14 February 2019

East Africa: History of 10,000m - Featuring Tergat, Gebrselassie and Cheruiyot

Perhaps the most memorable race in 10,000m on track was the battle between two legendary athletes, Kenya's Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in Australia.

Tergat was sitting in third place as the bell sounded for the final lap. Deciding to kick for home on the back straight, he opened up a slight lead on his great Ethiopian rival and was still out front as the duo turned into the home straight.

Digging deep, however, Gebrselassie found the pace he needed in a searing finish, squeezing past Tergat to retain his Olympic title by a mere nine 100ths of a second, leaving the Kenyan to pick up silver for the second Games running. The Ethiopian clocked 27:18.20 with Tergat timing 27:18.29.

Before the epic battle, Gebrselassie had two years earlier reclaimed his World Record from Tergat, a clear manifestation of how the two legends had engaged in thrilling competition.

Tergat became the sixth Kenyan to hold the 10,000m World Record when he clocked 26:27.85 on August 22, 1997 in Brussels, Belgium, breaking Gebrselassie's previous time of 26:31.32 set on July 4, 1997 in Oslo, Norway.

Then Gebrselassie would clock 26:22.75 on June 1, 1998 in Hengelo, Netherlands to erase Tergat's WR.

Gebrselassie's record would stand until June 8, 2004 when fellow countryman Kenenisa Bekele, the two-time Olympic and four-time World champion, broke it with new times of 26:20.31.

Bekele would improve it to 26:17.53 on August 26, 2005 in Brussels.

Bekele's WR still stands 14 years on making it the longest period someone has held the WR over the distance since the inaugural holder Jean Bouin from France, who held it for 11 years.

Bouin's time of 30:58.8 set on November 16, 1911 in Paris, France was first recognised as a WR, before Finn Paavo Nurmi broke with new times of 30:40.2 on June 22, 1921 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana holds the women's WR time of 29:17.45 set on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics. The WR of 29:31.78 held by Wang Junxia of China and set on September 8, 1993 in Beijing, had stood for 23 years.

Junxia had won the World 10,000m title a month earlier in Stuttgart and went on to win the Olympic 5,000m title at 1996 Atlanta Games.

Nurmi is the second man to win the 10,0000m title at the Olympics during the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games, following the footsteps of fellow countryman and the inaugural winner Hannes Kolehmainen at 1912 Stockholm Games.

Ideally, the men's 10,000m race made its debut at the fifth edition of the Summer Olympic Games at 1912 Stockholm, where Kolehmainen won in 33:49.0, while the women had to wait until 1988 Seoul Games to make their debut with Olga Bondarenko from Russia having the honour of winning the race in 31:05.21.

Italian Alberto Cova won the race at the inaugural World Championships in 1983 Helsinki clocking 28:01.04 and went on to win the Olympic title in 1984 Los Angeles.

No Kenyan took part in the race at 1983 Helsinki.

The women's 10,000m race was first held at the 1987 Rome World Championships with Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen winning the race in 31:05.85. Kenya's Leah Malot, the 1987 African Games champion, failed to make the cut in the semi-finals timing 36:23.66.

The 10,000 metres or the 10,000-meter run is a common long-distance track running event. The race has been part of the athletics programme at the Olympic Games and the World Championships in Athletics.

The race consists of 25 laps around an Olympic-sized track. It is less commonly held at track and field meetings, due to its duration. The 10,000 metre track race is usually distinguished from its road running counterpart, the 10km run, by its reference to the distance in metres rather than kilometres.

The 10,000 metres is the longest standard track event. The international distance is equal to approximately 6.2137 miles. Most of those running such races also compete in road races and cross country events.

Athletes from Finland, nicknamed the "Flying Finns", dominated the event at the Olympics until the late 1940s. In the 1960s, African runners began to come to the fore.

The 10,000m demands exceptional levels of aerobic endurance, and elite athletes typically train in excess of 160 km a week.

It's at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games that the European dominance was broken when Billy Mills from USA won the men's 10,000m race, beating Tunisian Mohammed Gammoudi to silver.

Gammoudi might have made history as the first African to win a medal at the Olympics over the distance but its Kenya's Naftali Temu, who became the first Africa to win at Olympic gold medal in the race at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

In fact, Temu led an African sweep of the podium places when Ethiopian Mamo Wolde went for silver with Gammoudi settling for bronze this time around.

While Kenya is yet to win the race at the Olympics since then, it's their Ethiopians brother who have dominated in five editions. Miruts Yifter won in 1980 Moscow, Gebrselassie did it in 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney and Bekele in 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing.

The only time Kenyans who have come closer winning silver medals are Richard Limo (1992 Barcelona), Tergat (1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney) and Paul Tanui (2016 Rio).

It's Somali-born Mo Farah of Britain, who ended Gebrselassie and Bekele's dominance with victories at 2012 London and 2016 Rio.

Ethiopians have won five of the eight editions of the Olympics with Derartu Tulu and Tirunesh Dibaba claiming two titles each. Tulu won at 1992 Barcelona and 2000 Sydney while Dibaba at 2008 Beijing and 2012 London. The compatriot Ayana won the 2016 Rio.

Kenya have three medals from women's 10,000m. Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot settled for silver and bronze respectively losing the battle to Dibaba in 2012 London while Cheruiyot got silver at 2016 Rio where she went on to win gold in 5,000m.

Perhaps the women's 2016 Rio 10,000m race is historical. Its where Ayana set a new WR with three other athletes running some of the fastest times to be ranked in top five over the distance.

As Ayana clocked 29:17.45, Cheruiyot time 29:32.53 for silver with 29:42.56 giving Dibaba bronze.

Kenya's Alice Aprot, who is credited for setting the high pace that resulted to these first times, settled fourth in 29:53.51. Junxia's previous WR of 29:31.78 comes second in all-time best after Ayana with the rest following in that order.

Unlike the Olympics, East African athletes have dominated the World Championships since Cova's victory at the inaugural 1983 Helsinki event what with Gebrselassie and Bekele sharing eight titles evenly.

It's Kenyans Paul Kipkoech, who made history as the first African to win the 10,000m title at 1987 Rome before compatriot Moses Tanui at 1991 Tokyo.

Then Gebrselassie would became the first man to defend his 10,000m title before winning back-to-back from 1993 Stuttgart, 1995 Gothenburg, 1997 Athens and 1999 Seville.

Once again Gebrselassie and Tergat's thrillers highlight the world championships where the Kenyan settled for silver medals in Athens and Seville respectively.

The Charles Kamathi became the second Kenyan after Tergat to win the world title at 2001 Edmonton, the last time a Kenyan held the crown with the best show coming from Geoffrey Kamworor, who claimed silver at 2015 Beijing.

After Kamathi's victory Bekele would pick up from where Gebrselassie left to win in 2003 Saint-Denis where Ethiopians sweep all the medals with Gebrselassie and Sileshi Sihine going for silver and bronze.

Bekele would retain the titles 2005 Helsinki and 2007 Osaka where Sihine claimed silvers with Kenyans Moses Mosop and Martin Mathathi getting bronze respectively.

Bekele made in four at 2009 Berlin where Kenya's Moses Masai for bronze with former World Half Marathon record holder Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea going for silver.

Ibrahim Jeilan might have given Ethiopia their ninth 10,000m title at 2011 Daegu, it marked the start of Mo Farah's reign.

Farah has since dominated both at the Olympics and World Championships since claiming silver in 2011 Daegu. Farah went for victories in 2013 Moscow, 2015 Beijing and 2017 London what with the Briton denying Kamworor and Paul Tanui victory in Beijing where the Kenyans settled for the other podium places.

Tanui has been unlucky having won the most number of bronze (3) in Moscow, Beijing and London.

Kenya's Sally Barsosio the first Africa won win a medal at the World Championships with bronze at 1993 Stuttgart losing to Chinese due of Wang Junxia and Zhong Huandi.

However, Barsosio went on to make history giving Africa its maiden victory at 1997 Athens but just before legendry athletes Ethiopian Derartu Tulu and Tegla Loroupe lost the 1995 Gothenburg battle to Portuguese Fernanda Ribeiro.

Basically, East Africa athletes have won since Barsosio's time but Ethiopia has had the lions share with seven wins while Kenya has four wins. Dibaba has the most wins-three- in 2005 Helsinki, 2007 Osaka and 2013 Moscow after following the footsteps of Gete Wami (1999 Seville), Derartu Tulu (2001 Edmonton) and Berhane Adere (2003 Saint-Denis).

Kenyans Linet Masai and Vivian Cheruiyot stopped the Ethiopians to win at 2009 Berlin and 2011 Daegu. Kenya's performance at Daegu was particularly breathtaking after they swept all the podium places with Sally Kipyego and Masai getting silver and bronze.

Dibaba would strike against all the odds to win at 2013 Moscow on return from maternity but Cheruiyot also got her double in 2015 Beijing after also coming from maternity.

Ayana and Dibaba went for a 1-2 at 2017 London where Kenya's 2015 World Cross Country Champions Agnes Tirop got silver.

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