RIO DE JANEIRO, (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana smashed the world record to win the Olympic 10,000 metres title on Friday, blowing away the competition in one of the greatest ever long-distance races at the Games.
In only her second competitive 10,000m, Ayana dominated from the start and halfway through the race she surged away from the leading pack, injecting staggering pace to finish in 29 minutes 17.45 seconds.
Her time was 14 seconds inside the 29:31.78 set by China’s Wang Junxia in 1993.
“This means everything to me,” Ayana told reporters. “Getting to this point is a dream come true, I never thought it would happen and I’m so in awe.” It was the first time in seven years that a female athlete had run 10,000m in under 30 minutes and the first four all achieved the feat. The first 13 women across the line clocked personal bests, including five national records.
Kenya’s world 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot tried in vain to keep up with Ayana but had to settle for silver while Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba, the defending Olympic champion, grabbed bronze.
All three women ran inside the old Olympic 10,000m record.
Ayana’s time was even more astonishing because it was set at the Olympics where races tend to be cagey, tactical affairs and long-distance records are rarely broken.
“When I saw the world record set in 1993, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And Ayana has absolutely blitzed that time,” Paula Radcliffe, the former British runner who still holds the women’s marathon world record, told the BBC.
“I’m not sure that I can understand that.” Ayana’s opponents were also stunned and Swedish runner Sarah Lahti, who finished 12th, questioned the Ethiopian’s performance.
But Ayana, who comes from a religious family, fiercely rejected any suggestions of doping at a news conference after the race.
“My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus. I’m crystal clear,” she said through an interpreter.
Cheruiyot, Kenya’s most decorated female athlete, also fell short in the 2012 London Games where she took bronze, meaning the east African country’s wait for its first women’s 10,000m gold medallist continues.
The 31-year-old Dibaba, who returned in 2016 from a two-year layoff following the birth of her son, was seeking to become the first woman in Olympic history to win an individual athletics event three times in a row.
Ayana will now turn her attention to her preferred 5,000m distance, in which she is favourite to win and become only the second woman after Dibaba to claim gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 in the same Games.
The 24-year-old won the 5,000m title at the 2015 Beijing world championships and in June came within four seconds of breaking Dibaba’s 5,000m world record set in 2008.