RRW: Genzebe Dibaba Eyeing Fast Time, Potential WR at Prefontaine Classic

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE, Ore. (29-May) — When Genzebe Dibaba takes to the track here at Hayward Field for the 5000m at the 41st Prefontaine Classic tomorrow, the 24-year-old will have one focus: run much faster than her personal best of 14:28.88, and hopefully come close to the world record of 14:11.15. For the Ethiopian star and sister of current 5000m world record holder Tirunesh Dibaba, the thought of adding the title of World Record Holder to her already stellar resume brings a discreet smile and confident stare. Yes, it is a very tall task. But Dibaba is up for the monumental challenge.

“I cannot say the exact second or microsecond [I will run], but my aim is to run my personal best whatever the time will be. I have my own time [in mind], my body will tell me I can run the fastest time ever for 5000m,” said Dibaba through a translator. When asked a follow-up question about if she was hinting at bettering the current world record, her eyes popped with a gaze of resolute determination.

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“This is my dream, breaking the world record is the dream for my lifetime,” she said, adding that she believes it is within grasp, perhaps tomorrow or at another IAAF Diamond League meeting sometime soon.

At the Prefontaine Classic, Dibaba will be up against one of the strongest 5000m fields in history. Dibaba owns a pair of gold medals from the IAAF World Indoor Championships, and set an indoor 5000m world record of 14:18.86 last February in Stockholm. While her credentials are noteworthy, she will be accompanied by some very fast and distinguished athletes hailing from East Africa. The Kenyan contingent includes Olympic silver medalists Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot, former NCAA champion Betsy Saina, and 2012 World Junior champion at 1500m Faith Kipyegon.  Viola Kibiwot and Irene Cheptai are also in the field. Fellow Ethiopians set to toe the line include reigning World Junior champion Alemitu Haroye and Sentayehu Ejigu; the latter holds a personal best of 14:28.39.

Of course, not to be forgotten in the shuffle is American record holder Molly Huddle, who clocked a time of 14:42.64 last year and ran an American record 14:50 on the roads at last month’s B.A.A. 5-K.

With so many top-notch athletes, a fast time is all but guaranteed. The meet record stands at 14:33.96 set by Cheruiyot in 2011, while the IAAF Diamond League record and current world leading mark is a surprising 14:14.32 run by Ethiopian Almaz Ayana on May 17, in Shanghai.

Ayana‘s recent time is motivation for Dibaba. Not only is she driven by her competitors, the wiry Ethiopian is fueled by an intrinsic fire to run faster every time she steps on the track. She strongly believes that she’s in far better shape than her 14:28.88 personal best indicates, and does not count out her sister’s world record mark.

If recent performance is any indication, Dibaba’s 14:48 win at the Carlsbad 5000 road race last month is a solid sign. There she came within two seconds of Meseret Defar’s 5K world record for the distance (14:46).

“The challenges are big, of course all the top 5000m runners are here competing together. But whatever it is, I’ve prepared myself in a good way, and I have my own plan to run as fast as possible,” she said.

Speaking to reporters, Dibaba is all business. While some of the other athletes in attendance smile and converse freely with reporters, Dibaba stays focused, eyes straight ahead and voice only a tad louder than a whisper. She will not let the slightest distraction take away from her goal of performing on the track.

Though her outward appearance may not have showed it, Dibaba’s answers to questions hinted at a giddy excitement ahead of tomorrow’s race. Aware of the meet’s history and lore, she reference her sister’s tradition of racing well in Track Town USA. Tirunesh earned three wins in her last three races at the Prefontaine Classic: a 5000m victory in 2013 (14:42.01); 10,000m win in 2012 (30:24.39); and 5000m triumph in 2010 (14:34.07).

“Being here is very important for me. It’s my first time of course, and the weather is good, not cold and not too warm, very comfortable, and I’m feeling very very good and very competitive,” she said. “I have a good feeling for Eugene because my sister has run fast here and it is a track in which the 5000m runners run very fast times. That is why I am so excited to run here, and hopefully run a better time here.”

Having never raced at the Prefontaine Classic could be both an advantage and disadvantage for Dibaba, said American miler Jenny Simpson. The 2011 World Champion at 1500m said that experience is valuable here, especially knowing that there will be a shot of adrenaline when stepping onto the track in front of a boisterous, capacity crowd. Yet as Simpson displayed in her first time racing here in 2009, inexperience could also be a blessing in disguise: competing in her University of Colorado kit, Simpson took second in the 1500m, setting an NCAA record of 3:59.90 when only anticipating a time in the 4:04 range.

“You don’t get bogged down with the pressure and importance of the moment or the meet. Do I think it’s an advantage, I don’t know,” Simpson told Race Results Weekly. “Someone like her who has [raced all over the world], I think this is part of the rhythm of her life. So I don’t know if it’s necessarily an advantage, but that being said, I’m here and I know tons of my family and friends are going to be watching on NBC, and this is my first race of the season. As an American, this is one of the few domestic meets I’ll run, and there is an element of pressure there [competing on home soil] that doesn’t exist for an athlete in her situation. Maybe I’m a bit in denial that there is an advantage for her!”

After 12 laps tomorrow, Dibaba will race down the homestretch in front of a packed West grandstand, a time of 14 minutes and change likely reading on the clock. She’s competed in world championships and the Olympic Games, but running at Hayward Field is something special.

“All my possibilities will be in this race too. Hopefully in the very near future I can break the world record,” she said, again emphasizing the near future. Putting her expectations in check, though, she continued: “The most important thing is not worrying about the world record. It will be done in the near future. The only thing I don’t have is a world champion and Olympic champion [medal] so my big, big target is to win this as sport’s champion in the Olympic Games. That is my big target.”