History In Rio: Almaz Ayana Smashes Women’s 10,000 World Record With 29:17.45 In Greatest Women’s 10,000 Ever – Molly Huddle Breaks American Record In 6th

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Top 8 Finishers All Set A New Record For Fastest Time Ever Run For That Place

RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Olympic track and field action got under way in incredible fashion this morning as the first track and field final of the 2016 Games produced a startling world record by Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, whose 29:17.45 shattered the legendary and questionable 29:31.78 world record set by China’s Wang Junxia nearly 23 years ago (Sept 1993). Ayana was far from the only runner to come up with a brilliant performance as without a doubt this was the greatest women’s 10,000 ever run.

Reigning world 10,000 champ Vivian Cheruiyot, a four-time global champ on the track, nearly broke Junxia’s old mark as well as she ran 29:32.53 for silver – the third-best time in history. Tirunesh Dibaba, the winner of the last two Olympic gold medals and arguably the greatest women’s distance runner in history, smashed both her own PR and the old Olympic record of 29:54.66 by finishing third in 29:42.56, the fourth-fastest mark in history.

Kenya’s Alice Aprot Nawowuna was 5th in 29:53.51 (6th-fastest time in history) but deserves credit for a starring role of executive producer as she made the fast times possible. She set the rapid pace early on by leading for the first 13 laps laps and running the first 5000 in 14:46.

American Molly Huddle, who ran with the lead pack for the first nine laps before falling off, produced an absolutely outstanding run of 30:13.17 to smash Shalane Flanagan’s national record of 30:22.22, set in this same race eight years ago in Beijing. But while Flanagan’s effort was good for a bronze medal, Huddle’s run this morning only placed her sixth, so amazing were the women in front of her.

All told, this morning’s race produced four of the five fastest times in history and set records for the fastest time ever run for each of the first 8 places

2015 World Champs bronze medallist Emily Infeld finished 11th overall and was almost lapped by Huddle but still managed to run a 12-second pb of 31:26.94.

The Race

Nawowuna wasted no time getting to the front and by 800 meters (2:26), the main contenders had already materialized at the front of the pack: Nawowuna, Ayana, Turkey’s European champ Yasemin Can, Cheruiyot, Betsy Saina of Kenya and the Bowerman Track Club, Dibaba, 2015 Worlds silver medallist Gelete Burka of Ethiopia and Huddle, in that order. After a 71-second third lap, those eight women had already broken away and were well under sub-30:00 pace at 1600 meters (4:46).

From there, Nawowuna ground out a series of 70-second laps and the lead pack remained the same at 3200 (9:28). Huddle, hanging on at the tail end of the group, was 150 meters ahead of Infeld, who was part of a small chase pack.

Aprot ran another 70 on the ninth lap and the blazing pace began to take its toll on Huddle, who was doing her best not to get dropped. Though the pace slowed to 71 as Nawowuna hit 4k in 11:49.79, Huddle knew her body couldn’t handle 29:35 pace any more and began to back off. By the time Aprot passed 5k in 14:46, Burka had dropped off as the lead pack dwindled to six women.

Then Ayana took the lead and all hell broke loose. She upped the already furious tempo and within seconds, she had blown the lead pack to smithereens. As the split for her 14th lap flashed on the screen, it was scarcely believable: 66.67!

Cheruiyot was 10 meters back, with Nawowuna a further 10 meters behind. Dibaba was 20 meters back of that, with Can another 20 behind her. Huddle was well back in seventh. It was absolute carnage.

Ayana didn’t stop there, however, pouring it on with a 67 followed by a 68. By 7200 meters, she had lapped everyone in the field save the top eight. Running a 4:33 mile in the middle of a 10k — as Ayana did from 5600 to 7200 — will do that.

Ayana’s only opponent from then on was the clock, and it quickly became apparent that even that foe was overmatched. She came through 8k in 23:25.37 and needed to close her last mile in just 4:54 to break the world record. She wound up going much faster than that, splitting 4:41 for her last 1600 to crush the old mark by 14 seconds. Her second 5k — around 14:30 — would have been well under the existing Olympic record (14:40) in that event too.

