Daegu, Korea – Hands up all those who thought Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia would win the gold medal in the men’s 10,000 metres. Thought so, not many.
Keep your hand up if you thought he would win when he entered the straight still five metres behind Mo Farah and was still not taking appreciable ground out of the British runner. Again, not that many.
But win Jeilan did. The 2006 World junior champion at 10,000m clawed his way up to and past Farah then – struggling to hold form himself – willed his body across the line in 27:13.81 seconds. Virtually within a stride he was on his knees, kissing the track that his run had just graced.
Another question: who thought a man could lead into the final lap of a championship 10,000m, run 53.36 seconds for that lap, and lose. Amazingly, that’s what Mo Farah did. He clapped his hands to his face, in equal parts amazement and despair, dumbstruck that his 27:14.07 had not been enough to claim the gold medal.
Farah had looked the winner when he moved to fourth with eight laps to go, then third with 2000 metres to run. That impression was confirmed as no-one else seemed capable of a sustained run for home. With the pace slipping, he took off with 480 metres to go. Maybe it was too early, but it took an amazing finish to make that point.
Ironically, it was Jeilan who led early, taking the first lap at a solid 65.80 before slowing to a trot that produced a 2:57.08 first kilometre. Clearly he wanted to lead only at the other end of the race.
Jeilan’s winning time is the fastest ever run on Korean soil, replacing the 27:21.46 run by Brahim Boutayeb of Morocco in winning the gold medal at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.
It is a cliché to say a race had everything, but this one went close. Kenenisa Bekele, bidding for a fifth consecutive World Championships win at 10,000m and holding an undefeated career record at the distance, had turned up to run, his first race since rupturing a calf muscle soon after a cross-country in Edinburgh at the start of 2010.
Rumours swept the stadium that he would not run, but run he did. His challenge never materialised, however, and he stepped off the track with 10 laps to go. Bekele baulks at comparisons with his great compatriot Haile Gebrselassie, but here he was ending his run of World Championships 10,000 victories at four, just as ‘Geb’ had in 2001.
Still, the crown remained with Ethiopia, stretching its run of wins to five, and nine of the past 10. And Farah’s gallant failure meant that Alberto Cova of Italy at the first world championships in 1983 remains the only non-African champion.
Jeilan, 22, was also the 2008 world junior Cross Country champion (a title which Bekele also won in 2001). He runs for a Japanese corporate team.
Imane Merga, the 2011 senior World Cross Country champion, took the bronze medal in 27:19.14.
Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, who set up such a wonderful race against Bekele at Berlin 2009 world championships, did a lot of the leading before finishing fourth in 27:22.57, one ahead of Osaka 2007 bronze medallist Martin Mathati.
Mo Farah was born in Somali but moved to Britain as an eight-year-old. So the first non-African born finisher was Galen Rupp of USA in seventh place, one place worse than Dathan Ritzenhein in Berlin two years ago.
Len Johnson for the IAAF