On entry times, two of them could not get through to the final, which was to comprise the first five in each heat and the next five fastest. And then one pulled out injured – Kenya’s Margaret Wangari Muriuki pulling up short in the first heat with a lower leg injury. So it is a wonder the heats were run at all.
As happens so often in such circumstances, the first heat went for a stroll around the track, leaving the second group only having to run a moderate pace to get 10 women through to Saturday night’s final. That is exactly what happened.
At the end of it all, Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, who won the second heat, remained the gold medal favourite. So we didn’t learn much.
It took 3:43.62 to get through the first 1000m of the first heat – and it was that ‘fast’ only because of a pick-up in speed after the first two laps.
From there on, the pace quickened to a 2:55 third kilometre, a tick over three minutes for the fourth and then a charge home over the final 1000m in around 2:52.
Leading the charge by that stage was the Kenyan runner Mercy Cherono, who duly won in 15:34.70 from the woman who is second on this year’s world list, Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia. Kim Huddle was next with her US team-mate Shannon Rowbury a further 10 seconds adrift after not bothering with the final pick-up.
Tejitu Daba took the final automatic spot for Bahrain by finishing fifth in 15:56.74, leaving the task for the sixth to 10th runners in heat two being to ensure they ran faster than sixth-placed Almensh Belete of Belgium, 16:03.03.
Thanks to the early aggression of Spain’s Dolores Checa, the second heat was always comfortably on track to achieve this. Checa led through the first 1000m in 3:09.23 – already a substantial 34 seconds cushion on heat one – and then passed through the next two 1000m sections in 6:16.55 and 9:26.32. USA’s Kim Conley kept the pace going through the fourth kilometre, at which point the leading 10 (of 11 starters, mind) had only to stand up to reach the final.
The favourite, Olympic champion Defar, sprinted home to win in 15:22.94 from team-mate Buze Diraba, 15:23.41, and Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot, 15:24.47.
Russia’s Elena Nagovitsyna and Conley rounded out the top five, with Norway’s Karoline Grovdal, Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands, Australia’s Jackie Areson, Checa and Dominika Noawkowska of Poland going through to the final as the non-automatic qualifiers.