The hunt for the first sub-14:10 has been going on ever since Tirunesh Dibaba ran her 14:11.15 in Oslo in 2008. Last year Genzebe Dibaba and Almaz Ayana took turns, but in 2016 the record assault involved only world champion Ayana as Dibaba focused on the 1500m.
Ayana first went to work at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat in May. After finding herself in the lead after just 1500 metres, she ended up winning in 14:16.31, the fifth-fastest 5000m performance in history at that time.
At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome 11 days later, Ayana attacked the record again. Despite running solo from 2000 metres onwards, she ended up with 14:12.59, the second-fastest time ever. Ayana’s winning margins in those races were 13 and 21 seconds respectively.
She closed out her IAAF Diamond League season in early September with another comfortable win, a 14:18.89 clocking in Brussels for the eighth-fastest performance of all time. But while there is little doubt that Ayana was the leading 5000m runner in 2016, she finished third at the Olympics.
In the Olympic 5000m final, Ayana – with confidence boosted by her 10,000m world record a week before – burst away from the rest of the field on the fifth lap and gradually built a lead of five seconds. But it proved to be too much too early.
While Ayana maintained decent 70-second laps, Vivian Cheruiyot was flying with laps of 65 and 66 seconds. Ayana’s substantial lead rapidly melted away and she went from having a five-second lead with three laps remaining to a 7.4-second deficit when Cheruiyot crossed the finish line. The Kenyan had covered her final 1000 metres in a mind-blowing 2:43.1.