Hellen Obiri delivered on her pre-race promise to “try to run fast” when the Kenyan sped to a 5000m world lead of 14:21.75 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat on Friday night (13).
It was neither a meeting record nor a personal best for Obiri but a fine run nevertheless and the 13th quickest ever.
Behind her, the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan hung on when Obiri hit the front just after the bell and was rewarded with a European record of 14:22.34, and a personal best by almost 20 seconds.
Into the bargain, there were personal bests for the three runners finishing directly behind the leading pair.
However, over the first half of the race, the prospects for a sub-14:30 time didn’t look too promising due to some slightly erratic pace-making over the first six-and-a-half laps.
With six laps to go and the last of the three pacemakers departing, there was still a leading group of six bunched together with Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi at the front.
Teferi continued to push the pace over the next three laps – taking the leaders through 3000m in 8:41.15 – and got proceedings back on track in terms of time with the rest content to follow her before Obiri took over with just over a kilometre to go and passed 4000m in 11:37.71.
The Ethiopian, having her first track race of the year and dropping down quite considerably in distance, continued to surprise considering the fact that she had run a 2:24:11 marathon in Dubai at the start of the year. Seemingly determined not to let Obiri have her way, Teferi got back in front on the penultimate lap.
The second surprise at this stage of the race was that the favoured world leader Genzebe Dibaba started to drop off the back of the pack.
However, there was no resisting the world champion over the distance and Obiri went through the gears to pull away from her remaining four rivals shortly after the bell. Only Hassan was able to challenge Obiri down the back straight and around the last bend before having to settle for second.
Ethiopia’s Letsenbet Gidey finished third in 14:23.14, Teferi fourth in 14:23.33 and Kenya’s Agnes Tirop fifth in 14:24.24 to move into ninth, 10th and 11th place on the world all-time list for the distance.
Kigen tears up the script
Another Kenyan to produce a world-leading mark in Rabat was 3000m steeplechaser Benjamin Kigen.
Unheralded until recently and only in his second year on the international circuit, the 25-year-old soldier won at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene in a personal best of 8:09.07 and then improved by almost three seconds here with his victory in a time of 8:06.19.
Some poor pacing over the first two kilometres and a reluctance of the leading runners to step up the tempo meant that 2000m was passed in 5:26.06. Hopes of a time below eight minutes – which had been widely discussed at the pre-race press conference – had all but evaporated by this stage.
However, just before the bell, local hero and world silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali took the lead and the decibel count from the enthusiastically raucous Moroccan crowd went off the meter as they anticipated a second victory on the night.
Ominously, despite a brutal change in pace, El Bakkali was still followed by Ethiopia’s Chala Beyo and Kigen as he started his long surge for home. As soon both East Africans went past the man from the Maghreb down the back straight, it generated an audible groan from the partisan fans.
Once in front, Kigen then pushed again down the home straight to shake off Beyo although the latter had the consolation of a personal best of 8:07.27, just 1.11 shy of the Ethiopian record.
“I felt good throughout the race, from start to finish, and I think I could have run even faster as I felt very fresh at the end,” said Kigen, who is clearly an emerging star at the event.
By contrast, El Bakkali was apologetic, although he had no need to be after finishing third in 8:09.58. “First of all, I would like to say sorry for the fans for not winning,” he said. “The race was extremely difficult however I feel satisfied for finishing third especially that it reflects my preparations.”
Surprisingly, one of the existing stars of the steeplechase, world and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto, had a wretched run and was never in the race from the early stages. He eventually finished down in 12th in 8:27.36.
Kejecha keeps his cool
It’s impossible to deny that plenty of attention was on Yomif Kejecha after his antics in Lausanne but he showed more class than a week ago in the 3000m, darting to the front just before the bell and speeding away from the rest of leading pack.
Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew and USA’s Paul Chelimo tried to close the gap over the final 300 metres, but the Ethiopian had opened up an unassailable lead before crossing the line in a meeting record and world-leading 7:32.93.
Balew finished second in a personal best of 7:34.26 while Australia’s Stewart McSweyn came from a long way back to snatch third in another personal best of 7:34.79 with Chelimo 0.04 in arrears.
Morocco’s Brahim Kaazouzi naturally got some of the biggest cheers of the night when he proved to be the fastest man in a massed sprint down the home straight of the 1500m, following up his recent Mediterranean Games win with a personal best of 3:33.22; less than a second covering the first six men home.
Caster Semenya’s attempt on the long-standing 1000m world record unravelled between 500 and 700 metres once pacemaker Chrishuna Williams had dropped out after covering the first 400m in 59.55 and 600m in 1:30.9.
The South African passed 800m in 2:01.84, almost three seconds slower than her target, and finished in 2:31.01. Admittedly it was the sixth fastest time ever in this rarely run non-championship event.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF