Another night of Olympic finals on the track; another legend? Not quite. Like the 6ft 5in Usain Bolt in the men's 200m final the night before, the 5ft 1in Tirunesh Dibaba came into the home straight for the final time in the women's 5,000m final last night in the lead and within sight of becoming an all-time giant of track and field.
It was not to be. Unlike the towering Lightning Bolt, the diminutive Ethiopian who goes by the name of "the baby faced assassin" was unable to complete a back-to-back Olympic double.
Like Bolt, Dibaba struck gold twice in individual events in Beijing four years ago, becoming the first woman to win the 5,000m and 10,000m. Eight days ago the 26-year-old mounted a successful defence of her 10,000m crown, surging clear of the opposition in the opening track final. Last night, though, she came up short.
Content to sit back in the pack in the dawdling opening stages, Dibaba hit the front with four laps remaining and attempted to wind up the pace by degrees. She was still in front around the final turn, but only just.
Meseret Defar, her compatriot, was looming at her shoulder and ready to pounce. Some 90m from the line, Defar cut loose, sprinting home in 15min 04.25sec and completing a double of her own. The 28-year-old had won the title in Athens back in 2004. The dispirited Dibaba dropped to the bronze medal slot, clocking 15:05.15. Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot surged past to take the consolation of silver in 15:04.73. Last year she won the 5,000m and 10,000m at the World Championships in Daegu in the absence of the injured Dibaba.
For Dibaba – a cousin of Deratu Tulu, the first black African woman to win an Olympic title when she took 10,000m gold in Barcelona in 1992 – it was a first defeat in a track race since September 2009. "I'm not very pleased," she said. "I gave it a good shot. I wasn't aiming for bronze."
Defar, in contrast, was overjoyed. "It's a great day for me," she said. "I've been hoping for this day for a long time. This means a lot to me."
The two Britons in the field acquitted themselves admirably. The 38-year-old Jo Pavey finished seventh in 15:12.72. Julia Bleasdale, her junior by eight years, followed her across the line, eighth in 15:14:44.
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