MonteCarloIn the sixth part of their end of year review, statisticians A. Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava continue with their appraisal of this year, here concentrating with the highlights of the LONG DISTANCE running races which took place in 2006.
MEN – Long Distance
Prior to winning his fifth World Cross Country Championship double, this time in Fukuoka, Japan, Bekele won the 3000m title at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow. Yet the 24-year-old 5000/10,000m World record holder took an upset defeat in his first outdoor track race of the season. Isaac Songok (KEN), who had finished a very close second in the short cross race in Fukuoka, clearly beat Bekele in the Oslo 5000m. But Songok didn’t build on this win to jump to the spot as number one long distance runner, but he did record a world leading 3000m time of 7:28.72 in Rieti in August.
Following a couple of good wins, Bekele suffered another loss in London, this time beaten by American Bernard Lagat who set a personal best of 12:59.22 in the process. Despite his Oslo loss Bekele won at all the remaining five Golden League meeting following and was one of three athletes ending up with a US$ 83,333 minor share of the jackpot in Berlin. The Ethiopian also added a 5000m African Championship and a win at the World Athletics Final to record seven wins in nine races during the season. At the World Cup Bekele opted only to run the 3000m, where he took a surprise defeat to defending World Cup 3k champion Craig Mottram of Australia.
This year there was another top mark of 19 athletes under 13 minutes compared to 17 in 2005. Overall depth took a big leap forward. 41 athletes went under 13:10 in 2005 we had 33, 28 in 2004 and 21 in 2003. The totally dominant Kenya has 43 athletes in the world top-100, Ethiopia has ten and USA seven.
The 10,000m season was quite thin because there was no global championship to contest. Only a few important races in Europe and another bunch in Japan scored almost the 20 highest spots on the world list. The Brussels race on 25 August was the fastest of the season with the six fastest times coming from this race. It was very high standard as well, with 20-year-old Kenyan Micah Kogo winning in Brussels in 26:35.63. The young Kenyan looks to be very promising as the Brussels race was only the second of his career. Kogo was closely followed by 2004 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist and then soon to be crowned 2006 World Road Running champion Zersenay Tadesse (ERI) in a national record of 26:37.25. Boniface Kiprop (UGA) was third in the race in 26:41.95 before ahead of 17-year-old Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeylan who recorded the fastest 10,000m by a youth athlete all-time: 27:02.81, also the national junior record.
The top of this event was thinner than before, this season only three athletes could run under 27 minutes with eight in 2006 and six in 2005. 20 athletes recorded times faster than 27:30 with 21 in 2005, 18 in 2004 and 16 in 2003. Kenya has a huge 37 athletes in the world top-100, Japan has 15 and USA, 10.
5000m and 10,000m World Ranking
5000m Performance List
10,000m Performance List
Saif Saeed Shaheen (QAT) dominated the Steeplechase like he has done for the last four years. The World record holder (7:53.63 in 2004) only raced four times with Shaheen’s last loss in the event dating back to 8 August 2002 when he finished third at the African Championships in Radès, Tunisia. Shaheen has since won 24 straight finals (26 races in total including two heats) and the 24-year-old double World Champion from 2003/2005 has recorded ten career sub-8 minute races. Shaheen started the 2006 season with two fast races. The world leading time 7:56.32 came in the first race in Athens and was followed by 7.56.54 in Zürich in August. Shaheen followed this with a win in Brussels and then a Steeplechase/5000m double at the World Cup in Athens first winning the 5000m and then the Steeplechase on day two. Shaheen also set the Asian record of 12:51.98 in the 5000m in Rome in July and ran a fast 1500m (3:33.51) in Berlin in September. Paul Kipsiele Koech (KEN), the Olympic bronze medallist in 2004, was the other athlete to go under 8 minutes during this season. Koech won the Golden Gala meeting in Rome in 7:59.94 and also won the African Championships, and then World Athletics Final. He did however lose to Shaheen at the World Cup. Some overall depth was lost in this event, in 2006 there were only 17 athletes under 8:15 during the season with 22 in 2005, 17 in 2004 and 18 in 2003. Kenya has 24 athletes in the world top 100 with France following at nine. Morocco and USA both have eight.
WOMEN – Long Distance
In the review one year ago it read: "The only thing that stopped one of the Ethiopians from laying claim to the 5000m World record in 2005 were tactical considerations that caused the pace to drop dramatically for a couple of laps just before the decisive sprint. It was very obvious that at least Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar had the physical capabilities to dip under 14:20 in a perfectly orchestrated record attempt."
Except for the fact that Defar did indeed get the World record the paragraph could have been copied for 2006. Because Defar's 14:24.53 in New York in early June in no way reflected the full capacity of herself or of her Ethiopian compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba. Several times during the summer it appeared for a major part of the races that one of them or both were heading for 14:20 or better – only to let it slip away during a couple of pedestrian laps as they focus on retaining sufficient reserves for an all-out sprint finish.
For Dibaba who was looking for the Golden League, jackpot winning was an obvious priority and for Defar the reason for not pushing the pace all the way probably was that she didn't want to act as a pacesetter only to lose not just the race but also the World record to Dibaba. But even though the record didn't materialise the spectators were treated to a number of eye catching substantially-sub-60-seconds last lap duals:
Dibaba won in Paris by 0.06, in Rome by 1.14, in Brussels by 3.15 and in the World Athletics Final by 0.01, while Defar took the African Championships by 0.04 and Berlin by 0.36!
The domination of Ethiopia and Kenya in this event took on almost incredible proportions this year. In the World list Briton Jo Pavey as No 7 was the only "non-African intruder" into the top-15 as Ethiopia laid claim to positions 1-3, 6, 8, 13 and 15 and Kenya 4-5, 9-12 and 14! Overall there were not major changes in standards, e.g. the number of sub-15 runners remained at the same level as before (around 25).
The lack of major races outside of the championships became even more apparent this year when there was no global championship on offer. None of the top-5 runners of 2005 even started in a 10,000m race this year and the top of the World List was almost identical to the top of the European Championships race: The top-7 in Gothenburg occupied positions 2-8 in the World list preceded only by Turk Elvan Abeylegesse's 30:21.67 solo-run in the European Cup held on her homesoil in Turkey.
Especially striking was the lack of Ethiopians. Last year they completely dominated the event both at the World Championships (medal sweap) and statistically (top-4 on World List) while this year the top Ethiopian barely sneaked into the top-25. Also the Kenyan presence at the top end of the World List is conspicuous only by its low profile.
Comparing this pattern with that in the closely related 5000m (see above) it is obvious that the event is in severe need of challenging competitive opportunities outside of the major championships. Judging from Abeylegesse’s 30:21 all by herself in driving rain in April sub-30-times should be expected whenever a "summit competition" in the women's 10,000m similar to that of their male counterparts traditional race at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels is staged.
As could be expected for an event that joined the international championships programme as late as last year (2005) standards continued to rise markedly in the Steeplechase. The World record (Gulnara Samitova 9:01.59) remained completely unchallenged as the top time was 9:17 by Wioletta Janowska but on all other levels 2006 was a record year.
Typical is that the 10:00 which during the infancy of the event was viewed as something of a world class threshold was surpassed by some 80 runners runners, an increase of 25 compared to last year. Most likely to 2007 be the year when it will take sub-10:00 to get into the top-100.
That it also would be the year when the World record gets sub-9:00 is however not so probable. So far Samitova is the only one that has managed to dip under 9:15 despite the fact that she first did it already in 2003. That no one else has followed suit in the last three seasons seems to indicate that it truly is exclusive territory taking a demanding combination of flat running ability and efficient hurdling technique.
Thus it is quite possible that Samitova's 9:01 will remain an absolute world class performance also 10 or 20 years from now. However, with more talent taking up this still very young event the general standards will of course continue to rise significantly.