Team tactics and an aggressive gameplan from the gun paid rich dividends for Japan's Nozomi Tanaka to defeat the Ethiopians, who were closing quickly on the last lap but not fast enough, in the 3000m final at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018.
“The team strategy was to get out hard and dominate as much as possible,” confirmed Tanaka, giving due credit to teammate Yuna Wada who played an imperative role in her success. “We were really surprised the Ethiopians started so slow so we knew we had a good chance.”
Tanaka and Wada duly made the pace respectable from the start and a first lap of 71.73 represented sub-nine-minute pace for the 3000m. At the 1000-metre checkpoint, which was reached in 3:00.57, the Japanese duo – who were working in tandem to sustain the pace and their lead – led by 5.1 seconds. This margin had extended to 8.3 seconds by the 1600-metre checkpoint in 4:49.52.
Sensing danger, the Ethiopian duo of Tsige Gebreselama and Meselu Berhe – the latter a replacement for last night’s 5000m bronze medallist Girmwat Gebregziabher – and Kenya's Zenah Jemutai extricated themselves from the chasing pack with three-and-a-half laps remaining. While they picked up the pace markedly, the problem for the pursuers was Tanaka had kept plenty back in reserve for the closing stages.
The second kilometre was reached in 6:03.19 and the gap had diminished by nearly three seconds to 5.6 seconds before the balance of power shifted back to Tanaka again. She took the initiative from Wada with a 70.32 lap, extending her lead to 6.2 seconds with 600 metres remaining.
Gebreselama and Berhe were making up ground on the Japanese duo through the bell in 7:48.36 and while Wada was reeled in – first by Berhe and then by Gebreselama – Tanaka had built up enough of a buffer to win the title by more than two seconds, running a lifetime best of 8:54.01 in the process.
Tanaka, whose mother Chihiro is a 2:29:30 marathon runner, led the world U20 lists with a season's best of 8:58.83 but it was largely assumed the Ethiopian and Kenyan contingent on show in Tampere would improve dramatically on their best times on their global championship debuts.
Berhe and Gebreselama were indeed rewarded with substantial lifetime bests of 8:56.39 and 8:59.20 respectively but a lack of international experience might have proved costly to the silver medallist.
"We didn't see the Japanese athletes out in front and we didn't hear our coach shouting at us to tell us," admitted Berhe.
The cool conditions proved beneficial to the athletes as 14 of the 17 finalists set lifetime bests.
Steven Mills for the IAAF