Cheruiyot was assured of the silver and wound up second in a Kenyan-record 29:32.53, but with two to go, the bronze was still very much in doubt, with Dibaba hanging on to Nawowuna. Dibaba hadn’t come back from childbirth to finish fourth, though, and just before the bell she flashed the change of gears that carried her to golds in this event in 2008 and 2012. Nawowuna never had a chance as Dibaba ran a big PR of 29:42.56 to medal in her third straight Olympics.

Huddle was still grinding further back and her ridiculous early splits meant that she was still under American record pace even as she slowed down over the second half of the race. She hit 25:22 with a mile to go, needing only a sub-5:00 to remove Flanagan’s name from the record books. That wasn’t going to be a problem in these conditions, Huddle closing out a 4:51 final 1600 with a 71-second last lap.

Huddle’s record-breaking finish was accompanied by a delightful irony, as Emily Infeld crossed the line a fraction of a second in front of her — just as she had to deny her a medal in Beijing last year. The difference this time was that Infeld still had one lap to go.

A very similar photo last year had a very different meaning

A very similar photo last year had a very different meaning

Results to the right. Analysis below.

POSBIBATHLETEMARKDETAIL
1641Almaz AYANAETH29:17.45WR
2946Vivian Jepkemoi CHERUIYOTKEN29:32.53NR
3645Tirunesh DIBABAETH29:42.56PB
4953Alice Aprot NAWOWUNAKEN29:53.51PB
5956Betsy SAINAKEN30:07.78PB
61349Molly HUDDLEUSA30:13.17AR
71257Yasemin CANTUR30:26.41PB
8642Gelete BURKAETH30:26.66PB
91068Karoline Bjerkeli GRØVDALNOR31:14.07PB
10344Eloise WELLINGSAUS31:14.94PB
111350Emily INFELDUSA31:26.94PB
121227Sarah LAHTISWE31:28.43NR
13371Diane NUKURIBDI31:28.69NR
141036Susan KUIJKENNED31:32.43
15717Joanne PAVEYGBR31:33.44SB
16694Jess ANDREWSGBR31:35.92PB
17801Alexi PAPPASGRE31:36.16NR
18922Yuka TAKASHIMAJPN31:36.44
19962Darya MASLOVAKGZ31:36.90NR
20919Hanami SEKINEJPN31:44.44
211169Dominique SCOTTRSA31:51.47PB
22501Natasha WODAKCAN31:53.14SB
231267Alia Saeed MOHAMMEDUAE31:56.74
241387Sitora HAMIDOVAUZB31:57.77NR
25482Lanni MARCHANTCAN32:04.21SB
261134Carla Salomé ROCHAPOR32:06.05
271176Salome NYIRARUKUNDORWA32:07.80
281044Jip VASTENBURGNED32:08.92
29622Trihas GEBREESP32:09.67SB
30866Veronica INGLESEITA32:11.67
31418Tatiele Roberta DE CARVALHOBRA32:38.21
321008Brenda FLORESMEX32:39.08SB
331346Marielle HALLUSA32:39.32
34720Beth POTTERGBR33:04.34
351011Marisol ROMEROMEX35:33.03
1269Juliet CHEKWELUGADNF
1393Ekaterina TUNGUSKOVAUZBDNF

Quick Thought #1: What a race. It more than lived up to the hype.

Given the talent amassed for this race, we were expecting a special race but this surpassed anyone’s expectations.

Before today, in the history of the world, only five times had a woman run 25 laps of the track in under 30:00. Four women did so today. Before this morning, only once in history had a woman run 25 laps of the track in under 29:53.80. Four women do so today. The IOC should invent a new award for the fourth place finisher who most deserves a medal and just hand it to Nawowuna. She made the race by serving as the rabbit for the first 13 laps, ended up bettering what was the 2nd-best mark in history and was rewarded with no hardware.

Quick Thought #2: About that 29:17… “My doping is my training. My doping is Jesus. Otherwise. Nothing. I am crystal clear.”

Whenever a seemingly unbreakable record is broken, one that was set by someone who reportedly confessed to doping, people are going to speculate whether the new mark is itself legitimate. We hadn’t even finished recapping the race and the messageboard was already exploding with speculation (Ayana 10,000 Meter WR!!! 29:17:46 *Who in the top 8 isn’t doping? Rio 10k).

Here’s why Ayana’s mark could be legitimate. First, she’s already run 14:12 for 5,000 this year. Greg McMillan’s conversion calculator converts today’s 29:17 to a 14:06, which certainly is a time that seems doable for Ayana if you’ve watched any of her poorly-rabbitted WR attempts at 5,000. So if you weren’t already accusing Ayana of being on drugs before today’s run, you shouldn’t start just because she ran 29:17 as Ayana’s 5,000s this year showed that she was already in the ballpark of 29:17 shape (according to the calculator).

Then you add in the variables. Today’s weather — mid-60’s and still — was great for running fast. Ayana also had a de facto rabbit for the first half of the race in Nawowuna. At the post-race press conference, the Ethiopian translator called Nawowuna a pacer saying, “(Ayana) was comfortable with the pacer.”

Ayana also ran 14:12 in early June and has had an extra two months to peak since then. And it’s very possible Ayana is a better 10k runner than 5k, so that earlier conversion may not be generous enough.

Plus, there have been very few races in history where the world’s top 10,000 runners have gotten together and tried to run fast. Before today, six of the 10 fastest women’s 10k’s in history had been run in championship finals, and those races are usually run in hot conditions without a rabbit. Today was a rare opportunity with great weather and an unofficial rabbit. Ayana, in the only second 10,000 of her life, took full advantage.

Not everyone is a believer, however. Sweden’s Sarah Lahti, who was 12th in 31:28.43 (a national record), suggested Ayana was not clean after the race. Ayana was asked for comment and, through a translator, responded as follows:

“Three basic things. I did my training, especially 5,000 and 10,000. Number two, I praise the Lord. God has given me everything, every blessing. My doping is my training. My doping is Jesus. Otherwise, nothing. I am crystal clear.”

Huddle, when asked for her thoughts on Ayana’s time, said:

“These places might be a bit mobile…Who knows? That’s a very, very fast time.”

Discuss: Almaz Ayana Responds: “My doping is my training. My doping is Jesus. Otherwise. Nothing. I am crystal clear.”

Quick Thought #3: Molly Huddle Faced An Impossible Task In Medalling

In our preview, we wrote “This field is so good we think an American record (30:22.22) is more likely than a medal for Huddle.” That proved to the case.

Huddle’s herself said the following pre-race, ““Having seen some of the Ethiopian 10k results and the Kenyan results, I think to medal you need to be in 30:20 shape which is a huge order. That’s the American record…I could have a great day and finish eighth.” (She finished 6th today with the American record).

There certainly is no shame in the fact that Molly Huddle didn’t medal in this race as it was LOADED up front. Given the fact that Huddle has similar PBs on the track to Shalane Flanagan who snagged bronze in 2008 (14:42.64 versus 14:44.80 and 30:13.17 vs 30:22.22), we decided to take a look back and see how good the field was in 2008 when Flanagan medalled. The 2008 field was very good as shown in the table below.

Believe it or not, the 2008 field might have been deeper than today’s but that might actually might make sense as you had a bunch of Russian dopers in the 2008 field but not today. In 2008, 10 women broke 31:00 (8 did today but all 8 broke 30:30) and 13 broke 31:15 (10 did today).

However, today’s field was certainly MUCH better up front which is what matters for medals.

