|1500 Metres||4:02.00||New York City (Icahn), NY||12 JUN 2010|
|2000 Metres||5:45.62||Eugene, OR||08 JUN 2008|
|3000 Metres||8:24.51||Bruxelles (Boudewijnstadion)||14 SEP 2007|
|Two Miles||8:58.58||Bruxelles (Boudewijnstadion)||14 SEP 2007|
|5000 Metres||14:12.88||Stockholm||22 JUL 2008|
|10,000 Metres||29:59.20||Birmingham, GBR||11 JUL 2009|
|10 Kilometres||32:08||San Juan, PUR||25 FEB 2007|
|Half Marathon||1:07:25||New Orleans, LA||24 FEB 2013|
|2000 Metres||5:34.74||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||04 FEB 2006|
|3000 Metres||8:23.72||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||03 FEB 2007|
|Two Miles||9:06.26||Praha (O2 Arena)||26 FEB 2009|
|5000 Metres||14:24.37||Stockholm||18 FEB 2009|
|2010||4:02.00||New York City (Icahn), NY||12 JUN|
|2008||5:45.62||Eugene, OR||08 JUN|
|2013||8:30.29||Stockholm (Olympiastadion)||22 AUG|
|2012||8:46.49||Doha (Hamad Bin Suhaim)||11 MAY|
|2010||8:36.09||Lausanne (Pontaise)||08 JUL|
|2008||8:43.60||Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion)||14 SEP|
|2007||8:24.51||Bruxelles (Boudewijnstadion)||14 SEP|
|2005||8:33.57||New York, NY||11 JUN|
|2004||8:36.46||Monaco (Stade Louis II)||19 SEP|
|2003||8:38.31||Monaco (Stade Louis II)||14 SEP|
|2001||8:52.47||Portland, OR||03 JUN|
|1999||9:02.08||Bydgoszcz (Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak)||17 JUL|
|2007||8:58.58||Bruxelles (Boudewijnstadion)||14 SEP|
|2016||15:06.96||Somerville (Dilboy Stadium), MA||17 JUN|
|2013||14:26.90||Oslo (Bislett)||13 JUN|
|2012||14:35.65||Roma (Stadio Olimpico)||31 MAY|
|2011||14:29.52||Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France)||08 JUL|
|2010||14:38.87||Hengelo (Blankers-Koen Stadion)||30 MAY|
|2009||14:36.38||Oslo (Bislett)||03 JUL|
|2006||14:24.53||New York City, NY||03 JUN|
|2005||14:28.98||Bruxelles (Boudewijnstadion)||26 AUG|
|2004||14:44.81||Roma (Stadio Olimpico)||02 JUL|
|2003||14:40.34||Roma (Stadio Olimpico)||11 JUL|
|2009||29:59.20||Birmingham, GBR||11 JUL|
|2007||32:08||San Juan, PUR||25 FEB|
|2013||1:07:25||New Orleans, LA||24 FEB|
|2010||1:07:45||Philadelphia, PA||19 SEP|
|2008||5:38.79||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||02 FEB|
|2007||5:38.95||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||03 FEB|
|2006||5:34.74||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||04 FEB|
|2016||8:30.83||Boston (Roxbury), MA||14 FEB|
|2012||8:31.56||Birmingham (NIA), GBR||18 FEB|
|2010||8:24.46||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||06 FEB|
|2009||8:26.99||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||07 FEB|
|2008||8:27.93||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||02 FEB|
|2007||8:23.72||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||03 FEB|
|2006||8:30.72||Stuttgart (Schleyer Halle)||04 FEB|
|2005||8:30.05||Boston (Roxbury), MA||29 JAN|
|2004||8:33.44||Birmingham (NIA), GBR||20 FEB|
|2003||8:42.58||Birmingham (NIA), GBR||15 MAR|
|2009||9:06.26||Praha (O2 Arena)||26 FEB|
|2008||9:10.50||Boston (Roxbury), MA||26 JAN|
|2002||9:34.03||Boston (Roxbury), MA||27 JAN|
|2004||14:53.14||Boston (Roxbury), MA||31 JAN|
|2003||15:36.69||Boston, MA||25 JAN|
|IAAF World Indoor Championships||2||8:54.26||Portland (Oregon Convention Center), OR||20 MAR 2016|
|IAAF World Indoor Championships 2012||2||8:38.26||Istanbul (Ataköy Arena)||11 MAR 2012|
|1st IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup 2010||1||9:03.33||Split (Poljud Stadion)||04 SEP 2010|
|13th IAAF World Indoor Championships||1||8:51.17||Doha (Aspire Dome)||13 MAR 2010|
|IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final||1||8:30.15||Thessaloníki||13 SEP 2009|
|6th IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final||1||8:43.60||Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion)||14 SEP 2008|
|12th IAAF World Indoor Championships||1||8:38.79||Valencia (Velódromo Luis Puig), ESP||08 MAR 2008|
|5th IAAF World Athletics Final||1||8:27.24||Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion)||23 SEP 2007|
|4th IAAF World Athletics Final||1||8:34.22||Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion)||10 SEP 2006|
|11th IAAF World Indoor Championships||1||8:38.80||Moskva (Olimpiyskiy Stadion)||11 MAR 2006|
|3rd IAAF World Athletics Final||1||8:47.26||Monaco (Stade Louis II)||10 SEP 2005|
|2nd IAAF World Athletics Final||1||8:36.46||Monaco (Stade Louis II)||19 SEP 2004|
|10th IAAF World Indoor Championships||1||9:11.22||Budapest (Sportaréna)||07 MAR 2004|
|1st IAAF World Athletics Final||4||8:38.31||Monaco (Stade Louis II)||14 SEP 2003|
|9th IAAF World Indoor Championships||3||8:42.58||Birmingham (NIA), GBR||15 MAR 2003|
|IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships||1||9:12.61||Kingston (NS), JAM||16 JUL 2002|
|1st IAAF World Youth Championships||2||9:02.08||Bydgoszcz (Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak)||17 JUL 1999|
|14th IAAF World Championships||1||14:50.19||Moskva (Luzhniki)||17 AUG 2013|
|The XXX Olympic Games||1||15:04.25||London (Olympic Stadium)||10 AUG 2012|
|13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||3||14:56.94||Daegu (DS)||02 SEP 2011|
|IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final||1||15:25.31||Thessaloníki||12 SEP 2009|
|12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||3||14:58.41||Berlin (Olympiastadion)||22 AUG 2009|
|6th IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final||1||14:53.82||Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion)||13 SEP 2008|
|The XXIX Olympic Games||3||15:44.12||Beijing (National Stadium)||22 AUG 2008|
|11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||1||14:57.91||Osaka (Nagai Stadium)||01 SEP 2007|
|10th IAAF World Cup in Athletics||1||14:39.11||Athína (Olympic Stadium)||17 SEP 2006|
|4th IAAF World Athletics Final||2||16:04.78||Stuttgart (Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion)||09 SEP 2006|
|3rd IAAF World Athletics Final||1||14:45.87||Monaco (Stade Louis II)||09 SEP 2005|
|10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||2||14:39.54||Helsinki (Olympic Stadium)||13 AUG 2005|
|28th Olympic Games||1||14:45.65||Athína (Olympic Stadium)||23 AUG 2004|
|9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||9h1||15:11.72||Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France)||26 AUG 2003|
|IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships||1||15:54.94||Kingston (NS), JAM||21 JUL 2002|
|IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships||2||16:23.69||Santiago de Chile (E.Nacional)||17 OCT 2000|
|13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||f||DNF||Daegu (DS)||27 AUG 2011|
|12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||5||30:52.37||Berlin (Olympiastadion)||15 AUG 2009|
|30th IAAF/Sport Ireland World Cross Country Championships||13||21:06||Dublin||23 MAR 2002|
Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.
Updated 16 March 2016
Meseret Defar, Ethiopia (3000m/5000m/10,000m)
a.k.a. Meseret Defar Tola
Born 19 November 1983, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Lives in Addis Ababa.
Coach: Tewodros Hailu (personal); Hussein Shibo, Yilma Berta (national team coaches)
Manager: Mark Wetmore
Father an auto mechanic. Three sisters, two brothers.
Married to former Banks club soccer player Tewodros Hailu. Has two adopted daughters, Melat, 15, and Lydia, 9. One biological daughter, Gabriela, born 22 June, 2014.
Serves as a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Goodwill Ambassador.
Meseret, whose last name means "bold" in Amharic, has been running since primary school, earning several double victories at 3000 and 5000 in Addis Ababa primary and secondary school competitions. In her first race outside Ethiopia, she took silver over 3000m at the 1999 World Youth Championships in Poland (9:02.08). The next year she picked up two more silvers, both over 5000m, at the African Championships (15:49.86) and the Chile World Juniors (16:23.69).
Grand Prix races in 2001 sharpened her skills, which she demonstrated the following summer with a double gold medal performance at 3000m and 5000m in the 2002 World Junior Championships in Jamaica (9:12.61 / 15:54.94). Over the longer distance, she outkicked the future double World 5000m and 10,000m Champion Tirunesh Dibaba, as she would later do in the Athens Olympics.
Meseret emerged at the senior level early in 2003, taking bronze at 3000m (8:42.58) behind World record holder Berhane Adere at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. After picking up a 1st at 3000 and a 2nd (behind Tirunesh) at 5000 in Ethiopia’s 2003 national championships, she recorded five top-4 finishes in major Grand Prix races, including a PB at 5000 (14:40.34) in Rome, leading up to the Paris World Championships in August.
She fell ill before the 5000m heats and failed to qualify for the final, but after this low point, she became practically unstoppable, taking 5000m gold at the All-African and Afro-Asian Games, beating Tirunesh and other notables like Kenya's World Cross champ Edith Masai.
Meseret then started 2004 with a red hot indoor season, beating Tirunesh and two-time Olympic champion Derartu Tulu in Boston in late January (14:53.14 for 5000m), besting both Tirunesh and Berhane in Birmingham three weeks later (PB 8:33.44 for 3000m), and finally outkicking defending champ Berhane in a tactical 3000 (9:11.22) at the World Indoors in Budapest to take gold.
After that, Meseret came off the boil somewhat. She won the Ethiopian national championships 3000m, but her 5000m time was the season’s fourth-fastest among Ethiopian Olympic 5000m team hopefuls, and she was named the reserve until a controversial shakeup in the distance ranks dropped Berhane, placing Ejegayehu on the 10,000m team and confirming Meseret as a member of the 5000m squad.
The move turned out well for the selectors. With half a lap to go, Meseret cut loose with what might be described as the female equivalent of Haile Gebrselassie’s sprint of old, kicking past Kenyan Isabella Ochichi to take Olympic gold (14:45.65).
In 2005, Meseret attacked Berhane’s three-year-old 8:29.15 World indoor 3000m record in Boston, but blocked by lapped runners, she missed it by under a second, running 8:30.05, the second-fastest ever.
Outdoors, her fiercest competitors were her compatriots, the year’s double World Cross Country champion Tirunesh Dibaba, Berhane, and World Junior Cross Country Champion Gelete Burka, who defeated Meseret over 3000m at the Addis Ababa track championships. Meseret beat Berhane and Gelete over 3000m in Doha, but over 5000m, her personal best 14:32.90 was only good enough for third behind Tirunesh and Berhane in Rome.
In the Helsinki World Championships 5000, she followed the pace set by Tirunesh (fresh from a 10,000m gold medal performance) and China’s distance duo Xing Huina and Sun Yingjie. But when Tirunesh took off at the bell, Meseret was unable to keep up and settled for silver in 14:39.54, as Ethiopians made an historic sweep of the top four places. Meseret avenged her defeat with a double victory at the World Athletic Final in Monaco, ahead of Tirunesh and Berhane in the 5000m and Gelete in the 3000.
Meseret narrowly missed the World indoor 3000m record again in 2006, running 8:30.94 in Boston and 8:30.72 in Stuttgart. Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova ran 8:27.86 on 17 February, slashing the record and identifying Meseret’s challengers in her World Indoor 3000m title defense in Moscow. But Meseret executed her race there perfectly, dropping the Russians with a sustained kick and final 200m of 27.46, and winning in 8:38.80. In April, Meseret slashed five seconds off the unofficial World 5K road best of 14:51 held jointly by Paula Radcliffe and Tirunesh. Then on 3 June, at the New York 5000m, she ran a 61-second last lap to clock 14:24.53 for her first official World record.
She then set her sights on winning 5 Golden League races over 3000m/5000m for a share of the $500,000 jackpot on offer, setting up a thrilling season of duels with Tirunesh, who had won in Oslo in Meseret’s absence. A series of last lap sprint battles resulted in three runner-up spots for Meseret behind Tirunesh. Meseret took other honours in the form of a national record 8:24.66 for 3000m in Stockholm; and a win over Tirunesh at the African Championships. Then, as Tirunesh headed for the finish and her GL prize in Berlin, Meseret battled her over the last 250m, winning in 15:02.51 to Tirunesh’s 15:02.87, and denying Tirunesh $125,000 in additional prize money she could have earned as a 6-time GL champion.
Tirunesh avenged the defeat in the World Athletic Final 5000m with a photo finish victory (16:04.77 to 16:04.76) in Stuttgart, but Meseret had the last word in winning the 3000m, finishing in 8:34.22 to her rival’s 8:34.74. As Africa’s representative in the Athens IAAF World Cup 5000m, Meseret led from the start to win in 14:39.11, well ahead of Russia’s Shobukhova. Meseret then ran a World best 8:46.9 for 3K on the roads in Newcastle on 30 September, bettering the 8:53 2001 mark of Germany’s Luminita Zaituc by over six seconds.
But Meseret’s World record ambitions really took off in 2007, starting with the 3000m indoor mark that had eluded her in the past. She slashed over four seconds off the mark in Stuttgart on 3 February, clocking 8:23.72, and running the final 200m in 32.0, while being pushed to the line by compatriot Meselech Melkamu who ran 8:23.74. Meseret attacked the World outdoor two-mile best on the track in Carson City, California on 20 May, running 9:10.47 to better American Regina Jacobs’ 1999 9:11.97 mark. That accomplishment was eclipsed by Meseret’s feat at the Oslo Golden League meet on 15 June when she obliterated her own 5000m World record by clocking 14:16.63, almost eight seconds better than her 2006 14:24.53 mark, after taking the lead before the 3000m point. Meseret easily defended her 5000m All-Africa Games title in Algiers in July, and her Osaka 5000m task was made easier when Helsinki double gold-medallist and Osaka 10,000 champion Tirunesh withdrew due to recurring abdominal pain.
Meseret finally realised her outdoor World Championship dreams after failing to make the Paris 2003 final and losing to Tirunesh in Helsinki. Taking the lead in Osaka with two laps to go in a tactical race, and kicking with 200m left, she won in 14:57.91 ahead of Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot and Priscah Jepleting Cherono. Meseret attacked her own world two-mile best in Brussels and slashed over 11 seconds to become the first woman under nine seconds for the distance, clocking 8:58.58. Enroute, she ran a 3000m personal best, national record and world-leading 8:24.51, as well as a mile personal best of 4:33.07. Nine days later, Meseret led from the gun at the World Athletic Final 3000m to win in a Finals record 8:27.24. Meseret’s record year was crowned with the IAAF Athlete of the Year award.
Meseret easily shattered the 9:23.38 2002 world indoor two-mile mark in Boston on 26 January 2008 with a blistering last lap and a 9:10.50 finish. She was chased by her teammate Meselech at the Valencia World Indoor Championships in March until a decisive move in the penultimate lap easily secured her third straight gold over 3000m in 8:38.79.
At the African Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, Meseret was one of the African athletes of the past and present honored for their achievements in a gala tribute and African hall of fame inauguration on 29 April. This recognition came in addition to the honorary UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador role Meseret, who is passionate about the cause of women and children in Ethiopia, takes seriously.
On the track in Addis Ababa, Meseret experienced stomach pains before the 5000m and was outkicked in the bell lap by Meselech, taking silver. Meseret suffered another loss when Tirunesh smashed her 5000m World record in Oslo on June 6, running 14:11.15. Meseret needed a pre-Olympic boost and got it in July from her Stockholm 5000m run in 14:12.88, the second-fastest time ever.
In Beijing, Meseret faced stiff challenges in her Olympic 5000m title defense from Tirunesh, who doubled after winning the Beijing 10,000m, and from Abeylegesse, the new Olympic 10,000m silver-medallist. Spiked two-thirds of the way into the slow final, Meseret saw Tirunesh’s killer last lap secure her place in history as the first woman to win both events at the Games, while a crushed Meseret took bronze behind Abeylegesse. “The Olympics caused me pain because I came away with a result I never expected,” said Meseret.
She charged into the rest of 2008 and the following season with a vengeance, winning the 3000 and 5000 at the 2008 World Athletics Final and blazing through the 2009 indoor season. She smashed Tirunesh’s 2007 5000m World record of 14:27.42, running 14:24.37 on 18 February, before ending her season with a partially solo run over two miles in which she broke her own 9:10.50 2008 World best with a stellar 9:06.26 on 26 February. “This year has been providing redemption for me from the start,” said a satisfied Meseret, who hoped the outdoor World Championship season would continue the trend.
Not content with attempting to defend her 5000m World title, Meseret set her sights on the distance double successfully attempted by her compatriots Tirunesh and Kenenisa in recent years. In her first 5000m race that season in Oslo on 3 July, Meseret beat Cheruiyot and Meselech in 14:36.38. A 31:07.34 10,000m in Stockholm on 30 May, while a then world-leading time, did not satisfy her, but a 29:59.20 run in a downpour in Birmingham on 11 July, the fifth-fastest time ever behind the 29:31.78 World record of China’s Wang Junxia as well as Meselech and Tirunesh’s sub-30 clockings of the previous 12 months, gave her the confirmation she wanted.
With Tirunesh out of the Berlin 10,000m due to injury, Meseret prepared to face Meselech (with a faster 10,000 clocking of 29:53.80 from June) over the longer distance on 15 August. But the night before, Meseret fell ill with a bad cold that sapped her energy for the duration of the Championships. “I was very sick,” said Meseret. “I was sweating at night and coughing, and I lacked strength.” She was nevertheless in the lead heading into the homestretch of the 10,000 final, battling to hold off Meselech, but once that failed, she slowed almost to a halt. Not only did Kenya’s Linet Masai reel in Meselech for the gold, but Meseret lost the bronze to compatriot Wude Ayalew in the final metres, and eventually took fifth. Still in sub-par shape, Meseret made the 22 August final of the 5000, but lacked the fitness to defend her title, taking bronze behind Kenya’s Cheruiyot and Sylvia Kibet.
A recovered Meseret came back with a vengeance at the September World Athletics Final and ended the now-discontinued event as its most decorated athlete when she claimed an unprecedented third 3000/5000 double victory, defeating the Olympic and new World champions Tirunesh and Cheruiyot over 5000, and Cheruiyot and Ayalew in the 3000, which she won in a world-leading 8:30.15.
Meseret’s 2010 indoor season got off to an even more auspicious start when she came within less than a second of both her 3000 and 5000 world marks. On 6 February, she ran 8:24.46 for 3000m, missing her 2007 8:23.72 mark by three-quarters of a second, and running the third-fastest time ever. She was chased by compatriot Sentayehu Ejigu and on February 10 in Stockholm, the site of Meseret’s 2009 14:24.37 5000m record, the pair ran together again and Meseret clocked a tantalizingly close 14:24.79, the second-fastest clocking of all time. “I am disappointed but I’m pleased my performance hasn’t decreased over time,” she said. “My goal now is the gold at the World Indoor Championships in Doha.”
Meseret took her near-record-breaking form to Doha and, cheered by an enthusiastic Ethiopian showing in the stands, convincingly retained her title over Cheruiyot and Sentayehu. Previously having shared the distinction of owning three World Indoor titles over 3000m with Romania’s Gabriela Szabo and Haile Gebrselassie, Meseret became the first four-time winner of the event.
Meseret also became the Carlsbad 5000 road race’s only three-time female champion, prevailing against windy conditions, which also thwarted her record ambitions over 5000 on the track in Hengelo (14:38.87). Meseret took silver in the African Championships 5000 in Nairobi behind Cheruiyot. Meseret controlled the pace and took the title in the Split Continental Cup 3000 ahead of Abeylegesse and American Shannon Rowbury. “The race was slow, so it was really easy for me,” said Meseret. She made a solitary foray into half marathon territory on 19 September and won the Philadelphia half ahead of Lineth Chepkurui, Werknesh Kidane, Shalane Flanagan and Kim Smith in 1:07:47.
In 2011, Meseret was undefeated in all her races before the World Championships, starting with an indoor 3000m win in Stockholm and three 5000m races outdoors, with Sentayehu right behind her and pushing her in each race, and the pals exchanging warm congratulations afterwards. “Sentayehu and I work together,” said Meseret. “We always follow our training programs together.”
After a season opening victory in Hengelo, Meseret ran 14:37.32 in the rain in Oslo on 9 June. She decided to double and run the 10,000 as well at the Daegu Worlds, and she set the wheels in motion after running a 14:29.52 world lead at the Paris DL. “I finished the race without feeling any stress internally, and I’m very pleased about that, that I was able to run this,” she said, after leading Sentayehu, Mercy Cherono and Flanagan to season bests. Five days later, Meseret ran an easy 31:05.05 in a 10,000m race in Nuoro, Italy. With that goal of a 10,000 qualifier accomplished, Meseret ended her pre-Worlds season. “I want to make major preparations for Daegu,” she said.
Meseret was due to be severely tested in both distances by the in-form defending 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who took the 2011 world 5000m lead down to 14:20.87 on 29 July in Stockholm, and who also doubled in Daegu, as did her defending 10,000m champion Kenyan compatriot Masai. “It will be difficult running both the 5000m and 10,000m again, but I’ve trained hard to try to beat them and I will do my best,” said Meseret. Unfortunately, nothing unfolded as she expected, and she dropped out of the 10,000m with 2000m to go, while Meselech took fifth behind four Kenyans led by Cheruiyot. “I contracted a bacteria on the flight from Ethiopia to here,” said Meseret. “The medication to heal that weakened me. … I congratulated the Kenyans on their 1-2-3-4.” Cheruiyot proved unstoppable in her quest for double gold when she ran 14:55.36 to win the 5000m final, with her teammate Sylvia Kibet kicking in the ferociously-contested final lap to take silver, relegating Meseret to bronze in 14:56.94 behind the same pair of Kenyans as in Berlin. “I am not happy, certainly not, but it is another medal for Ethiopia,” said Meseret.
Off the track, Meseret, who holds the plight of women and girls in Ethiopia dear to her heart and was already the adoptive parent of Melat, added to her family by adopting a second little girl, Lydia Gugsa.
The 2012 indoor season got off to a promising start for Meseret, who was vying to become the first woman ever to win five World Indoor titles. She ran a world leading 8:33.57 for 3000m in Boston before bettering it to 8:31.56 in Birmingham on 18 February. “I was planning to run under 8:30 today,” she said in Boston, where she largely ran alone. “It didn’t happen but still, I am pleased.” In Birmingham, again leading through 2000m, she came home three seconds ahead of her runner-up, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri.
At the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Meseret uncharacteristically led from the start in the final, and kicked at the bell, but Obiri came flying up behind her on the final backstraight and passed a stunned Meseret. “I made a big mistake, running alone for so long,” said Meseret, who took silver in 8:38.26 to the Kenyan’s 8:37.16, but held off Gelete and Kibet. “Especially when 1000m remained, it was very fast and in the final 200m, [Obiri] came from behind and passed me, and it was an outcome I didn’t expect because I was going for my fifth win,” added Meseret.
Her outdoor focus became the London Olympic 5000m, and she ran three DL races over 3000 and 5000m, but despite her determined efforts, she lost in a last lap sprint to Cheruiyot in Doha and Rome. “It was a really great race, until the last meters,” she said of her 8:46.49 finish to the Kenyan’s 8:46.44 in Doha. “But Rome especially is one I regret because I missed out narrowly and could have run better.” Meseret ran 14:35.65 there to Cheruiyot’s 14:35.62 after a hard-fought final lap. “These past two years, Vivian has become very strong,” Meseret added. “She’s the one who at these Olympics we consider our chief opponent.”
In Meseret’s last race before the Olympics, she faced her rivel Tirunesh in the New York DL where several other Ethiopian women were running, including Gelete. Meseret knew swift clockings there could displace her from the Olympic line-up, so she entered the race. “A lot of us Ethiopians are here, all looking to be selected for the London Olympics,” she said. “I’ve run 14:35 but for Ethiopia, that’s not that fast a time.” The match-up of the two rivals however produced a more tactical race. Tirunesh kicked away from Meseret at the bell and won in 14:50.80 to Meseret’s 14:57.02. Tirunesh ran the fourth-fastest time of the season among her compatriots, behind the Rome finishes. “I was feeling good, but with about five laps remaining, I had bad stitches in my side,” said Meseret. “But I’m second and it’s fine.” She met her goal of preserving her spot on the London team, even if it wasn’t with the fast time she’d intended. The three Rome runners made the team with Tirunesh named its reserve.
