Her surname means “bold” and it took a move of some bravado by Meseret Defar, the Olympic champion, in the Nagai Stadium tonight to strike her first World Championships gold at 5,000m. The silver medallist in Helsinki when she’d made “a tactical error”, Defar, the world record-holder, now has a full set of track and field’s most cherished titles.
Defar took the lead with two laps to go at the end of a slow race, and held her advantage to the line thanks to a devastating finishing kick from 200m out. With a last lap of 58.6, the world record-holder’s blistering pace was simply too much for her opponents and she crossed the line in 14min 57.91sec.
“I only had one goal today at my third World Championships,” she said. “I achieved the world record this year and I wanted the gold medal. Finally, I am the world champion.”
Other than 2001 in Edmonton, this was the slowest winning time in a World Championships final. But Defar won’t mind about that – he has maintained Ethiopia’s utter dominance of women’s distance running.
“I ran for my country and I wanted the gold medal and today I was sure I would win,” she said.
Through Tirunesh Dibaba in 2003 and 2005, and now Defar, the east African nation has notched up a hat trick of golds in this event to go with the six 10,000m titles its women runners have won since 1999.
But unlike Helsinki when Ethiopians filled the first four places, there was no sweep of the medals this time as a trio of Kenyans raced in to take positions two to four.
Just as when she broke the world record in June, Defar was followed home by Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya who claimed the silver in 14:58.50 with Priscah Jepleting, who was seventh in 2005, this time claiming the bronze in 14:59.21.
For the 23-year-old Cheruiyot, an Olympic finallist at 17, it was a first global championship medal and confirmation of her rising talent.
“I am so excited about my silver medal,” she said. “I was expecting to be second because Meseret is very strong, especially on the last lap. But Kenya came second, third and fourth – this is extraordinary.”
With the withdrawal of Dibaba, the defending champion, Defar knew this was her race to win and she looked full of confidence on the start line, smiling and waving to the crowd.
With a packed stadium for the first time, the Japanese fans were in full voice, and a cautious start by the favourites gave Kayoko Fukushi a chance to shine on the biggest stage she’ll ever have in her home country.
She moved into an early lead, but it wasn’t quick – a 69-second first lap. Defar immediately dropped in behind her, shadowed by Jepleting, but at this pace they were barely stretching their legs.
Fukushi had the limelight to herself for the first kilometre, but it was no surprise that the following order read Ethiopia, Kenya, Kenya, Ethiopia. It looked on course to be one of the slowest finals ever, as the laps slowed to 73sec – a virtual jog for some of these runners, but in this heat not entirely unexpected.
Defar was content to follow the Japanese runner through 2km in 6:04.69. Someone had to do something at some point or the fast finishers among the Ethiopians would run away with it.
At 3k (9:11.99) Cheruiyot moved to the front followed by Defar, Jepleting and Turkey’s 10,000m silver medallist Elvan Abeylegesse, as Fukushi was swallowed up.
The fourth kilometre (12:13.05) was quicker at 3:01.06 but of the the 15 finallists, 12 were still in touch.
That didn’t last for long, however, as with two laps to go Defar moved to the head of the pack and stretched her legs for a 71sec lap followed initially by her teammate Meselech Melkamu, the unlucky fourth Ethiopian from two years ago.
Cheruiyot, Jepleting and another Kenyan Sylvia Kibet were also on her tail, along with Abeylegesse. At the front, Defar put her foot down again with 300m to go as Cheruiyot moved into position to strike, and yet again with 200m left to open a gap on her Kenyan chasers that proved decisive.
Melkamu faded in the home straight as Defar took the line with her arms stretched wide. Just as Kenenisa Bekele had done after the men’s 10,000m final, she held up a sign for the cameras marking the Ethiopian Millennium, and draped a national flag around her shoulders. In Helsinki, she’d been second in line as four Ethiopians took the applause. This time it was a lone lap of honour.
“In the last lap I controlled the situation in the first 200m and then started the kick,” she said. “Now I am the champion and that is great.”
Osaka 2007 News Team/mkb