World 5000m champion Almaz Ayana stepped up in distance to the 10,000m for the Ethiopian Olympic Trial race in Hengelo on Wednesday (29) and showed she has the potential to dominate that event in the same way she does her specialist distance.
With the likes of double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and world silver medallist Gelete Burka on the start line, the race would have been a baptism of fire for any other runner. But Ayana isn’t just any runner.
The women’s field fell into single file within the first few minutes of the race. Dibaba positioned herself right behind the pace maker while Ayana was just a couple of positions behind, seemingly running well within herself.
The pace maker dropped out at half way, after which Ayana set off on her own. Less than two kilometres later, her lead over Dibaba had grown to 50 metres.
Ayana continued with her relentless pace during the closing kilometres and went on to cross the finish line in 30:07.00, the fastest debut 10,000m performance in history. She also moved to eighth on the world all-time list and her time is the fastest in the world for seven years.
Some way behind, Burka and Dibaba were locked in their own battle for second and third place. Dibaba made up a bit of ground on Burka down the home straight but couldn’t quite catch her compatriot before the line and had to finish for third place.
Burka set a PB of 30:28.47 in second place, while Dibaba – who until today had been undefeated at 10,000m throughout her whole career – settled for third in 30:28.53.
In a race of tremendous depth, it was the first time in history that nine women from the same nation had run faster than 31 minutes in the same 10,000m race.
World cross-country bronze medallist Netsanet Gudeta was fourth in 30:36.75 while Genet Ayalew was fifth in 30:37.38, PBs for both. World 5000m silver medallist Senbere Teferi, also making her 10,000m debut, clocked 30:40.59 in sixth.
Demelash makes amends
Since winning the world junior 10,000m title in 2012, Yigrem Demelash hasn’t had the smoothest transition to the senior ranks.
Before today, his 10,000m PB was still the 26:57.56 national junior record he set two months after winning his global U20 title. He represented Ethiopia in the senior race at the following year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships but finished down in 69th.
Since then, he hasn’t represented Ethiopia at a major championships. In Hengelo last year, Ethiopia’s trial race for the IAAF World Championships, he finished a distant 10th in what was his only race of 2015.
But now he looks assured of a spot on the Ethiopian team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games after his convincing win in Hengelo, breaking his PB from four years ago with a world-leading 26:51.11.
The race started at a healthy pace with 1000m covered in 2:43, 2000m reached in 5:24 and 3000m passed in 8:08. When half way was reached in 13:32, a sub-27-minute finishing time seemed like a distinct possibility.
The last pace maker dropped out after 6000m, which was reached in 16:14. By 8000m, just four men were left in the lead: Demelash, Tamirat Tola, Abadi Embaye and Belay Tilahun.
Tilahun was then dropped from the lead pack as Demelash, Embaye and Tola broke away. But in the closing stages, Demelash proved to have the better finishing speed and he went on to open up a gap of six seconds on his two remaining opponents, crossing the finish line in 26:51.11.
Tola was second in 26:57.45, just 0.12 shy of the PB he set at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene last month. Only three other men – Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Josphat Muchiri – have twice run faster than 27 minutes for 10,000m within one season.
Embaye was third in a PB of 26:57.88 while Tilahun was further back in fourth in 27:11.83.
Bekele had been hoping to qualify in this event for the Olympics, but the world record-holder and multiple world champion failed to finish. 2011 world champion Ibrahim Jeilan suffered the same fate.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF