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Tirunesh Dibaba Continues Her 10,000-Meter Dominance

Ethiopian wins in 30:43.35, remaining unbeaten in 11 tries.

By M. Nicole Nazzaro; Image by Dylan Martinez / Reuters ,Published August 11, 2013

Photo: Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia leads Belaynesh Oljira of Ethiopia and Gladys Cherono of Kenya in the women’s 10,000 meters.

The lightning bolt spectators saw over Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in the middle of the women’s 10,000-meter final wasn’t a message from the gods signifying a changing of the guard. Instead, it was just a thunderous exclamation of a generation’s top female track racer as she continued her dominance over the distance.

Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, the world and Olympic champion, proved once again Sunday that she is the perhaps the surest bet in distance running, as she won the world title in 30:43.35. It was her third gold medal at this distance in the world championships, and her fifth world gold overall. She is undefeated at this distance in 11 races.

Gladys Cherono of Kenya, running in her first track and field world championships, took silver in 30:45.17. Dibaba’s countrywoman Belaynesh Oljira just barely jumped in for the bronze (30:46.98), beating fourth place Emily Chebet of Kenya by a mere .04 second, after having worked with Dibaba for the entire race to stay close to the leaders and control the pace until Dibaba unleashed a furious sprint with 450 meters to go. Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time the world has seen a Dibaba-Cherono-Oljira podium, as the same three women finished in the same three places for this distance at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting on June 26.

This race unfolded as a pacing clinic – and if it looked so beautifully executed that it was planned in advance, that’s because it was.

Yes, we said that we were going to work together throughout the race,” Dibaba said. “Our coach said that if [the pace of the leaders] was 73 to 74 seconds [per lap], we should go at that pace, and if it was slower, we should go faster.” Bronze medalist Oljira allowed that the Ethiopian team (with Ababel Yeshaneh, who finished ninth) was in communication during the race, watching one another on the Jumbotrons around the stadium, and that their ultimate goal was a gold medal for Ethiopia – an expected result, given the country’s long history of dominating the distance.

The race began with a big move from American Shalane Flanagan, who took the lead in the first lap and attempted to separate herself from the field early. She was closely followed by a pack that slowly dwindled from 13 to eight women, including Japan’s Hitomi Niiya, who snatched the lead from Flanagan after eight laps. Niiya attempted to sprint to a lead, but her move was quickly covered by the Ethiopians, and the pack continued in single file, allowing Niiya to do the pacing work while Flanagan fell further back and a soft mist started to fall. Dibaba, Gladys Cherono, Belaynesh Oljira, Emily Chebet, and Sally Chepyego all stayed in close contact with Niiya, clicking off the laps and tucking in behind Niiya.

A crack of lightning provided a momentary scare about halfway through the race, but the rain was otherwise a welcome arrival as distance athletes have suffered in Moscow’s heat and humidity in these first two days of the meet.

The women benefited from the race program for the evening, which included Usain Bolt’s 100-meter race. The stands, quite underused for the first day of competition, were respectably filled at about three-quarters capacity and the crowd offered cheers as the race’s finish drew closer.

By 8000 meters the pack was down to five runners: Niiya, Dibaba, Oljira, Cherono, and Chebet, and the feeling in the stadium was that any minute, Dibaba or her teammates would make the decisive move. Dibaba waited as long as possible before opening up her stride to swallow up Niiya with just a bit more than a lap to go. Cherono followed and gave furious chase in the final lap, but to no avail as Dibaba popped a 59.96 last lap to win by almost two seconds. Cherono was anything but disappointed afterwards, as she pointed out that she had not been expected to medal in this, her first world championship meet.

In a night where fellow Americans Ashton Eaton (decathlon) and Brittney Reese (long jump) won gold medals, the three American women finished respectably. Flanagan was able to hold on to finish eighth in 31:34.83 after finishing 14th in this race in the 2009 championships in Berlin, and 7th in Daegu in 2011. Fellow Americans Jordan Hasay (32:17.93) and Amy Hastings (32:51.19) placed 12th and 14th. Hasay made a classy move as the field lapped her after the 8000-meter mark, moving to the side to allow the lead women to run unimpeded – a courtesy not extended to the leaders by many of the other women lapped by the leaders.

Dibaba said afterwards that she plans to move up to the marathon distance next year like her legendary cousin, multiple Olympic champion Derartu Tulu, but that it will not come at the expense of the 5000 and 10,000 meter distances, as she plans to continue to compete at these distances and has not decided when she will begin to ramp down her career. Her competitors can only shudder at the news.

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