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7 31 21 Barega 10K

IMG_7629.jpgSelemon Barega catching Steven Kissa, Men's 10,000m, photo via TV by Kathy Camara


July 30th, 2021

The wait for the start of the Olympic track & field ended today as "Athletics" was more than ready to take center stage at the 32nd Olympiad. While Tokyo's 68,000-seat stadium would only accommodate approximately one thousand people due to the surging pandemic, excitement could still be assured for those seasoned fans who could remember way back to 1964: the last time an Olympic 10,000 meter championship race was held on Japanese soil. In that stirring 25 lap battle, a late-race bolt by Mohamed Gammoudi led to a backstretch jostle involving the Tunisian, the heavily-favored Australian Ron Clarke, and lightly-touted American Billy Mills. The bumping staggered Mills, momentarily sending him out into the firmer footing of Lanes 2 and 3 of the cinder track. The collision awakened, and perhaps angered, the adrenaline-charged Native American who dashed on for the victory, the first - and only - time an American has been victorious in an Olympic 10,000-meter final. Could today's 10K final produce yet another electrifying Tokyo 10,000 meter moment?

Under sweltering, steam-bath conditions, 25 international athletes launched off on a 25 lap odyssey. Unexpectedly, Ugandan athlete Steven Kissa bolted into the lead and began building his advantage. Was Kissa unfurling a carefully crafted Ugandan team race plan to aid his compatriots, Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo? After 800 meters covered in 2:10, Kissa had constructed a 45+ meter lead with none of his competitors interested in giving chase. Settled in the bunched chase pack were the pre-race favorites Kenya's Rhonex Kipruto, Ethiopia's Selemon Barega, Uganda's Kiplimo, and Kenya's Yomif Keljelcha. Americans Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid were also near the front of the tightly-grouped finalists. Over the ensuing laps, the trailing mob chipped away at Kissa's lead. With less than 4000m remaining and shortly after the pack had rejoined Kissa, the early leader stepped off the track, his unofficial pacing chores apparently completed.

Kissa's departure signaled the start of racing in earnest. While no bold moves were yet undertaken, the pace inexorably quickened. With 2000m left, pre-race favorite Cheptegei moved to the front, a move that was replicated by Canada's Mohammed Ahmed, while Kejelcha was positioned in 5th and Fisher in 7th. The major players were positioning themselves for what all knew would be a furious drive to the finish line. With 800 meters remaining, Rogers Kwemoi squirmed into the lead. On the backstretch of the penultimate lap, Mohammed Ahmed took the lead - a bold move, but could the Canadian sustain his move all the way to the line? Barega upped the tempo, passed Ahmed, and was leading on the rail at the bell. All were straining now, but Barega had yet another gear. With 230m to go, Barega (27:43.22) released a surge that he would ride all the way to the line for the win. The Ugandan duo of Cheptegei (27:43.63) and Kiplimo (27:43.88) would finish 2-3. Only 0.66 seconds separated the three medalists. Ethiopia's Berihu Aregawi crossed 4th [27:46.16] with the USA's Fisher (27.46.39) taking 5th. Americans Kincaid [28:11.01] and Joe Klecker [28:14.18] would finish 15th and 16th, respectively.


7 31 21 Barega 10K 2

IMG_7687.jpgSelemon Barega takes gold in the Men's 10,000m, July 30, 2021, photo via TV by Kathy Camara

Afterward, the new champion explained what his Olympic victory meant to him. "It's very well known that we have been winners for the 10,000m competition. Since Kenenisa (Bekele, Ethiopia) won last time (in Beijing 2008), we have been unable to achieve a gold medal. I feel really proud to be part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics," said Barega in outlining the distance racing heritage of his fatherland. The winner also emphasized the importance of the singular focus he brought to these Games. "I was able to achieve the gold medal because I was not participating in other competitions, and I was able to focus on achieving the gold medal in this Olympics like my previous colleagues who participated in many Olympics and achieved a lot of gold medals." And before departing, the gold medalist revealed his thoughts about future global competitions. "I'm also very hopeful to achieve more in this Olympics if it's possible, and even in the future," revealed Barega. "I want to achieve a history like my previous colleagues." / Dave Hunter /

American performers in other Day One action:

mDT: USA's Sam Mattis was the sole American to advance to Saturday's final. The former Penn athlete's achieved a best mark of 209'1" [63.74m] which placed him 8th.
mHJ; Beginning his quest to become the first Olympic athlete since 1912 (Jim Thorpe) to win both the high jump and the long jump in the same Games, JuVaughn Harrison cleared 7'5¾" (2.28m) in the high jump preliminary round and advanced to Sunday's final.
m3000mSC: In the preliminary rounds of the men's steeplechase, Bernard Keter (8:17.31) was the sole American to advance to the steeplechase final which will be held on Monday.
w800m: All three Americans [{Athing Mu: an easy, peasy negative split 2:01.10; Raevyn Rogers: a perfectly-scripted 2:01.42; and Ajée Wilson: a strong homestretch drive to finish in 2:00.02] advanced from the preliminary rounds to Saturday evening's semifinal.
m400H: Each of the three USA competitors [Kenny Selmon: 48.61; David Keindzeira 49.23; and Rai Benjamin 48.60] advanced from the preliminary round to Sunday's semi-final round. The excitement is already building for what is hoped to be a heavyweight battle in the final between Karsten Warholm [48.65 in his prelim] and Benjamin.
w5000m: Elise Cranny who ran 14:56.14 in her preliminary round and earned an automatic qualifier, has advanced to Monday's 5000m final. Karissa Schweizer, burdened by her placement in the fast heat, finished 7th in a season's best of 14:51.34 and did not qualify to advance to the final.
Mixed 4x4 Relay: Although the Americans crossed the finish line first in their heat, a botched baton exchange outside the zone resulted in the USA team's disqualification. Later, in an unexpected turn of events, the disqualification was inexplicably overturned, the Mixed 4x4 Relay team was reinstated, and the USA foursome will now compete in Saturday's final.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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