Such was the depth of the candidates the IAAF awarded co-winners of the Female Performance of the Year – Tirunesh Dibaba and Barbora Spotakova - at the glittering World Athletics Gala.
Extract from IAAF Yearbook 2008
We all knew Tirunesh Dibaba could consistently win races at the highest level but could she break World records?
True, she was the owner of the indoor 5000m record of 14:27.42 - set in Boston in 2007 - but despite boasting an imperious championship pedigree as four World track titles (two 5000m and two 10,000m) and four senior individual World Cross Country titles would testify - she rarely opted to commit to World record pace often preferring to sit behind the leaders for much of the race before unleashing her devastating kick-finish in the latter stages.
Yet any doubts the phenomenal 23-year-old Ethiopian was not the complete athlete were blown away on 6 June this year when Dibaba obliterated the existing World 5000m record of 14:16.63 held by her compatriot and great rival Meseret Defar by more than five-seconds at the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games in Oslo.
The Ethiopian was guided through the first 3km in 8:38.38 by rookie pacesetter Anna Alminova, but found herself three seconds adrift of World record pace at three-fifths distance. Dibaba’s big sister, Ejegayehu, then hit the front and increased the tempo for about 600m before the World record pursuer purposefully took control and by the 4km mark she had forged a full second clear of World record pace as she reeled off a succession of 68-second laps
The final kilometre was simply a demonstration of Dibaba’s rare ability as she greedily set about not only breaking the World record but smashing it out of sight and a final lap of a little under 64-seconds pushed the mark down to 14:11.15 – more than 19 seconds quicker than her previous outdoor best of 14:30.40 set at this meeting two years ago.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and this is a very special day for me,” said Dibaba. “I was trying my best and I knew I was going to break the record with two laps to go. The early part of the race was pretty good, but at 3000m we were a little behind so then I had to catch up on the pace. I could have run faster if the pacing was a little better.”
For Dibaba, Oslo was only the start for what proved a stunning summer of success, as she became the first woman in history to complete the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m double – achieving the latter with the second fastest time in history.
Her unforgettable year was complete in October when she married her fellow Ethiopian runner Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Silheshi Sihine in what was dubbed the Wedding of the Year in their homeland.
While Dibaba had diligently and openly targeted her World record assault in Oslo for Barbora Spotakova, the co-winner of the Female Performance of the Year award, her World javelin record at the end-of-season IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final came as a huge surprise.
It was not that we all knew the 27-year-old Czech athlete did not have the ability. After all, Spotakova, the 2007 World champion, had enjoyed a stellar year, winning the Olympic title in Beijing with a European record throw of 71.42m - a distance which elevated her to second on the all-time lists and within 0.28 of the existing World record of Osleidys Menendez of Cuba.
However, in her two post-Beijing competitions she had looked tired and below her best, finishing fourth in Lausanne with a modest 62.24m and was then beaten in front of her passionate home fans in Jablonec by Olympic silver medallist Mariya Abakumova of Russia.
Not only that but Spotakova had felt below-par on the day of the competition and for this reason she decided to fully commit to her first attempt in an effort to gain control of the competition – a competition she was to blow wide apart with her first attempt.
On a chilly September day she released the spear out to a new World record of 72.28m in the Mercedes Benz Arena - some 22 years after Great Britain’s Fatima Whitbread had set a women’s World javelin record of 77.44m with the old specification javelin in the same stadium.
The competition was firmly, definitely over as the opposition was simply stunned into submission. Second placed Christina Obergfoll of Germany was a full 9 metres back in second with 63.28m and Spotakova herself passed on her second and third attempts while her fourth and final round effort limped to 58.39m.
No matter. Spotakova has created her slice of history and her reward? A cool $130,000 - $100,000 for breaking a world record and $30,000 for winning at the lucrative end-of-season event).
“It was a little bit strange,” admitted Spotakova. “I had felt very bad all morning, so I put everything into the first attempt. It was a good technique but I was surprised with it.”
“Jan Zelezny (retired men’s World record holder) called me in Beijing when I threw the European record and he will be delighted that both javelin world records are held by Czech athletes.”