Tirunesh Dibaba celebrates winning gold in the 5000m (© Getty Images)
The distance races in the Stade de France brought some of the greatest moments of the 9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Paris 2003 Saint Denis (23 – 31 August), which concluded on Sunday evening. Ken Nakamura gives us his analysis of events:
Multiple records were set in the women's 10000m. Not only was the winning time the third fastest in history, but the best-mark-for-places (fastest time for the given positions) were set for 2nd to 16th places. Eight runners broke 31 minutes barrier, surpassing the previous best of six in Sydney.
The race started fast. The opening 1000m split, 2:59.62, was the second fastest (the fastest is the 2002 European Champs race with 2:59.16) in history. Surging just before the 2000m, Sun Yingjie made a valiant attempt to win the race! She had to take sting out of the kickers with a fast pace.
However, the Ethiopians covered her move, and thus began the greatest women's 10,000m race in history. The opening 5000m split, 15:06.53, was also the second fastest in history. (the fastest is 15:05.70 in Sydney). In spite of starting out so fast, the final 5000m was covered in 14:57.35, the fastest in history. The outcome of the race was uncertain until the last lap, with Berhane Adere producing some last lap magic.
On the other hand, the women's 5000m was statistically a mediocre race at best. No records (in a wider context) were set, and Sun with stomach problem was not able to make the race. Memorable it was though on an emotional level, as Ethiopia's World junior record holder Tirunesh Dibaba defeated her senior colleagues with a brilliant 14:51.72 win.
The men's 10,000m was a beautiful spectacle. The records were set, and Haile Gebrselassie made a valiant attempt to win, albeit in a very unconventional way for him.
The leader covered the last 5000m of the 10,000m in 12:57.24. Not only this split was the fastest closing 5000m in the championships 10,000m (the previous record was 13:12.12, recorded in Atlanta), but it was also the fastest 5000m in a global championships surpassing the 12:58.13 Salah Hissou recorded when he won the 5000m in Sevilla'99. The record, however, only lasted a week, broken in the 5000m final.
The difference between the closing 5000m splits (12:57.24) and the 5000m World record (12:39.36) was 17.88 seconds, which is a record. The previous best of 18.4 seconds (13:31.4 for the closing 5000m when the World Record was 13:13.0) was recorded in the 1976 Olympics.
Hicham El Guerrouj won the last three World Championships 1500m. However, in both Sevilla and in Edmonton (and also in Sydney), he had his countryman pace the first part of the race to his advantage. Some wondered if he could win the "real" championships race anymore. In Paris, for the first time since the 1997 Worlds, he was the only Moroccan in the 1500m final, so he had to do all the work himself, and he won the race with great courage and style.
El Guerrouj was expected to go for the sustained drive, which is his strength. He did just that. With 900m to go he took the lead and stayed there for the rest of the race. Later he confirmed "I intended to run the last 1000m hard."
With El Guerrouj's victory in the 1500m and Bekele's victory in the 10,000m, the showdown was set for the 5000m, just like Paris Olympic Games 79 years ago between the Finns Nurmi (won 1500m) and Ritola (won 10,000m). However, the Kenyan men were so far in Paris without a gold medal; they had even lost the 3000m Steeplechase. The 5000m was their last chance.
The highly anticipated 5000m final did not disappoint anybody. Everyone did what they were supposed to do to win. Bekele started the race really fast. The opening 1000m was near record 2:31.94 (the record is 2:31.76 in 1993 Worlds). Although the pace slackened in the middle, El Guerrouj did what he had to do to win. He took the lead with 900m to go, as he did in the 1500m. His attempt to take the sting out of the kickers had begun.
This resulted in the fastest ever closing 1000m, 2:24.33, in the global championships, surpassing the record 2:25.16 set in the 1983 at Helsinki. Unfortunately, for El Guerrouj, it was not fast enough; he was outkicked by Eluid Kipchoge.
Women’s 1500m and 5000m double attempt
Finally it should be noted that Yelena Zadorzhnaya challenged an even tougher double than El Guerrouj. She ran both the 1500m (8th) and 5000m (4th).
The 1500m was won by her compatriot Tatyana Tomashova in a championships record of 3:58.52, after Turkey’s heroine Süreyya Ayhan failed to break the will of the opposition in her usual style, leading to an impressive final assault from Tomashova.
However unlike El Guerrouj who was finished with the 1500m before attacking the 5000m, Zadorzhnaya had to go back and forth between 1500m and 5000m. Even El Guerrouj admitted that "Running 5000m a day after the 1500m was tough, because of the different rhythm in the race."
Zadorzhnaya’s remarkable week went as follows – Tue 26 Aug 5000m Heat; Wed 27 Aug 1500m heat; Thu 29 Aug 1500m semi; Sat 30 Aug 5000m Final; Sun 31 Aug 1500m final.
In Stade de France, we have seen distance races that captured our imagination. Anybody fortunate enough to be in the stadium will remember them for a long time.