Women's 3000m (Zurich): What a difference five days make, by Alex Mills

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One of the best parts of our sport is that the unpredictable happens.

When the pundits say someone is unbeatable, along comes someone who defeats the undefeated.

Such is the case of Almaz Ayana.

Here is a nice take on her 3000 meter victory in Zurich's Letzigrund stadium, penned by Alex Mills

Ayana_Almaz-Zurich15.jpgAlmaz Ayana, photo by PhotoRun.net

Women's 3000m: What a difference five days make.

Almaz Ayana crowned a wonderful week for the newly crown World Champion at 5000 meters.

Ayana, by defeating compatriot Genzebe Dibaba to take the Zurich Diamond League 3000m, in a meeting record 8:22.34, added some fun questions to the rivalry. For this writer, it seemed funny to think how much more attention had been given to her rival this season.

AyanaLedsDibaba1a-Zurich15.jpgAyana and Dibaba battle over 3000 meters, photo by PhotoRun.net

Coming into the 2015 world championships, it appeared to be only a matter of time until Dibaba was going to make history by winning a historic 1500 & 5000m double. Or, at least that's how the previews were written. Such was her imperious form going into China, the style in which she had defeated Ayana at the Paris Diamond League, and the incredible speed she had shown to break the 1500m world record, that few thought Ayana had much of a chance.

So, once Dibaba had won gold so comfortably in the shorter distance, it was surely a case of how, rather than if, she would take the next title, especially after the turn of pace she had shown to win the metric mile, with the last 800m of her race covered in 1:57.2. The writing was on the wall.

Or was it?

Coming into the 2015 world championships Ayana was carrying the flag for the challengers, the point provers and the underestimated. But should she have been? A world championship bronze medallist two years earlier, she had become third fastest woman of all-time over 5,000m, running 14:14.32 at the Shanghai DL, won the Continental Cup and become African 5K champion in 2014, beating Dibaba in the process, all since Moscow 2013. Her only loss of the season was to Dibaba in Paris and even there she still ran 14:21.97.

Sure, her compatriot had the greater leg speed for a sit and kick race, but what about if it became more tactical?

What if maybe she mixed pace with tactics?

No-one had considered that maybe a combination of both might be possible, when they matched up in China, yet that's what she did. Although Ayana used her tactical savvy to bide her time and allow Dibaba to feel comfortable, she then produced a kick of sorts, striding away with three laps to go. Even so, everyone expected her rival to respond. But, Genzebe Dibaba, couldn't. Too tired from her previous four races at the Bird's Nest Stadium, Dibaba continued to slop backwards with the gap increasing, whilst Ayana just got quicker and quicker. Covering her last 1000 meters in 2:47.58 to Dibaba's lacklustre 2:59.50 that even saw her passed by compatriot Senbere Teferi in the closing stages.

A hard pill to swallow but one Dibaba would be given the opportunity to redeem four days later in Zurich. Only she couldn't. Even when the organisers and Ayana gave her the advantage of a 3K race far more suited to her skill set, Dibaba lost out. This time she was well, and played at her own game as the battle came down to a sprint-off that she lost. As she tried to edge ahead down the back straight she couldn't force her way past her front running rival who surged enough to push forward her prowess. Though it was not totally decisive, she now had the impetus and as they came down the home straight victory was secured with ease.

The challenger was now undoubtably the champion. At least for the time being.

While this is in no way the end one of the best rivalries in running, it certainly puts the ball in Ayana's court as they head into the all important Olympic year. With Dibaba clearly showing a certain fragility at this time of the season once, there must be some hope at least from Ayana's court, that if she goes about attempting WR at the same frequency next season, she will be a similar position in Rio.

Whether she will attempt such an epic double again, however, remains to be seen. Even so, it's great to see predictions go wrong.

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