NOTE: This story was written remotely --Ed.
(07-Sep) -- On the first day of the two-day 2022 Wanda Diamond League Final in Zürich, Kenya's Beatrice Chebet and Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli took the 5000m titles on a special 563-meter banked track erected in the Sechseläutenplatz near the city's waterfront. Chebet, 22, who won the silver medal in the same event at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene last July, clocked a fast 14:31.03, despite the track's visibly uneven surface and oblong shape. Kimeli, who turns 24 at the end of this month, enjoyed a come-from-behind win in the race's final 200m, clocking 12:59.05. Both athletes won $30,000 in prize money and earned wildcard entries for the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest.
PHOTO: Beatrice Chebet immediately after winning the 2022 Wanda Diamond League Final 5000m in Zurich (photo courtesy of Diamond League AG)
Unlike most championships races, the Diamond League Final uses pacemaking. On the women's side Hungary's Viktória Wagner-Gyürkés had that job and took the leaders through the first kilometer in a not-too-fast 2:50.4. Wagner-Gyürkés retired just before two kilometers (5:47.08) where reigning world 5000m champion Guday Tsegay held the lead. She was followed closely by Chebet with American Alicia Monson and Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan a few steps back.
Tsegay, who is the World Athletics 1500m indoor world record holder (3:53.09), slowed things down in the third and fourth kilometers, perhaps confident that her kick would be the fastest at the end. At 3000m (8:43.8) Chebet and Tsegay were together followed closely by Ethiopia's Ejgayehu Taye and Kenya's Margaret Kipkemboi. Hassan trailed the leading quartet by a few steps, and Monson was still further back.
But instead of leveraging their lead, Chebet and Tsegay slowed again allowing Hassan and Monson to catch up. Six women remained in contention with a little more than a kilometer to go.
With a lap remaining Taye, Tsegay, and Monson were running three across, and Kipkemboi, Chebet and Hassan were right behind. Tsegay waited a little longer, then launched her bid for victory. Both Chebet and Taye responded quickly, and Kipkemboi did her best to stay close. Hassan and Monson were already too far back to try for the win and would finish fifth and sixth, respectively.
Coming out of the final bend into the short homestretch, Chebet, Tsegay, Taye and Kipkemboi were running four across the track and it was anyone's race. Chebet, who was running in lane two, made her final push for the line and just had a little more speed than her three rivals. She edged Kipkemboi by 48/100ths of a second, 14:31.03 to 14:31.52. Tsegay got third just a few centimeters ahead of Taye, 14:32.11 to 14:32.15.
"What an incredible finish to win," said Chebet who also won the Commonwealth Games 5000m title this year. She added: "It's a long season since world championship until now, so it's a good performance."
In the men's contest, last year's Diamond League winner Berihu Aregawi was determined to control the race. He followed pacemaker Maximilian Thorwirth of Germany closely through 1000m in 2:35.2 and 2000m in 5:11.4. When Thorwirth left the track, Aregawi continued on the front trailed by America's Grant Fisher, Ethiopia's Telahun Haile Bekele and Selemon Barega, South Sudan's Dominic Lobalu, and Kenya's Cornelius Kemboi. Two of the pre-race favorites, Ethiopia's Yomif Kejelcha and Kenya's Jacob Krop, had dropped out. Kimeli was not with the leaders.
PHOTO: Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli wins the 2022 Wanda Diamond League Final 5000m in Zurich (photo courtesy of Diamond League AG)
"I was struggling at first, so I decided not to stay with the fastest group," Kimeli told the event's post-race interview team.
At 3000m (7:46.2) Barega was the nominal leader with Aregawi right with him. Fisher drifted to the back of the group and appeared to be out of contention. Kimeli was still well back.
In the fourth kilometer with 8:56 showing on the clock, Aregawi put in a surge and opened a little gap on Barega, Bekele and Lobalu. Kimeli was back with Fisher and seemed too far from the lead to catch up. Aregawi tried to pull away again, and with a lap to go he, Lobalu and Bekele were clear of the rest of the field and it looked like the podium was set.
But Kimeli had not given up.
"I managed to close the gap," he said. "It was not too big for me, so it was not too difficult for me to close it. On the last laps, (I) decided to approach them and kick for the final lap."
Remarkably, just before the final bend Kimeli began his sprint. He caught the leading three, passed them and got the win (he was in sixth position with half a lap to go). Lobalu managed to stay close to Kimeli and finished only a step behind in 12:59.40, and Fisher successfully sprinted to a third place finish in 13:00.56 by using the open section on the outside of the four-lane track. Bekele got fourth in 13:02.21 and Aregawi fifth in 13:03.18.
Kimeli said his season was over and that he looked forward to some time off at home.
"This is my last competition," he said. "I will go back home to Kenya, then I start preparing for next year. Next year we have some cross country in early March, so I will work hard to prepare for that. I want to be part of the Kenyan team." He added: "I will spend some time with my family and with my fans."
Because of the irregular track, none of today's marks were valid for 2022 world lists. However, the marks count for the World Athletics athletes ranking system.
The 2022 Wanda Diamond League Final continues tomorrow in Zürich when the competition returns to the Stadion Letzigrund. Finals will be held for both men and women in the 800m, 1500m, and 3000m steeplechase.