Thursday, August 29, 2013

Defar and Dibaba renew rivalry

A lot of the pre-meeting attention at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich was rightfully focused on Usain Bolt and Bohdan Bondarenko, two giants of global athletics literally and metaphorically, but they were upstaged by two diminutive, if only in height, Ethiopians: Merseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba.

Defar and Dibaba, the 5000m and 10,000m gold medallists respectively from the 2013 IAAF World Championships, were brought together to battle for supremacy over the shorter distance, something that didn’t happen in Moscow earlier this month owing to both of them deciding to only have one bite of the cherry in the Russian capital. It was just their fourth race against each other since the Beijing Olympics five years ago.

Dibaba may have come in as the World record-holder and 2013 world leader, while Defar was saying ahead of the meeting how tired she was after her recent outings in Moscow and Stockholm, but it was the latter who prevailed in a dramatic and thrilling last lap, coming home just under two seconds in front of her Ethiopian compatriot and rival in 14:32.83.

After a relatively sedentary first 4000m in 11:52.15, the pace started to hot up almost immediately. Dibaba took the lead with 600m to go and Defar stayed on her heels despite the former going through the gears.

Coming off the final bend, Defar then moved on to the shoulder of Dibaba before going past her, although her opponent never threw in the towel and finished in 14:34.82.

Defar and Dibaba may have been just a few seconds short of their fastest times of the year over the distance but they lived up to the word of meeting director Patrick Magyar that, “athletics is not just about races against the clock but also head-to-head competition.”

For the record, Defar uncorked an unofficial last kilometre of 2:40.68 and a last lap of 58.3. Into the bargain, her win meant that she was also was victorious in the Diamond Race and added a $US40,000 first prize as well as the impressive and elusive Diamond Trophy, which she received at the end of the meeting along with the 14 other winners on Thursday night.

Triple World champions Bolt and Fraser-Pryce take the sprints

Bolt had what has almost become his trademark poor start but the two-time World champion in the shorter sprint was imperious in the 100m once he got into his running in the second half of the race.

With the temperature at a pleasant 20°C, he crossed the line in 9.90 with his Jamaican compatriot Nickel Ashmeade 0.04 in arrears.

However, the Diamond Race, reflecting his season-long consistency, went to the US sprinter Justin Gatlin.

On Thursday night, Gatlin finished third in 9.96 but it was sufficient to give him the honours in the season-long series.

In the women’s showcase sprint, Fraser-Pryce was quick out of her blocks and had daylight between her and the rest of the field coming off the bend before crossing the line in 22.40 to leapfrog over Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure in the Diamond Race standings.

Just like in Moscow, Ahoure had to settle for second, this time in 22.66.