An exceptional last lap from Ethiopia’s Baby Faced Destroyer Tirunesh Dibaba denied Kenya gold as Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot won the country’s first medals of London 2012 during an enthralling women 10,000m final on Friday night.
Dibaba, a seven-time world champion who holds the Olympics record pounced on Kipyego as they came for the bell and opened up a breathtaking finishing kick to defend her title and re-write history as the Daegu Worlds silver winner and double Worlds champion, Cheruiyot were forced to accept the lesser medals in that order.
Greatness in the first track final of London 2012 prevailed in a world leading 30:20.75 as Kipyego ran a race of her life to win the second medal in 30:26.37 as one of the pre-race favourites Cheruiyot faded in the final 600m to take the third medal in 3:30.44, her first podium finish at the Games.
The third Kenyan in the race, African Cross senior women champion, Joyce Chepkirui paid for frenetic early pace to record a DNF on her Olympics debut as the team’s tactics aimed at stemming the Ethiopian caved in the might of Dibaba.
Kipyego and Cheruiyot who were seeking double glory at the Olympics need to dust the disappointment of losing out to a living legend and pick themselves up for the shorter 5000m heats on Tuesday in the knowledge that even at their best, Dibaba was supreme.
It was a welcome return to form for the 26-year-old, who missed the world cross-country champs in Jordan and the world championships in Berlin in 2009 because of nagging injuries.
The Japanese trio of runners took their customary lead through the first 10 circuits of the 25-lap race before the Kenyans took over the pace making.
Chepkirui, the Kenyan cross-country champion, and reigning world silver medallist Kipyego upped the tempo as the field began to string out as they hit 5,000m in 15:32.06.
Ethiopian Worknesh Kidane, a record 21-time medallist at the world cross-country championships including gold medallist in 2003, took the lead through the tenth lap and was the perfect foil for Dibaba.
In ideal running conditions, with a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius (64 Fahrenheit) and a slight breeze, the lead chopped and changed between Kidane and Chepkirui, the Ethiopian kicking with eight laps to go.
Dibaba was pulled along on Kidane’s coattails with Cheruiyot and Kipyego as Chepkirui fell off the pace.
The quartet kicked free of the chasers to set up a battle royale in the last three laps.
Kipyego led with 800 metres to go as Dibaba eased past her fading teammate Kidane and produced a deadly spurt of acceleration at 600m to build up a convincing 40-metre lead over a Kenyan duo left powerless to respond.
Dibaba hit the back straight clear, her eyes flicking to the big screen in front of her before she crossed the line with arms raised.
Kipyego kicked enough to claim silver ahead of the flagging Cheruiyot, who will now look to make her mark in this Olympics in the 5000m.
1 1706 Ethiopia DIBABA Tirunesh 30:20.75 SB +
2 2336 Kenya KIPYEGO Sally Jepkosgei 30:26.37 PB +
3 2327 Kenya CHERUIYOT Vivian Jepkemoi 30:30.44 PB +
4 1710 Ethiopia KIDANE Werknesh 30:39.38 SB +
5 1713 Ethiopia OLJIRA Beleynesh 30:45.56 +
6 1258 Bahrain ESHETE Shitaye 30:47.25 NR +
7 1871 Great Britain PAVEY Joanne 30:53.20 PB +
8 1849 Great Britain BLEASDALE Julia 30:55.63 PB