2009 – End of Year Reviews – LONG DISTANCE, Track

With Kenenisa Bekele committed to the 2009 Ã…F Golden League series the world this year was treated to five top 5000m races featuring the World record holder, three before the World Championships and two after.

However, it turned out that the other top runners were too shy in the presence of the legend Bekele. So rather than really trying to challenge him they were content with following his actions. This was especially surprising in the first three races in Berlin, Oslo and Rome where it was very obvious that Bekele was still in the process of getting back into top shape after losing much winter training due to injury.

But that fact still didn’t inspire any of the other runners to take the initiative in any of the races to put Bekele into a situation where he had to weigh his options for response. Instead the races were allowed to develop completely according to Bekele’s own wishes which in June and July meant saving energy for a decisive last lap sprint. He won in Berlin by 0.32 from Abraham Chebii, in Oslo by 0.59 from James Kwalia and Rome by 1.39 from Mark Kiptoo.

Just as the margins grew so did Bekele’s form and confidence and when he in Paris concluded his pre-Worlds schedule by running his fourth Golden League race he did it in a more Bekelesque fashion. The distance this time was 3000m and Bekele was on the offensive from the start and simply ran the opposition – headed by reigning 5000m World champion Bernard Lagat – into the ground.

In Berlin the 10,000m was Bekele’s priority but after securing that gold he decided to also contest the 5000m. And once more it was demonstrated that he has achieved such a status among his opponents that they never even dare to try to unsettle him with some unexpected move. Despite a really slow pace Bekele was allowed to lead the race more or less from start to finish and on the homestraight he managed to stave off also Lagat’s final challenge.

Strengthened by his two gold medals in Berlin Bekele ran his final two Golden League races – Zurich and Brussels – with a much more aggressive approach and thereby helped many other runners to improve which is clearly reflected on the world list where seven of the top eight times were set in these two races.

So the general conclusion for 2009 must be that the world elite at 5000m consists of two groups, one group is made up of Kenenisa Bekele and one group is made up of all the others who can finish in any order on a given day! This second group was dominated by Kenyans (12 of top-20) but also included three more Ethiopians, three US runners and one Ugandan.

Ethiopians reigned in the women’s long distance running in 2009 like usual. But at least there was something new this year as the 2008 double Olympic champion over 5000m/10,000m, Tirunesh Dibaba, didn’t take part to the World Championships leaving the field open for others. Things seemed to go their usual way before Berlin with two Ethiopians topping both the 5000m and 10,000m world list, but after all there was a change at the medal podium in the end. Kenya and Ethiopia both grabbed three medals, but both golden ones and a silver belonged to Kenya this time. In the steeplechase it was finally a top finish for 34-year-old Marta Dominguez of Spain. The veteran who moved to the steeplechase last season after two silvers in the 5000m distance at World Championships, had been extremely unlucky in Beijing falling down in the Olympic steeplechase final, but had her reward in Berlin finally getting a golden finish she had been waiting for so long.


It wasn’t quite the record breaking season for 5000m last summer, but there still were some fast races. Two countries as usual combined for the 11 top spots in the 2009 world list. Kenya and Ethiopia have created a very strong dominance in the women’s long distance running which others are finding impossible to challenge. 24-year-old Meselech Melkamu of Ethiopia won in Ostrava in June clocking a world leading 14:34.17 time holding off a challenge from Kenyan Linet Masai who finished in 14:34.36. Double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba later on took the world lead with a 14:33.65 win in London in July, but did not run in Berlin.

Only 22 athletes started in the Berlin heats to see only seven athletes dropped from the final. The final in Berlin was a slow one, but that didn’t change things at the top. Kenyans and Ethiopians dominated the race and there was a new winner at the finish line. 26-year-old Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot had finished second in Osaka two years ago and was now able to better that result with a gold medal in Berlin clocking 14:57.97. Sylvia Kibet finished in the silver medal position to give the upper hand to Kenya in these World Champs in 14:58.33. The reigning World champion Meseret Defar had to surrender this time finishing third in 14:58.41 while the first six places went to Kenya and Ethiopia.

Dibaba returned to competition at the World Athletics Final, but this time Defar was better clocking 15:25.31 before Dibaba’s 15:25.92 for second place. World champion Cheruiyot faded to third place this time in 15:26.21.

Japan has the best depth in this event with 17 in the world top 100. Kenya has 16 and United States 15 with Ethiopia in fourth at 14.


There were a couple of new athletes under the magical 30 minutes limit in the women’s 10,000m this season. Meselech Melkamu of Ethiopia ran the world leading 29:53.80 African record in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in June and countrywoman Meseret Defar clocked 29:59.20 in Birmingham, Great Britain, in July.

The reigning Olympic and World champion Tirunesh Dibaba was supposed to defend her title in Berlin having earlier recovered from an injury, but she didn’t start the race in Berlin. It was another slow race and therefore several athletes had their shot at the gold medal during the final lap. With 400m to go there were no surprises with five athletes left, three Ethiopians and two Kenyans. It was a fierce battle in which just 19-year-old Kenyan Linet Masai emerged as the winner in 30:51.24 (*). Masai has made a quick leap to the world elite following her 30:26.50 World junior record which gave her the fourth place in Beijing at the Olympics last season. Melkamu was second in 30:51.34 (*), just 0.1 seconds off the winner and Ayalew Wude Yimer clocked 30:51.95 for the bronze. Meseret Defar competed in her first major 10,000m final and lost a medal in the last strides of the race. She seemed to have the bronze medal secured, but was surprisingly overtaken by two athletes during the last few metres to finish in fifth place. Read more