Women's 5,000 Final: Meseret Defar Stunningly Stops The Coronation Of Tiruneh Dibaba

Dibaba's Quest For The "Double Double" And Historic 4th Individual Gold Is Denied As Defar Is The One To Make History By Becoming The First Two-Time Women's 5,000 Champion

By LetsRun.com
August 10, 2012
London, England

Updated with quotes.

Ethiopia's forgotten woman Meseret Defar, the 2004 Olympic 5,000 champion, stunned the athletics world by winning the Olympic women's 5,000 final on Friday night in London and showed that there is a reason why the races are run and the medals aren't handed out beforehand.

Last Friday, Defar's Ethiopian teammate, Tirunesh Dibaba, had run away from the field with ease to become the first woman in history to defend an Olympic 10,000 title and most people just assumed Dibaba would cement her place in history tonight by becoming the first woman in history to defend an Olympic 5,000 title and in the process become the first female track athlete to win four individual gold medals.

Instead, it was Defar who made history when she won in 15:04.25 after pulling ahead of Dibaba with 50 meters to go at the end of a 60-flat last lap and 29.7 final 200 (leader-to-leader split was 60.20, but Defar's was slightly faster), as Defar became the first two-time Olympic 5,000 champion in the event's short history (only added to the Olympic schedule in 1996).

After seeing her dream of a "Double Double" be denied, Dibaba, who started the race with a large amount of tape on the back upper portion of her right leg, would also be passed by Kenyan's Vivian Cheruiyot, who ended up with the silver in 15:04.73 to Dibaba's bronze in 15:05.15.

The two Americans in the final in American record holder Molly Huddle and 2012 US champ Julie Culley would end up 11th (15:20.29) and 14th (15:28.22) respectively after losing contact with the lead group by 4k. The race was dominated by the Kenyans and Ethiopians as they took places one through six. The two Brits in the final were the top two non-African born runners tonight, as Jo Pavey and Julia Bleasdale did a good job of staying with the lead pack until the final 600. They ended up 7th and 8th in 15:12.72 and 15:14.55 respectively.


Dibaba's Tape Is Visible 200 Meters Out From The Finish

The Race
The race was pretty much a jogfest until the last 1,600, as the field went through 1,600 and 3,200 in 5:01-2 and 10:04. With four laps remaining, Dibaba went to the lead and started to tighten the screws. There was no mystery as to what she was trying to do, as she'd employed the same tactic in a slow race in New York in June. In New York, off of a faster pace (the winning time was 14:50.80), Dibaba ran each of the last four laps faster than the other and closed in what we thought at the time was a ridiculously good 4:23.27, with a 61.54 last lap, to earn a dominating victory over Defar (although in New York, Dibaba only had to lead the last three + laps).  Well, tonight, in admittedly a slower race, Defar's final 1,600 and particularly her last lap were even faster, as she closed in 4:22 and 60-flat.

The fourth-to-last lap in New York was 70.92. Tonight it was 68.95. "Here we go again," we thought.

The third-to-last in New York was 66.92, but tonight it was slightly slower - 68.56. "That's okay, as the previous lap was a bit faster, but she should start lowering it squeezing it down more now," we thought.

The next-to-last lap tonight (65.12) was also slightly slower than in New York (64.54) and for the first time, we became a little bit concerned that the coronation of Dibaba as the greatest ever might be in doubt, but this race, like almost all elite-level 5,000s, was bound to come down to the last lap.

At the bell, the six Ethiopians and Kenyans were still in contention, as shown by the following picture:

Soon as the pace accelerated, it was a four-person race, as entering the backstretch, it was Dibaba, Defar, and then last year's and this year's 10,000 silver medallist Sally Kipyego of Kenya, and then Cheruiyot in that order.

This wasn't anything like NY where Dibaba had broken free of Defar some 350 meters out. Here, there was no separation at all early on the last lap. With 200 to go, Cheruiyot had passed Kipyego, who'd soon fall out of contention. Coming off the final turn, the leading trio were still close together, but this race was coming down to Defar and Dibaba as expected. Defar moved outside to have space to try to pass Dibaba, and pass her she did with about 50 meters remaining.

Once in the lead, Defar pulled clear and then Cheuriyot came by Dibaba for silver.

Leader's Last 4 Laps In NY
4 out - 70.27
3 out - 66.92
2 out - 64.54
Last lap - 61.54
4:23.27

Leader's Last 4 Laps In London
4 out - 68.95
3 out - 68.56.
2 out - 65.12
1 out - 60.20
4:22.83

A stunning result for sure.

After crossing the finish line, Defar fell to her knees and began to cry. She pulled out a religious picture she had stuffed in her racing singlet and brought it to her face and just sobbed before getting back up and showing the religious picture to the cameras, as shown below


Meseret Defar

Post-Race Reaction
Defar was back atop the medal stand to become the first woman to win two 5,000m golds, getting this gold to fo with her 2004 gold.

Having won before, she knew how hard attaining Olympic gold can be. She told the press, "Today, after eight years, I have won gold again. It's a great achievement. I feel as if I have been born again."

