LONDON (Reuters) – Meseret Defar’s only focus this season was to reclaim the Olympic 5,000 meters title she last won in 2004 and on Friday the Ethiopian succeeded with a final decisive surge down the home straight.
All the pre-race talk had been about her compatriot Dibaba, aiming to add the 5,000 title to the 10,000 she won last week for a second Olympic double-double, and Kenyan world champion Vivian Cheruiyot but Defar upstaged them both, albeit with a relatively slow time of 15:04.25.
“I changed my training this season. After the Diamond Leagues I started doing very focused championship training,” the quietly-spoken Defar told a news conference through a translator.
“I started working on tactics and I’ve been in very good health, more than ever before and in the race I was able to be a good competitor and get gold.
“For me today was a very important day it was a very special day. There were very few people who really expected me to do well in this race,” added the 28-year-old who won the bronze in Beijing four years ago.
Defar became the first woman to win the Olympic 5,000 final twice since its introduction in 1996.
World record-holder Dibaba was running in her third distance race of the London Olympics and her tired legs had no response to Defar’s turn of speed over the last 100 meters.
She faded to third as Cheruiyot, who won bronze in the 10,000, also overtook her to cross the line in 15:04.73.
“Today I was two steps behind Meseret and when she pushed, I realized it was way too late but I am satisfied with today,” said world champion Cheruiyot.
Dibaba hit the front with four laps to go after a slow, tactical first half followed by Defar, team mate Gelete Burka Cheruiyot and two other Kenyans who moved up on the outside.
The field started to string out as Dibaba began to test her rivals and at the bell, only Defar, Kenya’s Sally Kipyego and Cheruiyot had gone with her.
However, Dibaba’s usual searing final lap did not materialize and Defar remained on her shoulder ready to pounce on the home straight.
Defar crossed the line with her arms in the air before kissing a religious picture she had carried in her top and falling to the track weeping.
“Today after eight years I have won gold, it’s a great achievement. I feel as if I’ve been born again. I’m very happy,” she said.
To win gold in one’s third Olympics is very tough. I’ve passed through many difficult times, I’ve lost out at championships through illness this was a very decisive Olympics for me. I might not contest a fourth Olympics.”