London2012: Ethiopian Defar steps out of her rivals' shadows to regain title

Meseret Defar walking away from the track after her winning celebration in London/ Photo: Yomi Omogbeja at the Olympic Stadium

Meseret Defar of Ethiopia acheived the rare feat of regaining an Olympic athletics title when the Athens 2004 5000m gold medallist triumphed again at the London 2012 Olympic Games, winning in 15 minutes 4.25 seconds on Friday.

Defar used her renowned speed over the final 100m to swing past her compatriot and 10,000m gold medallist Tirunesh Dibaba off the final bend and then gritted her teeth down the home straight of the Olympic stadium to take the title.

Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot, the reigning World Champion, also found a strong finish and went past the flagging Dibaba about 50m from the line but just failed to catch the inspired Defar.

Cheruiyot got a silver medal to add to her 10,000m bronze from the first day of the athletics programme last Friday, crossing the line in 15:04.73 with Dibaba, the champion at Beijing 2008 where she also won the 10,000m, settling for third on this occasion in 15:05.15.

Dibaba led from the front at the bell but, unlike in the 10,000m, was never able to put daylight between herself and her rivals and her great rival Defar judged perfectly when she was starting to wilt and timed her move to perfection.

With tears streaming down her  face, perhaps because she has spent several years in the shadow of Dibaba and Cheruiyot since her halcyon years in the middle part of the last decade, Defar pulled a picture of a religious image from her vest and held it aloft in thanks to the spiritual boost it had provided.

Defar becomes only the second female to regain an Olympic Games athletics title on the track. The other was another Ethiopian, Dibaba's cousin Derartu Tulu, who won over 10,000m at Barcelona 1992 and then Sydney 2000.

'Great achievement'

Commenting after the race on winning the gold medal eight years after winning gold at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Defar said: "Today, after eight years, I have won gold again. It's a great achievement. I feel as if I have been born again."

"To win a gold medal in your third Olympic Games is tough. I have lost out at other championships due to illness."

"For me, today was an important day. It was a very special day and there were very few people who expected me to do well in this race. When God gave me this victory my emotions were beyond my control."

Asked if she was fresher than her rivals who also won medals in the 10,000m, she added: "At this Olympics my focus was on one race only. I focused on that in my training."

"After three Diamond League races I changed my training and totally stopped training for meetings and trained for championships. The person leading this training was my husband."

"I have been in good health more than ever before and in the race I was able to be a good competitior and get gold."

"I watched the 10,000m and I was happy for Tirunesh and I congratulated her. I knew they were both tough but today I felt very good. I trained very well and I expected to win and succeeded."

Asked whether she will contest a fourth Olympic Games, Defar said: "This was huge for me and I don't know I will contest a fourth."

"What I say to my people in Ethiopia is I feel I have fulfilled my responsbilities. I hope there will be other athletes to follow in my footsteps.

"I have run in three Olympic Games and won three medals. If I do not race in a fourth it will be OK."

Contentment

On Vivian Cheruiyot's part, her plan was to stay close with the two ladies in-order to have a chance.

"I did that. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to win gold," she said.

"I haven't won any medal in the last two Olympic Games I have participated in. To win silver (5,000m) and bronze (10,000m) is a great achievement for me.

"There are a lot of people who came here and returned back home empty-handed, so I am happy."

Tirunesh Dibaba on her part said she was contented with winning the bronze medal.

"First of all I am happy that the gold medal stayed in the hands of Ethiopia. And I would like to say congratulations to Meseret for winning the gold medal."

"I am disappointed for winning bronze. I was running for gold. My target was to make a double here as I did in Beijing (2008 Olympic Games) but my injuries denied me from achieving that."

"Before I came to London for the Olympic Games, I didn't train for nine days because of injuries. I was taking medicines and painkillers. To win a gold medal (in the 10,000m) and bronze (in the 5000m) is a great achievement for an injured athlete."

"I am extremely happy with my three Olympic gold medals and two bronze medals. I am happy to join the legends in Ethiopian athletics. I was aiming for a double here but it didn't happen. Whatever happened, I am happy. I thank God for that," she added.

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