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Posted: September 8, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: Niyonsaba & Aregawi Are Diamond League 5000m Champions

From David Monti, @d9monti
© 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

(08-Sep) -- Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Berihu Aregawi of Ethiopia won the 2021 Wanda Diamond League 5000m titles today on a special egg-shaped track constructed in Zürich's Sechseläutenplatz. The two Nike-sponsored athletes won in tactical, yet fast, races and each earned USD 30,000 in prize money. The 5000m races were the only track events held on the first day of the two-day Wanda Diamond League Final which moves to the famous Letzigrund Stadium tomorrow.

IMAGE: A shot of the Sechseläutenplatz set up for the Wanda Diamond League Final in Zürich with the opera house in the background (television still via Peacock TV)

The special 563-meter track encircled Zürich's famous Opera House and a specially-built infield where the long jump and shot put finals were held for both men and women, and the high jump for women. Spectators were treated to close-up views of the action in addition to beautiful sunny, late-summer weather (26C/79F).

Running on the non-standard track presented several challenges to the athletes. First, there were three banked turns which dropped down quickly to the ground level where the synthetic competition surface was laid directly on the pavement (the banked turns were build on wooden frames). The competitors ran 8.9 laps instead of the usual 12.5, so their lap splits didn't have their usual meaning. Also, the straightaways were of different lengths and the homestretch was much longer than the usual 100 meters. To complicate matters, organizers erected a small gantry over the track featuring sponsor signage which was placed about 15 meters past the finish line. The finish line was only marked by the photo timing device on the inside leading some competitors to sprint for the gantry instead of the actual finish line. The event was more like some of the traditional road races in Italy where athletes run short laps of city blocks.

The women's race went first behind the pacing of Canadian Olympian Kate Van Buskirk who pulled the field through the first 1000m. Van Buskirk's official split was 2:49.49, but that would have been below world record pace so perhaps that mark was recorded incorrectly (the athletes looked quite relaxed and were all still together). After Van Buskirk dropped out, Margaret Kipkemboi took over the lead and her 2000m split of 5:46.08 was more credible, putting the field on pace for a 14:25 finish time.

Niyonsaba, who finished fifth in the Olympic 10,000m after being DQ'd in the 5000m for stepping inside of the track border, looked comfortable and she seemed to be shadowing Kenya's Hellen Obiri, who finished one place in front of her in Tokyo. Ethiopia's Ejgayehu Taye, Kipkemboi, and Kenya's Eva Cherono were also in the front group.

Obiri split 3000m in 8:45.15 with Niyonsaba still close behind. Not much changed until the final lap where Niyonsaba simply overwhelmed the field, pulling away from Obiri and her other rivals to win in 14:28.98. Obiri, who will also run Sunday's Great North Run half-marathon in England, finished second in 14:29.68 and Taye got third in 14:30.30.

"I stayed behind most of the race, this was my tactics; I am still learning after switching from 800m to longer distances," Niyonsaba said. "I did what I had to do. We love to see the people around here, cheering for us. This race was amazing."

The men's race came down to the final two laps after Aregawi injected a surge just past the 4000m mark where Kenya's Nicholas Kimeli had been leading. Both Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia and Birhanu Balew of Bahrain responded, but the baby-faced Aregawi, 20, easily stayed in front and got the win in 12:58.65 and the USD 30,000 payday.

Kejelcha seemed to have control of second place, but the tall and lanky athlete was clearly tiring. He looked back and saw Kimeli, another Kenyan Jacob Krop, and Balew coming for him and indeed all three men passed him. Balew got second in 13:01.27, Krop was third in 13:01.81, Kimeli fourth in 13:02.43, and Kejelcha fifth in 13:04.29.

"It was a really good performance, a really good race," Aregawi said. "The pacemaker (Bethwel Birgen of Kenya) did a great job. The time was excellent, I did not expect such a fast time, such a PB. I am very happy."

Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who also qualified for the 5000m final, chose not to start and will run the 1500m tomorrow, instead. One Norwegian fan could be seen holding a banner which read, "Where's Jakob?".

Even though today's races were Diamond League finals, the marks won't count for statistical purposes because the track was non-standard.

There will be more distance action tomorrow on the second and final day of this meeting where the 800m, 1500m and 3000m steeplechase disciplines will be contested.

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