A Historic Matchup: Tirunesh Dibaba And Meseret Defar Clash For The First Time Ever At 10,000 – Can Shalane Flanagan Medal?

by LetsRun.com
August 4, 2013

update 5:54 am 8/5
Ethiopian journalist Elshadai Negash is reporting that Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba are both NOT attempting the double in Moscow. Defar will only run the 5000m and Dibaba only the 10,000m. Extremely disappointing for athletics fans. The good news for Americans is the medal chances of American Shalane Flanagan have increased.

Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba. Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar.

The two diminutive giants in Ethiopian women’s distance running have long had a fierce rivalry.

Last year, after Dibaba’s win in the Olympic 10,000, it seemed as if the rivalry was officially over. After all, Dibaba had three Olympic titles (two at 10,000, one at 5,000) to Defar’s one. Moreover, since the 2004 Olympics, Dibaba had won six global golds on the track, including three Olympic golds (2000 5k and 10k, 2007 10k, 2008 5k and 10k, 2012 10k) while Defar had only one (2007 5k gold). Dibaba had also taken Defar’s 5,000 world record by running 14:11.15 in 2008.

Not so fast.

A year later, the rivalry is very much alive.

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Meseret Defar showing tears of joy after winning in London last year.

The rivalry between Dibaba and Defar was suddenly real and relevant once again thanks to one race. Defar stunned Dibaba in last year’s Olympic 5,000 final and suddenly the talk went from, “Dibaba is the greatest female distance runner ever” to “Is Dibaba even the best distance runner on the planet right now?”

So far in 2013, Defar has proven that her upset of Dibaba last year in the 5,000 was far from a fluke. Defar has been rejuvenated this year.

Might Defar actually be the woman to beat when the two face each other for the first time in a 10,000 in the women’s 10,000 final on Sunday, August 11th at the 2013 IAAF Moscow World Track and Field Championships?

On June 7th, Dibaba ran a 30:26.67 world-leading 10,000 in a race where there were four women at 30:35 or better. Defar went out later that very same day and ran a solo 30:08.60 as second place was more than a minute back.

In terms of 5,000 seasonal bests, the two have put up similar times. Defar has run 14:26.90 and Dibaba has run 14:23.68 – which was her first sub-14:30 since 2008.

One Big Stat In Dibaba’s Favor

While Defar comes into their first race at 10,000 with a better 2013 time, Dibaba does have one big thing in her favor. History. Dibaba has run ten 10,000s and won all ten of them (including four at the Olympics/WChamps).

Defar, on the other hand, has run seven 10,000s in her career and won just three. Included in those seven is a DNF at the last Worlds and a 5th-place showing in 2009 where she was on her way to the title before rigging up big time with 50 meters to go (Dibaba missed both of those Worlds with injury).

Dibaba’s history shows her to be more of a pure long distance runner, whereas Defar has been a little bit more focused on shorter events (Defar is a 4-time world indoor 3,000 champ).


Head-to-head, the two have raced a staggering 32 times in their careers with Defar leading 19 to 13. But those stats don’t mean a whole lot to us for two reasons.

i) Defar is two years older and she clobbered Dibaba early in their careers (up through 2004, Defar led 13 to 5).

ii) They’ve barely raced at all once they were big established stars. Since 2008, they’ve raced a grand total of three times.

Defar Vs. Dibaba Since 1/1/2009



5,000 m

2009 NY DL

14:57.02 (2)

14:50.80 (1)

5,000 m

2009 WAF Final

15:25.31 (1)

15:25.92 (2)

5,000 m

2012 Olympics

15:04.25 (1)

15:05.15 (3)




On Sunday, sports fans will get to witness a rare treat – a battle between two fierce and great rivals who have no love lost for each other (see here and here), facing each other when both are in great shape, with all of the marbles on the table. Adding intrigue to this is it’s their first race against each other over 25 laps. A victory here and Dibaba is certainly the greatest 10,000 woman in history. A loss, and suddenly there are a few questions.

This is track and field’s version of Ryan Lochte versus Michael Phelps from 2012 London but a year later and in Moscow. We hope everyone enjoys it.

Who Gets Third?

On paper, no one should touch Defar and Dibaba. Even if they produce, there is still a third medal to hand out. And if Defar struggles like she did at the 2009 and 2011 Worlds, then there might be two medals to hand out.

The contenders for bronze include:

Belaynesh Oljira – ETH – The 23-year-old is the third Ethiopian in the field. She only has a 14:58 5,000 PR but was fifth in the Olympics last year and has been running well this year. She made her marathon debut in January (2:25:01 in Dubai), then got third at World Cross-Country and also was second in the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in DC this spring. She ran 30:31.44 in the race that Dibaba ran 30:26.67 earlier this year.

Gladys Cherono – KEN – The 30-year-old is one of the most improved runners on the planet over the last two years. Two years ago, she had a 10k pr of 31:40 and half marathon PR of 70:43. Now she’s run 30:29 and 66:48. The 30:29.23 came in Dibaba’s 30:26.67 race earlier this year. Cherono won the Kenyan trials.

Emily Chebet – KEN – Chebet was second at the Kenyan Trials to Cherono. Don’t let that fact rule her out for a medal, though, as earlier this year she was just fourth at the Kenyan trials in cross-country but in Poland she emerged with her second World Cross-Country title.

Shalane Flanagan Celebrates Another USATF Title Shalane Flanagan hopes to celebrate for a third time this year in Moscow. She’s already won the USA XC crown and the USA 10,000 this year.

Shalane Flanagan – USA – Flanagan has won a bronze in the 10,000 before at the 2008 Olympics. We’d like to believe she can do it again but a few stats are working against her. She’s getting older. She’s now 32 and since 2008, she’s tried twice to repeat her medal-winning performance over 25 laps but come up well short. She was 14th at the 2009 Worlds and 7th at the 2011 Worlds.

No one else in the field has run under 31:05 this year, so we don’t see anyone else medalling.

Quick Take #1: We are very excited about the Defar-Dibaba clash and hope it lives up to the hype. Two years ago, we were expecting to see a clash between Defar and Vivian Cheruiyot, but it never materialized as Defar was just off her game, even though she’d run 14:29 for 5,000 coming into Worlds (but only 31:05 for 10,000).

Quick Take #2: What about the other two Americans?

We’ll start with 2013 USA runner-up Jordan Hasay because she has the most fans. It’s GREAT she’s made a Worlds team in her first try as a pro, as many weren’t sure that would ever happen. It’s an incredible accomplishment really when you think about it. She made Worlds in an event that she didn’t even make NCAA finals in earlier this year. Has that ever happened before? Email us if it has.

It’s a nice story but Hasay has got zero chance of medalling here. She could break her 31:46 PR and get lapped if this is raced all-out from the start.

2012 US Olympian Amy Hastings is the third American running. Hastings ran 31:10.69 last year at the Olympics and placed 11th. Could she possibly break 31:00 and get top 10? Those are two goals for her. She comes in after a strong 15:10.23 on July 27th in Belgium – just off her 15:09.59 pb.

Hastings doesn’t get nearly as many props as she deserves. At 31:10.69, she is already the fourth fastest woman in US history. Only three women have ever broken 31:00.00.

Top 3 US Women In History

1. Shalane Flanagan 30:22.22
2. Deena Kastor 30:50.32
3. Kara Goucher 30:55.16

Quick Take #3: It’s worth noting that it’s not normally hot in Moscow in August. The early forecast for next Sunday is right in line with what is normal as well. Accuweather is predicting a high of 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius) next Sunday while weather.com is predicting a high of 75. The normal high for August 11th is 71.6. So the race temperature is likely to be in the 60s with a wind of 1 mph. That’s very good for a Worlds.

More From The LRC Vault:

2012: 2012 Olympic Women’s 10,000: Tirunesh Dibaba Makes The Case For Being The Greatest Ever
2012: Women’s 5,000 Final: Meseret Defar Stunningly Stops The Coronation Of Tirunesh Dibaba
2011: Vivian Cheruiyot Leads Kenyan Women’s 10k Sweep To Make It Perfect Six-For-Six For Kenya



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