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Haile Gebrselassie defeats Paul Tergat at the 2000 Olympics

Top 10 contests from the Sydney Olympics

#1 – Men’s 10000m

A truly epic 25 lap race in it’s own right, the context of what had occurred four years prior in Atlanta and in the lead up to Sydney only adds to the significance of the race.

Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia was the dominant distance runner of the 90s, setting world records over 5000m and 10000m. In an attempt to beat him in Atlanta, Kenya’s Paul Tergat, world cross country champion, wound up the pace over the final three kilometres but couldn’t drop the diminutive Ethopian, who was renowned for his finishing kick (he had closed the final 200m at the 1995 world championships in 25 seconds). The winning time of 27:07.34, with the second half of the race being run in 13:11.

After Atlanta, Tergat continued his winning streak at the world cross country to five consecutive wins and claimed the 10000m world record in 26:27.85, only for Gebrselassie to regain it in 26:22.75. Gebrselassie had continued his championship dominance, winning the 1997 and 1999 world titles, with Tergat second on both occasions.

But come 2000 Gebrselassie was carrying an achilles injury and Tergat had honed his shorter distance speed with two sub 13 minute 5000m performances. But the question still remained, how to you beat the man with the faster PB and the bigger kick?

The loneliness of a long distance runner is often remarked, but the reality is that there is usual a team of athletes alongside in training. And on occasion, this transposes to team tactics in international championships, particularly between the African powerhouses of Kenya and Ethiopia. Such was it to be in Sydney.

After 24 intriguing laps it came down to three Kenyans (Tergat, John Korir and Patrick Ivuti) against two Ethiopians (Gebrselassie and Assefa Mezgebu). At the bell, Korir had the lead, being shadowed by Gebrselassie, who in turn was shadowed by Tergat. Then Mezgebu moved to Gebrselassie’s shoulder, boxing in Tergat with 300m remaining. Down the back straight Tergat made his move, slowing and making a dramatic sidestep to get a clear run on the outside, sprinting into the lead.

Gebrselassie made chase with Mezgebu trying to hold on as the Kenyans were dropped. Stride for stride down the home straight it was Tergat and Gebrselassie, with the Ethiopian straining, but inching closer… willing himself closer to the lead… until, with just 10 metres remaining, he gained it and with tenseness in Tergat’s stride seeing him falter just ever so slightly. Gebrselassie had defended his Olympic 10000m title. His winning margin of 0.09 seconds was less than the margin in the men’s 100m.

The full race is below, with this video starting with 500m remaining.

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