Almaz Ayana (© Gladys Chai)
Almaz Ayana missed out on the world 5000m record by five seconds at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat two weeks ago and came, agonisingly, even closer in Rome as she stopped the clock at 14:12.59 on Thursday (2), just 1.44 off the mark set by her Ethiopian compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba eight years ago.
It was an IAAF Diamond League record. It was a meeting record at the Italian one-day showpiece. It was the fastest time run this year. It was the second-fastest time ever run.
But, despite her dazed smile in the aftermath of achieving all those accolades, it wasn’t what Ayana wanted.
As the last pacemaker dropped away with seven laps remaining, Ayana was in a race of her own, more than half a lap clear. She was running easily, no strain showing on her face, and passed 3000m in 8:30.43.
The laps clicked down, and it seemed the world champion was on the brink of reaching the prize she has sought all season.
With three laps left, she clocked 10:48.8. With two left, the time was 11:58.00.
An increase in speed on the penultimate lap saw her clock 13:06.5 at the bell. She needed a final lap of under 65 seconds, but couldn’t quite make it.
It was a measure of Ayana’s outstanding effort that Kenya’s 2013 world silver medallist Mercy Cherono should register a personal best of 14:33.95 and still be adrift by almost the length of the home straight.
Cherono’s compatriot Viola Kibiwot was third with 14:34.39.
Kipruto prospers from Birech's fall
The men’s 3000m steeplechase produced the expected rivalry between the two young Kenyans who have dominated the Diamond Race in their event in the past three seasons, Conseslus Kipruto and Jairus Birech, but with an unexpected and bruising twist.
It was a two-man race from just after the first kilometre, but as the pair negotiated the second hurdle on the final lap, it became a one-man race as Birech fell.
Kipruto, at whose shoulder he had been running, went on unencumbered to victory in 8:01.41, the last of four world-leading marks set on the night.
There was some rueful shaking of heads at the end as Birech, who had quickly picked himself up from the infield and resumed running, came home second in 8:11.39.
“Despite the win, I am very, very disappointed,” said Kipruto. “I wanted to run under 7:57. I tried to push it too hard and it did not work.”
Caster Semenya looks an unstoppable force as she moves closer and closer to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The South African equalled her world lead of 1:56.64 set in Rabat in registering her third win in as many IAAF Diamond League outings.
After coasting along in the middle of the pack, the 2009 world champion moved up on the outside on the back straight, and as she entered the final bend she was on the shoulder of the leader, Burundi’s world indoor champion Francine Niyonsaba, moving past her as they entered the final straight before establishing a 15-metre lead by the line.
Behind her, Niyonsaba clocked 1:58.20 ahead of Great Britain’s Lynsey Sharp, who recorded a season’s best of 1:59.03.
“Now I need to be consistent, to maintain this shape until the Olympics,” said Semenya. “My dream, my main goal, is of course Olympic gold. I am very pleased with the time.”
There was a similarly decisive display in the 400m hurdles, where Jamaica’s Janieve Russell clocked a world-leading 53.96. She held on to the lead she had established by the final straight, with South Africa’s Wenda Nel coming through late to take second place in 54.61 as the challenge of European champion Eilidh Doyle faltered, the Briton finishing third in 54.81.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF