A blitz of a final lap saw world champion Hellen Obiri retain her 5000m gold from London 2017 much to the delight of the massive contingent of Kenyan fans at the Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday.
The 29-year-old Olympic silver medallist also shaved off one tenth of a second from Almaz Ayana’s championship record time from 2015 in Beijing to successfully defend her title in a time of 14 mins 26.72 seconds.
Obiri, who emulated compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot in winning back-to-back women’s 5000m titles in 2009 and 2011, was joined in celebrations post her victory by another Kenyan, Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, who ran a personal best 14:27.49 for her silver.
European champion Konstanze Klosterhalfen was passed by Kipkemboi coming on to the home straight and the German, who has been under scrutiny throughout these championships along with double world champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands for their association with banned coach Alberto Salazar, settled for bronze in 14:28.43.
“We have such great runners in Kenya. I worked hard to prove that we can win. It was not easy to run the championships record without the pacemakers. But I felt the energy from the crowd and stayed focused. I just told my coach to let me focus on 5K and I will do my best,” said Obiri after the victory.
Talking about her future, she said, “It was a long season, the cross country events, the Diamond Leagues, then the Championships. I think I need to take like one month off and then we will see. Maybe I can try the 10k for the Olympics.”
Kipkemboi was palpably ecstatic at her silver. “It was my best race. I am very happy about this achievement. I like the Doha Championships because I won a medal. When I first ran here for the Diamond League I was feeling that body was not in a good shape. This time there is a difference between Diamond League and the World Championships,” Kipkemboi said.
“Next year there will be the Olympic Games and it will be my first time to be there. I am very much focused on the Olympics next year. I hope to have a medal, too, then.”
As the 12 and a half lap race around the pink track of the Khalifa International Stadium began, Great Britain’s Eilish McColgan, who calls Doha her second home along with her mother and 1991 10,000m World champion Liz, moved up front with Obiri right behind.
The Kenyan then took charge of the race and never relinquished her lead even as those behind her traded places a few times.
In the last five laps of the race, the frontrunners were in a pack of six, with Klosterhalfen behind Obiri, even as Kipkemboi moved up to third, going past Ethiopian Tsehay Gemechu, and the formation remained largely intact till the bell.
At the bell, however, Obiri upped the pace and Klosterhalfen, who had run the fourth fastest time of the season coming into the Worlds, gave chase, but 200m out had no chance as Obiri had upped the gears and was pulling away.
Kipkemboi took advantage of the tiring German and moved past to lock the top two spots for Kenya.
“Getting a medal at the World Championships, one year ago, I did not believe I could make that,” Klosterhalfen said. “Grabbing a medal here is simply unbelievable. On the home straight my legs could not give more, I had to let Kipkemboi pass me. My spikes are broken and I bled, but it does not matter at the end of a season.
“Normally the 5k is an African event, but my coach Pete Julien told me to run hard. It did not matter what I get here, whether it is a PB (personal best) or a medal or…. just run hard.
“The tension of the last days now falls off me, I was totally concentrated and focused, I wanted to show a good performance here.”
Talking about Salazar’s recent four-year ban, she said, “My parents were so nervous, also because of the news about Salazar. But it did not affect me. I will not stop training with NOP (Nike Oregon Project).”
Gemechu ran a personal best 14:29.60 for her fourth place, while Lilian Kasait Rengeruk ensured there were four Kenyans in the top five, also running a personal best of 14:36.05.
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