© Copyright – 2015 – Athletics Illustrated

A question many people may be asking today is, is Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia a drug-free athlete? On Tuesday she won the 2015 Beijing world championships 1500-metre final in unearthly fashion.

She ran the final 800-metres in approximately 1:56.90, a time that is likely going to prove to be faster than any of the 800-metre heats or the final, during these world championships. For example today only seven of 44 athletes in six heats ran faster than two minutes, the fastest time being 1:58.69. Sure Dibaba had a moving start, but that performance is unheard of.

Is she that talented? If so, why has the 24-year-old’s annual progression been steady and then this year has suddenly dropped to all-time world record levels? Below are her annual bests.

2015   3:50.07 Monaco (Stade Louis II)  WR
2014   4:01.00 Stockholm (Olympia Stadion)
2013   3:57.54 Doha (Hamad Bin Suhaim)
2012   3:57.77 Shanghai (SS)
2011   4:05.90 Rieti
2010   4:06.10 Doha (Hamad Bin Suhaim)

She finished today’s race in the time of 4:08.09, while Kenyan Faith Kipyegon earned silver in the time of 4:08.96 and the bronze finisher was Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands who crossed the line in 4:09.34. These times do not set off alarm bells, but that final 800-metre portion does.

On July 17th Dibaba ran a new world record of 3:50.07, a time that until that moment was considered nearly impossible.

On September 11, 1993 Qu Yunxia of China ran a 3:50.46 in a meet that saw Wang Junxia run 3:51.92, which were the two fastest times in the world, all-time. Both athletes are Chinese; both races were run in China at the same meet where the athletes achieved results that were never approached again. The track was apparently ripped up.

Until that fateful race the fastest performance was 3:53.96 by Paula Ivan of Romania accomplished in 1988. The eastern bloc countries from the 1970s and 1980s produced many results in track and field that are for the most part suspect due to systemic doping concerns.

In 1980 Russian athlete Tatyana Kazankina ran two out of this world 1500-metre races, one in 3:52.47. She was suspended in 1984 for refusing to submit to a drugs test. Kazankina won gold in Montreal in both the 800-metre and 1500-metre events. She won another gold medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games 800-metre final in the ridiculous time of 1:54.94. Only five athletes have run faster to this date, nearly 40 years hence.

Of the top-100 performances all-time, only 29 have taken place during the past 15 years. This is a statistical anomaly that defies logical explanation. Most distances have progressed with time, except for the 1500m, 3,000m and to a lesser degree the 800m.

Genzebe Dibaba’s world record came 22 years after the previous world record was achieved; a record that many people have said should never have existed and should be erased from the record books.

Dibaba wasn’t even an exclusive 1500-metre runner. She was more of a 5,000m specialist until this year.

Top-nine performances all-time:

3:50.07   Genzebe Dibaba     ETH     08.02.91   Monaco     17.07.2015
3:50.46   Qu Yunxia          CHN     25.12.72   Beijing    11.09.1993
3:50.98   Jiang Bo           CHN     13.03.77   Shanghai   18.10.1997
3:51.34   Lang Yinglai       CHN     22.08.79   Shanghai   18.10.1997
3:51.92   Wang Junxia        CHN     09.01.73   Beijing    11.09.1993
3:52.47   Tatyana Kazankina  RUS     17.12.51   Zürich     13.08.1980
3:53.91   Yin Lili           CHN     11.11.79   Shanghai   18.10.1997
3:53.96   Paula Ivan         ROU     20.07.63   Seoul      01.10.1988
3:53.97   Lan Lixin          CHN     14.02.79   Shanghai   18.10.1997

Other distances

In other distances the trend demonstrates improvement over time. For example in the marathon only five of the top-100 marathon times by women have been run before the 2000s, the exact opposite trend. How can this be?

Granted, there is more money in the marathon, but there are also only one or two big winners in each race and an athlete can only run 1 to 4 world-class marathons per year. Getting it right on the day is highly important, whereas in the 1500-metre distance the athlete can race again one week later.

Only eight of the 100 fastest 5,000m times were run before year 2000. In the 10,000m event all but 15 of the top-100 times have been run since 2000.

Incidentally Junxia, that 1500-metre specialist who owned the second fastest time in history, also happens to still hold the 10,000m record today, which like the 1500m record was also accomplished in 1993. The great Ethiopians and Kenyans as well as Paula Radcliffe could not touch that performance. Junxia’s time was 29:31.78. The second fastest 10,000m performance at that time was 30:13.37. Imagine that the fastest time in history run 22 years prior is still the fastest by over 20 seconds; unheard of, except for here. Imagine that the second fastest performance was 42 and one half seconds slower, also by a Chinese athlete during that same period.

Six years ago Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu ran what is currently the second fastest time of 29:53.90. Not even close to Junxia. Around the track she would finish nearly half a lap behind Junxia. Consider that it took someone nearly two decades to get to that level where they are still nearly half a lap behind.

Perhaps the 3,000m event is the most suspect of all distances in track and field. Led again by Wang Junxia and Qu Yunxia who ran 1-2 in two races, which again were carried out in Beijing, just one month apart; the fastest being 8:06.11. The fastest non-Chinese athlete, Kenyan Helen Obiri performed her personal best of 8:20.68 in 2014. That performance is not even close to Junxia’s 8:06.11.

Top-six 3,000m performances all-time:

8:06.11   Wang Junxia   CHN     09.01.73   1     Beijing    13.09.1993
8:12.18   Qu Yunxia       CHN     25.12.72   2     Beijing    13.09.1993
8:12.19   Wang Junxia   CHN     09.01.73   1h2   Beijing 12.09.1993
8:12.27   Qu Yunxia       CHN     25.12.72   2h2   Beijing   12.09.1993
8:16.50   Zhang Linli     CHN     06.03.73   3     Beijing   13.09.1993
8:19.78   Ma Liyan        CHN     03.11.68   3h2   Beijing    12.09.1993

To be fair to Genzebe Dibaba, again she did have a running start to the 800-metres as she had already run 700 metres of the race before taking off. The race did start very slow too, so she was hardly taxed by the time she had two laps remaining. Additionally, she has always possessed a strong kick. Finally, the two other athletes that finished behind her ran very fast final 800 metre sections as well.

But to run the final 800 metres of a 1500-metre race faster than all of the competitors who are specialising in the 800m at these worlds does raise eye browse. For the sake of the sport, it would be a good news story if she is indeed clean. Let’s hope she is.

Here is a look at her race, below.