An Incredible Women’s 5000: Meseret Defar versus Tirunesh Dibaba at last, plus Jenny Simpson versus Molly Huddle and the American Record

August 27, 2013

Women’s 5000s don’t get much better than this.

Two of the all time greats in Meseret Defar versus Tirunesh Dibaba will square off for just the second third time in four years plus there will be a clash between two of America’s greats, 2011 World 1500 champion and 2013 World 1500 silver medallist Jenny Simpson versus American record holder Molly Huddle, in what presumably is an American record attempt.

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For much of August, we’ve been lamenting the fact that the two greats in women’s distance running, Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba, didn’t race at the recently concluded 2013 IAAF World Championships in Athletics.

Instead, the Ethiopians put the fix in and basically gave the women’s 10,000 title to Tirunesh Dibaba and the 5,000 title to Meseret Defar. Well track and field fans will finally get to see the two race on Thursday in Zürich.

A world title isn’t on the line but the Diamond League title and $50,000 ($40,000 for DL title, $10,000 for victory) will be. Perhaps more importantly, legacy will also be at stake as these two women make their cases for GOAT (greatest of all-time honors). Heading into last year’s Olympic 5000, Dibaba had the inside track on the GOAT title, but her upset loss to Defar removed that air of inevitability.

Past Bad Blood Between Defar and Dibaba

Making the matchup even more intriguing is the fact that with the DL title is on the line. It brings back memories to the end of the 2006 season when the IAAF’s biggest meets were known as the Golden League and there was a $500,000 bonus to be split amongst the athletes winning every single event in the series. Dibaba had won all of the Golden League events heading into the finale in Berlin. A victory there and she’d be an additional $125,000 richer. However, Defar showed up and after a riveting last lap duel which featured an incredible stretch run with the two side by side for virtually the entire last 100, Defar emerged as the winner after a 56 high last lap (57.02 leader to leader) (We’ve got the last 600m of the race embedded on right. Kara Goucher leading.).

Defar’s win cost Dibaba a cool $125,000. It was was nice payback for Defar as 9 days before in Brussels Defar was going for the World Record but Dibaba was in that race and purposely tried to sabotage the WR attempt.

“Meseret was going for the world record in Brussels. I had to destabilise her racing plans by varying the pace before kicking in the last lap,” said the 20-year old Dibaba to the IAAF in 2006 (More: Bitter rivalry divides Ethiopians. MB: Dibaba and Defar – Rivalry/Tension)

Who has the edge – Dibaba or Defar?

Head-to-head, we imagine most fans will be stunned to learn that Defar and Dibaba have raced a staggering 32 times in their careers with Defar leading 19 to 13. But those stats don’t mean a whole lot 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 became big established stars. Since 2008, they’ve raced a grand total of three four 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 NYC DL Meet

14:57.02 (2)

14:50.80 (1)

5,000 m

2012 Olympics

15:04.25 (1)

15:05.15 (3)




On Thursday, 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 the end of the season $40,000 DL title thrown in as an added bonus. It’s only their second matchup against each other in four years.

Given that Dibaba has the world record at 5000 and has eight Olympic/World golds to Defar’s four, many may be surprised to learn that we think Defar has the slight edge here. It’s critical to remember that this is a 5000, not 10,000 and Defar won last year over this distance at the Olympics.

Additionally, in Moscow at Worlds, Defar’s finish was as good if not slightly better than her finish in London. Also in Moscow, Defar was beaming about her training and said it was better than when she set her world record in the 5000 (since eclipsed by Dibaba). Dibaba, on the other hand, really hasn’t done anything this year to give us the idea that she’s in the best shape of her life.

Compare their 10,000 times on the year, an event which is Dibaba’s speciality, and you’ll realize Defar has run 30:08.06 this year, Dibaba 30:26.67.

Jenny Simpson’s Running a 5000?

Above, we mentioned that the race also is serving as an American record attempt for Jenny Simpson. We don’t know for a fact that she’s actually going for the record but it’s logical to assume that’s the case.  (Update we talked to Simpson’s co-coach Mark Wetmore about this race, Jenny’s 2013 season, her plans for 2014, and much more. Full article on that here. Wetmore said it’s not specifically a record attempt, “It’s not a record attempt by any means. Just get in the race and respond to what’s presented to her.”) We’ve reached out to Simpson and Huddle’s agent Ray Flynn and asked him if it indeed was an American record attempt and if there would be special pace-makers for the Americans. He replied as follows:

I think both girls looking to run fast. The pace will be quick and for the field. No special pace for the American athletes.

As for the overall pace up front, Flynn added that it had not been determined yet.

The American record is 14:44.76 and it belongs to Molly Huddle. At USAs, Simpson, who had a bye into the Moscow 1500 as the defending champion, ran the 5000 and she beat Huddle by nearly two seconds. In Moscow, Huddle achieved the highest 5000 finish by an American ever (sixth) and told us afterwords she hoped she was in 14:40 shape on a perfect day with perfect pacing.

So by the transitive property, it’s reasonable to assume Simpson has a shot at the American record. Now, Huddle is in this race as well so it should be very interesting.

Time to celebrate

Defar was dominant over 5000 in Moscow

Quick Take #1: This is what the sport needs more of. A truly great race up top (and one further back for the Americans). It’s hard to believe this is Defar and Dibaba’s only second meeting in four years.

QT #2: Simpson’s 5000 pr is just 15:01.70 but that dates from February of 2009. She’s in the form of her life right now and should definitely be able to become 13th American under 15:00 this year. 14:44.76 is a whole different ballgame. It’s easy to say, “Oh, she’s so good, she should smash it,” but grinding out a 5k at a super hot pace is a lot easier said than done, particularly when you haven’t raced a fast 5k in years or likely trained specifically for the event.

The good news is the weather forecast is great for Thursday (mid 60s, sun and light wind).

QT #3: Whether Simpson gets the AR or not, we fully expect this race to show the gains in fitness Simpson has achieved in 2013 thanks to her return to the coaching of Mark Wetmore. In 2012, when Simpson ran just 8:48 and finished only 11th in Monaco in her last race before the Olympics, we knew unofficially that Simpson had no shot to do much of anything in London. Simpson started off as a distance runner who has moved down to the 1500. An 8:48 3000 is not good at all for someone of her ability.

QT#4: There is other quality in the field besides Dibaba and Defar. The race also includes the 2013 World 5000 and 10,000 silver medallists in Mercy Cherono and Gladys Cherono of Kenya.

The 2013 World 10,000 silver medallist Gladys Cherono technically only has a 15:39 5000 pb but she just ran the 10,000 in 30:45 with a 15:13.55 second half.

QT#5: Americans Jordan Hasay and Chelsea Reilly are also is in the field (we’re assuming American Gabriele Anderson is rabbitting). Reilly’s had an incredibly year as she’s lowered her 1500 pb from 4:24.49 to 4:08.77, and 5000 pb from 15:57.53 to 15:13.24. Hasay comes in after a disappointing last place 9:06 3000 last week in Stockholm.

QT #6: The full list of entries appears below.

LRC Prediction: Defar over Dibaba. No American record. If the American record does fall, we think Simpson will smash it. Logically that sounds strange but here is our reasoning. If you look at the PBs of the people in the field, it seems as if few people will be trying to run 14:40. There will be a lot in the 14:30s or faster and then others just under 15:00. So Simpson either hangs on and gets the American record in the 14:30s (where we want to see it) or falls off and misses.


More: 2013 Moscow: Meseret Defar Wins Her Fourth Global 5000m Title
2013 Moscow: Tirunesh Dibaba Remains Undefeated For Her Life at 10,000 – Wins Record 5th Global 10,000 Title
MB: Dibaba and Defar – Rivalry/Tension
From 2006: Bitter rivalry divides Ethiopians.

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