Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar Refinds Olympic Magic

Meseret Defar celebrates her Olympic gold in the 5000m. Photo:

The Ethiopian won her second Olympic 5,000m title — 8 years after the first.

Mesert Defar of Ethiopia has still got it — that is, if she ever lost it.

In the 5,000-meter final at the Olympic Games on Friday night, the first of two distance races held in the evening, Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot was the heavy favorite. After all, the Kenyan has dominated nearly every major championship race in the past few years, with the exception of a fifth-place finish at the last Olympic Games in Beijing. There, Cheuiyot couldn’t keep up with Ethiopian rival Tirunesh Dibaba, who blazed a sub-60-second closing lap to win gold.

In the end, Cheruiyot medaled on Friday, but again, it was an Ethiopian who got the best of her. Meseret Defar, the 2007 world champion, won gold in this event for the second time, crossing the line in 15 minutes, 4.25 seconds. Cheruiyot had to settle for second in 15:04.73, while Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, who won gold in the 10,000 a week ago, nabbed third in 15:05.15.

It was Defar’s trademark finishing kick that won her the top spot on the podium, as the Ethiopian kicked past her Kenyan rival coming down the final straightaway. Defar, who has battled back from injuries in recent years, last won this event in at the 2004 Games in Athens.

The top runner from the United States was Molly Huddle, the American record holder at this distance, who came across the line in 15:20.29, good for 11th overall. Julie Cullley, the other U.S. entrant in the event, was 14th in 15:28.22.

Nearly an hour later, 13 middle-distance aces took to the track to square off in a fully-loaded 1,500-meter final. Missing from the group, however, was reigning world champion Jenny Simpson of the United States, who failed to advance to the final.

Still, the U.S. had 2011 1,500m world-leader Morgan Uceny and two-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury in the mix, but unfortunately, things did not bode too well for either of them.

The race was extremely pedestrian through the first lap as Gamze Bulut  of Turkey led the field through 400 meters in 75 seconds. Uceny hung in third position in the outside of lane one, while Rowbury was buried on the rail. Things didn’t take off until the second lap where Bulut still did the heavy lifting, dropping the pace to 68 seconds per lap. With almost exactly a lap to go, a bit of drama unfolded on the track when Uceny was tripped and fell. For the Cornell graduate and American medal hopeful, this was an unfortunate repeat of her fall in the 1,500m final at last summer’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea. Uceny rose to her knees and slammed her palms down in frustration while she watched the rest of the runners hurl themselves around the oval.

In the end, Turkey claimed the top two slots. Alpketin, the European champion this year, won the gold medal in 4:10.23. The silver went to her compatriot, Gamze Burlut, in 4:10.40. The final podium spot was claimed by Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal, who crossed the line in 4:10.74. Rowbury was the top American in sixth place, running 4:11.26.

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