Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia won the gold medal in the Women's 10,000m Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 3, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
With a powerful command performance over the final 600 metres, Dibaba cruised to a 30:20.75 victory for her third Olympic gold medal, and the second over the longest distance on the track, a feat previously accomplished only by her cousin and mentor Derartu Tulu who triumphed in Barcelona in 1992 and again in Sydney in 2000.
"I’ve never been happier than today," said the 26-year-old, whose year-long absence from competition ended with a solid 30:24.39 run in Eugene in early June to clearly signal she was ready to defend her title.
"This is very special. I have worked very hard for this. Ethiopians gave me a lot of responsibility and I was worried about that because I was not in my best form."
Perhaps not, but it certainly didn’t show over the course of thoroughly entertaining race which witnessed dozens of lead changes, shifts in tempo and strong team running.
Her head-to-head against Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot, who won the 5000/10,000m double at last year’s World Championships, was one of the more eagerly awaited face-offs of these Games, but in the end the greater challenge came from Sally Kipyego, the woman who finished second to Cheruiyot last year and returned the favour this time around.
"I’m so pleased, I’m so happy," said Kipyego, whose 30:26.37 was a personal best by 12 seconds. "I just wanted to kick home strong. They (Dibaba and Cheruiyot) are amazing athletes."
Cheruiyot, who’ll be returning to action in the 5000m early next week, was forced to settle for bronze, her tenaciousness rewarded with a 30:30.44 performance, a career best as well.
It wasn’t a personal best run for Dibaba – her 29:54.66 Olympic record in Beijing still ranks her as the third fastest woman in history – but it was the most dominating Olympic victory in the event since Tulu’s first victory, with indications appearing early on in the race that Dibaba would be difficult to topple.
The contest began with the Japanese Trio – Kayoko Fukushi, Hitomi Niiya and Mika Yoshikawa - along with Irishwoman Fionnuala Britton jumping to a big lead in the early laps, some 30 metres ahead of the rest of the field. By the 2000-metre mark (6:11.57), the gap was closed; four kilometres into the race only Niiya from the quartet remained at the front, with Dibaba heading the challenge.
It was at this point that the leap-frogging at the front began. One lap later Kenyan No. 3 Joyce Chepkirui and Cheruiyot moved into the lead, with perhaps a dozen in all still very much in contention. Two laps later Kipyego took over and upped the tempo, stringing out the lead pack. This time Werknesh Kidane maintained the pressure for Team Ethiopia, with, Chepkirui, Cheruiyot and Dibaba in tow. Nineteen minutes into the race Ethiopia and Kenya held the first six positions with the battle for the three medals beginning in earnest.
Several more lead changes ensued until, with eight laps to go, Kidane retook command and injected a 68.91 lap – the fastest of the race to that point – to string out the pack even further. That proved too much for Chepkirui who was forced to drop out. With six laps to go, four remained: Kidane, who was still leading, Cheruiyot, Kipyego, and Dibaba.
Kipyego made her final move with just over three-and-a-half laps to go, but she didn’t manage to shake Dibaba who instead was appearing more confident as each lap passed by. The Ethiopian finally pounced with a lap-and-a-half to go, unleashing the trademark kick that had previously propelled her to two World titles over 5000 and 10,000m along with a score of other victories. Building a lead of some 30 metres, she covered the last lap in 62 seconds.
Given her display, there’s no reason to believe that she couldn't be a strong factor to defend her 5000m title when competition begins in that event on Tuesday, setting up another potential head-to-head against Cheruiyot. Initially Dibaba was entered as an alternate.
"I accept that the other two were better," said Cheruiyot. "I am happy with my PB but I expect to do better in the 5000."
As in Beijing, the race was a quality one behind the top-three. Kidane was fourth in 30:39.38, a season's best. In all the first nine broke 31 minutes, including Shitaye Eshete, whose 30:47.25 was a national record for Bahrain, and Briton Jo Pavey, who at 38 and in her fourth Olympic Games, clocked 30:53.20 for seventh, an improvement of more than 19 seconds from her previous personal best.
"The crowd was amazing," said Pavey, who decided to chase qualification in the 10,000m in the spring after coming up short in the Marathon. "It was a blessing in disguise to not qualify in the marathon. Next year I’m forty and I’m still going strong."
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
- Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia won the gold medal in the Women's 10,000m Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 3, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia (C) celebrates with Werknesh Kidane (L) and Beleynesh Oljira of Ethiopia (R) after the Women's 10,000m Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 3, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia celebrates winning gold in the Women's 10,000m Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 3, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Werknesh Kidane of Ethiopia leads the pack in the Women's 10,000m Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 3, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright