Letesenbet Gidey sets a world 10,000m record in Hengelo (© Global Sports Communication)
Just two days after Sifan Hassan clocked a world 10,000m record of 29:06.82 in Hengelo, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey – competing on the same track in the Dutch city – improved the mark by five seconds with 29:01.03* to win the Ethiopian Trials on Tuesday (8).
With few getting racing opportunities abroad, the Ethiopian Olympic Trials offered not only a chance for Ethiopian athletes to make their case for being selected to represent their country, but also run fast times. As the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, lies at about 2400m, domestic races are competitive but much slower than they would be run at sea level.
The competition programme featured all distances from 800m to 10,000m, including the steeplechase. The main event, however, was the last: the women’s 10,000m.
Gidey, who last year set a world 5000m record of 14:06.62, went to the lead in the early stages, passing through 2000m in 5:54 and 3000m in 8:50. She reached the half-way point in about 14:42, which put her slightly behind the world record pace that was being indicated by the blue Wavelight technology, but she looked extremely comfortable and had just Ababel Yeshaneh for company.
Gidey, the world 10,000m silver medallist, cranked out two more 2:55 kilometres, reaching 7000m in 20:32, and then started to wind up the pace. As she began lapping competitors, it soon became apparent that Hassan’s mark would last only a few more minutes.
Yeshaneh dropped back in the second half before eventually withdrawing from the race. Gidey, meanwhile, went through the bell just a couple of seconds inside 28 minutes, indicating she’d need a final lap of about 68 seconds to break Hassan’s mark.
Despite having to navigate around a field of lapped runners, Gidey powered around the final circuit and stopped the clock at 29:01.03.
In a post-race interview, Gidey revealed that she was confident in her plans to break the record, even if it was a bold attempt at a trials event. “I expected to run the world record,” she said, but indicated she had grander plans. “Next I will try again, to run maybe 28:56.”
Whether or not her chance to do so comes before or after her faceoff with Hassan at the Olympics remains to be seen. The 23-year-old becomes the first woman to hold both the 5000m and 10,000m world records since Ingrid Kristiansen did so from 1986-1993.
Yeshaneh later dropped out, but Tsigie Gebreselama came through to take second place in 30:06.01. Tsehay Gemechu was third in 30:19.29.
Getachew breaks national 800m record
It was clear from the outset that athletes were keen to take advantage of the ideal racing conditions in Hengelo.
The evening began with a demonstration of the growing depth in Ethiopian steeplechase. Bikila Tadese Takele, who won the African U18 steeplechase title in 2019, finished first in the men’s race in 8:09.37. Mekides Abebe, who recently lowered her personal best to 9:02.52 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha, took home the win in the women’s race in 9:13.63 with Lomi Muleta right behind in 9:14.03.
Sparks really began to fly in the women’s 800m when newcomer Werkwuha Getachew surprised the field, winning in a world-leading national record of 1:56.67. She beat Ethiopia’s most successful 800m runner, Habitam Alemu, by more than one second, in her first time breaking two minutes.
Getachew, whose first name translates to ‘gold water’, was relatively unknown before the race, but she seems to be taking advantage of growing momentum in women’s Ethiopian middle distance running. Alemu, despite feeling disappointed after her runner-up finish, is happy to see her event grow in stature. “We can find even more youth for the 800m,” she said, indicating that Ethiopian athletes in the shorter distances are only now being properly trained. And she is by no means discouraged: “I still want to do something really special in the 800m.”
The women’s 5000m went out at an aggressive pace, holding a 14:11 pace for most of the race. Gudaf Tsegay tried to run away with the race about half way through, then struggled for a lap, allowing Senbere Teferi and Ejgayehu Taye to re-establish contact and contend for the win.
Tsegay, however, re-emerged from her rough spot to outkick the others and finish in 14:13.32, the fifth-fastest time in history. Taye and Teferi ran 14:14.09 and 14:15.24 respectively, moving up to sixth and seventh on the world all-time list.
The men’s 5000m went out well below 13-minute pace, with many curious as to how steeplechase specialist Getnet Wale would fare. ‘Well’ was the answer, as Wale tucked in the front pack which dwindled to Nibret Melak and frontrunner Milkesa Mengesha until the final lap. Melak, who won the most recent Jan Meda Cross Country Championships, challenged Wale on the final straight, but the 2019 Diamond League steeplechase winner overtook Melak for the win in 12:53.28.
“I can run even faster,” said Wale, who was still thrilled with his result. “I’ve been wanting to run a fast and flat 5000m race for a long time. I knew I had the speed and with better pace making we could have definitely run in the 12:40s.”
Melak was rewarded with a big PB of 12:54.22, while Mengesha – the world U20 cross-country champion – clocked a PB of 12:58.28 for third. Addisu Yehune, an U20 athlete, was fourth in 12:58.99.
Both 1500m races also saw impressive times. Freweyni Hailu, winner at the recent Continental Tour Gold meeting in Ostrava, set a huge PB and a world lead to win the event in a time of 3:57.33. World U20 800m champion Diribe Welteji set a national U20 record of 3:58.93 to finish second.
The winning time in the men’s 10,000m may not have threatened the record books, but it was an exciting race nonetheless.
World 5000m silver medallist Selemon Barega took control of the loaded field early on, and threw in regular surges, running uneven paces in an attempt to shake up the field. U20 athlete Tadese Worku also shared the lead before fading along with the majority of the field throughout the tumultuous race.
As world 10,000m silver medallist Yomif Kejelcha and national 10,000m champion Berihu Aregawi creeped up on the long-time leader in the final stages, it seemed as though Barega had played all his cards too soon. However, a blisteringly fast last lap of about 51 seconds proved Barega still had room left in the tank. Barega, Kejelcha, and Aregawi battled the final 200 metres to finish in 26:49.51, 26:49.73, and 26:50.37 respectively.
The Ethiopian Olympic team is not yet finalised, as this final competition fell along a series of meets in which potential competitors were given the opportunity to prove their fitness and racing ability. But one thing was certainly clear: the Ethiopian Olympic team will be ready, and they will be fast.
Hannah Borenstein for World Athletics
*Subject to the usual ratification procedure