Feature10 May 2014

Obiri and Cherono warn Wang her 3000m record may finally be challenged


Hellen Obiri wins the 3000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha (© Deca Text & Bild)

Wang Junxia’s long-standing 3000m world record of 8:06.11 has seemed beyond the pale to a couple of generations of talented female middle and long-distance runners but 2014 has brought the realisation that it might not be utterly impregnable after all.

Genzebe Dibaba’s world indoor record of 8:16.10 during the winter edged the horizon a little closer and the exploits of the Kenyan pair of Hellen Obiri and Mercy Cherono at the opening meeting of the 2014 IAAF Diamond League series, in the Qatari city of Doha on Friday night (9), also served to remind everyone that ultimately all world records can be beaten.

In a thrilling race, Obiri outsprinted her compatriot in the final few metres to cross the line in 8:20.68, the fastest time ever outdoors by anyone other than the four Chinese runners, headed by IAAF Hall of Fame member Wang, who posted phenomenal times on home soil at the 1993 National Games in Beijing.

Just 0.46 behind was her friend – “We don’t train together but we are regularly in contact by phone and Facebook,” said Cherono – and world 5000m silver medallist.

In total, a record seven women finished inside 8:30, including Dibaba who led for much of the second half of the race but unravelled over the final 250m before finishing sixth in 8:26.21.

“We knew that Dibaba had asked for a world record pace (not strictly true, as the pacemakers had been asked to go through 1000m in 2:45 and then 2000m in 5:30) so we discussed what we were going to do and decided that we didn’t want to lead as we know Dibaba has a good kick,” added Cherono on Friday, as the 15,000 capacity crowd streamed out into the night.

“We were running behind her from when the second pacemaker couldn’t carry on from halfway point, until we heard the bell. People have told us that she looked like she was struggling on the lap before the bell but she was still going fast and we were not aware that she had any problems, we couldn’t see her face,” explained Cherono lucidly, resplendent at the Qatar Sports Club track in purple training shoes, predominantly purple post-race apparel, purple nail varnish and clutching a purple-encased mobile phone.

“It was only with about 250 metres to go that I sensed I might have a chance of winning and I tried my best but Hellen just beat me. I know I can go faster over this distance and I hope to do that this year,” she added.

Inevitably, the question arose about how much faster, and the issue of Wang’s world record was soon addressed as well.

“I think the world record can be broken. We could run much faster tonight but the pace making was not so good,” reflected Cherono.

In fact, the two early pace makers quickly drifted away from the pace requested by Dibaba and her advisors.

By the halfway point, with Dibaba clearly sensing that Kenya’s Lydia Wafula was struggling to do the job required of her and moving to the front with still more than 1500m to go, the Ethiopian was about seven seconds in arrears of what she was hoping to run.

No longer Mission Impossible

“With good pace making and good conditions, I think the world record can be broken. It is not impossible,” chipped in Obiri.

Various people, slightly incredulously, put it to Obiri and Cherono at the post-race press conference that such a feat would require them running roughly two seconds a lap faster than they had done on Friday night.

However, the smiling pair individually and collectively reaffirmed that they believed that they could do it, and perhaps this year if the race and conditions were right.

Before any such attempt is mounted, another world record could fall to the Kenyan pair: the women’s 4x1500m.

Obiri and Cherono will be part of the Kenyan contingent going to IAAF World Relays in Nassau, The Bahamas, on 24-25 May.

The quartet of Cherono, Irene Jelagat, Ann Karindi and Perin Nenkampi set a world record of 17:05.72 (subject to the usual ratification procedures) at altitude in Nairobi but Cherono and Obiri have ambitions of reducing that time significantly in two weeks’ time.

“We can go a lot faster than we did in Nairobi,” said Obiri, the world 1500m bronze medallist who can boast of a personal best of 3:58.58 for the metric mile.

It doesn’t take too much mental arithmetic to work out that the addition of Obiri to the Kenyan team could see them slice 10 to 20 seconds off their own mark, and perhaps more.

Sadly for Obiri and Cherono, there is no graduated time bonus at the World Relays, just one world record bonus of US$50,000 to be shared between the successful quartet.

However, a profitable performance in Nassau could put Obiri and Cherono in the right mood to try to dent China’s domination of the top of the women’s all-time 3000m lists.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF