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A Tale Of Two 10,000’s

Credit: Andrej Isakovic/AFP Photo

The 2017 IAAF World Championships featured two races that were equally compelling, in very different ways.

The 2017 International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships (a.k.a. the track and field world championships) began this weekend and will continue through next week. Regardless of whatever else happens, this year’s event will be remembered as the final meet of the world’s fastest man. Usain Bolt has captivated the world for the past decade with his elegant and seemingly effortless speed and charming enthusiasm, becoming one of the planet’s most beloved athletes.

While Bolt’s legacy should certainly be celebrated at his final meet, his retirement should not overshadow the accomplishments of the other world class athletes who’ve gathered in London for the second biggest event in their sport.

For starters, Bolt isn’t the only legend retiring after this event. Mohamed “Mo” Farah of Great Britain is also competing in his final world championship meet. After this, he has two more races, one in Birmingham and one in Zurich, before he officially retires later this month.

Farah, you might remember, took home gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics in the 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter events. He’s also won gold in both races three times at the world championships, including a thrilling win in the 10,000-meter this weekend, and is the favorite for next Sunday’s 5,000 meter race next Sunday. He has won 10 consecutive races and was knighted along with tennis star Andy Murray for his great accomplishments. Farah clearly is a legend in his own right, and he proved so in his gold medal performance Friday evening.

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Credit: Getty Images

Farah combines two elements of running that normally reside on two separate ends of the strategic spectrum. Speed and stamina usually work against each other; if you increase speed, you use up energy faster, and if you slow down, you’re likely to be able to run for a longer distance. In other words, most runners have to make a decision — run far or run fast.

Farah runs far, fast. 

Bolt, for the record, combines earth-gobbling stride length with above average leg turnover. He is awe-inspiring in so many ways.

Farah’s competitors are well aware of his abilities, and runners have time and again tried to figure out how to defeat him. Should they push the pace early, hoping to break away from the pack and drain Farah of some of his late-race boost? Or should they conserve energy until late and pray that they might outkick one of the fastest sprinters in the field? Neither strategy has worked against the 34-year-old, as was shown in the 2017 world championship 10,000-meter race. 

Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda took an early lead, setting the pace well in front of the rest of the runners, hoping to coax Farah into wasting energy by joining him at the front. Farah, however, stayed back until the pack caught up with Cheptegei. Before being passed, Cheptegei (who would finish second) waved a triad of Ethiopians ahead of him, as if he were telling them to take up his earlier pace and force Farah’s hand.

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Credit: Reuters

They did not, and Farah glided along without laboring. Not until the final 1600 meters did Farah really make a move, at which point he got bumped, running off the track momentarily. He also got spiked and required three stitches in his knee after the race.

Yet these setbacks could not stop him from out-sprinting his opponents in the final lap to earn a hard-fought, close victory.

However, neither close nor hard-fought would be appropriate descriptors for the women’s 10,000 meter race.

Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia showed Katie Ledecky-like dominance in her gold medal finish. Unlike Farah, Ayana did not allow the pack to even consider how they might defeat her. She broke away with more than two-thirds of the race remaining and proceeded to decimate her competition, leading by more than 200 meters — half a lap — when she finished.

Here are some remarkable notes and numbers on her win:

  • Ayana won by 46.37 seconds, far and away the largest margin of victory in any 10,000-meter race ever, according to the IAAF.

  • She ran a 5,000-meter split of 14:24, which would clock in as the world’s third fastest time in the 5,000-meter event this year. 

  • 31 runners finished the women’s 10,000-meter race — Ayana lapped 27 of them.

  • She rattled off three consecutive sub-70 second laps with more than half the race to go. That is freakishly, and some might even say foolishly, fast for that early in a race of that distance.

  • Ayana holds the world record in the 10,000-meter, which she set at the Olympics last year. She crushed the previous record by 15 seconds.

  • Her world record race was her first 10,000-meter event ever, according to the IAAF. Her performance Saturday night in London was her second.

  • She had not participated in a single race in nearly 11 months.

And yet she still absolutely annihilated the field in her first race of 2017.

The all-encompassing decisiveness of her win contrasts with the effort exerted by Farah in the men’s race. Each athlete held control of their race, Farah by lounging and biding his time before making the winning move and Ayana by setting an untenably blistering pace at the outset. Both earned another notch in their legacy by competing in very different, but nonetheless exhilarating styles.

While we celebrate the end of Bolt and Farah’s careers at the 2017 world championships, it also marks the enthroning of Ayana, an athlete who will fill the void Farah leaves in distance running. At 25, Ayana stands to reign over the sport for another half decade or more. Greatness, as Tim Layden reminded us, always replaces itself.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, David Kaptzan.

SQuiz
Which of these races did Mo Farah NOT win?
Created 8/6/17
  1. 2011 World Championship 10,000 m. in Daegu
  2. 2012 Olympic 5,000 m. in London
  3. 2013 World Championship 5,000 m. in Moscow
  4. 2017 World Championship 10,000 m. in London

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