Osaka Notes, Day 4, by Mary Nicole Nazzaro


In Tuesday's column, Nicole writes about Tirunesh Dibaba, the two time 10,000 m world champion and two time 5,000 meter world champion. The 10,000 meters in Osaka has taken so much out of Dibaba that she has withdrawn from the 5,000 meter race, which means she can not defend her titles from Paris and Helsinki. Here, Nicole speaks about Tirunesh and her world....

Osaka Notes
By Mary Nicole Nazzaro
Day 4: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"The little girl who won Paris." That's how Tirunesh Dibaba's Ethiopian fans refer to her when she's out on the town in Addis Ababa.

Saturday night in Osaka, the world got a sense of how that "little girl" runs when the pressure is on. She was the defending world champion in the 10,000-meter race and everyone expected the world of her. Right when she seemed to be in control, the unthinkable: a collision with compatriot Mestawet Tufa. The pack kept going. By the time Dibaba regained her foot speed, she was meters behind the competition.

In the Tour de France, when a champion falls, the peloton waits to allow him to catch up to the pack. In the world track and field championships, there are no such kind gestures. It would be up to "Tiru" herself.

And, astonishingly, she would do it. By the end of the race, she had put just enough distance between herself and second-place finisher Elvan Abeylegesse – 4.01 seconds, to be exact – to take another gold in convincing style.

Tuesday morning in Osaka, Dibaba sat for a rare interview as a chauffered car brought her from her team's hotel in northwestern Osaka to Nagai Stadium for a Mizuno-sponsored press conference with her and Meseret Defar, world record holder in the 5000 meters. Translating for Dibaba was Global Athletics and Marketing's Adida Ababa office manager, Elias Kebede.

On the ride, Dibaba reiterated what she had said Saturday night: that if it had not been a situation where she was representing Ethiopia, she would have dropped out of the race after the fall.

What's a normal 22-year-old woman's life in Ethiopia? Dibaba is nothing if not abnormal, but she insists that "normal" is in the eye of the beholder. A normal 22-year-old might be married, might be in university, might be working. In the modernizing Ethiopia of 2007, there is no one path for women to follow.

Dibaba's first cousin Derartu Tulu was her inspiration. Dibaba says she was too young to watch Tulu win the 1992 Olympic 10,000-meter final over South Africa's Elana Meyer, and shrugs when asked if she's ever seen a tape of the race, easily one of the finest races in Olympic history. What motivated Dibaba to run, though, is not in question. "I wanted to be like Tulu," she says.

At the press conference with Meseret Defar, Dibaba spoke of a recurring cramp in her right side that hindered her during the 10,000 and said that she would decide by the evening whether to defend her 5000-meter world title (as of 8 p.m. that night, the answer was no – she would not run). A Bulgarian and a Chinese reporter wanted to know if the Ethiopian women knew runners from their countries; they knew Xing Huina, the Olympic 10,000-meter champion from Athens, but had nothing specific to say about her. They talked about race tactics for the 5000.

There was no sign of animosity between them, though they enjoy a fierce on-track rivalry. It would have been stunning to see Dibaba attempt the 5/10 double again, and with Defar at her best, the 5000 would have been a blazer. As it stands, Osaka fans will have to be satisfied with having watched the little girl who won Paris as she won just one title in Osaka. Defar, without her rival, takes the line for the 5000 semifinals on Wednesday evening.

M. Nicole Nazarro, China Sports Blog:

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