(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
MOSCOW (17-Aug) -- On the penultimate day for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics at Luzhniki Stadium, Ethiopia's Meseret Defar and Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich followed up their 2012 Olympic titles with convincing wins in the 5000m and marathon here, respectively. Defar now has four global 5000m titles: two at the Olympic Games and two at the World Championships, plus one silver medal and three bronzes. She won her last title in six years ago.
"This world championships very important to me," Defar told reporters in English. She continued: "I run six world championships and I have two gold medals; I also have silver and bronze. This big achievement for me."
Defar, 29, made her victory look easy. She simply followed the moderate early pace set by America's Kim Conley and Poland's Dominika Nowakowska who went through 2000m in 6:14.02. Spain's Dolores Checa was the next to lead, but she was soon moving backwards with Ethiopian steeplechaser Almaz Ayana --with Defar in tow-- squeezed down the pace to about 71 seconds per lap. Ayana then put in two 68-second circuits, and only she, Defar, and Kenyans Viola Kibiwot and Mercy Cherono could hold the pace.
"I moved out and wanted to go with them (but held back)," said the USA's Shannon Rowbury who would finish seventh. She added: "I was just lacking that confidence."
Ayana ran the penultimate lap in 67.3 seconds, and that was enough to put Kibiwot out of medal contention. Like a leadout rider in a bicycle race, Ayana set up her teammate perfectly for the final circuit. Defar moved into the lead coming out of the backstretch, and sailed to the finish line alone in 14:50.19. She ran the final lap in 59.9 seconds. Defar said she was relieved to have won.
"Yes, big pressure for me," she said in response to a reporter's question. She continued: "I am so happy for my performance to take a gold medal again."
Cherono, 22, who finished sixth at these championships in Daegu in 2011 and was twice the world junior champion at 3000m, was not ready to surrender to Ayana who was still in front of her. She chased the petite Ethiopian around the final turn then eased past her with about 30 meters to go to clinch the silver in 14:51.22, just 11/100ths ahead of Ayana.
"I thought I could make it because I have a lot of strength," Cherono said quietly. She added: "I am so happy because of my medal."
For the 21 year-old Ayana, it was her first medal at a senior championships. Wearing her yellow team jacket zipped fully up to her chin, she sat quietly at the post-race press conference. She offered one comment: "I was very comfortable, and the results were great too, especially since it was my first time. I'm extremely happy."
American Molly Huddle was the first non-African finisher, ending the race in sixth place in 15:05.73, the highest finish ever by an American woman at a World Championships 5000m. She was proud of her achievement, but had hoped for more.
"I'm trying as hard as I can to break into the top three," said Huddle. "The last 2-K, it's just another world out there. Today was a big step for me. I felt like that was in me the last three years, but I didn't have the fresh legs to do it after a prelim until today."
Like Defar, Kiprotich had to be patient in order to win the gold medal. On a bright, but not too-hot day, he ignored surges by early leaders Solonei Rocha Da Silva of Brazil and Hafid Chani of Morocco, but he was sure to cover the more serious moves by Ethiopia's burly Tadesse Tola who had an 11-second lead through 10 km before coming back.
"The pace wasn't fast," Tola told Race Results Weekly. "It was not difficult."
Indeed, 17 men were still in the leading group at halfway (1:05:12), and another four were within four seconds of the leaders.
A little past the 25-K mark (1:17:11) where a promotional poster featuring Usain Bolt had been erected by the side of the road, Tola made another surge and for the first time the athletes were running single file. That surge took the lead pack down to 14 by 30-K, which set up the race's big move. One hour and 35 minutes into the race, Kiprotich went to the front and broke up the race. That thinned the lead pack down to just six by 35-K: Kiprotich, Tola, Kenya's Peter Some, Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa and Tsegaye Kebede, and Japan's Kentaro Nakamoto.
"I decided to break off, but my competitors were strong and I had to apply some tactics," Kiprotich said.
Kebede, who won the Virgin London Marathon last April and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last October, complained that he had a cramp which slowed him down today.
"I come here to finish high, but I get cramp," Kebede said in halting English.
In the 37th kilometer, Kiprotich made his biggest surge of the race. Kebede and Nakamoto went off the back leaving the leading Kiprotich to deal only with Tola and Desisa, who won both the Dubai and Boston Marathons earlier this year but later reported that he was sick to his stomach this morning and had vomited after breakfast. The medals would come from these three, and Kiprotich wanted to make sure his was gold.
"They did not expect me to win the Olympics, and now I proved I am a champion," Kiprotich would say later.
Kiprotich cruised through the service roads surrounding Luzhniki Stadium alone, and had enough time to salute fans both outside the stadium and after he began his final lap on the stadium's blue track. The crowd roared with approval when he broke the tape in 2:09:51.
"Last time Olympics was better," Kiprotich quipped to reporters. "Now this is better."
Desisa finished a clear second in 2:10:12, a remarkable performance considering that he has run three marathons in eight months this year. Tola, who said his legs were shot by 40-K, got third in 2:10:23, well ahead of Kebede (2:10:47). Nakamoto was a surprise fifth in 2:10:50, much to the delight of the big Japanese press corps which has assembled here. They had hoped to see "salary man" Yuki Kawauchi run well, but struggled to finish 18th and had to be taken off the track for medical attention.
American Jeff Eggleston finished a commendable 13th in 2:14:23; he had only been in 28th place at 25-K.
"I was listening at the aid stations from the team staff, and with a lap to go I was probably 20th or 22nd," Eggleston told Race Results Weekly. "I just passed (Yuki) Kawachi, so I was pretty excited about that."
Eggleston's legs buckled right after he finished. Unable to stand, he had to be helped off of the track by officials.
"I ran out of gas," Eggleston said with a hearty laugh. "I was really hurting at 41-K, but once you got into the stadium, the adrenaline really kicked in."
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The 14th IAAF World Championships in Athletics concludes Sunday. The middle and long distance events on the schedule are the men's 1500m and women's 800m finals.
Photo: Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda winning the 2013 world marathon title in Moscow. Photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly; used with permission.