Almaz Ayana missed out on the women’s world 5000 meters record by just over five seconds at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Diamond League meeting in Rabat two weeks ago and came, agonizingly, even closer in Rome as she stopped the clock at 14:12.59 on Thursday June 2, just 1.44 off the mark set by her Ethiopian compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba eight years ago.
It was an IAAF Diamond League record. It was a meeting record at the Italian one-day showpiece. It was the fastest time run this year. It was the second fastest time ever run.
But, despite her dazed smile in the aftermath of achieving all those accolades, it was not what Almaz wanted.
As the last pacemaker dropped away with seven laps remaining, Ayana was in a race of her own, more than half-a-lap clear. She was running easily, no strain showing on her face, and passed 3000 meters in 8:30.43.
The laps clicked down, and it seemed the world champion was on the brink of reaching the prize she has sought all season.
With three laps left, she clocked 10:48.8. With two left, the time was 11.58.00.
An increase in speed on the penultimate lap saw her clock 13:06.5 at the bell. She needed a final lap of under 65 seconds, but could not quite make it.
It was a measure of Almaz’s outstanding effort that Kenya’s 2013 world silver medalist Mercy Cherono should register a personal best of 14:33.95 and still be adrift by almost the length of the home straight.
Cherono’s compatriot Viola Kibiwot was third with 14:34.39.