Vivian Cheruiyot Stuns Almaz Ayana And Wins Women’s 5000 Gold In One Of The Biggest Upsets Of The Olympics

August 19, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — Talk about an upset.

Last Friday, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana won the women’s 10,000 at the 2016 Olympics by smashing Wang Junxia’s nearly 23-year-old world record of 29:31.78 – a record that many thought was unbeatable as no one had ever come within 22 seconds of it – by more than 14 seconds by running 29:17.45.

To say she was the HEAVY, HEAVY favorite in tonight’s 5,000 final would be an understatement. On the BBC broadcast, they said you couldn’t even get betting some betting shops to offer you odds on Ayana winning. The only bet they’d offer was basically even money on her setting the world record.

But 12.5 laps after the race started, the 14:11.15 WR was intact and Ayana wasn’t a double Olympic champion. No, in one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 Games, the winner was five-time world champion (four track, one World XC) Vivian Cheruiyot, who finally accomplished the one thing neither she nor any other Kenyan woman had done in the 5,000 or 10,000 – win Olympic gold. After two Olympic silvers (2016 10k, 2012 5k) and a bronze (2012 10k), Cheruiyot won her coveted gold in style, setting a new Olympic record of 14:26.17 (old record: Gabriela Szabo 14:40.79). Her compatriot Hellen Obiri took home the silver (14:29.77) and Ayana the bronze (14:33.59).

1 Vivian Jepkemoi CHERUIYOT – KEN 14:26.17 OR
2 Hellen Onsando OBIRI – KEN 14:29.77 PB
3 Almaz AYANA -ETH 14:33.59
4 Mercy CHERONO – KEN 14:42.89
5 Senbere TEFERI -ETH 14:43.75
6 Yasemin CAN – TUR 14:56.96
7 Karoline Bjerkeli GRØVDAL – NOR 14:57.53 PB
8 Susan KUIJKEN -NED 15:00.69 PB
9 Eloise WELLINGS -AUS 15:01.59 SB
10 Madeline HEINER HILLS -AUS 15:04.05 PB
11 Shelby HOULIHAN – USA 15:08.89
12 Genevieve LACAZE -USA 15:10.35 PB
13 Eilish MCCOLGAN-GBR 15:12.09
14 Ababel YESHANEH -ETH 15:18.26
15 Miyuki UEHARA -JPN 15:34.97
16 Jennifer WENTH -AUT 15:56.11
17 Nikki HAMBLIN -NZL 16:14.24 SB

The Race

After a slow opening 1600 (4:52), it was clear the world record wasn’t going to happen. One hundred meters later though, at 1700, Ayana slammed the accelerator down and by the end of the home straight she had gapped the field by a few meters. Ayana was running really fast and a lap later, after a 65.1, Ayana led the four-woman chase pack of the three Kenyans in the race, Obiri, Cheruiyot, and 2013 silver medallist Mercy Cherono, plus the Kenyan-born Turk Yasemin Can by nearly 15 meters.  

65 is fast as world record pace is 68.1 pace, but not suicidal for Ayana as she was over a mile into the race, and last year in Beijing after a slow start, Ayana had closed her finally 3000 in 8:19 which is 66.5 pace.

Article continues below player.

And that’s roughly the pace Ayana ended up averaging over the next mile after putting the hammer down. Ayana kept pushing and ran the next lap in 66.7 and then next two in 68 flat. From 1800 to 3400, Ayana had covered 1600 meters in a 4:27.8 (66.95 pace) and her lead had swelled to nearly 30 meters (4.8 seconds).

At 3500, the lead was its biggest of the night (5 seconds) but it started to shrink as Ayana started to slow and three Kenyans (Can had been dropped around 3k) started to pick it up. Ayana covered the fourth to last lap in 69.1 and the chasers ran a 68.9. And once the Kenyans started to gain, they came with a vengeance. Ayana’s third to last lap was still under 70 (69.7) but Cheruiyot, with Obiri close behind, ran her third to last lap in 66.3, breaking free of Cherono around 4k in the process. Suddenly Ayana’s lead was down to less than 10 meters (1.6 seconds) and it didn’t last long left. Just 100 meters later (700 left), Cheruiyot had already done two things – broken away from Obiri and caught Ayana.

Would Ayana respond? No.

And for good reason. Cheruiyot was flying. She covered her next to last lap in 64.5 and led Obiri, who had also gone by Ayana later in the lap with no response, by 1.5 seconds. That lead would grow all the way to the finish.

Cheruiyot’s last lap of 65.6 gave her the Olympic record and closed off a final 1600 of 4:25.6. Our quick take analysis of the race appears below.

Quick Take: History Repeats Itself/Maybe Cheruiyot Shouldn’t Have Been That Huge Of An Underdog

Last year, because of Genzebe Dibaba’s amazing run in the World Championship 1500 final, all of the pundits wanted to hand her the women’s 5000 gold medal before the race was run but she ended up losing to Ayana.

This year, because of her amazing run in the 10,000, everyone wanted to hand the gold medal to Ayana, who was upset by Cheruiyot.

In both cases, particularly in hindsight, it seems the huge faith in the favorites was a little misguided. Last year, Ayana had run 14:14 earlier in the year and wasn’t doubling whereas Dibaba was. Any woman who has run 14:14 should never be considered a huge underdog.

Tonight, it seems that similarly, many had forgotten how brilliant Cheruiyot was herself last Friday night in the 10,000. In winning silver, she too nearly beat Wang Junxia’s old world record by clocking 29:32. Clearly Vivian’s own fitness was off the charts.

