The Spanish city of Valencia had never seen an outdoor world record on the track before Wednesday night but within the space of 50 minutes it witnessed not one but two, as Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey and Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei went into new territory.
Gidey was the first to go into athletics history with a stunning 5000m run of 14:06.62 to take more than four seconds off the mark of 14:11.15 held by her compatriot and idol Tirunesh Dibaba, which had stood since 2008.
Just a few minutes after she had crossed the line, the gun sounded for the start of the 10,000m and Cheptegei reeled off 25 laps in an average of less than 63 seconds apiece to stop the clock in 26:11.00.
Just 54 days after he had taken Kenenisa Bekele’s 5000m world record at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco, he removed the last remaining evidence of the phenomenal Ethiopian at the top of distance running’s all-time lists by taking 6.53 seconds from his 2005 mark of 26:17.53.
Cheptegei reached 8000m in 20:59.48 and 9000m in 23.36.75, more than five and eight seconds faster than Bekele at these respective points in their races, and roared on by the few spectators and officials the Turia Stadium owing to Covid-19 restrictions, he fulfilled his place in history over the last couple of laps before jogging over the line over the final few metres.
“I wanted to live up to expectations so I’m happy to achieve my dream,” said Cheptegei, who now becomes the 10th man in history to hold the 5000m and 10,000m world records concurrently. “I was trying to remake history so that people will have something to enjoy. Sport lovers of the world can have something to remember.
“In this difficult situation, I hope things like this can still give us joy and some hope for tomorrow,” he added, with a nod to the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the athletics calendar this year
Gidey became the third successive Ethiopian to hold the 5000m world record following Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba as a prelude to Cheptegei’s feat.
Led out by Spain’s in-form 1500m champion Esther Guerrero, with 3000m steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech also helping out with the pace and Gidey initially bringing up the rear of the trio, 1000m was passed in 2:51.10 before the Spaniard was unable to go much further after a busy season.
With five long hard laps still to go, Gidey had almost seven seconds in hand over Dibaba and she didn’t squander the advantage.
The clock, stopped at 4000m at 11:19.17, is nine seconds quicker than Dibaba’s 11:28.4, and although Gidey looked to be tiring over the final two circuits, she still managed to turn out two successive 67-second laps to complete her run into the record books, stopping the clock at 14:06.62.
It is little more than five years since Gidey made her first international breakthrough, winning the U20 race at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang. She successfully defended that title two years later, becoming just the fourth woman in history to win back-to-back world U20 cross-country titles.
Later that year, she clocked 14:33.32 for 5000m, moving to second on the world U20 all-time list, and went on to finish 11th at the World Championships in London. Her progress has continued in recent years and she clocked a 5000m PB of 14:23.14 in Rabat in 2018 and an outdoor African 3000m record of 8:20.27 in 2019.
“I have been dreaming about this (setting a world record) for six years,” she said on a night which proved for both her and Joshua Cheptegei, that dreams can come true.
Her medal collection has expanded too. Gidey earned bronze at last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus and went one better at the World Championships in Doha, taking silver in the 10,000m behind Sifan Hassan.