NAIROBI. Kenya, August 10- Kenya’s ‘Pocket Rocket’ Vivian Cheruiyot came within the thickness of a vest to craft a legendary crowning to her glittering career but painfully lost the women 5000m Olympic gold to an all too familiar foe from the North.
Ethiopian Meseret Defar deprived her teammate Tirunesh Dibaba an Olympic double for a second time when she produced a home-stretch sprint to claim victory on Friday night in addition to thwarting her long time Kenyan rival of the top medal she longed for.
Defar, who also won the 5000m at the Athens Games in 2004, timed a relatively slow 15: 04.25, with world champion Cheruiyot claiming silver in 15:04.73 with defending champion and newly-crowned 10,000m gold medallist Dibaba coming home for the third medal in 15:05.15.
Britain’s Joanne Pavey took up the early running in the 12-and-a-half lap race, Tirunesh content to sit quietly on the inside lane.
Italian Elena Romagnolo led the bunched peloton through the 2km mark in 6:17.35. Cheruiyot and her teammates Sally Kipyego and Viola Kibiwot sat at the back of the pack as Tirunesh took to the front with four laps remaining.
Meseret followed, with Kibiwot leading the trio of Kenyans through to the front as the pace finally upped towards 1:05 laps. With 800m to go, Tirunesh tested the waters with another surge that saw the main contenders cut to the six east African rivals.
As the bell rang for the final lap, the 10000m champion looked up at the screen to see where the field lay, but her expected surge was not forthcoming, as it had been in last week’s 25-lap race when she outpaced Kipyego and Cheruiyot into silver and bronze.
Approaching the final bend, there were still six runners in it. Meseret waited on her teammates shoulder and pounced as once known as the ‘baby-faced assassin’ flagged, looking for her trademark turn of speed for the line but coming up empty.
Cheruiyot, who is also reigning world 10,000 m champions, then passed Dibaba in the final few metres, unable to keep up her unbeaten 11-race winning streak on the international circuit.
For the ‘Pocket Rocket’ the outcome of London 2012 will be a mixed pot of feeling since whilst she achieved her goal of medalling at the biggest event, her dream of crowning her illustrious track career with Olympics gold fell a breath short.
Kipyego was fourth in 15:05.79, with Ethiopian Gelete Burka in fifth (15:10.66) while Kibiwott, who failed to get to the final of Beijing when competing in the 1500m race came home sixth (15:11.59) as the majesty of distance running from East Africa sealed the top 6.
As she returns home, Cheruiyot, 28, must be wondering whether a switch to the marathon is the remaining route to fulfil her lifelong career dream in Rio 2016 where she will be 32.
“I need that gold badly, it’s the only medal I do not have in my athletics career, I want it badly and in my heart, I know I will do my best,” she declared before the Olympics.
“This year, I think it is possible since the training has gone well. When someone decides she wants to double, she must be sure she will go and do something good. You cannot say I’m going you do not know you are fit or not fit.
“I hope I will do the same thing I did last year,” Cheruiyot, the Laureus Sports Woman of the Year added at the time, her basket brimming with immense optimism.
In her 25th career meetings against her biggest rival on the track but good friend out of it, Meseret now moves to 19-7 in her first victory over Cheruiyot in two seasons.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s lone wolf in the women 1500m, Hellen Obiri, the World Indoor 3000m gold medallist failed to replicate vacated champion Nancy Jebet Langat and win the top medal as she took the wooden spoon in 4:16.17.
The country’s medal tally now stands at 2 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze with only two days of action left for the proud nation to attempt topping the African charts like they did in Beijing with 6 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze.
Kenya has thus far surrendered both 1500m titles and retained the men steeple and 800m crown with the women 800m and men marathon the only races the country still holds the Olympics crown.
On Saturday, rank outsiders Isaiah Kiplangat Koech and Thomas Longosiwa will attempt to upset the cart in the men 5000m that features among others, Olympic 10000m champ, Mo Farah (Britain), Osaka Worlds winner and Bernard Langat (USA) among other potent competition.
– Additional reporting by AFP