Kenyan queen arrives

Linet Masai

Kenya’s pride in long-distance running has endured many a blow from their African rivals in recent times and the glee at getting one back at the Ethiopians was all too obvious in the Kenyan ranks as Linet Masai scripted a spectacular victory in the World Championships 10,000M final on Saturday night.

Masai outsprinted Meselech Melkamu and Meseret Defar in a dramatic finish, leaving Ethiopia shell-shocked. In a slow race, Masai had joined the leaders along with fellow-Kenyan Grace Momanyi in the last few laps but Defar and Melkamu seemed to be in control even with 50 metres left. That was when Masai stepped in to alter the script in stunning fashion.

“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it,” said Masai. “The plan of the Kenyan team was to assist ourselves toward the end. In the last 100 metres, I saw I was so strong, so I decided to push a bit harder.” The 19-year-old Masai, who was fourth at the Beijing Olympics, ran to a plan to upset the Ethiopian applecart. “With three kilometres to go, I decided to push the pace higher so that maybe I could be there at last. When I did that, I was expecting to win,” she said.

That pace forced the Ethiopians to dig deep and even though they led into the straight, they didn’t have that deadly final kick. The presence of Tirunesh Dibaba, the defending champion who pulled out of the 10,000 due to a leg injury, would have made a difference, but Masai refused to believe so. “It doesn’t matter if she is there or not. This year, I raced against her over 5,000 metres in New York and she was second. So her presence would not have made any difference,” retorted Masai. The Masai family is targeting a double here, with Linet’s elder brother Moses also lining up in the 10,000M. Moses, who was fourth in the Bangalore World 10K last year, was also fourth at the Beijing Olympic Games and has promised to do better than his sister here.

The race itself had its share of drama, with a faulty start going unnoticed. The 22 runners were lined up in two batches with the first batch taking the start a few metres ahead, but there were no cones on the track indicating when they should cut into the inside lane.

The officials also misread the photo finish and initially placed Defar as third. She had actually been pushed to the fifth spot by a fast-finishing Wude Ayalew, also of Ethiopia. A night of confusion and misery for the Ethiopians then, but the Kenyans weren’t complaining.

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