Vivian Cheruiyot won her fourth World Championships gold medal when she out-sprinted a pack of 10 athletes on the last lap of the women’s 10,000m on Monday night.
Cheruiyot won the 5000m in Berlin in 2009, the 5000m and 10,000m double in Daegu in 2011, and was second and third in the 5000m and 10,000m at the London 2012 Olympic Games before taking time out for the birth of her first baby.
She returned last night exactly where she left off – at World Championships level, anyway – with a win. It was a trademark victory which showed she had lost little, if any, of her renowned finishing speed. At her peak, Cheruiyot dusted Meseret Defar off. She was not about to let anyone else by on the final straight of the Bird’s Nest.
Cheruiyot won in 31:41.31 from Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka, 31:41.77, with USA’s Emily Infeld just pipping her devastated team-mate Molly Huddle for the bronze medal, 31:43.49 to 31:43.58.
With the absence of Tirunesh Dibaba, Cheruiyot’s limited racing in the build-up – she got her qualifier in the lowest of low-key races – and Ethiopia fielding a relatively inexperienced trio at the distance, the 10,000m loomed as one of the most open events on the Beijing program. The heat and humidity, dictating a cautious early pace, further tightened the competition.
At half-way, reached in a fairly sedate 16:11.99 and led most of the way by Japanese pair Yuka Takashima and Rei Ohara, 24 of the 25 starters were still in one huge pack.
The racing started when Olympic silver medallist Sally Kipyego took over the lead soon afterwards. Portugal’s Sara Moreira, Ethiopia’s Belaynesh Oljira and world junior 5000m champion Alemitu Heroye were among those prominent at pushing the pace along.
Many were stirred by the increase in pace, but few were shaken off.
At this stage, Cheruiyot was gradually becoming more prominent in the pack. She moved from mid-field to the first half-dozen and then showed in the lead with team-mate Betsy Saina with five laps to go.
Huddle responded immediately and Burka also moved up. The other two US runners, Infeld and 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Shalane Flanagan, were also there and neither had expended too much energy.
With two laps to go there were still 10 women in the lead pack. At the bell in 30:40.53, Cheruiyot took the lead and although Burka moved with her, she defied every effort to get past her.
At the top of the straight a Cheruiyot win looked likely; 50 metres later it was assured, albeit only by three metres. Burka just could not get any closer.
The drama was behind the gold and silver medallists. Huddle had been in contention for the win and she looked to be the bronze medallist five metres from the line. But as she spread her arms wide, apparently oblivious to Infeld’s desperate lunge for the line, she saw the medal dashed from her grip.
It was reminiscent of the race at Crystal Palace years ago when John Treacy literally popped his head under Steve Ovett’s arms to beat him at the line. That cost no more than a bit of embarrassment. Huddle had lost a hard-earned World Championships medal.
Len Johnson for the IAAF