NAIROBI, August 27- Having chased each other to honours as juniors, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba led familiar foe, Mercy Cherono across the line in the first semi final of the women 5000m to keep her double bid intact at the Beijing 2015 World Championships on Thursday.
Their overall career head-to-head reads 11-9 in favour of the Ethiopian who breezed to the women 1500m crown on Tuesday but that is the closest Commonwealth champion Cherono can hope to get after Genzebe’s rip roaring season.
Veteran Viola Kibiwott who returns to Beijing seven years since competing at the women 1500m at the 2008 Olympics, Commonwealth silver medallist, Janet Kisa and 2008 World Cross junior silver medallist, Irene Cheptai made it four Kenyans in the final.
The country got the extra slot by virtual of Cherono having wildcard selection as the 2014 Diamond League winner and she prepared for Beijing by running in the women 1500m Trial on August 1 to gain speed, finishing behind Faith Chepng’etich Kipyegon who took silver behind Genzebe in the metric mile.
Cherono and the Ethiopian women 1500m spurred in the opening semi where given her busy schedule at these championships, the gold medallist here could be forgiven for not wanting to expend too much energy.
Genzebe sat at the back for much of the race, allowing Japan’s Misaki Onishi to do the early leading. The first kilometre was passed in 3:04.77 and Onishi still led at 2000m, reached in 6:10.56.
Britain’s Steph Twell moved into second place at half way and then took the lead soon after. Cheptai was sitting in third place with compatriot Cherono in sixth.
Genzebe was still near the back of the pack, but Cherono then hit the front with three laps to go and Dibaba followed. Within a matter of seconds, a pack of five had broken clear as Cherono and Genzebe were joined by Cheptai, Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands and Bahrain’s Mimi Belete.
The lead pack hit 4000m in 12:26.58 with the rest of the field some two seconds behind. As the bell sounded, Cheptai then took her turn to lead but Cherono and Genzebe were always close behind. The women 1500m champion finally kicked with 100m to go and eased her way to victory in 15:20.82.
Although the next four athletes to finish were secure in the top five automatic qualifying spots, that didn’t stop them from sprinting all the way to the line.
Cherono took second from Belete, both clocking 15:20.94, while Cheptai was just 0.09 behind. Kuijken to
ok the last automatic qualifying spot in 15:25.67.
Early leaders Onishi and Twell were rewarded for their early efforts with non-automatic qualifying spots, along with USA’s Nicole Tully.
The second heat wasn’t too dissimilar to the first. Japanese duo Ayuko Suzuki led from team-mate Azusa Sumi through 1000m in 3:16.67 before Sumi dropped back.
World leader Almaz Ayana and compatriot Senbere Teferi moved into second and third place behind Suzuki, passing 2000m in 6:17.23 and closely tracked by the Kenyan pair of Kibiwott and Kisa.
Just before reaching the 3000m split in 9:17.25, Ayana moved into the lead and cranked up the pace. She covered the next kilometre in 2:56.67 and the field became strung out.
Kibiwott was in second and Suzuki was still holding on in third with Teferi and Kisa a bit further back, some 40 metres in front of Eloise Wellings of Australia.
Wellings caught Kisa with two laps remaining. Teferi moved past Kibiwot one lap later, but Ayana was still safe out in front.
A 2:55 final kilometre brought Ayana home in 15:09.40, more than five seconds ahead of Teferi.
Kibiwot finished third in 15:15.27, while Kisa overtook Wellings in the closing stages, both qualifying by right in fourth and fifth with respective times of 15:26.49 and 15:26.67. Suzuki and Austria’s Jennifer Wenth also progressed on time.
However, the final could be another gripping chapter in the rivalry between Genzebe and Cherono that started at the 2007 World Cross in Mombasa where the Ethiopian returned home in fifth with the Kenyan in 23rd.
The pair exploded the next year in Aman, Jordan where Genzebe lead Cherono to the 1-2 in the women 6km race and again at the 2010 Moncton World Juniors with the Kenyan’s last victory over her rival coming at last Diamond League final in Brussels over 3000m.
Almaz, the world leader, is another who will have a huge say in the rush for the medals.
-Material from IAAF used in this report