A thrilling 5000m final at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 which was won by Kenya's Edward Zakayo would have been good enough to grace any Diamond League meeting both in terms of the line-up and ensuing spectacle.
The quality of the final was such that reigning champion Selemon Barega from Ethiopia, considered one of the most watertight favourites across the championships, was run out of the reckoning altogether in an almighty sprint for medals on the last lap.
Barega crossed paths with the erstwhile little-known Kenyan duo of Zakayo and Stanley Waithaka at last year's IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi and while Barega ran out victorious on away turf over 3000m, the Kenyans showed a lot of pace in the closing stages of the race and might have influenced their tactics.
Barega and his Ethiopian teammate Telahun Haile were the fastest on paper with lifetime bests of 12:55.58 and 13:04.63 respectively and they made it hard from the gun, passing through the first three kilometres in 2:38.04, 5:21.88 (2:43.84) and then 8:06.70 (2:44.82) with Barega doing most of the pacemaking.
The Kenyans were more than content to be dictated to in the early stages and didn't seem unduly weakened by the fast early pace. A leading quintet which included reigning world U20 cross country champion Jacob Kiplimo from Uganda began to settle and they were joined by Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen who took advantage of the pace slackening after starting conservatively.
After a fast and frantic start to the final, the race turned into a nervous and cagey affair with six athletes still in close contention --and running two abreast --heading into the bell lap. A grandstand finish was in store, although the lapped runners with some moving out and some not caused some heavy traffic for the leaders.
The last lap was fast and physical with Zakayo slingshotting himself to the front with only 50 metres remaining, crossing the finish-line with his arms outstretched --and with pace still to burn-- in 13:20.16 with Waithaka pipping Ingebrigtsen for bronze, 13:20.57 to 13:20.78.
"Barega was the favourite, he was the guy to beat today," acknowledged the winner. "I knew I was in good form and I raced tactically well. Next I have the African Championships."
Kenya has already won the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m at the championships on the men's side with more chances to enrich their medal haul tomorrow in the 3000m steeplechase and the 800m finals.
By contrast, Ethiopia only won a bronze in the 10,000m and were shut out of the medals completely in both the 1500m and 5000m finals. First and second on paper, Barega and Haile had to settle for fourth (13:21.16) and fifth (13:23.24) respectively.
After winning a bronze medal in the 1500m final, Ingebrigtsen picked up his second medal of the championships. He also smashed one of the longest standing European U20 records on the books, improving Steve Binns' 39-year-old mark of 13:27.04.
"The experience has been so amazing. It's been a dream to win a medal here. I'm in good shape and even though it was a really tough race, it was really nice to stay with them and take a medal," said Ingebrigtsen.
With a win over Barega under his belt, Zakayo will be favoured for medals at the African Championships in Assela, Nigeria next month. Ingebrigtsen will also take on the seniors at next month's European Championships in Berlin where he will contest both the 1500m and 5000m.
Steven Mills for the IAAF