Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba’s rocket-propelled final lap lit up the first day of track and field in the Olympic stadium on Friday, burning off her rivals in style to retain her 10,000m crown.
Dibaba, 26, swept to glory in 30 minutes, 20.75 seconds, helped by a phenomenal final 400m which left her rivals trailing in her wake.
The race had been expected to provide fireworks between Dibaba, dogged by leg problems since winning the 5,000m and 10,000m double in Beijing, and Kenya’s double world champion Vivian Cheruiyot.
The imperious Dibaba was in no mood for a dogfight though, bursting clear at the bell with a surge of acceleration that Cheruiyot, who has played second fiddle to Dibaba for most of her career, had no answer to.
“I have never been happier like today,” Dibaba said. “It is very special. I have worked hard for this.”
Known as the “baby-faced destroyer,” Dibaba lived up to her nickname by quickly putting distance between herself and chasing duo Sally Kipyego and Cheruiyot, who will now seek revenge in the 5,000m.
Kipyego took silver in 30:26.37 with Cheruiyot, never in a position to utilize her feared finishing kick, coming home third in 30:30.44.
Dibaba, the first to win back-to-back titles over the distance, emulated her cousin Derartu Tulu (1992 and 2000) to become the second woman to win two Olympic golds in the 10,000m.
Draped in an Ethiopian flag, she celebrated with a lap of the track alongside teammates Werknesh Kidane (fourth) and Beleynesh Oljira (fifth).
“I did not think I was going to make it to the Olympics,” said Dibaba, who has suffered a series of injury-hit seasons because of recurring shin splints and a toe injury, and had run only a handful of races at the distance since her Beijing triumph. “But I felt confident in training.”
Dibaba’s good feeling was well-founded, having set the year’s leading time in early June before going faster on Friday.
Dibaba is not quite yet ready to say goodbye to her track career, but told a news conference that a step up to the marathon was very much in her sights next year.
“I will do both [track and marathon] simultaneously,” she said. “But I want to make history in the marathon.”
Silver and bronze were Kenya’s first medals since the 10,000m was introduced for women at the 1988 Games in Seoul.
Cheruiyot, who clocked a personal best, said she expected to do better in the 5,000m.