By Dave Hunter (August 1s, 2017; London)
Even with the 66,000+ fans who packed London's Olympic Stadium setting new decibel records in exhorting on their beloved countryman, Muktar Edris was not to be denied as the Ethiopian did something no man has been able to do in 6 years: unleash a finishing kick strong enough to defeat the incomparable Mohammed Farah in a global championship track final. The capacity crowd - which came in droves to witness what Farah has repeatedly stated will be his final big track competition - roared during Farah's introduction and then settled back to watch what they hoped who be yet another global championship for the Brit they call Sir Mo.
Unlike the 10,000 meter championship race 8 days ago where the pace was spirited from the gun, the early tempo in the 5000 final was funereal. Farah and USA's Paul Chelimo - the gold and silver medalists from Rio - raced to the front at the opening gun. After a spritely circuit in 62 seconds, the Rio medalists dialed it way back with a second lap in 70, ultimately leading the bunched field of 14 through 1 kilometer in 2:48. With Edris, Kenya's Cyrus Rutto, and Great Britain's Andrew Butchart joining the leaders, the tempo actually slowed further. Continuing a dawdling pace that has historically favored Farah and his torrid finish, the entire field - packed more tightly than the Underground's Central Line at rush hour - trotted past 2 kilos in 5:48. Farah fans were not worried. They had seen this movie before.
Soon thereafter, Ethiopia's 17-year-old Selemon Barega moved past co-leaders Farah and Rutto to take the lead and up the pace. While the 3rd kilometer was faster - a 2:44 - it was punishing no one. Shortly after 3K, Australia's Patrick Tiernan spurted into the lead and quickly pushed out to a 7-8 meter advantage over the others. Hey, mind the gap! But they didn't. With the reigning NCAA cross country champion up front, the man who thwarted Edward Cheserek's bid for 4 consecutive XC titles still had a 10 meter lead when he split 4 kilos in 11:09.
With 2 laps remaining, surely the 3-time defending champion would soon impose his will upon the field. But it did not happen. Farah seemed content to let this championship race go right down to the very end. Approaching the bell, Yomif Kejelcha - yet another Ethiopian - nursed a slight lead as he was closely followed by Edris and then Farah. The medal contenders were in full flight on the backstretch. Coming around the final curve, Edris's top gear was too much for Kejelcha who started tying up as he drifted away from the curb. Farah seized the opportunity to pass Kejelcha on the inside with a move that seemed capable of lifting him to victory. But Edris was too far gone. Chelimo passed Kejelcha on the outside but couldn't catch the Brit. A jubilant Edris crossed first in 13:32.79 followed by Farah [13:33.22]. Chelimo [13:33.51] grabbed the bronze while the fading Kejelcha [13:33.51] finished out of the medals.
After the race, the Ethiopian victor displayed his pre-race confidence. "I was highly prepared for this race and I knew I was going to beat Mo Farah," said a resolute Edris. "After the 10,000 he was maybe tired so he did not have enough for the last kick. I was stronger," declared the new champion. "Mo has many victories but now I have one. I am the new champion for Ethiopia. That's why I did the Mobot," he said. "I have won the gold in front of his home crowd. I didn't have much support but we did it. I did the Mobot out of respect as well for him."
Paul Chelimo thought team tactics played a role. "I think the Ethiopians had a plan because I think Kejelcha was out there to push the pace early and try and dampen Mo Farah's kick. Edris was just waiting and waiting to see and sitting by in the last 200 meters," offered the American medalist. "In the last 50 meters I thought 'There is no way I'm coming out without a medal here.' I had to fight and dig deep to get the bronze. To go home with a medal is not bad. I'm happy with performance. It's my second championship and a medal. I'm taking over next year. 2019 - I am after that gold."
Following this his last championship track race, Mohammed Farah provided his account of the final. "Tactically, I was trying to cover every move. They had the game plan: one of them was going to sacrifice themselves. That's what they did tonight, and the better man won on the day. I gave it all, I didn't have a single bit left at the end," admitted one of the greatest championship racers of all time. Before departing, Farah offered some final thoughts on this the conclusion of his magnificent track career. "It's been amazing. It's been a long journey but it's been incredible. It doesn't quite sink in until you compete here and cross the line - I had a couple of minutes to myself - that this is it."