Meseret reclaims 5k Olympic title
By KAREN CROUSE (NY Times)
LONDON — For almost a decade, the Ethiopians Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar have been locked in a heated custody battle over the 5,000 meters. They have traded world championships, world records and Olympic crowns, with Dibaba exhibiting a protective ferocity for the event for much of the last four years.
In 2008, Dibaba snatched the Olympic title from Defar on her way to becoming the first woman to win the 5,000 and the 10,000 in a single Games. On Friday night, Dibaba was trying to complete the double for a second time, and she took the lead into the last lap of a predictably tactical race.
But fatigued from her gold-medal effort in the 10,000 as well as an undisclosed pre-Games illness, Dibaba had no answer for Defar’s finishing kick. Defar, the 2004 Olympic champion, blew past her on the final curve and reclaimed her title with a time of 15 minutes 4.25 seconds. It was well short of the 12-year-old Olympic record of 14:40.79, set by Gabriela Szabo of Romania, but significantly faster than Dibaba’s 2008 winning time of 15:41.40.
In the final 20 meters, Dibaba was also passed by Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot, who swept the 5,000 and 10,000 at the world championships last year in the absence of Dibaba, who missed the competition with shin splints. Cheruiyot clocked a 15:04.73 to Dibaba’s 15:05.15.
“I gave it a good shot,” said Dibaba, who holds the world record of 14:11.15, “but I wasn’t aiming for bronze. I’m a bit disappointed, but in a way I’m not sad because I did finish in a medal position.”
Defar is the second woman to regain an Olympic title on the track. The first was Dibaba’s cousin Derartu Tulu, who won the 10,000 meters in 1992 and 2000. As she took her victory lap, Defar pulled a cloth picture of the Virgin Mary from her track top, held it aloft and kissed it.
“To win gold in one’s third Olympics is very tough,” Defar said. “This was a very decisive Olympics for me.”
She added: “At this Olympics, my focus was on one race only. I wanted to get gold in the 5,000 meters. Since 2008 I have tried everything as I wasn’t able to win the Olympics.”
During the medal ceremony, Defar, 28, cried, and her lower lip quivered as her country’s national anthem played. In the news conference that followed, she and Dibaba sat side by side but did not exchange glances. Dibaba acknowledged disappointment over not completing the double but said, “The main thing is that the gold has returned to Ethiopia, and I’m very happy about that.”
Unlike the 5,000 meters, the women’s 1,500-meter final contained no clear favorites. Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco was headed into the Games with the fastest time of the year, a 3:56.15 that she clocked in Paris last month. But she never made it to the starting line: she was suspended before the Games after failing a test for a banned diuretic.
Also missing was Nataliya Sydorenko-Tobias, the 2008 bronze medalist from Ukraine, who tested positive last month for “sophisticated doping offenses.” The absence of top contenders was reminiscent of 2008, when three Russian runners, including the 2004 silver medalist Tatyana Tomashova, were suspended because of doping suspicions.
Tomashova, 37, was in Friday’s field and finished fourth. Asli Cakir Alptekin of Turkey made history on her way to beating out her countrywoman Gamze Bulut for the gold. Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain, a two-time world champion, was third.
Cakir Alptekin, 26, the reigning European champion, crossed the finish line in 4:10.23. Bulut, 20, finished in 4:10.40, and Jamal in 4:10.74. It was Turkey’s first track and field gold medal.
“We wanted two medals, and we got them,” Cakir Alptekin said. “It’s like gaining two gold medals. Every athlete dreams of a medal in the Olympic Games. This is the Turkish power.”
Jamal’s bronze was Bahrain’s first medal at any Olympics, though the distinction comes with an asterisk. In 2008, Rashid Ramzi finished first in the men’s 1,500 meters but was later disqualified and stripped of his gold medal for a doping violation. Jamal, originally from Ethiopia, sought political refuge in Switzerland roughly a decade ago before settling in Bahrain.
“It was a really beautiful moment for me,” Jamal said. “Considering the injuries I had and the years I had to wait to win an Olympic medal, winning a bronze medal is a great achievement.” She added, “It is really hard to express the joy and the emotion I have at the moment.”
No runner from the United States has finished in the top five since the women’s 1,500 was added to the Olympic program in 1972. Morgan Uceny, the reigning United States champion and one of two Americans in the final, was aiming to change that, and the slow, tactical pace of the race favored her. But early on the bell lap, she appeared to be clipped from behind and fell to the track. It was a repeat of what happened to her at the 2011 world championships.
Uceny, 27, who posted times of 4:06.87 in the heats and 4:05.34 in the semifinals, did not finish. She left the track in tears, escorted to the locker room by a volunteer.
Lisa Dobriskey of Britain, who finished 10th, said she was not surprised that the race was marred by a fall. “There were too many bodies and too slow a race,” she said.
The other Amercian, Shannon Rowbury, who was seventh in 2008, moved up a place, to sixth.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 10, 2012
A previous version of this article misstated the country for which Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar competed at the Olympics. It is Ethiopia, not Kenya.