August 22, 2008 / 4:27 PM / 10 years ago

Distance queen Dibaba surprises herself

BEIJING (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba surprised herself by winning the Olympic long distance double she sealed with a stunning final-lap sprint in the 5,000 meters on Friday.

The three-times world champion had already won the 10,000m on the opening night of competition at the Bird’s Nest and became the first woman to win both in the relatively short history of women’s long distance running at the Olympics.

“It’s a big achievement for me,” said the 23-year-old.

“When I came from my country I didn’t think I’d win both. I just thought I’d be a good competitor in both events. Now that I have it I’m quite satisfied.”

Dibaba was the youngest world champion in an individual event when she won the 5,000m in 2003 at the age of 18 and two years later was the first woman to do the distance double at the world championships.

But she only managed 5,000m bronze at the Athens Olympics and lost the world title in the shorter distance to Meseret Defar at the world championships in Osaka last year.

This year, though, she has been on fire.

In June, she took Defar’s 5,000m world record in 14.11.15 and her time in last Friday’s 10,000m final was the second fastest ever.

“I came here to the Olympics, representing my country. The major objective was to win,” she added.

All three medalists on Friday have held the 5,000m world record during their careers.

CHANGING NATIONALITIES

Silver medalist Elvan Abeylegesse was born Hewan Abeye Eth in Ethiopia before changing nationalities when she moved to Turkey and married a local.

She then ran as Elvan Can and became the first Turkish athlete to set a world record in 2004 but only managed 12th in the Athens Olympic final that same year. After getting divorced, she took her current name.

She also finished second behind Dibaba in the 10,000m to win her adopted country its first Olympic athletics silver and won a second on Friday boosted by a pep talk from her coach, a Bulgarian former triple jumper.

“I not only compete with myself, but also Kenya, Russia and other successful athletes around the world,” she said.

“Before the competition, my coach told me, ‘you must do your best’. I’ve done what the coach has said.”

Defar, the defending champion, complained that someone had kicked her during what was an extremely slow race and that had hampered her when Dibaba kicked for home.

“The pace was quite slow,” she said. “I had the feeling that if I went from the beginning, I would lose.”

Editing by Ed Osmond

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