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Posted: July 3, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: Defar Faces Melkamu, Not Defar, in Oslo 5000m

From David Monti

© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

By Bob Ramsak

OSLO (02-Jul) -– During the previous two editions of the ExxonMobil Bislett Games, Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba took turns smashing the world record in the 5000m. Both were on the slate in the event on Friday, but when Dibaba announced yesterday that she was pulling out of Friday night’s race due to injury, the meet was robbed of one of the most eagerly anticipated face-offs of the year. Yet despite the double Olympic champion’s withdrawal, Defar will nonetheless have quite a race on her hands when the AF Golden League series resumes tomorrow night here.

Two years ago here, Defar sliced nearly eight seconds from her own world record with a dazzling 14:16.63 run, which Dibaba took even lower last year, clocking 14:11.15. While she’s not predicting another world record run, Defar said she’s ready to dazzle again.

“I’m going to do my very best,” said Defar, whose only outing outdoors this year was a 31:07.34 victory in a specially arranged 10,000m race in Stockholm in May. “I’m going to run a very fast race.”

With compatriot Meselech Melkamu in the field, she’ll most likely have to. The 24-year-old arrives in the shape of her life, and at the moment, as the fastest woman in the world at both the 5000 and 10,000m this year. On June 14, Melkamu became the second fastest women ever in the 10,000m, after scorching a 29:53.80 national record in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Three days later, she toppled a strong 5000m field in Ostrava, where she ran 14:34.17, a world lead. Her antics impressed many, including Defar.

“I ran 31:07 in May, and she ran 29:53,” Defar said. “Yes, I was very surprised.”

Defar has requested a world record pace, and organizers have obliged. Pacesetter Yelena Zadorozhnaya of Russia has been asked to churn out 68-second laps in an effort to bring the leaders through 3000 meters in under 8:34.

The field also includes Vivian Cheruiyot, the 25-year-old Kenyan who first pushed, and then chased, Defar to her world record two years ago. Staying in contact for all but the final two laps, Cheruiyot was rewarded with a 14:22.51 national record. More recently, she won the Kenyan 1500m title in Nairobi last weekend, and the week before finished third in the Ostrava 5000m, clocking 14:38.26.

As for Dibaba, her injury is not suspected to be serious, and she’ll most likely race at least once prior to her 10,000m title defense in Berlin next month, said her manager Mark Wetmore, who also represents Defar.

“On Tuesday morning, Tirunesh said she was fit and ready to go,” Wetmore said. “And then we found out yesterday morning that she sustained a small injury on Tuesday evening. I think she wanted to be 100 percent to race against Meseret.”

There is also a high powered men’s 5000m on tap, headed by Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele. The Ethiopian is looking to stay alive in the $1 million Golden League Jackpot chase, after his solid victory in Berlin three weeks ago. His compatriot Sileshi Sihine, and Kenyans Abraham Chebii and Vincent Chepkok, second and fourth in Berlin and less than a second behind, will try to stop him.

Synonymous with the Bislett Games is the evening-capping Dream Mile. This year, the hands down favorite is Kenyan Augustine Choge, who’s taken fast 3:30.20 and 3:29.47 1500m victories this season in Doha and Berlin. The latter was a career best for the 22-year-old, as his 1:44.86 clocking in the Ostrava 800m 15 days ago. World indoor champion Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia could be a factor but defending champion Andy Baddeley won’t be. The Briton, who won here last year in 3:49.38, is sidelined by an ankle injury he sustained on Tuesday.

Like the women’s 5000m, the men’s 800m features the return of a runner with fond memories of Oslo. A year ago, Abubaker Kaki produced a sensational 1:42.69 world junior record, the fastest performance of 2008. He’s already nearly in sub-1:43 form with a 1:43.09 best from May, and arrives unbeaten in five races outdoors this year. Challenges will likely come from Mohammed Al-Salhi who sped to a 1:43.66 Saudi national record in Doha, and from the ever unpredictable Yuriy Borzakovskiy.

Elsewhere, Kenyan Ruth Bisibori leads the field in the women’s steeplechase and Irishman Alistair Cragg tops the field in the men’s 1500m.

Meseret Defar at the 2009 ExxonMobil Bislett Games pre-race press conferance (photo by Bob Ramsak)

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