There was a familiar name on the vest and a familiar smile on the face of Genzebe Dibaba as she bounced down the final, muddy slope of the three-lap course at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park this afternoon and sped across the line to become the 2007 World Junior Cross Country champion emulating her older sister Tirunesh who won the title in 2003.
“I expected to get a medal but I didn’t expect to win,” said the delighted 17-year-old after adding a fifth World Cross gold medal to the Dibaba family’s growing collection.
“My sister gave me good advice before the race,” she said of Tirunesh, who just one hour later regained the senior title she’d won in 2005 and 2006.
Indeed, her much-honoured sister would have been rightly proud of the way Genzebe claimed victory. After sitting just behind the leaders for much of the 6km race, Dibaba pounced to the front only in the final stages of the last lap, attacking Kenya’s Irene Cheptai up the steep climb of Haggis Knowe, the round, rocky hillock that forms part of this picturesque course about 400m from the finish.
Cheptai, who had attempted to break away on the final lap, chased hard but had no answer to the Ethiopian’s surge as Dibaba sprinted past the grandstand and crossed the line in 19:59 with Cheptai second just five seconds slower.
Dibaba’s teammate Emebt Etea made up for her distastrous experience in Mombasa 12 months ago when she was stretchered from the course suffering from heat exhaustion. The 18-year-old grabbed the bronze two seconds behind Cheptai.
With Emebet Bacha in fifth place and Betelhem Moges in seventh, Ethiopia regained the team title from Kenya for the first time since 2004. It was quite some redemption after 2007 when a clutch of Ethiopians miss calculated the laps and ended up “only” with the bronze medal.
For Dibaba, who finished fifth last year, it was less a redemption than the start of a new chapter in a highly successful family saga as she followed Tirunesh and Ejagayou, the eldest of the three, in the ranks of the world’s best.
“I have looked up to my sisters for so so long. I am very happy to be like them,” said Dibaba.
Indeed, the familiarity was uncanny as Genzebe executed her victory in a style that’s become all to familiar to Tirunesh’s rivals over recent years. Always in touch but never in front, Genzebe followed a large pack that carefully negotiated its way round the muddy track through the first, shorter lap of the course.
While it was no surprise to see a mass of Kenyans and Ethiopians at the front it was Australia’s Tamara Carvolth who led in the early stages with Kenya’s Mercy Kosgei, last year’s silver medallist and one of the favourites, just on her shoulder.
But it wasn’t to be Kosgei’s day. When five Kenyans pushed on in front through the second lap, their red and black vests spread across the narrow track, Kosgei wasn’t among them. Perhaps she, like many others, was having trouble negotiating the tight, slippy corners of the course.
Three athletes fell as they approached the hill for the first time and there were other spillages later. At the end of the second lap Kosgei was well off the pace as six Kenyans and six Ethiopians led three Japanese into the final circuit.
It was only with half a lap to go that the Ethiopians pushed to the fore with Etea leading the charge and Dibaba, as ever, just off the pace.
Cheptai made her move as they came to the hill for the last time and at first it looked decisive. But Genzebe had a family trademark, the Dibaba finish, up her sleave.
She leapt past her Kenyan rival on the steepest part of the slope and in a flash was away and gone, around the hill and down past the Ethiopian flags.
“After the first two laps were over, it was only on the third lap I realised I could win,” said Dibaba. “The weather was good today.”
Etea also had good reason to be pleased with the conditions. “Mombasa was very tough last year, it was very hot and I was very ill,” she said. “It took me about three months to recover.
“Today it was comfortable and I am very happy to bring Ethiopia the gold.”
Matthew Brown for the IAAF