But Tirunesh’s good form resulted in her contesting the distance in addition to the 10,000m after winning the longer race in a convincing manner in London, easily defeating Cheruiyot who took bronze. Tirunesh and Meseret ran the same qualifying 5000m heat on 7 August. Meseret remained mid-pack much of the race, moving up with less than two laps to go and overtaking Kibiwot and following Tirunesh across the line. “The plan was to save energy,” said Meseret. “I’m in good shape and I’m feeling fine but there are other strong athletes in the field and I will never stop fighting for it.”
Entering the 5000m final with fresher legs than her chief competitors, Meseret looked to outdo Tirunesh as well as Cheruiyot and her Kenyan teammates, including Sally Kipyego, who took silver ahead of Cheruiyot’s bronze in the London 10,000. Meseret sat back as a slow first half was followed by Tirunesh going to the front and remaining in the lead all the way into the bell lap, where Cheruiyot and Meseret gave chase. In the homestretch Meseret powered past her teammate and rival to win in 15:04.25 and take back the Olympic trophy. Meseret fell to her knees in tears, taking out of her singlet an image of Jesus and Mary. “I have been hoping for this day for a long time,” she said. “I've won two Olympic medals before, this is my third. I'm not sure I can do a fourth, so this means a lot to me.”
Meseret wrapped up her season at the Olympics, and started 2013 with a rare cross country appearance in Edinburgh, where she was outkicked over 3K by a Dibaba, although it was Genzebe, who ran 9:46 to Meseret's 9:51. Meseret may have appeared to be moving away from her track dominance when she improved her half marathon best in setting a course record 1:07:25 in New Orleans on 24 February after breaking away at 7 miles; and she then lost again to a strong kick by Genzebe over 5000m at the 18 May Shanghai DL, running 14:47.76 to Genzebe's 14:45.92.
But Meseret put away the looming threat of another Dibaba sister to contend with and displayed her 5000m prowess when she defeated Genzebe in a world-leading 14:26.90 in Oslo. Sporting a new look with reddish-dyed hair, Meseret led the race from 3000m on and finished with a nearly 7 second margin of victory over Kibiwot, while Genzebe was third in 14:37.68. “Before Shanghai, I was sick and I nearly canceled the race,” Meseret told the IAAF website after running the Oslo last lap in 61.7. “Here, all was OK. I think I'm even in World record shape, but I'm not confident enough to try for it.”
Meseret ran her first 10,000m in two years in Sollentuna, Sweden on 27 June, the same night Tirunesh ran a world leading 30:15.67 in Ostrava, with both women looking at another 5000-10,000 double attempt at the Moscow World Championships in August. Despite again leading much of the race, as she'd done in Oslo, this time taking the front after 2000m, Meseret clocked 30:08.06, running a final lap of 63.1 seconds and shattering Tirunesh's world lead. Tirunesh essentially returned the favor when she overtook Meseret on the world 5000 list, running 14:23.68 on 7 July, making the two women one another's most challenging potential opponents for the distance world crowns.
However, the Ethiopian federation wanted athletes in Moscow to race just one event each and Tirunesh won the 10,000m. Meseret was favoured in the 5000m, with a challenge expected from her teammate, the steeplechaser Almaz Ayana, who was Tirunesh's Paris runner-up in 14:25.84. After disappointing runs in Berlin and Daegu, Meseret looked to regain the 5000m World title she held in 2007.
Almaz put in an admirable job of maintaining a high pace for the last five laps of the 17 August final, whittling down the lead pack, leaving herself, Meseret and Mercy Cherono remaining at the bell. With a 29.42 final half lap, Meseret secured gold, with Almaz joining her on the podium. “She did a good job, and we took two medals, gold and bronze, so we are happy,” said Meseret.
She followed that up with a win at the Stockholm DL 3000m on 22 August in a world-leading 8:30.29 ahead of Cherono. Exchanging the lead with her long-time rival Tirunesh at the 15 September Great North Run in England, Meseret found herself and her compatriot eventually upstaged by Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo. Meseret’s consolation was a second-place PB of 1:06:09.
