Meseret Defar Tries To Get A Second World Championships Gold To Add To Her Two Olympic Golds – Women’s 5,000 Preview

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Can The US Women Make The Final?

by Robert Johnson
August 6, 2013

Last year at the London Olympics, the women’s 5,000 gave fans some amazing drama. After an absolute domination of the 10,000, Tirunesh Dibaba seemed to be well on her way to a second-straight Olympic 10,000/5,000 double, which would cement her status as the GOAT (greatest of all time) in women’s distance running. The problem was someone forget to give the memo with “Dibaba is the GOAT” as the subject to Meseret Defar, as Defar pulled off the upset thanks to a 60-flat last lap to become a two-time Olympic 5,000 champ (Defar also won in 2004).

Sadly, fans won’t be experiencing any of that great drama this year as Defar, Dibaba and the Ethiopians have colluded to keep Dibaba and Defar away from each other. Let Dibaba destroy everyone in the 10,000. Let Defar destroy in the 5,000. They each win one gold but the fans and the sport suffer.

The thing that makes sports so riveting is their can only be one winner. When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play each other in a five set thriller in tennis, no matter how great they both play, in the end, someone has to lose.

One of the biggest inherent problems track and field has is that’s not necessarily the case in athletics. Yes, there can only be one winner in track (well, I guess technically there could be a Felix-Tarmoh tie) but that’s only per event. Thus there doesn’t have to really be a loser. Stars can just skip each other and run different events. The stars win and no one loses, except for the fans.

It’s shameful really.

So instead of seeing a first, historic matchup between Defar and Dibaba in the 10,000 this year in Moscow and possibly a rematch in the 5,000, women’s distance fans will get to watch …..

Not much truthfully.

With many of Kenya’s best absent this year due to maternity leave or injury, Dibaba is WAY better than everyone in the 10,000. Defar also seems WAY better than everyone in the 5,000.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I’ll briefly try to actually break down the women’s 5,000 field for the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

The Heavy, Heavy Favorite

Defar in tears after winning the 5,000 in London last year.

Meseret Defar is the woman to beat here. Defar resurrected her career in one night last August in London. The 2004 Olympic champion had been reduced to just bronze in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Since that glorious night a year ago which Defar believes was divinely inspired, Defar has been on fire.

After a season-opening loss in May, Defar has really been on a tear. On June 13th, Defar crushed everyone in Olso and put up a then world-leading 14:26.90 (Dibaba has since run 14:23.68 but she’s not in the 5,000) in a race where second place was just 14:33.48. And the competition she faced in that race included all three of the Kenyans running the 5,000 at 2013 Worlds. Since none of the Kenyans could come within 6.5 seconds of Defar then, I clearly don’t think she’ll lose to any of them in Moscow.

So can any Ethiopian possibly beat Defar?

I doubt it. Although there is one challenger who could upset Defar similarly to how Defar upset Dibaba last year.

The One Potential Challenger To Dibaba

The second-best entry for the Ethiopians is 21-year-old Almaz Ayana. Ayana was known primarily as a steepler coming into the year as her 9:22.51 from 2010 is the world junior record. Coming into 2013, her 5,000 PR was just 14:57.97. She knocked that down to 14:52.42 in winning in Hengelo before going to a whole new level in Paris when she lost to Dibaba but still ran 14:25.84 to become the sixth fastest woman in history.

In that Paris race, Ayana lost to Dibaba by more than two seconds and Defar is Dibaba’s equal if not slightly ahead of her for 5,000. Thus Defar should win in Moscow but Ayana is by far the leading candidate for silver.

Who Else Could Medal?

There is only one other woman in the field who has run under 14:40 this year and that’s Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot. Kibiwot is a good pick for bronze and possibly silver as she’s got great speed. Last year she ran 3:59.25 for 1,500 and this year she’s run 4:00.76. Plus she lowered her 5,000 PR to 14:33.48 this year in that race where Defar ran 14:26.90.

Kibiwot didn’t win the Kenyan trials, however. The winner of the Kenyan Trials was 2008 and 2010 world junior 3,000 champ Mercy Cherono. The 22-year-old, who was 5th in the 5,000 in 2011, has run 14:42 this year (14:35 PR).

The third Kenyan in the field is Trials third placer Margaret Muriuki. I don’t expect the 27-year-old who has a 14:40.48 PR to contend for a medal, as is also the case with Ethiopia’s third entrant, 2012 world junior champ Buze Diriba (14:50.02 PR). Diriba is just 19 and will be getting some nice experience.

What About The Americans?

Molly Huddle in 2012.

American record holder Molly Huddle (15:05.56 SB, 14:44.76 PR), 2012 Olympian Kim Conley (15:09.57 PR and SB), and 2009 1,500 bronze medallist Shannon Rowbury (15:18.06 SB, 15:00.51 PR) are the US’s three entrants.

On paper, a medal seems out of the question, although I’d expect one or two of them to make the final. If you are a bit delusional and dreaming of a US medal, Rowbury is my pick.

Rowbury has been running really well since coming up short in the 1,500 at USAs. It’s a shame she’s not in that event for the US, as she’d be have a legitimate outside shot for a medal in the 1,500 since favorites can fall or get their tactics wrong in a 1,500 but that’s much less likely to happen in a 5,000. Before USAs, Rowbury had only run 4:07.36 for 1,500. Since then, she ran 4:01.29 in Monaco, her fastest time since 2009 – the year she won bronze in Berlin. In that Monaco race, Rowbury also beat Kenya’s 5,000 entrant Kibiwot. After Monaco, Rowbury then won her first Diamond League meet at 3,000 over Huddle in London.

The problem, though, is Rowbury’s 5,000 PR is only 15:00, so I just don’t see how she’s anywhere close to the front when the kicking begins. Her only hope is that it’s really slow for 2 miles and that it turns into a 1,500. That might happen if it was 95 degrees but the average high in Moscow in August is low 70s.

Quick Take #1: Want my prediction? Ethiopia goes 1-2 even without Dibaba. Defar 1st. Ayana 2nd.

QT #2: As much as I want to figure out a way Rowbury could kick for a medal, it’s just not really conceivable. At Prefontaine, she was more than 25 seconds behind the third Kenyan and Ethiopian entrants in Moscow – Muriuki and Diriba – as shown below.

2013 Prefontaine 5,000 Metres - Women                                           
                                                            Pts
    1 Dibaba , Tirunesh                ETH   14:42.01          4        
    2 Cherono , Mercy                  KEN   14:42.51          2        
    3 Muriuki , Margaret Wangari       KEN   14:43.68          1        
    4 Diriba , Buze                    ETH   14:51.15                   
    5 Burka , Gelete                   ETH   14:52.93                   
    6 Ayalew , Hiwot                   ETH   14:57.02                   
    7 Oljira , Belaynesh               ETH   15:01.51                   
    8 Masai , Linet Chepkwemoi         KEN   15:02.98                   
    9 Conley , Kim                     USA   15:09.57                   
   10 Utura , Sule                     ETH   15:17.34                   
   11 Rowbury , Shannon                USA   15:18.06                   
   12 Kipkirui , Caroline Chepkoech    KEN   15:37.05                   
   13 Lucas , Julia                    USA   15:43.65
      Pappas , Alexi                   USA        DNF                   
      Vaughn , Sara                    USA        DNF

QT #3: US fans, a more realistic dream than a medal would be to pull for all three US women to make the final. Also, Conley and Rowbury have never broken 15:00 and Huddle hasn’t done it since 2010, so those are some nice goals for them to shoot for. Only 12 US women have ever broken 15:00 (PattiSue Plumer ran 15:00.00 and is #13).

After missing some training time with an injury in the winter, Huddle opened up in the 5,000 in May at 15:05, so I was hoping she’d be in something close to AR shape now, but instead she regressed to 15:10 in her last 5,000. Maybe her lack of a winter caught up to her?

QT #4: It’s amazing that despite her huge improvement in the 5,000 this year, Ayana hasn’t improved in the steeple. She’s run it six times and her seasonal best is just 9:27.49 Her PR is 9:22.51 from 2010 when her 5,000 PR was 14:57.

QT #5: In case you are a casual fan who only pays attention to the World Champs/Olympics, please realize that two-time defending World Champ Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, who also got silver in 2012, is out on maternity leave. The fourth placer from the Olympics, former Texas Tech star Sally Kipyego of Kenya, is also out with an injury.

QT #6: According to Ken Nakamura, Defar has the most medals in history in the 5,000 as she’s medalled at four straight championships (2005 Silver, 2007 Gold, 2009 Bronze, 2011 Bronze). She’ll be two up on Vivian Cheruiyot (2007 Silver, 2009 Gold, 2011 Gold) after this one.

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