After three Diamond League races, Defar said she changed her training to solely focus on the Olympics. It paid off, as the underdrog Defar came away with gold over her nemesis Dibaba, and vs. Cheruiyot, who had edged Defar twice this year. "It was a very special day and there were very few people who expected me to do well in this race. When God gave me this victory my emotions were beyond my control," said Defar.

Dibaba and Cheruiyot were both favored over Defar coming in, but both had contested the 10,000m one week ago.

Dibaba was looking to be the first woman to win back-to-back 5,000/10,000 titles. Instead she had to settle for Olympic bronze to go with her bronze in 2004. She said, "I am disappointed for winning bronze. I was running for gold. My target was to make a double here as I did in Beijing (2008 Olympic Games) but my injuries denied me from achieving that." She then revealed she had been injured (explaining the tape on her leg): "Before I came to London for the Olympic Games, I didn't train for nine days because of injuries. I was taking medicines and painkillers. To win a gold medal (in the 10,000m) and bronze (in the 5,000m) is a great achievement for an injured athlete."

Vivian Cheruiyot had been the star at the last two World Championships and last year pulled off the 5,000/10,000 double. She leaves London with two medals, but no golds. It was better than going home with nothing. She said to the press, "I haven't won any medal in the last two Olympic Games I have participated in. To win silver (in the 5,000m) and bronze (in the 10,000m) is a great achievement for me. There are a lot of people who came here and returned back home empty-handed, so I am happy."

She said injuries had "stopped me a little bit" in training and if she had done anything different it would have been closer to Defar when she made her move. Vivian said, "Today I was behind Meseret two steps and when she pushed, I realised it was way too late but I am satisfied with today."

Molly Huddle left her first Olympics with an 11th-place finish. Huddle said she expected a slow first two miles with a wind-up the last two laps and in essence that is what happened. "I kind of knew what was Happening. It was frustrating not to be able to go with it."

Despite the resurgence in US distance running here, Huddle was realistic coming in where she'd place. She said, "I think at best I would have only finished 7th in this race. I think I was pretty realistic coming in. It's still a great experience."

Huddle said she did not feel good early on, even with the slow pace. It's likely the end of her track season, although she may do some road races.

Julie Culley has had a tremendous 2012, being the US Champion and an Olympic finalist, but she went home disappointed. Holding back tears at times as she recounted her race, she said, "I felt comfortable and I felt like I was in a good position. When I needed it to be there, it wasn't there,  I couldn't get power from that leg unfortunately." She said she has suffered from tendinitis in her high hamstring since March and 90% of the time it is fine. It wasn't tonight. She said, it "felt like when I needed to open up tonight it was throbbing." As for her season, she said, "I accomplished everything I wanted to this year. I didn't want to end on this note but I ran a PR in the first round. ... I'm in such great shape, it's unfortunate to feel shitty like that at the end." It's now time for Julie to enjoy the last two days of the Olympics. She'll then head back to the States with a possibility of returning to Europe for the final Diamond League 5,000m in September.

Results and quick takes below.

Quick Take (QT) #1: This certainly was a big upset regardless of what the stats show.

The stats show that Defar still leads in head-to-head matchups with Dibaba, 14 to 11 at 5,000 and 19 to 13 in all races over their career.

Admittedly, most of those matchups and losses for Dibaba came early in Dibaba's career. Since the start of 2005, at 5,000 (including this race), Dibaba has won five and lost three against Defar. Since the start of 2005, Dibaba is 8-and-6 against Defar at all distances.

QT #2  The Americans stayed in contact with the lead group until roughly three to go, as you can see Culley and Huddle struggling to stay with the group with 1,200 remaining:

QT #3: This loss really delayed our production schedule, as we had already done some research assuming Dibaba was going to win.

We figured we might as well share with you the stats we came up with (then had to amend) after some research.

As we said last week, Dibaba is a perfect 9-for-9 in her career at 10,000. In the 5,000, she has a career record of 31 wins and 22 losses (now 30 wins and 23 losses) but most of those losses came early in her career. She's undefeated in the 5,000 won five and lost one since Sept. 12, 2009 (six straight wins) and is 28-and-6 27-and-7 starting in 2005.

Position Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 1703 Meseret Defar ETH 15:04.25 .
2 2327 Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot KEN 15:04.73 .
3 1706 Tirunesh Dibaba ETH 15:05.15 .
4 2336 Sally Jepkosgei Kipyego KEN 15:05.79 .
5 1702 Gelete Burka ETH 15:10.66 .
6 2333 Viola Jelagat Kibiwot KEN 15:11.59 .
7 1871 Joanne Pavey GBR 15:12.72 .
8 1849 Julia Bleasdale GBR 15:14.55 .
9 2859 Olga Golovkina RUS 15:17.88 .
10 1258 Shitaye Eshete BRN 15:19.13 .
11 3297 Molly Huddle USA 15:20.29 .
12 1256 Tejitu Daba BRN 15:21.34 .
13 2881 Yelena Nagovitsyna RUS 15:21.38 .
14 3281 Julie Culley USA 15:28.22 .
15 2159 Elena Romagnolo ITA 15:35.69 .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
1,000m 1871 Joanne Pavey GBR 3:07.58
2,000m 2159 Elena Romagnolo ITA 6:17.35
3,000m 1871 Joanne Pavey GBR 9:27.75
4,000m 1706 Tirunesh Dibaba ETH 12:24.8

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