Letesenbet Gidey and Joshua Cheptegei after breaking world records in Valencia (© AFP / Getty Images)
The monumental performances of Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey and Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, to break two of the sport’s most revered world records within one glorious hour, have been officially ratified.
Gidey’s 5000m mark of 14:06.62 and Cheptegei's 10,000m performance of 26:11.00 were both set at the aptly named NN Valencia World Record Day on 7 October.
Gidey went first, producing a stunning run that clipped more than four seconds from the previous record set by Tirunesh Dibaba 12 years earlier. A few minutes after the 22-year-old crossed the line, Cheptegei took his turn, churning out 25 laps of the track in an average of less than 63 seconds apiece to better Kenenisa Bekele’s 15-year-old benchmark by more than six seconds. The records for those two events had never been broken on the same day.
The two-race meeting was held at the Spanish city’s intimate Turia Stadium before a crowd limited to less than 150 due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
That scene was in stark contrast to those in Oslo, on 6 June 2008, when Dibaba took command of the world 5000m record with a 14:11.15 run and three years earlier, in Brussels on 26 August 2005, when Bekele clocked 26:17.53 to clip 2.57 seconds from his own year-old mark. The roar of capacity crowds at the events, both fixtures of the Golden League series, were crucial in those record assaults. In Brussels, the pulsating beat provided by an African expat drum orchestra added to the thunder produced by the crowd of 47,000 that packed the King Baudouin Stadium.
That was absent in Valencia, but it didn’t seem to matter to either Gidey or Cheptegei whose phenomenal form and singular focus landed both in the record books. For Cheptegei, whose performance came 54 days after he broke the world 5000m record in Monaco, where attendance was also restricted, the circumstances of the setting wasn’t anything new.
“I wanted to show the sports lovers of the world that the track is exciting," said the 24-year-old, who became the 10th man to hold the 5000m and 10,000m world record concurrently.
Pace setters brought Cheptegei through the first half in 13:07.73, before the Ugandan forged on alone over the final 12 laps. He slowed slightly over the sixth kilometre but then picked up the pace in the seventh to steadily build a gap on Bekele's legendary mark before sealing it with a 60-second final lap.
Alluding to the coronavirus pandemic, Cheptegei added, "In this difficult situation, I hope things like this can still give us joy and some hope for tomorrow."
Gidey, a cross country standout with two world U20 titles to her credit and a bronze medal finish at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, last year, arrived in Valencia with just one race on her CV this season, a solid 14:26.57 run in Monaco, but reportedly in form suggesting that she could run significantly faster.
Unlike Cheptegei, who made no secret about his planned assault on the record, Gidey opted for a more understated approach in the lead-in to the meeting, choosing to play down pre-race talk of her attack on Dibaba's mark. But her ambitions became evident when she passed the 3000-metre point nearly seven seconds ahead of world record pace. She closed the deal with back-to-back 67-second laps before crossing the finish.
“I have been dreaming about this (setting a world record) for six years,” said Gidey, who hadn't won a 5000m race since 2016. "I am very happy now."