Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia became the third athlete to win the women’s 3000m title at the IAAF World Indoor Championships on at least three occasions in an exciting climax to the first day which had a sparse but enthusiastic home crowd cheering the narrow but growing possibility of a home winner in Laura Muir on the last lap.
After an uneventful first kilometer which was covered in a pedestrian 3:14.67, noted front-runner Konstanze Klosterhalfen –who broke the 30-year-old German indoor record with a solo effort of 8:36.01 at her domestic championships in Dortmund two weeks ago– was the first of the 14 finalists to move to the front with any purpose.
Content to sit at the back of the pack, Dibaba sensed the danger and moved up into closer contention as Klosterhalfen brought a sub-nine minute winning time into view with a second kilometre timed at 2:52.95 through the corresponding kilometre mark in 6:07.62.
With five laps remaining, the serious racing began. Dibaba made a hard surge which was immediately covered by reigning world 5000m champion Hellen Obiri from Kenya while Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, who has a propensity to sit off the pace in championship races, had to extricate herself from the chasing pack to cover the break.
Klosterhalfen and Obiri both began to drift out of medal contention with three laps to go but the volume inside the Birmingham Arena rose again as Muir moved into the reckoning for her first global medal, although the gap to the gold medal widened as Dibaba kicked again with 500 metres remaining.
With a grimace beginning to show on her face as the clock showed 8:14.61 at the bell, Dibaba had amassed a safe –but by no means unassailable– lead of roughly twelve metres on Hassan and Muir, but in their chase for the silver medal, the gap to Dibaba began to narrow. Approaching the final turn, the deficit narrowed to a matter of metres but Dibaba gritted her teeth again and kept the pursuers at bay with a final circuit of 30.46 seconds.
Dibaba crossed the finish-line in 8:45.05, a finishing time made respectable courtesy of a scintillating final kilometer of 2:37.43. “I’m very happy to be indoor champion for the third time. This is a great competition and the race was fantastic. This day is for me and my country,” said Dibaba, who is due to contest the 1500m heats tomorrow evening.
Hassan moved off the rail and almost into lane three in an expedient bid to hold off Muir. The Dutchwoman claimed silver in 8:45.68 but bronze was still a milestone performance for Muir. After near misses at the last three major outdoor championships over 1500m, the double European indoor champion was rewarded with her first global medal in 8:45.78.
Due to her final year university commitments, Muir could only travel down to Birmingham on the Wednesday, a task made difficult by unseasonal snow and sub-zero temperatures which immobilized large parts of the British transport system.
After a series of cancelled flights, Muir eventually arrived into Birmingham at just before midnight on Wednesday but only after a treacherous six-hour taxi ride from Scotland. “This time yesterday I was in a taxi halfway down the M6. We couldn’t see the bonnet, the windscreen wipers were freezing and it took six hours,” she said.
Unbeaten over 5000m outdoors in 2017, Obiri finished fourth in 8:49.66, one place ahead of reigning USA indoor 1500m and 3000m champion Shelby Houlihan, who ran a strong last lap to finish fifth in 8:50.38, overhauling Ethiopia’s Fantu Worku (8:50.54) and Klosterhalfen (8:51.79) in the final 200m.
Like Dibaba, Hassan and Muir, Houlihan will also be back in action tomorrow evening in the 1500m heats. “I just need to wipe the memory of today’s race and go into it with a clean slate and a fresh attitude. I’m excited for it; I love racing so I’m excited to race again,” Houlihan said.