Two-time defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba will be at the start for the women’s 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but for once she isn’t even the standard bearer for the Ethiopian team.
Dibaba, who has tried her hand at the marathon and parenthood since 2012, has raced sparingly since her son was born, much as she did in advance of her 2012 Olympic victory.
If Dibaba does win, she will become the first woman in Olympic history to win three consecutive times in an individual athletics event.
However, the Ethiopian team would be heavy hitters even without Dibaba as it features world 5000m champion Almaz Ayana, who leads the 2016 performance list with her 25-lap debut of 30:07.00 at the de facto Ethiopian trial race in Hengelo in June, and world 10,000m silver medallist Gelete Burka.
Given that Ayana, in order to win the 5000m in Beijing, staged a long drive with five laps remaining and ran the legs out from under Dibaba’s younger sister Genzebe, a lot of things will have to go right for Dibaba to attain what would be a historic win.
The winner may not even come from the Ethiopian team, however, as world champion Vivian Cheruiyot, the bronze medallist in London four years ago, is still definitely a contender.
Cheruiyot has the tactical experience and closing speed to contend with almost anyone; what she hasn’t faced yet is someone willing to push hard from a long, long way out, the way Ayana did in the 5000m in Beijing.
Aprot ready to spring a surprise
Cheruiyot will be joined by the newest Kenyan phenomenon, Alice Aprot, whose previous international experience is a bronze medal at 5000m from the 2010 World U20 Championships.
Aprot ran 30:26.94 earlier this year to win the African title in South Africa, a time bettered only by Ayana so far in 2016. The third Kenyan will be Betsy Saina, who went to college in the USA and trains in Oregon.
USA's world bronze medallist Emily Infeld will be on the line in Rio as well, along with Molly Huddle, the teammate she leaned past at the line to pick up that medal.
Infeld will come to Rio with the confidence that she has the ability to contend for a medal. Huddle, who dominated both this race and the 5000m at the US Olympic trials, will not only share that confidence but add to it the determination not to get caught at the finish again.
Nine of the top 10 runners in 2016 are from Ethiopia so far (the 10th is Aprot), so although Turkey’s European champion Yasemin Can stands 12th on the year’s list, her position on the starting line in Rio is considerably more favourable.
However, the Kenyan-born Can, who will turn 20 in December, has little experience at this level and nearly all her best times have come in the past few months.
Parker Morse for the IAAF