This was Stuart Weir’s 3rd story on Zurich. Again, my apologies, I had a couple of crazy days, one business and one birthday. Thanks Stuart on this piece, and great job!
The women’s 5000 meters was an intriguing and certainly an unusual race with 10 ladies plus a pacemaker running 8 and a bit laps, each of 560 meters. The field events took place in a specially built arena with the track going round the outside of the arena and round the opera house. At the start the track was wide but narrowing to three lanes later. It was a difficult race to watch as the track was obscured at all points by buildings, the arena, the opera house and parked vehicles. From my vantage point, I could see 100 meters of track but nothing of the remainder of the lap. I could have sprinted across the middle of the oval in order to see the runners on the back straight – but I didn’t! If a runner made the decisive move behind the opera house then no one would have seen it. The winner was Francine Niyonsaba in 14:28.98 with Hellen Obiri second in 14:29.68.
It was a significant race for both the first two, for Francine who is reinventing herself as a distance runner, having been banned by World Athletics testosterone regulations from running her familiar 800 meters race. For Hellen, who has nothing to prove to anyone, it may be the last time we see her on a track for a while. On Sunday she runs the Great North Run (half marathon), the first of a number of road races in which she will participate.
I am awaiting ratification confirmation but I am pretty sure that this is the fastest ever women’s 5000, run on a 560m track.
About five runners followed the pacemaker closely – I heard Kate van Buskirk, the rabbit – say afterwards that he had to run faster than the time requested by the meet organizers to avoid being overtaken by the pack! On the final lap, Niyonsaba’s 800m pace took her to the front and she held on to win.
The winner commented: “I stayed behind most of the race, this was my tactics. I am still learning after switching from 800m to longer distances. I did what I had to do. We love to see the people around here, cheering for us. This race was amazing. I love challenges. I have a lot of resilience and determination. Of course, I will celebrate this victory here in Zurich. I am happy to compete here again after three years. I will relax starting tomorrow although I have some more races”.
Hellen Obiri, always gracious, gave an excellent assessment of the event: “This race was like a championship. It was a new experience, we did not know where we can start to kick and to accelerate etc. It was the first event like this. It was a memorable moment for me. The race was hard for me, I tried to kick and did my best but Francine is a former 800m runner. She had a stronger kick”.
I’m not sure that I know the solution to the DSD issue but I have never been convinced that World Athletics does either. I am certainly convinced that they have not handled it well or with sensitivity. I have been enormously impressed with the dignity with which Francine (and Caster Semenya) have conducted themselves. Last night a little of the emotion came out when Francine Niyonsaba tweeted: “They tried to stop me. Tried to end my dreams. But how could I allow them to snatch my dreams away? So I worked hard and resisted those forces who tried to stop me. And here I am! #Burundi # resist # never give up.