Meseret Defar of Ethiopia celebrates winning the gold medal in the 3000m (Getty Images) © Copyright
“This was a very important victory for me,” said a beaming Defar after adding to her triumphs from 2004, 2006 and 2008. Her time, 8:51.17, was only the third fastest of the quartet, but that mattered little to the 26-year-old multiple world record holder.
“I changed my tactics: at first I was thinking about a fast race, but then I saw it would be better to wait for the final kick, and that worked well.”
Running along with compatriot Sentayehu Ejigu and biding her time mid-pack for most of the race, Defar made her break for the win with two laps remaining. With Ejigu in tow, an playing off some defence from behind as well, the Ethiopian began to pull away with only Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot, the World 5000m champion, in serious pursuit. Defar extended her lead, ever so slightly, over the final circuit and her victory was never in jeopardy. But Cheruiyot never relented, eventually passing Ejigu to take the silver in 8:51.85.
“It was not a smooth competition,” said Cheruiyot, who has managed to beat Defar twice in her career, most recently in the Berlin 5000m final last summer. “In the last 1500m there was a lot of pushing. But I’m very happy for the medal and am satisfied with silver.”
Ejigu’s efforts with the closing kick, as well as her services as her compatriot’s rear guard, were rewarded with bronze, her first major international medal.
“There was tension at the beginning because there were a lot of expectations for us to get over Berlin,” said Ejigu, who was fourth in the Berlin 5000m. “We had a plan with Meseret to counter the Kenyans and I am so happy that Meseret won the race and that Ethiopia got the gold.”
Whatever tensions there were, the Ethiopian pair had plenty of time to wind down and forget about them over the race’s slow opening 1000 metres. Indeed the race nicely played into the Ethiopian’s hands from the outset, when Portugal’s Jessica Augusto, taking up the leader’s duties, decided on a modest pace over the opening laps. South African record holder Rene Kalmer took over briefly in the early going to bring the field through the first kilometre in 3:11.83.
Augusto, winner of the Great North Run Half Marathon last autumn, moved back to the front and gradually upped the tempo, covering the second kilometre in 2:51.90. She remained the leader until Defar made her move, was ultimately swarmed by the pack and finished a distant eighth.
Kenyan Silvia Kibet, running near the front of the pack for much of the race, finished fourth in 8:52.16. Alemitu Bekele of Turkey was fifth in 8:53.78 with Portugal’s Sara Moreira, who shared some of the pacing duties with Augusto in the early going, clocking 8:55.34 for sixth.
The celebration of Defar’s feat began much earlier when the substantial number of Ethiopian fans in the crowd, spread in pockets throughout the venue, made their presence known an hour before the race. Once the race got underway, their enthusiasm became infectious. Defar made a point to first give thanks to the vocal supporters who transformed the venue, at least temporarily, to an Aspire Dome-like setting in Addis Ababa.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF