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Defar a step too far for charging Cherono

CHERONO-KIBIWOTMoscow, Russia- Meseret Defar made it two World Championships titles to go with her two Olympic titles when she sprinted away from her rivals to win the 5000m on Saturday night.

A race that had been expected to pit the distance runners – Defar and her Ethiopian teammates, Kenya’s Mercy Cherono and Viola Kibiwot – against middle-distance types moving up in Berlin 2009 1500m bronze medallist Shannon Rowbury and Susan Kuijken, the endurance specialists came out comprehensively on top.

Defar might fancy her chances in a finish against pretty well anyone – she produced a 29.42 last 200m in racing to victory – but it never came to that anyway.

Kim Conley, Dominika Nowakowska and Dolores Checa combined to lead through most of the first 3000m with a succession of 72-75 second laps.

Five laps from the finish, Almaz Ayana took up the pace for her teammate. Ayana, a former steeplechaser who has run the second-fastest 5000m this year behind Tirunesh Dibaba in Paris, immediately kicked the pace down to the 68-second-per-lap range.

Straight away, the leading pack was reduced to five – Ayana, Defar, the third Ethiopian finalist Buze Diriba, Cherono and Kibiwot. Fifteen metres back, Molly Huddle, Rowbury and Kuijken were trying to up the tempo themselves, but to no avail.

Diriba was quickly dislodged as Ayana ticked off laps of 71.07, 68.14, 67.26 and then 64.50 to take the leaders to the last 200m.

Kibiwot had fallen away at the bell. It was now a straight battle between Cherono, twice World junior champion at 3000m, and the Ethiopian pair.

Defar took one glance back over her shoulder and kicked powerfully for home. Cherono was trapped behind Ayana as they rounded the final bend, losing valuable ground. She inched past her in the straight, but by then there was no catching Defar. It is doubtful there ever had been.

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Defar threw her arms skywards as she crossed the line in 14:50.19. Cherono followed her in 14:521.22 for the silver and the workhorse Ayana took the bronze in 14:51.33.

Kibiwot, Diriba and Huddle were the next three, with Rowbury seventh in 15:06.10 and Kuijken eighth in 15:14.70.

The closing speed was the key to the race. Led largely by Ayana, the final five laps took just 5:31.84 – equivalent to about 13:50 pace for the full distance. The final lap was 60.09 and Defar’s finishing burst from 200m took only 29.42.

So Defar added a second World Championships gold medal six years after her first in Osaka. She likes to leave a gap between her title wins. Her London Olympic victory was eight years after her first in 2004.

She has also completed a remarkable return after appearing to be eclipsed by Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot.

Cheruiyot won the 5000m titles in Berlin and Daegu (where she also took the 10,000m) and her team-mate Sylvia Kibet took the silver both times, too, relegating Defar to two bronze medals. In the middle of all this, she was out-kicked for the World indoor title at 3000m by Hellen Obiri. Defar had won the previous four.

Defar showed tremendous resilience in bouncing back to defeat Cheruiyot and Dibaba in the Olympic 5000m final last year. With Cheruiyot taking the year off to have a baby, Kibet not making the Kenyan team and Dibaba ultimately deciding to concentrate on the 10,000m only in Moscow, this race was hers to lose.

And from 200m out in the final, that was never going to happen.

-Photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF Photo Assistance Project

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