© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

“The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you”.
-Oscar Wilde

Photo credit: Erik van Leeuwen.

And they said the 10,000-metre race was dead. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) thought that they knew the race better than those who contest and truly appreciate it.

The IOC threatened to bring the event to an end. It was rumoured to be replaced by a 10K road or a traditional six-lap 12-kilometre cross-country race, which the winter and summer Olympics currently do not have.

No person who has watched the Paul Tergat versus Haile Gebrselassie 2000 Sydney Olympic 10,000m final will ever forget it. Yes, a final, they ran a preliminary race, followed by a semi-final as well as the final. Now it is down to a final only. Even the 5,000m has just two races.

In 2000, it was Kenya versus Ethiopia – an epic battle between a lithe natural Kenyan and Gebr the Emperor with the crook in his arm caused by running to school all those years while carrying books. The race is the stuff of legend. Two Kenyans and two Ethiopians together for 24.5 laps, then with 200m to go, the field exploded and then over the final 100-plus-metres, Tergat ran away while Gebrselassie reeled him in, right to the line to take the gold medal. Until that final 30m or so, no one, except Gebre thought that the race was anyone’s but Tergat’s. It was artfully a thing of beauty.

Mohammed (Mo) Ahmed of St. Catharines, Ontario was the first Canadian to break the 13-minute barrier in the 5,000-metres when he ran 12:58.16 in June of this year in Rome. At the time, he said, “all my competitors were now under 13-minutes, so it was nice to get that out of the way.”

Sunday, during the 2019 IAAF Doha World Athletics Championships, he became the first Canadian to run under 27 minutes in the 10,000m. Though he earned a bronze in Doha in the 5,000m event, he finished sixth in the 10,000m. He was up against one of the deepest 10,000m fields in global championships history.

Ahmed finished in 26:59.35, 10 seconds from a gold medal and eight seconds from a bronze – it is a long way back at that level, mostly due to a suicidal final lap and a fast final kilometre, ala Sidney, going sub-2:30 or 25-minute pace.

Ahmed was there until the pace of that final lap turned up by what surely must have been a desperate athlete. But Ahmed was beginning to grimace a little at 9K, he hung on, but hanging on means you are running out of oxygen and should the pace get turned up, it’s over. Regardless, with his shiny new personal best and benchmark-cracking 10K, he remains in the same conversation with the champs in that event too. He is Canada’s all-time greatest 5,000m and 10,000m runner.

Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda set a 2019 world-leading time of 26:48.36 for the win. It is the 32nd fastest performance all-time and makes him the 17th fastest athlete ever. He had earned silver during the 2017 championships. He is having quite a run of it, over the past two years. The 23-year-old won the IAAF 2019 Aarhus World Cross Country Championships and earned double gold during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in the 5,000m and 10,000m events.

In Doha, the win came down to a furious kick between Cheptegei and Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, who was dropped decidedly over the final 30m to run a 26:49.34. The bronze medal went to Phonex Kipruto of Kenya who crossed the line in 26:50.32, just 16 seconds off of his Diamond League run from May of this year in Stockholm.

Kejelcha moved up to the 25-lap race when he found finishing fourth twice at world championships in Beijing 2015 and London 2017 was not enough.

Six athletes ran under 27-minutes, while eleven ran under 27:30.

In Sydney, Gebrselassie won in the time of 27:18.20, Tergat was credited with 27:18.29, but it appeared closer than that. Back then, the athletes ran a preliminary elimination 10,000m, then a semi-final as well as the final. In Doha, it is was all laid out in a single race. Based on that performance, the race is worth keeping around for Tokyo 2020 and beyond.