Athletics: Ayana wins stunning gold, denies doping

Fri Aug 12, 2016 1:58pm EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Olympic athletics got off to an astonishing start on Friday when Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana smashed a 23-year-old world record to win the greatest-ever women's 10,000 meters and then had to deny suggestions that her performance was fueled by drugs.

The world 5,000 meters champion, running only her second 10,000 meters, ripped the field apart to finish in 29 minutes 17.45 seconds, an incredible 14 seconds inside the previously untouchable 29:31.78 set by China's Wang Junxia in 1993.

Kenya's world 10,000 meters champion Vivian Cheruiyot took silver and though she was far behind, her time of 29:32.53 was still the third-fastest ever run. Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba, the double defending Olympic champion, took bronze.

No woman had gone under 30 minutes in the last seven years, but the first four all did on Friday, and even though the field was spread all over the track, the first 13 finishers ran the best time of their lives, including five national records.

After a bleak year of doping and corruption controversies it should have been an uplifting start to 10 days of athletics but, such was the magnitude of victory, Ayala was immediately forced to deny using performance-enhancing drugs.

"My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus. I am crystal clear," she said through an interpreter.

Sarah Lahti, who finished 12th in a Swedish record having taken 26 seconds off her own best, questioned Ayala's performance while marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe said in commentary for the BBC: "I'm not sure that I can understand that.

"When I saw the world record set in 1993, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And Ayana has absolutely blitzed that time."   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Final - Women's 10,000m Final - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 12/08/2016. Almaz Ayana (ETH) of Ethiopia poses next to a display with her timing after setting a new world record.    REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson