Meseret Defar of Ethiopia on Friday became only the second woman in history to reclaim an Olympic track gold medal when she powered past compatriot and longtime rival Tirunesh Dibaba on the homestretch of the women’s 5000 meters, thus denying Dibaba her second gold of the 2012 Olympic Games.
“I have been hoping for this day for a long time,” said Defar, who fell to her knees and wept at the finish, kissing a religious image that she had carried in her singlet during the race. Her time in victory was 15:04.25. “I’ve won Olympic and World Championships gold medals before, but this is by far the best for me.”
Kenya’s Vivan Cheruiyot took the silver medal in 15:04.73, with Dibaba earning bronze in 15:05.15 and Kenya’s Sally Kipyego finishing fourth in 15:05.79. In the 10,000 meters last week, the order of finish was Dibaba-Kipyego-Cheruiyot. Defar did not enter that event.
Defar, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, had to settle for bronze in 2008 when Dibaba took away her Olympic crown. Ironically, in 2004, Dibaba was the bronze medalist behind Defar. Each woman has now won three Olympic medals at 5000 meters; no other woman has won more than one. Before the 28-year-old Defar, the only woman to regain an Olympic title on the track was Derartu Tulu, who won gold in 1992 and 2000.
Americans Molly Huddle and Julie Culley finished 11th and 14th in 15:20.29 and 15:28.22, respectively.
The race went out slowly, with Great Britain’s Jo Pavey taking the bunched pack through 1000 meters in 3:07.58. The next two kilometers were even slower, 3:09.77 and 3:10.40. With just under four laps remaining, Dibaba—the back of her right leg swathed in blue kinesio tape— took the lead and began to wind up the pace, with Defar and Cheruiyot following.
"If we allowed Vivian to stay up until the last lap she would have taken the gold medal from [Ethiopia’s] hands,” explained Dibaba.
It was similar to the tactic that Dibaba employed against Defar in the adidas Grand Prix at Ichan Stadium in early June, except there Dibaba ran away from Defar, prevailing over her by more than six seconds.
At the bell, Dibaba took off, but was never able to put a gap on Defar; meanwhile, Cheruiyot was gaining on them both. With about 80 meters to go, Defar burst past Dibaba; about 40 meters later, Cheruiyot passed the reigning Olympic Champion as well.
“I’m not very pleased today,” said Dibaba. “I wasn’t aiming for bronze.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg