Paris 5k Preview: Almaz Ayana & Genzebe Dibaba Will Battle for the Win — And the World Record??

July 1, 2015

Close your eyes. Imagine a race contains the top four finishers from the 2015 World Cross Country Championships. Imagine that it also contains the seven fastest women on the year over 5,000 meters. Finally, imagine that the top two women in the field — the third- and fourth-fastest women of all-time — are racing each other for the first time this year and are targeting the world record.

Open your eyes. You don’t need to pinch yourself, because all of that is actually happening at Saturday’s Meeting Areva outside of Paris, where Almaz Ayana (14:14.32, #3 all-time) and Genzebe Dibaba (14:18.84i, #4 all-time) lead a star-studded field in the women’s 5,000.

We preview the race below (and the rest of the meet in a separate article later in the week).

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What: 2015 Meeting Areva

Where: Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France

When: Saturday, July 4. Field events begin at 12:25 p.m. ET; DL track events (and the the beIN Sports broadcast) begin at 2:05 p.m. ET.

How to watch: Live on beIN Sports Connect from 1:45 p.m. ET to 4:00 p.m. ET. According to the beIN Sports website, the meet will only be broadcast online (not on TV) as the Copa America final is also on Saturday afternoon. In Europe, you can watch the meet live on Eurosport.

Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information2014 LRC coverage

Women’s 5,000 (3:32 p.m. ET> 9:32 Paris time)

Name Country PB SB
Almaz Ayana Ethiopia 14:14.32 14:14.32
Gelete Burka Ethiopia 14:31.20 14:41.55
Mercy Cherono Kenya 14:35.13
Genzebe Dibaba Ethiopia 14:18.84 14:19.76
Azemra Gebru Ethiopia 14:58.23
Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal Norway 15:15.18 15:15.18
Netsanet Gudeta Ethiopia
Alemitu Haroye Ethiopia 14:43.28 14:43.28
Agnes Jebet Kenya 14:50.36
Irene Jelagat Kenya 14:55.49 14:55.49
Viola Kibiwot Kenya 14:33.48 14:40.32
Faith Kipyegon Kenya 14:31.95 14:31.95
Sara Moreira Portugal 14:54.71 15:50.09
Belaynesh Oljira Ethiopia 14:58.16
Renata Plis Poland 15:18.75 15:49.29
Alia Saeed Mohammed UAE 15:24.94 15:28.74
Betsy Saina Kenya 14:39.49 15:00.48
Senbere Teferi Ethiopia 14:38.57 14:38.57
Tamara Tverdostup Ukraine

We’ll get to the rest of the field — including 19-year old, 2015 World XC champ Agnes Tirop who isn’t on the start list but is supposedly running this race according to a Kenya media report — later, but for all intents and purposes, this is a two-woman race. Perhaps 21-year old Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, who ran 14:31.95 in her 5,000 debut at the Pre Classic in May after running 3:56 for 1500 at age 19, will hang around for a while. But the goal is the world record, and there are only two women in the field that have the credentials to break it: Ayana and Dibaba. Take a look at what each has accomplished in 2015 and you can see why Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 14:11.15 world record from 2008 is in jeopardy.


  • Soloed a 14:14.32 (#3 all-time) in her season-opener on May 17 in Shanghai.
  • Ran 8:22.22 (#11 all-time) for 3,000 to defeat Vivian Cheruiyot by 17 seconds in Rabat on June 14.


And for comparison, here’s what Tirunesh Dibaba did prior to setting the WR on June 6:

T. Dibaba

  • Ran 8:33.37 to win 3,000 at Reebok Indoor Games in Boston on January 26 (won by 3.22 seconds).
  • Won World XC (8k) in Edinburgh by five seconds on March 30.
  • Ran 32:49.08 to win 10,000 at African Champs in Addis Ababa by 1.28 seconds on May 3.
Dibaba put on a show at Pre but missed the world record

Dibaba put on a show at Pre but missed the world record

To say that neither Ayana nor Genzebe Dibaba has been beaten this year is oversimplifying things. Neither woman has been remotely challenged. In their six combined races this year, the smallest margin of victory is 12.19 seconds; the average is 26.95. With Tirunesh Dibaba out due to pregnancy and Meseret Defar MIA since 2013, Ayana and Genzebe Dibaba exist on an entirely different plane from the rest of the world’s female 5,000 runners.

