masai, when it comes to the World Cross Country Championships anyway, déjà vu is reality. Amman 2009 and Bydgoszcz 2010 are about as alike as chalk and cheese, different weather, different course, different culture.
Sprint finish leaves Masai with second consecutive silver
But for Linet Masai, they are alike in one very unwelcome way. For the second year in a row she dominated a World Cross Country race, dropping her potential rivals one by one, looking for all the world like the winner. She did all the work as three-time champion Tirunesh Dibaba was left 10 seconds adrift at the start of the last lap of the 8km race.
Masai again was the aggressor as the last remaining Ethiopian threat, Meselech Melkamu, was put away over the two jumps in the middle of the final lap.
Yet, for the second year in a row, Masai was beaten to the gold medal by a Kenyan team-mate. In Amman, it fell to Florence Kiplagat to grab the honour of becoming the first Kenyan senior women’s gold medallist (long-course) since Hellen Chepngeno in 1994. Here, it was Emily Chebet who deprived Masai of the glory.
In similar fashion, too: Masai still led as the pair turned off the loop into the short finishing straight. Chebet looked menacing, however, an impression confirmed as she gained the upper hand in a driving sprint to the line.
Ironically, Masai won the gold medal in the 10,000 metres at the World Championships in Berlin last summer with a sprint from third to first in the final straight. Unfortunately, it seems, she cannot find the same speed at the finish of a cross-country. So her one gold medal remains from the 2007 junior race in Mombasa and her record in the senior races becomes third, second and second again.
Melkamu hangs on to bronze
And speaking of seeing it all before, what about Melkamu? She now has five bronze medals from the World cross-country - both short and long races in 2006, and in the long race in 2007, 2009 and now again in 2010.
Masai and her team-mates controlled the pace from the start. Within a lap, there was a leading group comprising all the Kenyan team, five of the Ethiopians and an assortment of others including 2004 champion Benita Willis of Australia, Shalane Flanagan of the USA, Hilda Kibet of the Netherlands and the surprising Lebogang Phalula of South Africa.
As Masai continued to push, the group gradually was whittled down. As they came through the two log jumps in the third lap, Dibaba was seeming to struggle. Suddenly the insignificant gap of five metres, blew out to 10, then 20. By the start of the final lap she was 10 seconds off the lead and clearly in need of something special to even get in the medals, much less win.
Now it was down to Masai, Chebet and Melkamu. Again the jumps were the key to ending the Ethiopian threat - how long since obstacles played a significant role in a World cross country course? - as Masai went clear.
Soon Chebet went around Melkamu and after her team-mate. The gap of 10 metres closed rapidly and the pair settled down to fight out the gold.
Chebet was Kenyan national 10,000m champion in 2007 and ninth in the World Championships in Osaka that year. Impressive credentials, but it did not seem they were sufficient to take out a championship ahead of Masai and Dibaba. Not for the first time, however, a World cross country race confounded expectations.
Team bronze for USA
On that note, however, there appears to be nothing junior champion Mercy Cherono could not do on this day. Watching the first lap on a monitor while awaiting her press conference, she was asked who would win the race. “Emily,” she replied confidently and, as it turned out, correctly. For good measure, she also predicted that Dibaba would not medal!
After two perfect scores in the junior races, Kenya slipped to a 1-2-5 (Lineth Chepkirui)-6 (Margaret Muriuki) total of 14 points to win the teams races for the second year in a row after seven of Ethiopian domination. With Dibaba fourth, Feyse Tadese seventh and Mamitu Daska eighth, Ethiopia had 22 points for the silver medal.
Led by Flanagan’s 12th, the USA had four in 25 (Molly Huddle 19th, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet 20th and Amy Hastings 25th) to take the bronze medal, its first since 2003. Morocco, Portugal and Great Britain rounded out the top six.
The 2003 champion, Werknesh Kidane, finished ninth for Ethiopia, while Willis, the last non-East African winner in 2004, finished 17th.
Len Johnson for the IAAF