Sifan Hassan and Joshua Cheptegei in action at the Olympic Games (© AFP / Getty Images)
Two world records, just two days apart, and now the world’s all-time top two are preparing to go head-to-head on the biggest stage of them all. The women’s 10,000m looks set to be quite a show.
In one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the Games, Dutch star Sifan Hassan, the double 2019 world champion and multiple world record-holder, will take on Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, the world silver medallist who now has both the world 5000m and 10,000m records to her name, as they look to build on the history they made in Hengelo earlier this summer.
First it was Hassan in the spotlight. Racing on home soil at the FBK Games on 6 June, the 28-year-old ran 29:06.82 to take more than 10 seconds off the world 10,000m record of 29:17.45 which had been set by Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana five years earlier at the Rio Olympics.
But just two days later it was Gidey’s turn to take to the Hengelo track for the Ethiopian Trials. Running 29:01.03, the 23-year-old improved the record by a further five seconds. Could another world record at the Olympic Games be on the cards?
“I was happy that it was broken after two days because I want the 10,000m to become exciting and for me it also gives me more motivation to work hard,” said Hassan. “I know the Games is not going to be easy.”
And Hassan’s campaign will be even more of a challenge due to the fact that the 10,000m could be the final of three events she contests in Tokyo as she is also entered for the 5000m and 1500m in Japan. Having previously suggested that her focus would be on the 5000m and 10,000m double, the world mile record-holder’s 3:53.63 1500m win in Florence last month convinced her to keep her options open. Should Hassan decide to do all three, and progress to each final, the 10,000m would fall on her fifth day of competition, after the 5000m heats on 30 July and final on 2 August, and the 1500m heats on 2 August, semifinals on 4 August and final on 6 August, before the 10,000m on 7 August.
Gidey, however, would be racing on fresh legs, with the 10,000m her sole focus in Tokyo. The pair have only clashed once before over the distance and that was at the 2019 World Championships where Hassan beat Gidey to gold, 30:17.33 to 30:21.23, and with a 3:59.09 last 1500m.
Behind them, the race for bronze looks open. Kenya’s team features the greatly experienced Hellen Obiri, the two-time world 5000m champion who may choose to take on the 10,000m after her main event, plus Sheila Chelangat and Irene Cheptai.
Joining Gidey on the Ethiopia team for Tokyo are world U20 3000m and cross country bronze medallist Tsigie Gebreselama, who was second behind Gidey (30:06.01) in Hengelo, and world 5000m fourth-place finisher Tsehay Gemechu. World 1500m bronze medallist Gudaf Tsegay is the athlete to have gone closest to Gidey and Hassan in 2021 with 29:39.42 in Maia in May, but she looks set to contest the 5000m in Tokyo.
Behind Tsegay in Portugal, Bahrain’s Kalkidan Gezahegne clocked a national record of 29:50.77 to finish second, while the 2010 world indoor 1500m champion has also run a 5000m PB of 14:52.92 this season.
Starring for the host nation is Hitomi Niiya, who won the 2007 Tokyo Marathon as an 18-year-old and raced at the London 2012 Olympics before stepping away from the sport two years later. She returned in 2018 and set national records for the 10,000m (30:20.44) and half-marathon (1:06:38) in 2020. Ririka Hironaka (31:11.75) and Yuka Ando (31:18.18) have both run PBs this year.
The USA’s two-time NCAA champion Karissa Schweizer improved her 10,000m best to 30:47.99 in February, while the field also features Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, Germany’s world 5000m bronze medallist Konstanze Klosterhalfen and Eilish McColgan, who broke Paula Radcliffe’s British 5000m record with 14:28.55 in Oslo on 1 July and is getting ready to compete in the city where her mother and coach, Liz, won the world 10,000m title 30 years ago.
Jess Whittington for World Athletics
With two-time winner Mo Farah missing from the field, a new Olympic men’s 10,000m champion will be crowned in Tokyo for the first time since 2012.
