Molly Huddle, Julie Culley Advance To Olympic 5,000m Final

American Molly Huddle trails Hitomi Niiya of Japan in heat 2 of the women's 5,000m semifinal. Photo: london2012.com

American Kim Conley runs a 5-second personal best but fails to qualify for Friday’s final.

Semifinal action got underway in the women’s 5,000 meters at the Olympic Games in London on Tuesday morning, as the top-5 women from each of two heats plus the next five fastest times from both of those heats advanced to the final to be held on Friday evening.

In heat 1, Kayoko Fukushi of Japan led most of the way before Ethiopians Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba, who won gold in the 10,000 meters last Friday night, along with Kenyan Viola Jelagat Kibiwot separated themselves from the rest of the 17-woman field. Dibaba and Defar crossed the finish line first and second, respectively, running 14:58.48 and 14:58.70. Kibiwot followed closely in 14:59.31.

Behind that trio four women battled for two more automatic spots in Friday’s final. Russia’s Olga Golovkina of Russia came out on top in the sprint to the finish, running 15:05.26, a personal best. Behind her was U.S. Olympic Trials champion Julie Culley, who also recorded a personal best in 15:05.38. Tejitu Daba of Bahrain finished sixth in 15:05.59, good enough for a personal best and a slot in Friday’s final.

Heat 2 was also a fast affair from the start as Hitomi Niiya of Japan set the early pace at a metronomic 72 seconds and change per lap. American record holder Molly Huddle, who was the runner up at June’s U.S. Olympic Trials, went to the front just before the two-mile mark and kept the pace honest until the final last-lap flurry to the finish.

Huddle continued to lead at the the bell but was pressured by Julie Bleasdale of Great Britain. The hometown cheers weren’t enough for the Brit, however, as Gelete Burka of Ethiopia and Kenyans Vivian Cheruiyot and Sally Kipyego came past on the home straightaway to place first, second and third, respectively, in 15:01.44, 15:01.54, and 15:01.87. Bleasdale crossed in fourth (15:02.00) and Huddle fifth (15:02.26) to earn automatic spots in the final. Yelena Nagovitsyna of Russia (15:02.80), Joanne Pavey of Great Britain (15:02.84) and Barain’s Shitaye Eshete (15:05.48) finished 6th, 7th and 8th, respectively, to earn the last three time qualifiers into the final.

American Kim Conley, whose heroic last lap run to finish third at the Olympic Trials punched her ticket to London, finished 12th in 15:14.48, a 5-second personal best.

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