Beijing Perspective-Stage Set for Wariner-Merritt and Dibaba-Defar Clashes, by Bob Ramsak

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Here, Bob Ramsak wisely writes about two of the upcoming clashes in Beijing!

TRACK PROFILE Report #812
20-August-2008

STAGE SET FOR WARINER-MERRITT, DIBABA-DEFAR CLASHES

By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved

BEIJING -- Tuesday evening’s semi-final competition set the stage for two of the most eagerly anticipated showdowns of the Games: Wariner v Merritt in the men’s 400 and Dibaba v. Defar in the women’s 5000.

Even before events took a dramatic turn in the men’s 100 meters, the Jeremy Wariner – LaShawn Merritt clash over the full lap was billed as the showdown of the Games. And both looked extremely well prepared after their convincing and dominating victories in the semi-finals.

In the first of three heats, defending Olympic and two-time World champion Wariner wasted little time to stamp his authority. On fire out of the blocks, the 24-year-old Texan made up the stagger on the field by midway, and once through the turn, gradually shut it down, looking to his outside some 40 meters from the finish before cruising through the line in 44.15. This season, only he and Merritt have run faster.

And Merritt was even faster. Out quickly but more patiently than Wariner, the 22-year-old U.S. champion gradually built a comfortable lead with what appeared to a very evenly run race. He was unchallenged over the final 100 meters, stopping the clock in 44.12.

“I’m excited for the finals,” said Wariner, who leads the world this year at 43.86. “I knew where I was at. I did everything I wanted to.”

Said Merritt, who’s run 44.00 this year: “Anything can happen on any day. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m ready to show the world what I can do.”

In 2008, the two have split their four meetings. The lane draw may be critical; both of Wariner’s victories came when Merritt ran to his outside. In Thursday’s final, Merritt will line up in lane four, and Wariner in seven.

Behind Merritt, Briton Martyn Rooney improved yet again, making up two spots over the final 50 meters to finish second in a personal best 44.60, just ahead of Swedish record holder Johan Wissman, who advanced easily on time. Renny Quow of Trinidad, moved on as well after his 44.82, also a career best.

“The last 100 meters were hard,” said Rooney, who as each race passes, looks more and more a medal contender. “I had to run a personal best to get through.”

Meanwhile, Bahamian Chris Brown, this season’s third fastest, was the only other runner remotely close to Wariner and advanced easily with his runner-up finish in 44.59.

RARE DEFAR-DIBABA FACE-OFF SET

A day later on Friday, another of the fiercest rivalries in the sport will take centre stage: Tirunesh Dibaba, the recently minted Olympic 10,000m champion will square off against Meseret Defar, the reigning 5000m champion.

Since the 2002 World junior championships, when Defar took the title over Dibaba, the Ethiopian duo have met 22 times in the 5000m, with Defar holding a narrow 12-10 lead while building up her resume as arguably the world’s finest 5000m runner. But in June, Defar, who has dominated the 10,000 in recent years, took the World record from Defar in Oslo clocking 14:11.15. Defar tried to reclaim it in Stockholm a month later, but came up just a few meters short, clocking 14:12.88. The two are that close.

For whatever reasons, they haven’t met since the World Athletics Final nearly two years ago – won by Defar - but their paths will finally, and dramatically cross here as Dibaba aims to win her second medal of the Games while Defar hopes to hold on to a title she considers hers.

Each won their respective heats tonight with relative ease, Dibaba the slower first in 15:09.89 and Defar the faster second in 14:56.32. Their victories were remarkably similar as both were content to sit back in the pack and let others do the leading. Dibaba moved the front just beyond the bell and held on, while Defar chose to wait until about 200 meters remained.

If either can be considered to have a slight edge, it would be Defar, who raced for the first time in these Games. The biggest question mark hanging over Dibaba will be how she’ll recover from her phenomenal victory in the 10,000m, where her stunning 29:54.66 performance was the second fastest in history.

Neither of the first round heats produced much drama for the remaining five automatic spots behind the Ethiopian pair, with the slots already more or less determined as the fields approached their respective bell laps.

Just a little more than a second separated spots two through five in the first race, with Kenyan Sylvia Kibet (15:10.37), Alemitu Bekele (15:10.92) of Turkey, Ethiopia’s African Champion Meselech Melkamu (15:11.21) and Gulnara Galkina-Samitova (15:11.46) of Russia moving on easily. Behind them, American Jenn Rhines, who ran with the leaders through much of the race, nabbed the sixth automatic spot, clocking 15:15.12.

The significantly quicker pace over the final kilometer in the second race would guarantee that the next three over the line behind the top six automatic qualifiers would also advance.

With Vivian Cheruiyot (14:57.27) and Priscah Jepleting (14:58.07) advancing, Kenya will have three women in the final, as will the United States, led by Shalane Flanagan, the 10,000m bronze medallist, and Kara Goucher.

Also advancing were Russian Liliya Shobukhova (14:57.77), who broke the European record last month, and former 5000m World record holder Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey.

While the Defar-Dibaba show will take the spotlight, behind them several other notable double attempts will be undertaken. Galkina-Samitova won the first Olympic gold medal in the 3000m Steeplechase on Sunday, clocking a World record of 8:58.81. Abeylegesse won silver in the 10,000m on Friday with a European record 29:56.34 (the third fastest performance in history) in what very well might have been the finest ever women’s contest over the distance.

ENDS

Used with permission of Bob Ramsak, publisher of http://www.trackprofile.com

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