Two Ugandan stars – world record-holder Joshua Cheptegei and world-leader Jacob Kiplimo – shape up as the men to beat in an event in which some of the sport’s all-time greats have won consecutive golds dating back to 1996.
The men’s 10,000m is the first track-and-field medal event of the Tokyo Games, with the 25-lap final being contested on the opening day of the athletics programme on 30 July.
The last time the Olympics were held in Tokyo, the men’s 10,000m produced one of the greatest athletics upsets in Games history. Unheralded USA runner Billy Mills, a Native American, sprinted past the leaders in the final straight of an epic race to claim gold at the 1964 Games – the first, and still only, US athlete to win the event.
Fans can look forward to what should be a thrilling competition in Tokyo, even without the reigning champion on the start line.
Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, failed to make the British team for Tokyo. The 38-year-old missed the qualifying time in an invitational 10,000m race at the British Championships, clocking 27:47.04, nearly 20 seconds off the time he needed to secure his spot at a third Games.
Farah was the third man in a row to win back-to-back 10,000m titles, following Ethiopian greats Haile Gebrselassie in 1996-2000 and Kenenisa Bekele in 2004-2008.
Tokyo will see a new face atop the podium.
Ugandan teammates Cheptegei and Kiplimo are both attempting the 5000m-10,000m double in Tokyo.
This is the second Olympics for the 24-year-old Cheptegei, who finished sixth in the 10,000m and eighth in the 5000m in Rio.
He has since risen to the top of the sport, earning silver at the 2017 World Championships in London and gold in Doha in 2019. He also completed the 5000m-10,000 double at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Then came Cheptegei’s spectacular year in 2020. He broke the 5000m world record in Monaco with a time of 12:35.36, beating Bekele’s 16-year-old record by two seconds. Less than two months later, Cheptegei shattered the 10,000m record, running 26:11.00 in Valencia to shave more than six seconds off Bekele’s 15-year-old mark.
On top of all that, within a spectacular span of 10 months, Cheptegei also broke world records in the 5km and 10km road races.
It is difficult to gauge Cheptegei’s current 10,000m form. He hasn’t run the distance this year, competing only in three races, at 1500m, 3000m and 5000m.
The 20-year-old Kiplimo, meanwhile, stated his Tokyo intentions in stunning fashion by clocking a world-leading 26:33.93 in Ostrava on 19 May, the second-fastest time over the distance since 2008 and elevating him to seventh on the world all-time list.
Kiplimo’s time was nearly a full 15 seconds faster than that recorded by Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega, who ran this year’s second-best time of 26:49.51 at his national trials in Hengelo on 8 June.
Kiplimo was just 15 when he competed in Rio as the youngest ever Olympian from Uganda, running in the heats of the 5000m. That was the launch pad for his dazzling rise through the ranks: He claimed the world U20 cross-country title at age 16, claimed silver at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships and became world half-marathon champion in 2020. He missed the 2019 World Championships in Doha through injury.
Kiplimo qualified for the Olympic 5000m by running 12:55.60 at the Spitzen Leichtathletik Stadion Allmend in Luzern, Switzerland on 30 June, setting him up for the long-distance double in Tokyo.
The Ethiopian 10,000m challenge is led by Barega and Yomif Kejelcha, the world silver medallists over 5000m and 10,000m respectively.
Kenya has not won Olympic gold in the men’s 10,000m since Naftali Temu at the 1968 Mexico City Games. The country’s chances in Tokyo received a blow when 2015 world silver medallist Geoffrey Kamworor was forced to pull out with an ankle injury. His place will now be filled by world bronze medallist Rhonex Kipruto, while the other Kenyan contenders are Rodgers Kwemoi, who finished fourth in Doha, and Weldon Kipkirui Langat.
The USA entrants are Woody Kincaid, Grant Fisher and Joe Klecker. They finished 1-2-3 at the US Trials, with Kincaid running a blistering final lap to win in 27:53.62.
Steve Wilson for World Athletics