And that’s what makes their matchup in Paris so enticing. After Ayana withdrew from Pre in May, it seemed as if the two Ethiopian stars would dodge each other until the World Championships in August, similar to how Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba have avoided each other (they’ve raced against each other just four times since the start of 2010). Perhaps they realized after Dibaba’s unsuccessful attempts in Eugene and Oslo that the only way to take down the world record is to work together. Dibaba’s rabbits expired after just 1800 meters in those two races, leaving her to tackle the final two miles alone. World record pace is 8:30.69 for 3,000, a time achieved by just 21 women in the past 10 years (and eight of those came in the same race). Anyone who’s fast enough to run that kind of time from the front isn’t going to want to rabbit anyone — or if they are, they’re going to command an exorbitant fee to offset the winnings they would forfeit by not racing.

Ironically, the result is that Ayana and Dibaba are each other’s biggest rival for the world record — and each other’s biggest ally, as each will serve as a de facto pacer for the other. Who knows exactly how they’ll split the pacing duties, but it’s definitely easier to run a world record when you’ve got help. The competition is there; how about the weather?

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

Saint-Denis, the suburb of Paris in which the stadium is situated, is in the middle of a heat wave at the moment. The temperature reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, and the highs from Thursday through Saturday are projected at 94, 99 and 97. That’s not good news. Even though the temperature will cool off in the evening, the 5,000 is scheduled to start at 9:32 p.m. local time — and sunset isn’t until 9:58 p.m. That means the temperature will be somewhere between the daytime high of 97 and the evening low of 65 (all temps courtesy of The hourly weather forecast for Saturday night isn’t out yet but is projecting 85-6 degrees for Thursday (50% humidity) at 9:30 pm and 92-92 for 9:30 pm on Friday (38% humidity). That’s much warmer than ideal for a 12.5-lap race. Winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour are expected, though that won’t be as big of an issue as the race will take place in a massive stadium, with the track surrounded on all sides.

Update on July 3 at 1:15 am ET. The hourly weather is now out for Saturday. It will be better Saturday night than Thursday or Friday as it looks like it will be about 83 degrees with 45% humidity at race time.

MB: PARIS: Will not be special, there will be no records or fast times in the distance event. Heat Wave in Europe

Still, it’s possible to run fast, even at 5k, when it’s somewhat hot. According to Weather Underground, the temperature was in the high-70s/low-80s in Oslo on June 6, 2008, the night Dibaba set the current world record.

What kind of breakthrough is needed?

World records are, by definition, outliers — performances that no one else has matched. But it’s important to know just how big of an outlier they are. To break the world record, Ayana would have to lower her PR by at least 3.18 seconds; Dibaba would need to knock 7.70 or more off her best. The world record has been broken four times this century. Let’s take a closer look at each record:

picture of Tirunesh Dibaba

Will Dibaba’s seven-year-old mark go down on Saturday?
*More 2008 Bislett Games Photos

Tirunesh Dibaba, 14:11.15, 2008 (Oslo)
Old record: 14:16.63 (-5.48 seconds)
Dibaba’s old PR: 14:27.42 (-16.27 seconds)
Record has stood for: 7 years, 25 days (as of Wednesday)

Meseret Defar, 14:16.63, 2007 (Oslo)
Old record: 14:24.53 (-7.90 seconds)
Defar’s old PR: 14:24.53 (-7.90 seconds)
Record stood for: 357 days

Meseret Defar, 14:24.53, 2006 (New York)
Old record: 14:24.68 (-.15 of a second)
Defar’s old PR: 14:28.98 (-4.30 seconds)
Record stood for: 1 year, 12 days

Elvan Abeylegesse, 14:24.68, 2004 (Bergen, Norway)
Old record: 14:28.09 (-3.41 seconds)
Abeylegesse’s old PR: 14:53.56 (-28.88 seconds)
Record stood for: 1 year, 11 months, 23 days

So what have we learned, other than the best way to break a world record is to run in Norway? You don’t need to be that close to the record in terms of PR to break it. The last four record-breakers lowered their PRs by an average of 14.34 seconds to break the record. Ayana and Dibaba are both well within that range; remember, Tirunesh Dibaba’s PR was only 14:27 when she ran 14:11.

Between the two of them, Ayana seems to have the better shot at the record. Despite Dibaba’s 6-2 record vs. Ayana all-time (including 2-1 against her in 5,000s last year), Ayana’s 14:14.32 in Shanghai in May is more impressive than anything Dibaba has accomplished this season. Dibaba may have the more impressive career overall, with world indoor records at 1500 (3:55.17), 3000 (8:16.60), 2 miles (9:00.48) and 5,000 (14:18.86) but Ayana came far closer to the WR than Dibaba did in either of her record attempts, closing her 14:14 off with a 2:13.34 800 (13:53 pace).

She is also fresher than Dibaba. That’s not to say Dibaba is over-raced (she’s raced just four times this year), but she also has two failed record attempts in the last five weeks. It’s not easy, mentally or physically, to keep chasing records and Ayana, whose 14:14 came seven weeks ago, has a bigger break from her last 5,000.

Both have a shot at the record though, and that’s what makes this race so special.  Distance records just don’t get broken very often, and on the women’s side, the 5,000 is the only mark that could realistically go down in the foreseeable future. Check out the world records from 800 through 10,000. Barring a new undetectable superdrug or a rapid advancement in women’s athletics (given the rising acceptance of transgenderism, maybe people born with penises will be allowed to compete as women – we hope not), every mark but the 5,000 seems destined to live for another 10+ years.

800: 1:53.28, Jarmila Kratochvila, 1983
1500: 3:50.46, Qu Yunxia, 1993
5,000: 14:11.15, Tirunesh Dibaba, 2008
10,000: 29:31.78, Wang Junxia, 1993 (Perhaps Ayana and/or Dibaba could take a shot at this if they got a male pacer and have say a 14:08 pb)

So here’s to hoping Dibaba and Ayana figure out a way to work together to go after 14:11 on Saturday. It’s a difficult situation for both, as only one can break the world record and neither is going to want to have to do the work only to have the other get the glory. But for the runner-up, there’s always Beijing, where place is the only thing that matters.

If the weather was good, we’d predict a World Record. Given the weather, it’s going to be tough.

Best of the rest

Even without Ayana and Dibaba, this would be a top-notch 5,000 field comparable to better than a World Championship final as there are 8 Ethiopians entered and 6 Kenyans. The top four finishers from World XC are all entered, led by Kenya’s 19-year-old Agnes Jebet (Jebet isn’t listed on the official entry list as of Wednesday afternoon but this article, published Wednesday, says she is running). Jebet has raced just twice on the track this year (a couple of 1500s in Kenya in April) and this will be our first real look at what she can do at 5,000, the distance she plans on running at Worlds in August. Jebet’s pedigree is strong, and if she’s in her World XC form, a time in the 14:30s is possible, given that she ran 14:50 two years ago at age 17. She’ll have women to run with, too, as Faith Kipyegon (world #3 14:31 in 5,000 debut at Pre) and World XC runner-up Senbere Teferi (world #4 14:38 in Oslo) will both be looking to run fast.

(L to R) Teferi, Jebet and Netsanet Gudeta will all be in action in Paris

(L to R) Teferi, Jebet and Netsanet Gudeta will all be in action in Paris

It will be interesting to see whether any of those women try to hang with Dibaba and Ayana — and for how long. Of the three, Kipyegon has the best chance of doing so as her 14:31 in warm conditions at Pre was an incredible performance for someone making her debut (granted, Dibaba still destroyed her). Teferi ran with Dibaba for a bit in Oslo, and any pacing she or the others could do in the earlygoing would benefit a record attempt as it leaves Dibaba/Ayana fresher for the heavy lifting over the second half of the race.

Another woman who could run with the leaders for a while is 2013 worlds silver medalist Mercy Cherono of Kenya (14:35 pb). Cherono has yet to run a 5,000 in 2015, but her 1500 at Pre (her last race) went very well as she ran a PR of 4:01.26, defeating Sifan Hassan and Shannon Rowbury and losing only to Jenny Simpson. However, Cherono may not have the strength to hang with Dibaba and Ayana in a fast race. She was a combined 7-0 against the two in 3,000s/2-miles last year but 0-6 in 5,000s. Gelete Burka, 2014 5000 world junior champ Alemitu HaroyeBetsy Saina and Viola Kibiwot have all also broken 14:45 in their careers and should be in the mix behind the top two.

One last thing about this field. Given how talented many of these women are at 5,000, we’re surprised so few of the Kenyans, have so far considered doing what Molly Huddle is doing this year – moving up to the 10,000. With Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar absent, there is a big opening for medal(s) in the 10,000. The only two Kenyan women even with the standard for the 10,000 are the American-based duo of Betsy Saina and Sally Kipyego. 

The top three from the Ethiopian 10,000 trials are all racing here. The Ethiopian 10,000 trials were won by Geleta Burka who has run 14:41 this year (14:31 in 2007). The runner-up at the Ethiopian 10,000 Trials was  Alemitu Haroye, the reigning world junior 5000 champ who also was 4th at World xc. The third placer at the 10,000 Trials was Belaynesh Oljira, who won bronze in the 10,000 in 2013. Additionally, Nesenet Gudeta, who was sixth in the 10,000 trials, is racing here.