Almaz Ayana and Helen Obiri
The early stages of the 5000m final played out in an almost identical manner to the 10,000m with Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana making a huge surge after a ponderous opening to proceedings but while the Kenyan challenge fettered away in the 10,000m, Hellen Obiri produced an irresistible burst of speed on the last lap to deny the reigning champion a much vaunted long distance double.
Ayana ground the field into submission in the 10,000m on the second day of the championships and she made her intent clear in the 5000m final with a fourth lap of 65.57, followed by 66.21 for the fifth lap. These lap times represented world record pace for the distance but Obiri was more than content – and confident enough – to sit in her slipstream while the field splintered behind the leaders.
After a season blighted by a leg injury and illness, Ayana looked back at her imperious best in the 10,000m but it soon became clear these exertions were catching up with the reigning champion. Two very fast laps were followed by a succession of laps in the 68-second range through three kilometres in 8:58.05 and four kilometres in 11:49.95 and while the pace was still quick by anyone’s standards, it was not fast enough to draw any of the sting out of Obiri, a sub-four minute 1500m performer in seasons gone by.
Despite possessing the superior finishing speed, Obiri made her first challenge down the back straight on the penultimate lap. Ayana successfully fended Obiri off but when the Kenyan surged again at the same point on the bell lap, Ayana had nothing in response to Obiri’s vicious kick. With a last lap of 60.11, Obiri crossed the finish line in 14:34.87 to secure her first global outdoor title, punching the air in delight.
“I was telling myself to go. I could see Ayana was not going so I thought, ‘why not?’ So I said, ‘go’. I am mentally strong so I knew I was capable,” said Obiri. “When I crossed the line I was extremely happy, and just wanted to celebrate. All my emotions came out. I wanted the 5000m gold a lot.”
Ayana was being chased down by the fast-finishing Sifan Hassan on the last lap but the Ethiopian had enough of a buffer to hang onto silver medal position in 14:40.36. Ayana’s championships ended with her relinquishing her 5000m title but she was still more than pleased with her achievements given her chequered build-up to the championships.
“Compared to Rio this is a bigger achievement,” she said. “I’ve had many injuries this year so I am very happy with two medals. I have been injured for the whole season and haven’t been able to get over it. The pain came back after the 10,000m. I did my best today but Hellen was too good at finishing.”
Ayana also missed out on the 5000m title at the Olympic Games last summer when a stomach ailment left her weakened but she is still keen to attempt the same demanding double in future global championships. “But I won’t give up going for 5000m and 10,000m. I won gold and bronze in Rio and now gold and silver, so this is a step up,” she said.
Hassan described the 1500m final as a “nightmare” but she managed to salvage something from what would have been an otherwise disappointing championships with bronze in 14:42.73. She hinted this medal might even precipitate a change in her focus in years to come.
“Believe me, this is my event,” said Hassan. “In time I will keep up with the best, Ayana and Obiri, I just have to work at the event.”
||Hellen Onsando OBIRI
||Margaret Chelimo KIPKEMBOI
||Sheila Chepkirui KIPROTICH