By Zecharias Zelalem
After the way she destroyed the Olympic elite at last year’s Rio Olympics 10,000 final, you would have thought that the field of finalists lining up to plot her downfall at London 2017 would have had ample time to plan for and prevent a repeat performance of her Brazilian heroics.
But Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, whose world record shattering performance last year left the sporting world awestruck, wouldn’t let anyone get in the way of the same script playing out again. The Olympic and now two time world champion, simply blasted past the pack of runners in the early stages of the race and wouldn’t be heard from again until she crossed the line to win the gold in 30:16.32. For Almaz, who hadn’t taken part in a single competitive race this year, it was another mind blowing athletic performance that has left neutral observers questioning her mortality. Despite knowing what she is capable of, some predicted her lack of races this year would have her less daring, perhaps slightly less adventurous than what we saw today. It appears to have had the opposite effect: she was fresher, fitter and ultimately much more powerful than anyone else on the track.
Her teammate, 32 year old three time Olympic and five time world champion Tirunesh Dibaba meanwhile trailed Almaz among a group of about four, before breaking free and coming in at 31:02.69 to win the silver and give Ethiopia a 1-2 finish. Vintage stuff from Tirunesh. Almaz’s wasn’t a fast finish, not world record pace, not even fast enough to beat the championship record set by legendary Ethiopian runner Berhane Adere in 2003, but still enough to obliterate the finalists of this world championships. The third Ethiopian, 20 year old Dera Dida finished in fourteenth.
It was with something like sixteen laps to go that the field of runners, still running grouped together as a herd, finally saw Almaz make her way to the front. She simply sat atop the crowd for about half a lap, before deciding it was the moment to completely abscond. Almaz, whose name means “diamond,” in the Amharic language, accelerated and accelerated away from everyone with over 5,000 meters to run. There was an outside concern that she might run out of gas and be caught towards the finishing bend, the way she was when she went up against Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot in the 5,000m race in Rio last year, but there was no retaliatory move whatsoever from those who trailing her. The trailing pack, which later thinned out to about five runners made no move whatsoever to gain ground on the trailblazer who was soon far, far out of their sights anyways.
For the immaculate Almaz, perhaps the only obstacles on course to her reigning supreme in London were the lapped runners who kept getting into her way and forced her to repeatedly swerve out of her path to avoid them. One after the other, the likes of Desi Mekonnen and Shitaye Eshetu, both Ethiopian born athletes running for Bahrain, saw Almaz coming fast over their shoulders before they were swallowed up by her relentless stride. With about a hundred and fifty meters left to run, Almaz lapped a group of around six or seven runners and the crowd of lapped athletes between her and the finish line made it momentarily appear as if the gold medal was up for grabs, but the reality is that the world record holder had absolutely no-one in her vicinity by then and she crossed the line, clocking the fastest time of the year.
Behind her, Kenyans Agnes Tirop and Alice Aprop who were shadowed by Tirunesh Dibaba for most of the race, were suddenly overtaken by the veteran with about a lap to go. It later became a footrace between Tirunesh and Tirop, which has always been Dibaba sister territory, as proven numerous times by Tirunesh, her elder and younger siblings Ejigayehu and Genzebe. Tirunesh streaked ahead and wouldn’t be caught, winning her sixth world championship podium finish with her silver medal. Pleased with herself and a smile visible on her face, she ran into the embrace of the awaiting Almaz, draped in Ethiopian flags. Tirop, would take the bronze for Kenya. After Dera Dida joined her two compatriots, the three went off on a lap of honour with their national flags.
Never has a women’s 10,000m race seen the absolute domination of a final by a single athlete the way Almaz Ayana has us accustomed to witnessing. After her Rio Olympic heroics, some even questioned her integrity, with Swedish athlete Sarah Lahti making comments in post race interviews in which she stated her belief that Almaz must have taken performance enhancing drugs. But at London 2017, Almaz Ayana proved to the world that her showing in Brazil was no fluke. Lahti, who finished 12th in that Olympic final last year, ran in today’s race but dropped out without finishing.