The big question is if it is possible to beat Tirunesh Dibaba or Meseret Defar? Are there any holes that can be exploited? Opposing coach do not have many options. These women are faster than the rest of the pack so a fast race will work to their advantage. Both runners have magnificent speed at the end so a slow race will also work to their advantage. So what chance is there? Almost none, but a couple of tiny cracks exist.
Since Tirunesh and Meseret are desperate to win, each will be preserving their energy for the last lap. Neither will want to do the work of leading the pack. One exploit a 1,500 M runner can carryout (with a lot of luck) is to hope for and work to keep the pace very slow, around 15:00 minutes. This runner then would turn the race into a 1,500 M race by springing a surprise sprint. To pull this off the runner would need explosive speed. None of the runners in the finals have explosive speed over 1,500 M. If it’s a ridiculously slow race, look for Gulnara Samitova-Galkina of Russia to try to take advantage. This is a nearly impossible task for her to pull off since she does not have the explosive speed required to open a sudden gap. In addition, the slow pace will be against the interest of several kick-deficient runners who will work to keep the pace moving.
The other risk is if Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya is allowed to linger near the end. It is possible that she can make a sudden move while the two favorites play cat and mouse. Vivian Cheruiyot is the silver medalist in Osaka and has excellent all around skills. She is the third fastest runner and has great closing speed. If Tirunesh and Meseret are not careful they may give her an opportunity. For Vivian Cheruiyot to beat either one of these fine runners it will require a large amount of hubris and neglect on the part of the Ethiopian runners.
Only two women have ever run faster than faster than 14:22. There is a 10 second gap between the two and the rest of the field. Tirunesh Dibaba (14:11.2) and Meseret Defar (14:12.9) have run their personal best this year. Obviously, Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar are in a league of their own. One can view the 5,000 M final as two races. One race is between Tirunesh and Meseret and the other race is for the bronze.
Let’s start with the race for the bronze medal.
The lack of diversity in representation in the 5,000 is surprising. Ethiopia, Kenya and USA have three runners each. Turkey and Russia have two each while China and Canada each have one finalist. The Chinese and Canadian have little chance of keeping up with the rest and in all likelihood will have little if any impact on the outcome of the race. For the most part you can view the battle for the bronze medal as a battle between teams. Here is the run down of the team outlooks.
Two Kenyans (Priscah Cherono and Vivian Cheruiyot) have very good closing kicks. The Kenyans probably would love a slow race where they can out kick the field with the exception of Meseret and Tirunesh of course. In a slow race they could even take a shot at sliver if either Tirunesh or Meseret sputters at the end. However, they will find themselves in trouble if they go for gold in a race that is too fast for them. Just on talent, Kenya should be favored to win the bronze. In Osaka Kenya took 2-3-4 behind Meseret Defar.
In the 10,000 M last Friday, Elvan Abeylegesse found herself between a rock and a hard place. There was not much she could do against Tirunesh. This time she is in between two rocks and a hard place. There is not much she can do. Four years removed from her best 5,000 time of 14:24.7 (which is 12 seconds slower than Mesert’s time of this year) she would have found herself between two rocks and a hard place even at her peak in 2004.
Since Alemitu Bekele does not look to challenge in a fast race Turkey may use her as a rabbit during the first half. Once Alemitu is consumed Elvan will keep pushing in an attempt to drop most of the runners. Elvan’s only hope for a medal is to be part of a lead pack of three with Meseret and Tirunesh. If she is able to do that she then gets the bronze without having to sprint at the end. Unfortunate for her, the mind may be willing but the body may not be able to do this. Four runners are faster than Elvan at the 5,000. Meseret, Tirunesh, Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) and Liliya Shobukhova (RUS). It may turn out that Elvan my not be able to reduce the pack to less than five runners. She may do all the work and be left in the dust. Still, having run under 30 minutes in the 10,000 she should be considered a serious thereat.
While Elvan has no need for a slow race, Alemitu Bekele may benefit from a slow. Alemitu's times are not good but have been getting better. Alemitu also has decent sprint speed. If the pace is slow, look for her to try to sneak in for a medal.
The three runners will not pay a whole lot of attention to what the other runners are doing. They will run at their pace. They are realistic and will be working for the bronze. If the race is slower than their pace look for them lead. They are good at pacing themselves so you will not see these runners lead early only to crash and burn late. Shalane Flanagan ran an outstanding run in the 10,000 M where at the end she caught two Kenyan runners that were spent while trying to capture an improbable gold. The Kenyans looked helpless as she passed them by. Smart running makes the US a legitimate contender for the bronze. Shalane Flanagan must have gotten a confidence boost from the 10,000 as her racing tactics have been affirmed with results. This makes her dangerous.
Liliya Shobukhova would like a fast race. Her only chance at a medal is by dropping the Kenyan runners before it gets down to a sprint. Look for her to set a fast pace. The combination of Liliya and Elvan could produce a scorching pace.
On the other hand Olympic 3,000 Steeplechase champ Gulnara Samitova-Galkina would prefer a very slow race (14:55 +). She has good 1,500 M speed and can compete with the Kenyans if it comes down to a 1,5000. She has chance to medal if the Kenyans fall apart after going for gold.
Team Meselech Melkamu
Meselech is a long shot to medal. In all likelihood she will finish anywhere from 4th to 7th. There are six runners that have better times at this event. Two Kenyans, one Russian and even Elvan have better closing speed than Meselech. Meselech has had a good 2008 and it seems like her career is back on track. She has a chance to medal is if she somehow keeps up with the other two Ethiopians as they make a break from the pack. To do that she will need to run the race of her life.
Don’t look for a sweep. If Ethiopia was unable to sweep the Men’s 10,000 a sweep hear is very unlikely. The favorites for bronze have got to be the Kenyans.
As for the big race (Meseret vs. Tirunesh), both are in top form. Both have something to prove. Both will not cave in. It’s an epic battle of wills. An analysis of their past head-to-head races reveals no favorite - it only shows that they are evenly matched. It’s hard to pick one over the other. It’s hard to not pick both to win it.
But here is my prediction (and this is a wild guess)
If it’s a slow race 14:52 or slower look for Mesert Defar to win at the tape.
If it’s a fast race, faster tan 14:33 look for Tirunesh Dibaba to win by a whisker.
Good luck to both. Either way Ethiopia wins. Women’s running has come a long way.
Runners World Preview of the 5,000 M Final