Jolting start for track: Ethiopian shatters 10,000 record
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 13, 2016 08:42 AM
Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana celebrates winning the gold medal after the women's 10,000-meter final during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — What track and field really needed was a Usain Bolt-like jolt to steer the conversation away from the endless string of crime, punishment and doping that nearly sank the sport over the past year.
What it got was a 10,000-meter world record from an Ethiopian who considers it her second-favorite distance, and a race that will go down as one of the best ever run at the Olympics.
While Bolt waits in the wings another day, Almaz Ayana opened the Olympic track meet Friday by circling the 25 laps in 29 minutes, 17.45 seconds to shatter a 23-year-old record by more than 14 seconds.
"This was not my plan," Ayana said.
How impressive was this race?
The 24-year-old Ayana, who had limited experience running 10Ks on tracks and is really considered a 5K specialist, won by more than 15 seconds. She was halfway through her victory lap while the largest pack in the field of 37 women was making its way across the finish line.
Spurred on by her pace, 18 women ran lifetime bests. Eight national records were set, including one by American Molly Huddle, who finished sixth. And silver medalist Vivian Cheruiyot, bronze medalist Tirunesh Dibaba and fourth-place finisher Alice Aprot Nawowuna recorded the third-, fourth- and fifth-fastest times in history, behind only the new record holder and the previous one, Wang Junxia of China.
The confluence of fast times on a cool, rain-dampened track — perfect running weather — could help blunt the inevitable questions about how someone with little experience at the distance from a country that has spent its share of time under the doping microscope could shatter a generation-old record that, itself, is under heavy scrutiny.
Wang's 1993 record broke the previous mark by nearly 42 seconds. Track's governing body, the IAAF, has been investigating claims that suggest Wang was part of a state-sponsored doping program in her country in the 1990s.
Confronted with the improbability of her record, Ayana's answer was simple.
"No. 1, I did my training, specifically in the 5 and 10," she said in comments translated to English. "My doping is Jesus. Otherwise, I'm crystal clear."
But no day in track and field would be complete without at least a bit of doping news.
A Bulgarian steeplechase runner got booted from the Olympics a day before her scheduled race. Also, Kenyan 800-meter runner Ferguson Rotich showed up and made it through his round, a day after a coach borrowed his credential to grab something to eat in the Athletes Village, only to be met by doping-control officers who wanted to test Rotich.
Rotich ended up being properly tested, but IOC spokesman Mark Adams said there were more questions to be asked.
"This isn't over," Adams said.
Nor is Ayana's Olympics. Next Friday, she'll run in her favored race, the 5,000 meters, where she is the reigning world champion.
"Not at all," she said when asked if the effort it took to break the 10K record could sap her strength for the 5.
She made it look easy. Ayana took the lead from a Kenyan pacesetter at the midway point, then started building an insurmountable advantage over two of the most-decorated veterans in the game.
Cheruiyot won world championships last year, and Dibaba was the two-time defending Olympic champion who skipped the 2015 season to have a baby.
"Running with Dibaba gave me the energy," said Ayana, who frequently referenced her 31-year-old countrywoman as her "sister" and her "ancestor."
Now, those greats will be looking up to her — and trying to catch her, too.