Meseret’s agenda for the better part of the next year however, was motherhood. She gave birth to baby Gabriela on 22 June 2014 in Portland, Oregon. With adopted daughters Melat and Lydia 14 and 8 years old at the time, Meseret became the mother of three girls. “It’s really wonderful,” she said.
She was back in training in October but did not resume competition until a year later, as regaining form and overcoming injuries took up much of her 2015 season. “The injury was a left leg calf muscle injury, and then later, a small lower back injury,” she said of the setbacks she faced during the outdoor season. Her first race back was on the road, the Montferland Run 15K in ‘s-Heerenberg in Holland on 7 December, which she won in 50:04.
Meseret went back to indoor racing on 14 February, 2016 in Boston, where she has set, among other marks, a meet record 8:30.05 for 3000m in 2005. She ran her 2016 race cautiously until the latter stages, winning in 8:30.83. “The race was great,” she said. “I wanted, if possible, to attack the meet record. I missed it by a small margin, but I ran better than I expected.”
Meseret returns to the World Indoor Championships in Portland seeking a seventh medal over the 3000m, where her compatriot Genzebe Dibaba is looking to defend her 2014 title.
3000m: 8:23.72i WR (2007), 8:24.51 (2007)
5000m: 14:24.37i WR (2009), 14:12.88 (2008)
10,000m: 29:59.20 (2009)
Half Marathon: 1:07:25 (2013)
3000/5000/10,000: 1999 - 9:02.08/-/-; 2000 - 8:59.90/15:08.36/-; 2001 - 8:52.47/15:08.65/-; 2002 - 8:40.28/15:26.45/-; 2003 - 8:38.31/14:40.34/-; 2004 - 8:33.44i, 8:36.46/14:44.81/-; 2005 – 8:30.05i, 8:33.57/14:28.98 (AR)/-; 2006 – 8:30.72i, 8:24.66/14:24.53/-; 2007 – 8:23.72i (WR), 8:24.51/14:16.63/-; 2008 – 8:27.93i, 8:43.60/14:12.88 (WR)/-; 2009 – 8:26.99i, 8:30.15/14:24.37i (WR)/29:59.20; 2010 – 8:24.46i, 8:36.09/14:24.79i, 14:38.87/-; 2011 – 8:36.91i/14:29.52/ 31:05.05; 2012 – 8:31.56i, 8:46.49/14:35.65/-; 2013 – 8:30.29, 8:35.28i/14:26.90/30:08.06; 2014 – -/-/-; 2015 – -/-/-; 2016 – 8:30.83i/-/-.
1999 2nd World Youth Championships, 3000m
2000 2nd World Junior Championships, 5000m
2002 1st World Junior Championships, 3000m/5000m
2003 3rd World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2003 1st All-Africa Games, 5000m
2003 1st Afro-Asian Games, 5000m
2003 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2004 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2004 1st Olympic Games, 5000m
2004 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2005 2nd World Championships, 5000m
2005 1st World Athletics Final, 5000m
2005 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2006 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2006 1st African Championships, 5000m
2006 1st World Cup, 5000m
2006 2nd World Athletics Final, 5000m
2006 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2007 1st All Africa Games, 5000m
2007 1st World Championships, 5000m
2007 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2008 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2008 2nd African Championships, 5000m
2008 3rd Olympic Games, 5000m
2008 1st World Athletics Final, 5000m
2008 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2009 3rd World Championships, 5000m
2009 5th World Championships, 10,000m
2009 1st World Athletics Final, 5000m
2009 1st World Athletics Final, 3000m
2010 1st World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2010 2nd African Athletics Championships, 5000m
2010 1st Continental Cup, 3000m
2011 3rd World Championships, 5000m
2012 2nd World Indoor Championships, 3000m
2012 1st Olympic Games, 5000m
2013 1st World Championships, 5000m
A note on Ethiopian names: Ethiopians are customarily referred to by first name only, or first and second name together, the second name being the father's first name. (The grandfather’s first name is sometimes added as a third name, and is optional in much the same way that a Western middle name is frequently omitted; but it is mandatory on all new Ethiopian passports.)
Prepared by Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. © IAAF 2004 - 2016