OG/Day Eight: Blazing Battles On The Track, Cheptegei 5K Victor; Miller-Uibo and Kipyegon Repeat

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Day 8 was the penultimate session on the track. David Hunter has written a column each and every day of the Olympic track & field. David Hunter has the ability to write about all of the events of Day 8, but as he takes the events on, one by one, you believe that time has stopped, as David gives you the details of each final on Day 8.

OG/Day Eight: Blazing Battles On The Track

Cheptegei 5K Victor; Miller-Uibo and Kipyegon Repeat

August 6th, 2021

As the Olympic track & field schedule of events races to its concluding crescendo, impressive performances are coming fast and furious. At the forefront of Day Eight were the finals of the men's 5000 meters, the women's 400 meters, and the women's 1500 meters. And with apologies to British broadcasters and announcers everywhere, each one was "an absolute cracker!"

In the men's 5000, the field featured the world's top performers: world record holder Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei; top-10 world list racers: Canada's Mohammed Ahmed [#3] and Justin Knight [#5]; Spain's Mohamed Katir [#4]; Uganda's Jacob Kiplimo [#9]; and the USA trio of Paul Chelimo, the '16 Olympic 5000m silver medalist; Grant Fisher, the 5th place finisher in the 10,000; and Woody Kincaid. A sole top-flight absentee would be Ethiopia's Selemon Barega, the victor in the 10,000m contested on Day One.

During the early stages of the final, spirited racing sent the field past the opening kilometer in 2:38 with Jacob Kiplimo upfront and Chelimo and Cheptegei tucked in behind. At 3K, passed in 13:20, the world record holder was now setting the tempo with Uganda's Nicholas Kemeli in 2nd position. Approaching the final kilo, Ethiopia's Mengesha and Bahrain's Belew joined the lead pack. With 800 meters remaining, a pack of ten had suddenly assembled upfront, each athlete positioning for the two-lap dog fight for the medals. A sudden pace pick-up with 650 meters to go signaled that the race to the line was on, with Cheptegei in the lead and with Chelimo and Belew in close pursuit. With 200m left, Cheptegei, having staved off an attack by Kemeli, had established meaningful separation and was able to drive unthreatened to the line in 12:58.15 to seal the gold medal. A daring, yet successful, inside pass by Ahmed earned him the silver medal with a season's best clocking of 12:58.61. Kemeli and Chelimo engaged in a taut battle down the homestretch. The American's gymnastic-like lean at the line earned him the bronze with a season's best 12:59.05 as he just nipped the Ugandan who crossed in a season's best of 12:59.17. Fisher [13:08.40] and Kincaid [13:17.20 SB] finished 9th and 14th respectively for the US.

Afterward, the silver medalist shared his thoughts. "I did not think this race was going to be fast. I thought they were just going to let it go," the former Wisconsin athlete revealed. "Joshua [Cheptegei] came to play tonight. The real Joshua. That's when he runs the best when he's upfront when he dictates the pace. It played to my favor," said Ahmed. "I had the second-fastest PB on that field. That's what I had to tell myself, along with staying smooth and relaxed. I knew a lot of these guys would fade, and I needed to kick, and that's what I did."

Chelimo, who captured his second consecutive Olympic medal at 5000 meters, was happy to address the media. "The last two laps were crazy. With one lap to go, I thought I had it but the guys kept pushing. All of a sudden the other guys showed up but I kept pushing all the way," said Chelimo. "I knew it was going to be a tough race. This is all I've ever dreamt of. USA has made me who I am today and I don't take it for granted."

While essentially all Olympic track & field finals evoke a pervasive wave of emotion, the final of the women's 400 meters took on additional meaning as it was likely the concluding individual Olympic final for legendary American sprint star Allyson Felix. Two influential quartermilers joining Felix in the final were her teammate Quanera Hayes and highly-favored Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the defending champion.

From the opening gun, Miller-Uibo was all business, getting out well, striding powerfully down the backstretch. Leaving the field behind, the Bahamian raced unchallenged for the victory. Unlike her win in Rio, no dive at the finish was necessary as she crossed the line in a season's best of 48.36 to win the gold and became only the second woman to successfully defend her Olympic 400 meter title [Marie-José Perec '92 & '96]. While Marileidy Paulino finished 2nd in 49.20, setting a new Dominican Republic national record, behind her a battle for the bronze was brewing. Felix won that skirmish with a season's best time of 49.46 to edge Stephanie Anne McPherson [49.61] for the bronze. American Quanera Hayes clocked 50.88 to finish 7th.

In addressing the press, the 2-time Olympic champion revealed the physical struggles she has had throughout the season and at these Games. "We've been going through a lot of different injuries throughout the season but also here at the Games we have experienced a lot and now to wrap up everything was a great feeling," said Miller-Uibo. "My coach tonight told me that we are going to have to run through the pain and to go into it with a strong mindset, be confident and go out there, execute and finish strong."

Felix's Olympic bronze - her first - joins her with 3 silvers and 6 golds. Her 10 Olympic medals now stand her alone as the most decorated female track & field athlete of all time. The sprint legend was her usual gracious self in reflecting on her face. "I don't think it has really sunk in as of yet. I am very grateful for everyone," admits Felix in reflecting on her 10th medal and her unmatched career. "I am grateful for my own journey, I love the sport, and it is very special to be 35 and still doing what I love." Before departing, she showed she still has the fire in the belly. "I had to give myself a shot and go for it," declared Felix. "And I went for it."

*

The 1500 meter promised to be a battle between Faith Kipyegon, the defending Olympic champion, and Sifan Hassan, seeking to secure her second gold medal in the Games in pursuit of an unprecedented gold medal triple. Shortly after the race got underway, Hassan, normally content during early race stages to linger in the back, surprisingly raced to the front, with Kipyegon sliding in behind her in 2nd. After splits of 62.84 and 65.17, Great Britain's Laura Muir had moved herself up into 3rd behind Hassan, still leading, and Kipyego in 2nd. The stage was set: the top three favorites would battle it out over the final 700 meters. The tightly bunched trio took the bell in 2:54. With 300 meters remaining, the defending champion pushed into the lead while, uncharacteristically, a fatigued Hassan offered only a feeble response. Covering the final lap in 59 seconds, Kipyego stormed on for the win while Muir blew by a drained Hassan. Kipyego's winning time of 3:53.11 set a new Olympic record while Muir's second-place clocking of 3:54.50 was a personal best and a new national record for Great Britain. Hassan hung on for the bronze in 3:55.86. Americans Elinor Purrier St. Pierre [4:01.75] and Cory McGee [4:05.50] finished 10th and 12th respectively.

Afterward, The Brit was delighted with her race. "Five years for a medal and five years for a PB," exclaimed Muir in the virtual mixed zone. "It feels very, very good. Just relieved to have finally won a medal and to be an Olympic silver is amazing," said Muir with a smile. "Since Rio (Olympic Games 2016) it's been five years of wanting this medal and missing every single time just by a little bit," revealed the Brit. "And finally to come away with this medal is great."

Kipyegon displayed gratitude for her performance. "I knew it could be a very fast race today, and I am very grateful I did it again," explained the 2-time Olympic champion who, in victory, is now only the second woman to successfully defend her Olympic 1500 meter title [Soviet Union's Tatyana Kazankina / '76 & '80] "Once I crossed the finish line, it was a very emotional moment for me. I thought about my daughter who I left behind at home. She wanted me to bring home a gold medal, and I am so happy and excited I did that." / Dave Hunter /

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