Stuart Weir reflects on the achievements of the world medallists who are among those due to compete in the first meeting of the 2016 Diamond League series
The women’s 3000m at the opening Diamond League meeting of 2016 promises to be a top-quality race with the field in Doha including the world 5000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia against the world gold and silver medallists in the 10,000m, Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot and Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka.
Cheruiyot is a class act. Winner of the 5000m at the 2009 World Championships, the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2011 World Championships, plus the 5000m at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, she is also a former African champion and has Olympic silver and bronze medals to her name. However, what made her 2015 Beijing world gold medal in the 10,000m even more special was that she had taken a break after 2012 to have a baby.
As she said in Beijing: “I’m so happy to be back.
“After 2012 I took my leave so this is my first championship since 2012. I am dedicating this medal to my son and my family. It means a lot to me.
“To take time off and come back strongly is not something that is easy.”
Her manager and coach, Ricky Simms, had told me several months before that she would win the world title in Beijing. I asked Cheruiyot if she had shared that confidence. She replied to say that she was not sure what would happen – “I was just coming here to do my best.”
As the 32-year-old has stated on more than one occasion, she has won every major championship except the Olympics – even running a PB for bronze in the 10,000m at London 2012. What she needs to complete her collection is gold at the Games, something that makes 2016 a massive year for her.
Meanwhile, Burka has an impressive record in races of all types. She won gold in the World Indoor Championships in 2008 at 1500m, bronze in 2010 and bronze again in 2012, this time at 3000m. She won the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country race three years in succession from 2006 to 2008.
She told me: “I enjoy cross-country races and I love the cross-country race in Edinburgh.
“Whenever I run in Edinburgh, I always feel as though I was running in my own country – Ethiopia. I have won three times so far and I would love to come back again to participate and win for the fourth time.”
Burka was delighted with her silver in Beijing last year, saying in her limited English: “I am so happy to win my first major outdoor medal.”
In the Beijing Olympics she ran the 1500m but did not make the final and she said of 2008: “Because of the headache and back pain I had the morning of the race, I was not able to run well but I was still content and happy as a Christian, I was able to remember the words of the Bible: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’.”
In London 2012 she finished fifth in the 5000m, a race won by Meseret Defar, with Cheruiyot second and Tirunesh Dibaba third. Burka joined the two Ethiopian medallists on their lap of honour, saying afterwards: “I was not able to win a medal in London 2012, but I am hoping and doing all I can to prepare myself for medals for the next Olympic in Brazil. I will do my best to keep myself in shape with intense training, prayer and of course with the help of God.”
An interesting dynamic of the Doha race is whether Burka and Ayana will try to run together. At the London 2012 press conference, Defar said: “We didn’t care which of us won, but we wanted Ethiopia to win.” Burka confirmed to me this team mentality even in an individual event. “We Ethiopians are known for our teamwork,” she said. “We are trained to win as a team and we are very happy to win medals during this Olympics.” On another occasion when Burka finished behind Dibaba, I sympathised but she replied: “It is okay, I helped her win.”
It is an interesting mentality even in a Diamond League to see another runner as a teammate rather than an opponent.
While the 3000m is of course not an Olympic distance, the Doha race on Friday (May 6) should give us some great insight into the early season form of three East African runners who are likely to be in the mix in Rio.