Race to Victory: The Women's 10,000m

The battle lines are drawn between Ethiopia and Kenya at Friday night's Women's 10,000m

by Alison Hamlett

Tirunesh Dibaba
Tirunesh Dibaba on her way to winning the 5,000m in Beijing in 2008. Picture credit: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images.

The Ethiopian Defar may be one of the few women who can prevent a Kenyan one, two, three at the 10,000m in London. Defar’s name means ‘bold’ in Amharic – a Semitic language used in Ethiopia – and could also be used to describe her approach to running. At the recent IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March, she attempted something that had never been done before: to win her fifth successive title in the 3,000m. But once again a Kenyan lady stole the show when relative unknown Hellen Obiri took gold.

The Kenyan women’s stranglehold over the top spots is a relatively recent phenomenon. At the Beijing Olympics, they didn’t win a single medal in the 10,000m. Ethiopian runner Tirunesh Dibaba won the race in 29:54.66, with Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey second in 29:56.34 and the USA’s Shalane Flanagan third in 30:22.22.

You might be wondering where British women feature in all of this: sadly, the answer is they don’t. Since Paula Radcliffe moved up to the marathon distance, British women have failed to make an impression in world-class 10,000m events. In Beijing, Jo Pavey was the highest placed Brit, finishing twelfth in a time of 31:13.30.

Pavey will be hoping to improve on that performance when she represents Team GB at the London 10,000m. Pavey will be joined on the start line by team mate Julia Bleasdale who, with a 10,000m personal best of 31:29.57, looks unlikely to trouble the favourites. It would take nothing short of a miracle for a British woman to win a medal in the 10,000m at the London Olympics, but miracles do sometimes happen.

For more fast facts, check out the Olympic 10,000m in numbers.

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