2022 Worlds W 10,000 Preview: Is It Letesenbet Gidey’s Time to Win a Gold Medal?

By Jonathan Gault
July 14, 2022

The women’s 10,000 meters is the first distance final of the 2022 World Championships. Recent global finals in this event have featured a world record no one saw coming in Rio, Almaz Ayana lapping all but three athletes in London, Sifan Hassan closing in 3:59 for her last 1500 in Doha, and Hassan winning gold in Tokyo — her third Olympic medal in nine days. The buildup to this year’s race has featured a number of twists and turns, including the absence of Hassan for most of this season, an injury to Francine Niyonsaba, the emergence of Elise Cranny as a potential medal contender only for her to withdraw from the 10,000 at USAs, and the return of Hellen Obiri. If anyone tells you they know what is going to happen in this race, they’re lying.

With a start time of 12:20 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, the race will be held in the midday sun (the current forecast calls for temps around 74 and a dew point of 58 — it could be a lot worse), adding another element to deal with alongside 25 grueling laps of the Hayward Field track. Let’s try to get an idea of what might — I say, might — happen in Saturday’s final.

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Final: Saturday, July 16, 3:20 p.m. ET

2021 Olympic results
1. Sifan Hassan, Netherlands 29:55.32
2. Kalkidan Gezahegne, Bahrain 29:56.18
3. Letesenbet Gidey, Ethiopia 30:01.72
4. Hellen Obiri, Kenya 30:24.27
5. Francine Niyonsaba, Burundi 30:41.93

2022’s fastest performers (among women entered)
1. Eilish McColgan, Great Britain 30:19.02
2. Letesenbet Gidey, Ethiopia 30:44.27
3. Ejgayehu Taye, Ethiopia 30:44.68
4. Margaret Kipkemboi, Kenya 30:45.00
5. Bosena Mulatie, Ethiopia 30:47.55

Is It Gidey’s Time?

Coming off last year’s Olympics, Letesenbet Gidey‘s chances for gold in this event at the 2022 Worlds didn’t look great. Gidey may be the world record holder at 29:01.03, but she only earned the bronze in Tokyo, getting blasted by Hassan and Bahrain’s Kalkidan Gezahegne over the final 100m. Plus Francine Niyonsaba, the fifth-placer in that race, went on a post-Olympic tear, suggesting the capability of a much stronger finish in Eugene.

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But a few recent developments have thrown this event into disarray. Hassan, exhausted from her 1500-5k-10k Olympic triple in Tokyo, took months to return to serious training and did not race until July 7, a week before Worlds, running 15:13 for 5,000 meters. Though she described her effort in that race as a “tempo,” she did not look particularly comfortable. Do not expect the 2021 version of Hassan in Eugene.

Gezahegne, who emerged from nowhere to take the silver in Tokyo, has returned to nowhere and has not raced at all in 2022. If you’re following at home, that’s zero races in 2019, zero races in 2020, Olympic silver in 2021, zero races in 2022. Nothing suspicious about that at all.

The Olympic fourth-placer, two-time world 5,000 champion Hellen Obiri, said she was retiring from the track at the end of 2021 to focus on the roads. And though she’s run well on the roads this year (30:15 10k/64:22 half), Obiri is back running the 10,000 at Worlds. Olympic fifth-placer Niyonsaba was supposed to be at Worlds as well but announced on Monday she will miss the event with a stress fracture.

So who’s the favorite? It can’t be Hassan; too many questions about her fitness. Heck, it’s possible she doesn’t even run this as she’s entered in the 1500, 5k, and 10k but her coach Tim Rowberry told LetsRun she won’t run all three. Gezahegne is out. Obiri doesn’t have the speed she used to and has always been a better 5,000 runner anyway (she failed to medal in the 10,000 in 2019 and 2021). Niyonsaba is out too. By default, Letesenbet Gidey almost has to be the favorite — which she deserves considering she ran 29:01.03 last year.

And it’s not as if Gidey’s been bad on the track this year. Though she hasn’t won a race, her results require some context. At Pre, she went for the world record in the 5,000 but totally ran out of gas at the end and was beaten by Ejgayehu Taye, but she still ran 14:24.59. At the Ethiopian trials, she beat all the Ethiopians but was only second in the race as she (and the rest of the field) let Brit Eilish McColgan go early and showed no interest in chasing her. In Gidey’s third race, the 5,000 in Oslo, she was simply beaten by a great performance: Dawit Seyaum ran 14:25 and closed in 60.0 — and closing has never been Gidey’s strength — as Gidey ran 14:26.

But Gidey is good at setting a quick pace. Remember, she ran an otherworldly 62:52 in her half marathon debut last year. She also owns world records in the 5,000 and 10,000. She loves to grind. And unlike 2019 and 2021, Hassan may not be fit enough to hang with her and blow her away at the end this time.

There are other women who could win. Obiri has historically been much better in the 5,000 but she was so good in that event that she has to at least be considered here, especially with Niyonsaba out and Hassan at less than 100%. Ejgayehu Taye blasted Gidey at Pre and was just .41 behind her in the Ethiopian trials; clearly she can win as well. Kenya’s Margaret Kipkemboi (2019 5k silver, 14:27 pb) was also in that Ethiopian trials race, finishing just .32 behind Taye, so she has to be in the mix, but she was only third at the Kenyan Trials behind Obiri and Sheila Chepkirui Kiprotich (though Kiprotich may not even make it to Eugene — she still did not have a visa as of Wednesday). The third member of the Ethiopian team, Bosena Mulatie, is just 20 years old and making her global championship debut. She probably won’t win but any 20-year-old who makes the Ethiopian team clearly has talent.

Great Britain’s Eilish McColgan is due some respect here, too. Just because she beat all the Ethiopians in their trials race in Hengelo doesn’t mean she can do the same in Eugene. But her 30:19 in that race showed impressive fitness, and she’s run 14:45 and 66:26 on the roads this year in the 5k and half marathon. A win here would be incredibly cool for her family — her mom Liz won this race in 1991 — but she’s a longshot and her last race before Worlds went horribly (she DNF’d, later citing a cold).

The Americans

If you noticed above, this event isn’t super deep this year. Could the door be open for an American to follow in the footsteps of Kara Goucher (2007), Shalane Flanagan (2008), and Emily Infeld (2015) and win a medal in this event?

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The best bet for an American medal is US champ Karissa Schweizer. Schweizer is #6 in the field by season’s best, but her time of 30:49 came at USAs where Schweizer ran a humongous negative split of 15:50/14:59. She can go waaay faster right now. She’s also got great speed at the moment, running 4:00 for 1500 this spring and finishing a close 4th at that event at USAs. Though if we’re taking results at other distances into account, we should also note Schweizer didn’t win the US 5k title and had to dig deep just to hold Infeld off for 2nd in that race (though Schweizer was doubling back from the 1500 a day earlier).

Schweizer would need to beat four out of Hassan, Gidey, Taye, Mulatie, Kipkemboi, and McColgan to medal. That will be tough, but it’s within the realm of possibility with a fantastic race (especially if Hassan isn’t 100%). Schweizer was only 12th in this event in last year’s Olympics but was fighting through an Achilles injury at the time. Her pbs at other distances (4:00/8:25/14:23) say she should be competitive in this race.

US runner-up Alicia Monson hung with Schweizer for 24 laps at USAs but it’s hard to see her contending for a medal as the Africans are stronger than her and Monson doesn’t have a world-class kick. The third American, Natosha Rogers, has no shot at a medal but for the 31-year-old to finally be at a global champs on the track after bursting onto the scene as a collegian a decade ago is a pretty cool story.

Who wins the women's 10,000 at Worlds?

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JG prediction: 1. Gidey 2. Taye 3. Hassan

Gidey and Taye have both been running well this year and were a close 1-2 in the Ethiopian trials (if you ignore McColgan’s breakaway — something the pack won’t let happen again at Worlds). In an event with little certainty this year, I’ll stick with that order. At her best, Hassan is the class of this field, but post-Olympic hangovers can be tough, especially when you take on a workload like Hassan did in Tokyo. Still, if she’s so talented and so tough that it’s also hard to see her not at least contending for a medal. If she runs this event, I’ll take her for bronze; if not, I’ll roll with Kipkemboi. I know Obiri beat Kipkemboi at the Kenyan trials, but it wasn’t by much (.34) and Kipkemboi finished right behind Gidey and Taye at the Ethiopian trials — the two women I have going 1-2 in this race.

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