BERLIN, August 22 – If anyone had offered Kenya one gold medal from the women’s 5,000 and 10,000 metres races at the start of the World championships, the East Africa nation would have bitten your hand off.
After all, Kenya had only ever won one gold medal in these two distances – 10,000 metres back in 1997 and despite its rich athletics tradition, had never won the women’s 5,000 metres crown.
But exactly a week after Linet Masai won gold on the opening night of the championships in that famous 10,000 metres final, her training partner Vivian Cheruiyot produced yet another masterclass in distance running to win Kenya’s first ever gold in the women’s 5,000 metres.
She did not have to come with igneous ways to win it. No, she has just took the Masai script and simply applied it in her race to perfection.
The races were a carbon copy of each other. Very slow start with the pace picking up with 2000 metres to go before an explosive finish.
After the first half of the race ran in unbearably slow pace on a beautiful warm night in the German capital, the petite athlete took to the front with four laps to go pushing the pace up lap by lap and all over a sudden, the field was now being stretched.
At the bell, reigning world champion Meseret Defar made her move but Cheruiyot would hear none of it.
It was neck and neck on the final bend but even though Defar had a slight advantage, Cheruiyot was finishing stronger and she strode past the flailing Ethiopian to win in 14:57.97.
The hex had been broken. Kenya finally had a World champion over 5000m.
“I was a silver medallist in Osaka but now I am a world champion. We saw the way Linet won the 10,000 metres gold and it gave us morale. Because I train with her and use the same programmes, I was telling myself that I should also win and in the last 100 metres I just went for it,” said an excited Cheruiyot.
It was also a personal triumph for Cheruiyot who had lost 10 out of 11 previous races against Defar before Saturday’s final.
“Normally when I race Defar I finish second. But this was my time. I believed in myself because of the training I have done in Kenya and here,” she said.
Behind her, teammate Sylvia Kibet was following through on the script and her late burst saw her beat Defar to silver. And after two consecutive fourth place finishes in Osaka 2007 and at the Beijing Olympics last year, Kibet was a happy woman.
“Am very grateful because am always fourth but this year I have made the podium. We had agreed to stick together but take the pace up after six laps. I have been training very hard and that is why I have even done my personal best this year,” said Kibet.
By their high standards, the Ethiopians are having a torrid time in Berlin. With double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba missing through injury, the onus of leading the women’s charge is being carried by Defar.
The weight however has proved too much to bear with Defar suffering a second heartbreaking loss inside a week.
“I am sorry because of the result but I have a few tough days. I had a sore throat which has become progressively worse over the last week and it affected me since I was on medication until Friday night,” said Defar.
But for the Kenyans, it has been long in coming.
“Most of the times, the Ethiopians go home with the gold medals in 5,000 and 10,000 metres but this time round they have nothing because gold medals have to Kenya and it makes me feel good,” observed Cheruiyot.
Kibet was equally forthright, “We have done a lot of training this year. They always beat us in the last lap but we prepared for that seriously this year.”
At the July 25 national trials to select the Berlin team, Cheruiyot and Kibet treated fans to an enthralling race as they duelled in the final lap with Cheruiyot emerging victories by the narrowest of margins.
And prepare they did. Working together in training and strategising on how to bring down the Ethiopians.
Even on Saturday, the trio of Kenyans worked hard to get in among the medals, “we worked as a team throughout and agreed on when to do what because we knew that if we didn’t, then they would have beaten us,” revealed Kibet.
But while the pendulum may have swung the Kenyan way in women long distance running, Defar remains convinced Ethiopia are on top.
“Ethiopian athletics is at a good stage. We have very good athletes. Even without Tirunesh Dibaba we were confident that we could win but in the end it didn’t happen but that’s sport. We will be back,” said a desolate Defar.
South Korea, Daegu city to be exact, will offer the stage for an encore for Cheruiyot or retribution from wounded Ethiopians.