OLYMPICS – Ayana smashes 10,000m record
Olympic athletics got off to an astonishing start Friday when Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana smashed a 23-year-old world record to win the greatest-ever women’s 10,000 metres and then had to deny suggestions that her performance was fuelled by drugs.
The world 5,000 metres champion, running only her second 10,000 metres, ripped the field apart to finish in 29 minutes 17.45 seconds, an incredible 14 seconds inside the previously untouchable 29:31.78 set by China’s Wang Junxia in 1993.
Kenya’s world 10,000 metres champion Vivian Cheruiyot took silver and though she was far behind, her time of 29:32.53 was still the third-fastest ever run. Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba, the double defending Olympic champion, took bronze.
No woman had gone under 30 minutes in the last seven years, but the first four all did on Friday, and even though the field was spread all over the track, the first 13 finishers ran the best time of their lives, including five national records.
After a bleak year of doping and corruption controversies it should have been an uplifting start to 10 days of athletics but, such was the magnitude of victory, Ayala was immediately forced to deny using performance-enhancing drugs.
“My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus. I am crystal clear,” she said through an interpreter.
Sarah Lahti, who finished 12th in a Swedish record having taken 26 seconds off her own best, questioned Ayala’s performance while marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe said in commentary for the BBC: “I’m not sure that I can understand that.
“When I saw the world record set in 1993, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And Ayana has absolutely blitzed that time.”
The disappointing aspect of the opening morning’s action was the sparse crowd to witness the fireworks.
There were only a scattering of fans to see the opening events, men’s discus qualifying and heptathlon hurdles, though the numbers swelled in time for the 10,000 metres.
Games spokesman Mario Andrada said that 58 percent of tickets had been sold for the session, though only around 25 percent of seats looked occupied.
“We are not disappointed,” he said. “We understand without local heroes and athletes some of the local public takes longer to fall in love with track and field but the fact that they can see Usain Bolt and iconic athletes will help.”