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Women's 10,000m: 9,950 Meters According To Form And A Very Bizarre Finish
The women's 10,000m final went largely as expected for 9,950m. Then it became a very bizarre race. By the end, we would have our first Kenyan champion in a decade (Linet Masai), but not before we had the favorite (Meseret Defar) rig up big time and then quit, the next person in line to win (Meselech Melkamu) celebrate about 6 inches too soon. Exciting, crazy, and stupid, all in the space of 50 meters.
Modest Opening Pace
With 3k to go, former World XC junior champ, this year's World XC runner-up, and last year's fourth place finisher at 10,000m in Beijing - Linet Masai - started the real racing.
Ethiopian Domination At 10,000m For A Decade
Leading the chase pack was American Amy Yoder Begley. Begley - the feel good-story of the 2008 Olympic Trials, where she came from nowhere to make the Olympic team - has upped her game even further in 2009, winning the US title. She showed on Saturday her US title and victory over Beijing bronze medallist Shalane Flanagan was no fluke, as she would go on to finish sixth in a personal best 31:13.78. Begley hesitated when the break up front was made, but did lead the second pack home.
Flanagan was in the chase pack for a while but struggled through the final mile finishing in 14th. We talked to both Flanagan and Begley afterwards and have more from them below.
Five Kick For Glory
With 200 to go, the lead pack of five was still in contention and then Meseret Defar began to edge away from the field. Down the homestretch she opened up a gap on countrywoman Melkamu. Defar seemed to be on her way to nabbing a 10,000m world title to go with her 2007 5,000m world title.
Then in the final 50 meters, she started rigging up and rigging up quickly. In the final 30 meters, it looked like she could barely pick up her feet and Melkamu was going to come by her for the win. The winner was going to be different than expected, but Ethiopia was still going to be on top ...
That is if Melkamu kept running all the way through the finish. Flying like a bat out of hell in lane two and drifting into three was Linet Masai. There did not seem to be enough real estate left for her to pass Melkamu, until Melkamu just a few feet from the line began to raise her hands to celebrate her first world title. The early celebration was all Masai needed as she screamed across the finish line .10 ahead of Melkamu (photo below).
A Kenyan woman had won the 10,000m title for the first time in 10 years in the most bizarre fashion. Contrary to public opinion, the Kenyan women until 2007 have never been very good track runners. Sally Barsosio's world title in 1999 at 10,000m was Kenya's ONLY track gold medal at Worlds EVER until 2007 in ANY distance. The favorite Defar had locked up big time the final thirty meters and the replacement victor Melkamu had celebrated too early, handing the title to Masai.
While Melkamu celebrated too soon, Defar just quit, and a result gave her bronze medal to countrywoman Wude Ayalew. Defar completely gave up in the final few meters, letting Wude Ayalew and Grace Kwamboka Momanyi pass her. The results, however, had Defar in third for the longest time despite the fact that anyone watching on television could see that Ayalew and not Defar had finished third. Ayalew thought she had finished third but the results were wrong for so long, and so many people were saying Defar got third (a lot of people must have been distracted by what was going on between Melkamu and Masai to not watch third place), that Ayalew resigned herself to not getting a medal. (Editor's note: Can we have Finishlynx do the timing at the World Champs? Not only would they not make such a stupid mistake, but they provide lap-by-lap splits for every competitor making our job much, much easier!)
Post-Race Press Conf Part 1
Masai at the post-race press conference said she was confident she could win before the race despite the Ethiopians' past successes. She then went on to predict that her brother Moses Masai (also fourth in Beijing) would win the men's 10,000m final over Kenenisa Bekele.
Defar afterwards said what many observed: "The last 30 meters, I had trouble lifting my legs."
That left us with Melkamu. She had battled so hard for 9,998 meters and was about to emerge from the shadows of Defar and Dibaba to claim her own world crown only to give it away. She told the AP (see the press conference in the video as well) afterwards, "As soon as I finished the race, I believed that I had won. I was extremely happy that we had retained the gold." Oops.
Amy Begley Pleased, Shalane Flanagan Disappointed
Afterwards, we caught up with the top 2 Americans, who were in different moods. Amy Begley had a smile on her face and was pleased with her sixth place finish and personal best. She was a bit frustrated she did not have the confidence to go with the leaders when the break was made, like her coach Alberto Salazar was yelling at her to do (her interview is a good one, as it shows even the top pros have the same doubts that we all have in our running).
Amy Yoder Begley On Her
Shalane Flanagan On Her Disappointing Finish,
Flanagan was left to ponder a disappointing 2009 outdoor season. After her bronze last year at the Olympics, she parted ways with coach John Cook and now is the only female in Jerry Schumacher's Portland, Oregon Nike group that swept the men's 5,000m at the US Trials. Flanagan, however, was not questioning her decision to change coaches and thinks it is the key to her being successful long-term in the marathon.
She said afterwards, "I'm bummed I couldn't come out her tonight and set the tone for them (the rest of the training group). I'm sad I couldn't set the meet off with a bang."
Flanagan said lately, "I'm not feeling well. I'm just kind of struggling right now ... Everything came together last year ... I'm only human; I'm not perfect."
However, she would like having a few more women in her all-male training group. How's this for a classic quote: "I don't love always being the only pony tail around."
Other notes: Elvan Abeylegesse, last year's double silver medallist, dropped out around 3k to go and was pointing at her leg. Some of the women who started in the outside corral (including Masai) cut in too early, as there were no cones around the turn. No protest was filed, so no one could be disqualified. An IAAF spokesperson said even if a protest had been filed, no one would have been disqualified since it was an official's mistake.
LetsRun.com's Unofficial Women's 10k Splits - We tried to get every 400 and 1,000 split during the race.