While Cheruiyot’s final 3k of 8:24.5 wasn’t as fast as Dibaba’s 8:19 last year, it’s almost as impressive when you factor in the fact she was doing it after running 29:32 a week ago.

We heard of a media member who placed a bet on Cheruiyot at 33-1 after the semifinals. He wagered that Cheruiyot was in great shape and had a better kick. If it was close with a couple laps to go, she had a good chance to win. In retrospect, it seems obvious. Ayana was obviously a heavy favorite, but does she win this race 97 times out of 100? Those are good odds to take a flyer on.

Quick Take: After getting beat by the Ethiopians for years at the Olympics, Vivian Cheruiyot caps an outstanding career with an Olympic gold

(Editor’s note: We have a lengthier profile on Cheruiyot’s historic win here:How Vivian Cheruiyot Took Down Almaz Ayana to Finally Become Olympic Champion )

Cheruiyot made her Olympic debut two weeks after her 17th birthday in 2000, taking 14th in the 5,000. Tonight was her sixth Olympic final, and to this point she had amassed a stellar resume: two silvers, one bronze at the Olympics in addition to four World Championship golds. But at the Olympics, she had always been beaten out by an Ethiopian — Tirunesh Dibaba in the 2012 10k, Meseret Defar in the 2012 5k and Ayana in the 10k in Rio seven days ago. Everyone expected that would happen again tonight and Cheruiyot would wind up as the Paul Tergat/Sileshi Sihine of her generation, good enough to land on the podium at the Olympics but denied the gold by an all-time great.

But with 700 meters to go in what was likely her final Olympic race on the track, the 32-year-old Cheruiyot turned that narrative on its head, blowing by Ayana on the backstretch and streaking into the history books. No one expected Cheruiyot, at age 33, to beat Ayana after Ayana crushed her by 15 seconds in the 10k. But just as Ayana upset the unbeatable Genzebe Dibaba at Worlds last year, Cheruiyot upset the unbeatable Ayana tonight. It just goes to show that anything can happen in an Olympic final.

After the race, Cheruiyot credited her manager Ricky Simms (Yes Usain Bolt’s agents also coaches and represents many Kenyan stars) for coming up with a plan to beat Ayana. They decided before the race to let Ayana go if she was running under 68 seconds a lap as she might not be able to hold it. That is exactly what happened and Cheruiyot finally has that elusive Olympic gold.

Shelby Houlihan Wanted to Do Better But Ready to Learn from This

Shelby Houlihan finished 11th in her first Olympic final but was hoping to do better. “Ultimately I wanted to medal but I knew that was a really high school… I wanted to be top 8,” she said.

Houlihan, however, knows how far she has come in her first year running the 5000 as a pro. In college, @shelbo800 was primarily and 800/1500 runner. Her coach broached the idea of her moving to the 5000m this year and she took a crack at it indoors and had immediate success running 15:06.22 (she would improve to 15:06.14 at the Olympic Trials). It was around that time she said she stopped getting dropped by her Bowerman Track Club teammates in longer workouts. She was a legitimate 5k runner.

Shelby said she still has trouble gauging how much she has left in the tank when running the 5000, but didn’t feel great today.

“They went out conservatively which I felt really good about, and then the gear changed and I tried to stay with that second pack. Once they started to cut it down the last mile I was just trying to hang on and they pulled away from me a little bit and I was struggling a bit,” she said.

Houlihan now will return to her roots, running some 800 and 1500s and maybe a 3k in Europe before calling it a season. She originally thought her first Olympics would be 2020 in Tokyo and now that she’s had the Olympic experience she wants “to learn from any mistakes I made and move forward.”

Are the Aussies better at the women’s 5k than the Americans?

After Kenya and Ethiopia, Australia was clearly the third-best country in this race, going 9-10-12. That was clearly better than the U.S. showing as Shelby Houlihan, the sole American in the race, finished 11th. However, you have to factor in who didn’t run for the Americans. U.S. champ Molly Huddle is in the shape of her life sat out the 5k to get ready for the New York City Marathon and likely would have finished in the top six here tonight. Emily Infeld could have run this event in Rio but skipped it as well; Abbey D’Agostino missed out on the final due to the torn ACL she suffered in the prelims, but it’s hard to say whether she would have made the final without falling, let alone finished in the top 10 (Kim Conley did not advance from the prelims). Then you get into hypotheticals. Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury have run fast 5,000s in the past and likely would have beaten the Australians here, but they were never going to run the 5k in Rio.

If you held a one-off race between the countries with all of their top runners — Simpson, Rowbury, Huddle, etc. — included the Americans obviously come out on top. But you can only race who’s there on the day and clearly the Aussies were far better than the Americans at this distance at this Olympics.

Genevieve LaCaze PR’d AGAIN

We’ve written this as a quick take three times now in Rio, but it continues to astound: she has run 21 races in 2016 and PR’d in almost two-thirds of them (13). That includes the steeple final and both rounds of the 5,000. Though LaCaze PR train was slowing recently (the big jumps were coming down to a second or two), the fast final two miles tonight got it rolling again as she knocked a full 10 seconds off the 15:20 she ran in the prelims, clocking 15:10.35. Though that was only good for 12th place (third among the Aussies), LaCaze leaves Rio with a ninth-place finish in the steeple and a 12th place in the 5k. Not bad considering she had made zero World or Olympic finals before this year.

More coverage: How Vivian Cheruiyot Took Down Almaz Ayana to Finally Become Olympic Champion

Talk about the race in the meantime on our messageboard:

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards