Hellen Obiri produced one of the boilovers of the championships when she sprinted past Meseret Defar with 100 metres to go to win the 3000 metres gold medal.
Defar had been looking for her fifth title in a row and looked to have it in the bag, given her usual finishing speed, when she led at the bell. Indeed, she had led from the ninth lap of the race.
Obiri had other ideas. Trailing behind Defar, she led Kenyan teammate Sylvia Kibet and Defar’s Ethiopian teammate Gelete Burka. Just as it seemed Burka might challenge the two Kenyans for the silver medal, Obiri took off and went past Defar into the lead.
Even into the final straight it appeared Defar might mount one final, successful charge. But it was Obiri who found the extra gear, sprinting joyously to the line in eight minutes 37.16 seconds.
Less than 30 minutes after Pamela Jelimo had won the 800 to take Kenya’s first-ever women’s gold medal at a World Indoor Championships, Obiri had made it two.
The winner’s only other global championship experience was an 11th in the 1500 metres final at last year’s Daegu World Championships. She fell in that race - the Istanbul gold medal will undoubtedly erase that unhappy memory.
In going for her fifth title, Defar adopted tactics far removed from her usual race strategy. You might even call them ‘Kenyan tactics’. If so, perhaps she is trying to find an answer to Vivian Cheruiyot’s ability to out-kick her.
Whatever the motivation, Defar moved to the front before the 1800 metre mark and proceeded to crank the pace up.
After Helen Clitheroe (GBR) had led through the first kilometre in a dawdling 3:01.60, Defar was in the lead at 2000 in 5:56.31 (2:54.71).
The drive for five had begun. The next two laps (400 metres) took 66.38 seconds, the two after that were quicker still – 64.70. A lap to go, and all Defar had to do was something she has done so many times, control the final lap.
With 100 metres to go, it still looked as if she would – but then along came Obiri and the drive for five stalled.
Defar took the silver in 8:38.26 and behind her Burka out-sprinted Kibet for the bronze medal, 8:40.18 to 8:40.50. There’s not really a lot to be said about the others, led home by Shitaye Eshete (BRN) in fifth place 11.38 seconds behind fourth. Eshete, in turn, was almost a full five seconds clear of sixth-placed Lidia Chojecka of Poland.
If Defar has indeed re-thought her tactics, it will be interesting to see if she continues to rehearse them between now and London.
As for Obiri, she showed here in Istanbul that she is a formidable talent when she keeps both feet on the ground.
Len Johnson for the IAAF