Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New World Record Women's 5000m

Tirunesh Dibaba runs 14:11.15 - New World Record!

Oslo was the venue for the second successive women's 5000m world record last night. One year ago, it was Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, who broke the old record by a massive 8 seconds. On Friday night, it was her great rival and country-woman Tirunesh Dibaba who smashed the time of Defar thanks to the most incredible final 2000m you can imagine. Her final time: 14:11.15, and a 5 second margin on the world record.

How it unfolded: Erratic pacing and an astonishing finish

But after 3000m, it had seemed absolutely impossible. Her pacing up to that point had been erratic - the first kilometer was covered in 2:48, far too fast and the effect told. The pace over the second kilometer dropped right down to 2:55, and the third was not much better - another 2:55. Having set out with the intention of reaching the 3000m mark in 8:30, they hit 3,000m in 8:38.38. That projects a finish time 14:23, and of course, they were slowing progressively at that point! There was no certainly indication of what was to come.

Then suddenly the race came to life. Dibaba's sister Ejegayehu came to her aid, and helped with the pacesetting for perhaps 600m, and then it was the Tirunesh show. She covered the fourth kilometer in 2:49, which meant she had clawed back about 2 seconds on the world record.

And then she was jet-propelled for the final 4 laps. She reeled off the following absolutely astonishing sequece of laps:

67s - 66s - 65s - 63.99s

That gave her a final mile of 4:24, which means her last 1500m was run in about 4:07. Absolutely incredible running, and with one lap to go, the record was gone. Such was the ferocity (and grace, by the way, because there cannot be a more elegant, beautiful runner than Dibaba at the moment) of her pacing that with one lap to go, she had the record in hand, having been four seconds behind the pace at 3,000m.

Her final kilometer, for those interested in the numbers, was 2:42!

Where to next for the women's 5000m event? Room for improvement?

Absolutely. Dibaba's record may in fact have less than nine hours to "live"! That is because in about 9 hours, Meseret Defar will be attempting to break it in the Prefontaine Meet in Eugene, USA. Her chances? Well, on Thursday last week I wrote that I expected Defar to be in the sort of shape to run 14:15, and it was a question of whether Dibaba was. Dibaba clearly did even better, and raised the bar much more than I think even Defar might have expected. But, Defar will be close, and the one thing she does have on her side is the likelihood of decent pacing.

That's because the usual pace-setter who was scheduled to run in Oslo reportedly jumped across the Atlantic for Defar's race, leaving Dibaba to use a rookie - that goes a long way to explaining the erratic pacing in Dibaba's race. Defar probably won't have that problem, and so the world record is most definitely on. If I had to stick my neck out, I'll predict that IF the weather conditions are good, then Defar will run faster than 14:12! (that's called hedging bets!). Seriously though, I think there's a better than 50-50 chance that Defar will reclaim the record in Eugene.

And then what? Well, I think that Dibaba will break it again. The manner of her race in Oslo, the fact that she reeled off a final kilometer of 2:42 after an up and down race suggests to me that she has perhaps 3 or 4 seconds in the bank, simply as a result of pacing strategy. But more than this, there's a belief about what she can do, and I fully expect her to be able to take the women's record down to about 14:05 within the next 12 months. She might therefore "loan out" her record to Defar in a few hours' time, but expect her to reclaim it, with interest!

Great days for women's distance running

These certainly are halcyon days for women's distance running, with these two superstars from Ethiopia emerging over the last two years, and really pushing the events to the next level of racing. Now, they've started attacking the world records, which we all know were heavily tainted by drugs and Chinese women from 1993. For example, consider that in the 3000m event, the top 7 times in history are held by Chinese women, ALL IN 1993, with the next best athlete a full 15-seconds behind!

Hopefully the Ethiopians will be able to correct that lop-sided stat. As for the drugs issue, the debate rages on. Over at LetsRun.com, there's a forum discussion on whether the Ethiopian women are on drugs. I don't KNOW the answer to that one, but I strongly suspect not - of course, it can't be proven, but I think the big confounder here is that you have this population group that clearly has some genetic predispostion to running fast suddenly emerging.

The Ethiopian men emerged in the 1960's, thanks to Bikila and Wolde in the Olympic Marathons, and then much later, it was Miruts Yifter over 5,000m and 10,000m. Then of course, came Gebrselassie and now Kenenisa Bekele. The Ethiopian women, however, have had a more gradual emergence (blame cultural and social factors, perhaps?). But I think that what we are seeing now is the result of the early Ethiopian women "pioneers" - Deratu Tulu, Gete Wami, who laid down the "yellow brick road" for a group of women, led by Dibaba and Defar, to enter the fray.

And armed with their training habits, lifestyle, discipline, and some genetic "gift" that science doesn't quite understand, they're picking up where their men showed the way. Long may it continue!



Pat said...

In the 5000m event, the top 5 times are held by African women (Ethiopia and Kenya), with the next best athlete almost 17 seconds behind. These women are really endowed with some genetic "gift" that science doesn't quite understand. Pretty impressive for two nations with combined population of 110m. The 3000m event should be held more often for them to have a chance to attack those records.