BERLIN (Reuters) - Kenya’s Linet Masai ended Ethiopia’s 10-year domination of the women’s world 10,000 meters when Meselech Melkamu celebrated too early and was caught on the line in a thrilling final Saturday.
Masai, 19, fourth in the Olympics, looked out of it when she was overtaken by two Ethiopians 300 meters out but she maintained her long-legged stride and, as Melkamu thrust both arms into the air with two meters to go, squeezed past to win in 30:51.24.
“I can’t believe it,” a delighted Masai told reporters. “I’m so grateful for the win. I didn’t give up.”
Melkamu finished a 10th of a second behind with compatriot Wude Ayalew third, also just a pace behind, in 30:51.95.
Kenyan Grace Momanyi took fourth and Ethiopian Meseret Defar, the world 5,000 meters champion, was fifth after fading at the end.
“I am very disappointed we lost the gold,” said Melkamu. “I was expecting Meseret to win. I never saw the Kenyan.”
Defar, who led much of the final lap, said pain denied her a chance for victory.
“In the last 30 meters I had trouble lifting my legs,” she said.
The Ethiopians had won five consecutive world championships in the event, but they lost their best runner, two-time defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba, to a leg injury on Friday.
Gete Wami started the East African nation’s run of success in 1999 and Dibaba, the Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 gold medalist, claimed the last two world crowns.
Kenyans Masai and Momanyi tried to take the steam out of the Ethiopians by sharing the lead for the two km preceding the final lap. But just after the bell Defar surged to the front and the race was on.
Melkamu took command on the final straight and appeared to be the winner with less than five meters remaining.
But in the closing strides the determined Masai re-emerged to claim only Kenya’s second women’s world title at the distance.
Editing by Ed Osmond and Alison Wildey