Dibaba and Defar haven’t raced since August 2013 but they’ll square off in Portland as Shannon Rowbury chases America’s first medal in this event since 2004
March 16, 2016
PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time in 29 years, the U.S. will play host to the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships. Portland, Ore., will be the site as the world’s top athletes head to the Pacific Northwest for the four-day meet which begins on Thursday. LetsRun.com is in Portland all week and we’ll have tons of on-site coverage for you to digest. We’ll kick things off by previewing the mid-d/distance events — here’s a look at the women’s 3000. You can find all of our Worlds coverage in our special Worlds section here.
What: 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships
When: March 17-20, 2016
Where: Oregon Convention Center, Portland, Oregon
Prize Money: A total of US$2,464,000 is on offer from the IAAF. There is also a US$50,000 bonus for any athlete setting a world record during the four-day championships.
Individual events (total US$ 2,288,000)
Relays per team (total US$176,000)
Women’s 3000 (final Sunday 4:45 p.m. ET)
|Genzebe Dibaba||Ethiopia||8:16.60||8:22.50||Ran 8:22 and broke mile world record in her two indoor races.|
|Meseret Defar||Ethiopia||8:23.72||8:30.83||Very impressive 8:30 in her only track race since 2013. Can she challenge Dibaba?|
|Betlhem Desalegn||UAE||8:44.59||8:44.59||Asian indoor champ didn’t make 1500 or 5k final at Worlds last year|
|Nancy Chepkwemoi||Kenya||8:49.06||8:49.06||Won in Glasgow in her only 3k this year. Didn’t make 1500 final at Worlds last year|
|Maureen Koster||The Netherlands||8:49.18||8:49.18||Came close to win in Glasgow. Didn’t make 1500 or 5k final at Worlds last year|
|Stephanie Twell||Great Britain||8:50.24||8:50.24||Former world junior 1500 champ is now 26 years old|
|Renata Plis||Poland||8:39.18||8:50.75||Has run 8:39 outdoors but only 6th in Glasgow|
|Shannon Rowbury||USA||8:29.93||8:53.52||Don’t let the seed time fool you. She’ll be in contention for a medal. Has run 8:29 outdoors|
|Sheila Reid||Canada||8:44.02||8:56.50||Former NCAA champ was 2nd at Armory 3k this year|
|Abbey D’Agostino||USA||8:51.91||8:56.77||Turned season back around to make Worlds|
|Josephine Moultrie||Great Britain||8:58.75||8:58.75|
|Betsy Saina||Kenya||8:38.01||9:01.05||Won Millrose 5000 over Molly Huddle|
|Kristiina Maki||Czech Republic||8:51.69||9:16.76|
Before we get into the preview, kudos to the IAAF for scrapping the prelims in this event. In 2014, 15 women entered the 3000 and they had to run a ridiculous prelim two days before the final to eliminate three runners. There are 15 entries again this year, but instead of running a pointless first round, the IAAF no longer lists a prelim on its schedule, meaning that the 3000 will be a straight 15-person final on Sunday. Unfortunately, the 18-man men’s 3000 field (possibly 17 if Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider opts for the 1500) will still have to run a prelim, but given that it’s too late to condense the field size, a prelim to eliminate six athletes makes more sense than running an 18-person final on a 200-meter track.
Can 32-year-old Meseret Defar hang with Genzebe Dibaba?
Ethiopians Genzebe Dibaba and Meseret Defar are, in some order, the greatest female indoor 3000 runners of all time. Dibaba is the reigning world champion and world record holder; in all, she owns four of the fastest eight times ever. Defar is a six-time World Indoor medallist in the event (including four golds) and held the world record before Dibaba broke it in 2014. She has four of the 11 fastest times ever.
On Sunday in Portland, they’ll meet for the first time indoors in what could be a thrilling women’s 3000 final. We say “could” because there exists the distinct possibility that Dibaba could simply do what she does in almost every race she runs these days and blow the field away by running an insanely fast pace from the gun.
When Defar took time off to have a baby after the 2013 season, she left as the reigning World and Olympic 5,000 champion. She and rival Tirunesh Dibaba (Genzebe’s sister) had dominated the distance races on the track for years, but in the absence of Defar and Dibaba (who left the track to run the London Marathon in 2014 and give birth in 2015), new stars emerged. Now 25-year-old Genzebe, not 30-year-old Tirunesh, is the Dibaba drawing all the headlines, and the only woman who’s figured out how to consistently beat her is another young Ethiopian, Almaz Ayana.
