ON HIS WAY TO BECOMING Ethiopia’s youngest gold medalist ever Selemon Barega had to change his approach in the 10,000. In only his fifth career 25-lapper the 21-year-old was unsure at first with how to deal with the early breakaway of Ugandan Stephen Kissa, who went to the front at the start and built a huge lead.
Not that Kissa, a 27:26 performer who didn’t project to be a factor, was going terribly fast — at the first kilo marker he was at 2:43.93, a clip that if held would lead to a pedestrian-by-modern-standards 27:19 — it’s just that no one went with him. His lead stretched to nearly 50m as the final time would end up being the slowest since ’92.
While the front-end pace was one that many in the field could handle on a cooler day, the official temperature was 75 (24C), with the humidity a stunning 98% Kissa was quite honest about why he hung himself out to dry, so to speak, in the brutal conditions: “It was a sacrifice for the team. We had a plan for me to go ahead to make it a fast race.” Yet even the best-laid plans… “I thought they were going to follow me but when I looked around they were not there.”
When Barega and Kenyan Rhonex Kipruto — the road 10K WR holder — nearly reeled him in at 3200m, the Ugandan put on another surge to stay clear. Barega figured out what was up. “[The Ugandans] were able to communicate with each other because they were training with themselves.” So he made the decision to ignore the ambitious pacesetter and quickly dropped back into the back to stalk Kissa’s more dangerous teammates, WR holder Joshua Cheptegei and yearly world leader Jacob Kiplimo.
Kissa led through halfway in 14:08.56. Three laps later, the pack finally caught up; his task completed, Kissa walked off the track. As the final laps approached—with the pace at mortal levels—the pack remained large. With 2-plus laps remaining, a dozen remained in contention, Kenya’s Rodgers Kwemoi up front.
By the time of the bell, with 7 others still right there, Barega had worked his way to the front and was in full sprint for the final lap. Cheptegei and Kiplimo chased hard but could not match his furious gait. Fellow Ethiopian Berihu Aregawi held on until the final 200 before, like so many others, he too folded.
On the final stretch, Barega’s domination of the day could not be doubted. He finished off his 27:43.22 gold medal performance with a 26.0 final furlong, covering the last lap in 53.9, the final 800 in 1:53.9, and the final 1600 in 4:00.9. Cheptegei closed a hair faster — 25.9 — but was too far back when the kicking started to take the race. He finished in 27:43.63, with Kiplimo a stride back at 27:43.88.
Said the favored (well, at least on the T&FN formchart) Barega, “I was not worried at all even though [the Ugandans] were winners before and even though they were really coming near, I was more expecting my colleagues from Ethiopia to be part of the top winners.”
Cheptegei’s silver helped redeem a season in which he hasn’t showed anything like the form that netted him WRs at 5/10K last year. “This year is a year that I don’t understand myself properly because I’ve been having some challenges mentally. At one time I was almost trying to say that maybe I need to take a break, refresh my mind and stay with family and build up to the next season, but then I remembered I have not had an Olympic medal so for that reason and the reason that so many people have supported me towards my career, I said I need to do this for them.”
Aregawi, 4th in 27:46.16, was nearly caught by Grant Fisher’s kick. The American scored 5th in 27:46.49, looking so good in the final two laps that one could speculate he might have nabbed another place had he not run himself into boxes of slower traffic at least twice in the final 420m. Among those he outkicked were fellow Bowerman TC runner Moh Ahmed of Canada (6th in 27:47.76) and Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha (8th in 27:52.03, apparently running on an injured foot).
The other Americans fared not as well. Woody Kincaid had run near Fisher much of the distance but in the closing laps succumbed to what looked like heat distress. He finished 15th in 28:11.01, a few strides ahead of 16th-placer Joe Klecker (28:14.18), who had fallen off the pack much earlier.
MEN’S 10,000 RESULTS
(July 30) (temperature 75F/24C; 98% humidity)
1. Selemon Barega (Eth) 27:43.22
(finish—13.2, 26.0, 53.9, 1:53.9, 4:00.9) (14:12.6/13:30.6);
2. Joshua Cheptegei (Uga) 27:43.63
(13.8, 25.9, 53.9, 1:54.8, 4:02.8) (14:10.1/13:33.5);
3. Jacob Kiplimo (Uga) 27:43.88
(13.2, 26.2, 54.1, 1:54.4, 4:01.7) (14:10.6/13:33.3);
4. Berihu Aregawi (Eth) 27:46.16
(finishing splits missing) (14:13.2/13:33.0);
5. Grant Fisher (US) 27:46.39
(14.3, 28.2, 56.3, 1:57.2, 4:04.0) (14:11.0/13:35.4);
6. Moh Ahmed (Can) 27:47.76
(15.8, 29.7, 58.4, 1:58.8, 4:05.9) (14:11.6/13:36.2);
7. Rodgers Chumo (Ken) 27:50.06; 8. Yomif Kejelcha (Eth) 27:52.03; 9. Rhonex Kipruto (Ken) 27:52.78; 10. Morhad Amdouni (Fra) 27:53.58; 11. Yemaneberhan Crippa (Ita) 27:54.05; 12. Aron Kifle (Eri) 28:04.06; 13. Carlos Mayo (Spa) 28:04.71; 14. Marc Scott (GB) 28:09.23; 15. Woody Kincaid (US) 28:11.01 (14:11.5/13:59.5); 16. Joe Klecker (US) 28:14.18 (14:12.3/14:01.9); 17. Akira Aizawa (Jpn) 28:18.37; 18. Isaac Kimeli (Bel) 28:31.91; 19. Patrick Tiernan (Aus) 28:35.06; 20. Weldon Kipkirui (Ken) 28:41.42; 21. Julien Wanders (Swi) 28:55.29; 22. Tatsuhiko Ito (Jpn) 29:01.31; 23. Kieran Tuntivate (Tha) 29:01.92;… dnf—Sam Atkin (GB), Stephen Kissa (Uga).
(leader kilos: Kissa 2:43.93, 5:34.79, 8:22.91, 11:14.00, 14:08.56, 16:58.63; Kipruto 19:45.74, 22:36.58; Chumo 25:17.52). ◻︎