2008 field:

PlaceNameNatTimeNotePBs/Accomplishments
1Tirunesh DibabaETH29:54.7 AR14:11/29:54 pbs
2Elvan AbeylegesseTUR29:56.3AR3:58/14:24/29:56
3Shalane FlanaganUSA30:22.2AR14:44.80 pb
4Linet MasaiKEN30:26.5WJR14:47 pb at time, ultimately 14:31. 2009 World 10k champ.
5Mariya KonovalovaRUS30:35.814:38 that year, ultimately banned for doping
6Inga AbitovaRUS30:37.330:31 pb, ultimately banned for doping
7Lucy KabuuKEN30:40.014:33 earlier in year, ran 2:19 in marathon in 2012
8Lornah KiplagatNED30:40.314:51/30:12 pbs
9Kim SmithNZL30:51.014:45/30:35
10Kara GoucherUSA30:55.214:55 pb
11Kayoko FukushiJPN31:01.114:53/30:51 – bronze at 2013 in marathon, ultimate 2:22 marathoner
12Jo PaveyGBR31:12.314:39 pb, ultimately also ran 30:53
13Sabrina MockenhauptGER31:14.2Ran 14:59 the next year and 2:26 in 2010.
14Ejegayehu DibabaETH31:22.214:32/30:18 pbs
15Hilda KibetNED31:29.730:58 pb at time, ran 30:51 next year
16Zhang YingyingCHN31:31.131:17 and 2:22 in marathon
17Yoko ShibuiJPN31:31.130:48 pb
18Peninah AruseiKEN31:39.930:57 pb
19Tatyana AryasovaRUS31:45.631:04 pb , ultimatley ran 2:26 in marathon
20Yukiko AkabaJPN32:00.415:06/31:15
21Bai XueCHN32:20.32009 World champ in marathon (2:23:27 pb)
22Anikó KálovicsHUN32:24.831:40 pb
23Kate ReedGBR32:26.715:29/31:35
24Nathalie De VosBEL32:33.515:22/31:22
25Preeja SreedharanIND32:34.6ultimately ran 15:15 and 31:50
26Amy BegleyUSA32:38.3ultimately ran 14:56 and 31:13
27Dulce María RodríguezMEX32:58.015:18/31:25
28Dong XiaoqinCHN33:03.115:33/31:31
29Isabel ChecaESP33:17.915:26/32:07
Asmae LeghzaouiMARDNF14:48 ultimately banned for doping
Mestawat TufaETHDNF14:51/30:38 pbs. World XC silver in 2008.

Huddle knew once she came through 5k around 15:00 still feeling okay, she had a chance to do something special.

“I thought don’t slow down, if you can run 15:20 [during the second half] you can get the American record. That’s something I’m really proud of. That’s a very good record by Shalane and I just think to come away with that and not be happy would be silly.”

Huddle was hoping for a fast pace coming in. Her plan was to run her own race and hope that the women who went out aggressively would die, allowing her to pick them off and perhaps steal a medal. And in any other Olympics in history, that strategy would have earned her a medal. But the women in front of her were simply too good.

“I was hoping this would play out like Beijing did for Shalane where people blew up ahead…I didn’t close hard enough,” Huddle said.

Quick Thought #4: Lappage — “They almost need a lap counter for the Ethiopians and Kenyans and  lap counter for us.

With such a large field (37 starters) and such a fast run up front, it was inevitable that there were going to be a lot of lapped runners. In the end, everyone but the top 8 got lapped at least once. Everyone but the top 20, and #21 was NCAA champ Dominique Scott, who set a new pb of 31:51.47 (previous pb of 31:56.84), was lapped twice.

Scott still lost track of how many laps she had to go, because the laps remaining counter was adjusted for Ayana before Scott would cross the line. Thus, she, Alexi Pappas and others lost track of how many laps they had to go, as they were adding one lap to the lap counter but needed to add two. Scott said, “They almost need a lap counter for the Ethiopians and Kenyans and a lap counter for us.”

Pappas said, “I actually miscounted the laps… and that (when she realized she had one more lap to go) was when I was like ‘push the car.’ It’s a little bigger than you thought, this car.” The car reference was a story from mentor Lance Deal (1996 Olympic silver medallist in the hammer) who told her of a woman lifting a car off her husband to save his life. It shouldn’t be possible, but supposedly it happened (more on that and Alexi’s Olympic experience below).

Quick Thought #5: This was a new experience for Emily Infeld

Few expected Infeld to replicate her medal from a year ago. Heck, a few months ago it wasn’t even clear Infeld was going to be in Rio as a stress fracture prevented her from racing outdoors until the Olympic Trials. Still, beneath the perpetual smile on Infeld’s face lurks a fierce competitor, and despite a 12-second personal best, she was left wanting more.

“I’m not that happy,” Infeld said. “It’s awesome being here and competing but I wish I would have run a little bit better. I think I kind of lost my tempo and my cadence especially when girls were coming up and lapping me. I feel like I haven’t been in a race that fast.”

Quick Thought #6: Alexi Pappas Has a Great Run

Pappas was clearly enjoying her first Olympics. First, she ran an 10-second PR and new Greek national record. Then she was hugging coaches, fans, and athletes in the mixed zone. Sierra Leone sprinter Hafsatu Kamara came through the mixed zone as we were talking to Pappas and they started asking how each other how they did and hugging one another when they found out they both did well (Kamara won her heat to advance with a 12.24). Just when we were wondering how long they had been what appeared to be really good friends, we found out they had met this week in the Olympic village. A cool little Olympic moment.

Pappas, who is also an American citizen and trains in Eugene under coach Ian Dobson, said she was thinking of three people on her mind going into today’s race. One was Dobson and “the workouts we’ve done that no one has seen where you shit your pants.” The second was Deena Kastor, who is a mentor to Pappas and sent her a note she read on the way to the stadium. The third was Lance Deal (1996 silver medallist in the hammer) who is a role model of hers and told her the story of a woman who lifted a car off of her husband solely because of love. The point of the story was that the impossible is possible. A 10-second PR was not impossible for Pappas, but a very nice run on a big stage.

Quick Thought #7: Marielle Hall has an Off Day- Maybe She’ll Wear a Watch Next Time

Marielle Hall was the only American not to run a personal best and she said she felt that was because she ran too fast too early. This was only the third 10,000m of her life and Hall tried to keep the gap to Emily Infeld small early, only to pay a big price at the end. In the mixed zone, she said, “It was a tough day for me personally but I tried my best…. I was a little bit confused about the pacing. I wasn’t really looking at the clock which maybe I should have. I didn’t realize how fast the front group was going. So maybe I pushed it a little too early personally for my fitness. I did try my best.”

She was pleased for her teammates, however, saying, “I’m just happy for Molly. You know 6th place and an American record by a lot so that’s a special day for her and Emily may have sneaked in a personal best so I’m happy for the rest of the team.” She now can turn her attention to enjoying the rest of the Olympics and rooting on training partner Ajee Wilson in the women’s 800m.

Quick Thought #8: Dibaba’s Streak Comes to An End But Not Without a Fight

Tirunesh Dibaba is in contention for the title of greatest female distance runner of all-time. Her streak of two straight Olympic 10,000-meter titles came to an end today, but Dibaba still ran a personal best to get the bronze despite giving birth in March of last year. No woman has ever won three straight individual track or field events at an Olympics, and now we see why. Anything can happen at an Olympics.

Dibaba was gracious afterwards and realizes there is a new generation of Ethiopian greatness to take over now. She said, “It’s good for me. I had a short time after delivery… Fortunately I got bronze this is really fantastic for me. This is great for me, my family and all of Ethiopia.” She said,  “The bronze is for my son.” 

Quick Thought 9: What Can We Expect in the 5,000?

Ayana and Cheruiyot will both be back to battle in the 5,000. Can we expect another world record? With the way Ayana ran today, we don’t see why not if the weather is conducive. Ayana has come close (within five seconds) to the world record on three occasions. She said she was not worried the 10,000 would take anything out of her 5,000 performance. Cheruiyot, who ran the third-fastest women’s 10,000m ever today, is now faced with getting drubbed again in the 5,000. She knows what most people expect to happen but still holds out hope saying, “We never know what is going to happen.” That was certainly the case this morning in Rio. What a race to kick off the Olympic track action.

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