It is this new environment in which Defar now finds herself. Now 32, she faces an opponent in Dibaba who has smashed what Defar was capable of even in her prime: Dibaba broke Defar’s indoor world record of 8:23.72 with ease two years ago, running 8:16.60 in Stockholm, and her season best of 8:22.50 — a race that came just two days after her mile world record of 4:13.31 — is well ahead of Defar’s 8:30.83 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
This is a major problem for Defar. Dibaba’s 3000 pb is significantly faster yet she’s also the world record holder at 1500 meters, so playing sit and kick is definitely out. Ayana showed last year at Worlds that even Dibaba can break if pushed hard enough, but considering it took an 8:19 3k (at the end of a 5k!), Defar probably lacks the tools at this point in her career to do it. Defar’s 8:30 in Boston last month — her first track race since August 2013 — was a rousing success, but even if she’s gained fitness since then (she hasn’t raced since), it’s hard to imagine her taking down Dibaba, who is a faster, younger version of Defar with a better kick.
Dibaba can win any style of race. She’s set a bundle of world records in recent years by attacking from the front, but when she earned gold in Sopot two years ago, she did so off a crawling 5:08 first 1600. Defar, on the other hand, has a large incentive to push the pace. First, it’s her best shot at beating Dibaba. Her odds are slim either way, but she’s more likely to drop Dibaba, Ayana-style, than she is to outkick a 3:50 1500 runner. Second, it’s her best shot at silver. Only one woman (Shannon Rowbury) has ever run within seven seconds of Defar’s 8:30 sb, and Rowbury (3:56 1500 pb) has much better wheels than Defar. The easiest way to defeat Rowbury is to render those wheels useless by going out at 8:30 pace and grinding her and other medal contenders like Betsy Saina into submission. So expect a fast race. Elly van Hulst’s 1989 meet record of 8:33.82 is very much in jeopardy.
Sorting out the other medals
If Dibaba or Defar pushes the pace, we expect them to go 1-2 in that order, though Rowbury and Saina would still have a shot at silver if Defar has to do all the work herself and runs out of gas. Rowbury ran 8:29 two years ago and after adding extra volume this winter, should be aerobically stronger now than at any point under Alberto Salazar. Yet she’s still stayed true to her 1500 roots as she ran 4:24 at Millrose to easily claim the Wanamaker Mile title. Saina has raced just once this winter but that one effort was encouraging as she had enough energy to outkick Molly Huddle off a fast pace at Millrose, running 14:57.18 for the win.
The one woman who will be praying for a slow race is Rowbury. Yes, it will keep more women around for longer, but any time you shorten a race it helps runners with the best speed, and in this field, Rowbury’s speed is second only to Dibaba’s. She showed at USAs that she’s exceptional at changing gears late in the race, and she’s been around the circuit long enough to learn how to position herself for a kick. If Dibaba and Defar wind up breaking away early in the race, it will be up to Saina or someone else to push the pace, else they risk Rowbury sitting and kicking for the bronze.
We’re a little surprised Rowbury is even in this race, as her best shot at gold is clearly the 1500 meters. Rowbury said she made the decision to run the 3000 because it gives her the best chance to medal, which suggests that Rowbury and Salazar liked her chances of outkicking the field for bronze (or perhaps silver) in the 3000 more than overcoming three women in the 1500 who have already run 4:01.81 or faster this season. Rowbury, of course, ran 3:56 to break the U.S. 1500 record last summer, but her decision to run the 3000 indicates that her 1500 speed may not be all there at the moment — it’s worth noting that she ran 4:24.39 (worth about 4:03-4:04 for 1500) when she was trying to run 4:20 for the mile at Millrose. Regardless, Rowbury is fit enough and we like her for bronze. She has more speed than Saina and apart from Dibaba and Defar, only one other woman has broken 8:49 this year. That would be Betlhem Desalegn of the United Arab Emirates. Desalegn could threaten for a medal — she ran 8:44 at last month’s Asian Indoor champs just one day after winning the 1500 at that meet and was sixth at World Indoors two years ago. But overall Rowbury has faster pbs and a better track record of success at major championships.
The other American in the field, Abbey D’Agostino, is not a medal contender given the talent at the top of the field, but she displayed a strong kick at USAs (she closed her final 200 in 30.34, way faster than anyone not named Rowbury) and if the pace lags in the chase pack (assuming the two Ethiopians break away), she could battle for a top-five finish.