A new long distance star is born as 24-year-old breaks record that has stood for 23 years
After crossing the finish line, she raised her hands in triumph and came to a stop, fully realizing what she had done: Her time of 29 minutes, 17.45, had shaved 14.33 seconds off the 1993 mark of China's Wang Junxia.
At age 24, she beat the best from a previous generation. Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot, 32, a four-time long distance world champion came in second, a massive 15.18 seconds behind. Ayana's 31-year-old team-mate Tirunesh Dibaba took bronze.
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It was a bittersweet moment for Dibaba, who had been trying to become the first woman to win three individual Olympic track titles in a row. She never stood a chance for victory but fought to get another medal for Ethiopia. Dibaba and Ayana held hands afterward — a symbolic transition to a new era.
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If David Rudisha of Kenya provided an iconic moment four years ago in the London Olympics with his world record, it could be tough to find a better race in Rio, with nine more days to go. Friday's conditions were ideal — cool and overcast with a damp track from a morning rain. But the 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium was only a quarter full to see Ayana's accomplishment.
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Even though Kenya and Ethiopia are fierce rivals, it was the early strength of Alice Nawuwona that made Ayana's record run easier. The Kenyan delivered her at ideal pace at the halfway point, and Ayana put in a short sprint to sap any confidence from her rivals.
Steadily, the world record became a possibility. With each lap, Ayana built a massive cushion. In Rome this spring, Ayana came to within a second of the world mark in the 5,000m — her favourite event — and she could have a chance to make it a double world record Olympics.