Although she ran a time slower than when she won the World Junior title five years ago – and more than 40 seconds outside her World record - for Olympic champion Meseret Defar only one thing mattered in the 5000 metres final here last night (1). After two unsuccessful attempts, Defar finally won her first senior outdoor World Championship title.
She could hardly have timed it better. The Ethiopian millennium celebrations begin this month (12 September) and Defar, who held up a board in the stadium after her race broadcasting the fact, is thrilled. “It happens only once every thousand years and to win at the World Championships on the eve of the millennium means this is a big celebration for me,” she said. “It is going to be a great memory.”
The memory is all the sweeter for Defar’s previous senior World Championships experiences. In her first one, in Paris in 2003, illness prevented her from qualifying for the final. In her second, in Helsinki in 2005, she had to settle for the silver medal as her compatriot, Tirunesh Dibaba, beat her on the last lap.
“In Osaka I am the champion, I am very happy,” Defar said. Defar’s victory is the latest success in all-conquering year for the 23-year-old. In February she broke the indoor World record for 3000 metres, after previous failed attempts then, in May, she set an outdoor Two Miles World best in Carson City.
Most impressive of all, though, Defar improved the World record by eight seconds (14:16.63) at the Golden League meeting, in Oslo in June, then took her brilliant form this year to Algiers, where she won the All Africa Games title in July. She is not finished yet.
Defar said that she would be going for another World record this summer but, asked where, she replied: “This is a secret. This is my special season and I will try again (to break) my World record after this race.”
In a tactical battle, Defar won with a kick 200 metres from home. As pleased as she was for herself, she had one complaint – that Ethiopia did not win all three medals. Defar’s was the only one as Meselech Melkamu finished 6th and Gelete Burika 10th. In Helsinki, Ethiopians had filled the top four spots. “This was a slow race, a tactical race,” Defar said.
“I used team tactics and waited for my team members after pulling away slightly with 2 laps to. I was looking back and monitoring the whereabouts of my team. I was waiting for them to catch up with me but, when I saw they were not going to, I just took off by myself. But my team was not so good today – I am very sad for my team.
“In Helsinki we took first to fourth places and it was a wonderful achievement for Ethiopia. We expected that we would be able to repeat the achievement here but Tirunesh was not able to take part. Nevertheless the remaining three of us expected that we could take the top 3 positions and it was for that reason I ran a tactical race.”
Commenting on the slowness of the time, Defar said: “This is the World Championships. I run for my country, for my flag, and I was only going for the gold medal. This was a very important race for me for the next Olympics. It will serve as good preparation.” She added that she was always “100 per cent sure” she would win.
The absence of Dibaba, the previous title-holder and winner of the 10,000 metres here, made Defar’s task easier. Dibaba was missing with stomach trouble but nothing could detract from Defar’s satisfaction, which she compared with other big triumphs.
“Having participated twice before, and won this time, makes it special for me but most special of all is the Athens Olympics of 2004,” Defar said. “I participated in that race after a lot of difficulties and to win under those conditions makes it extremely special. I don’t think that, even if I won two golds in one Olympics, I would feel as special as that. I also feel very strongly about the time I broke the World record by eight seconds.”
David Powell for the IAAF