Ethiopia’s Barega wins gold in 10,000 meters; Grand Blanc's Fisher fifth
TOKYO — Selemon Barega won the first track and field gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday and claimed the 10,000-meter title back for Ethiopia after nearly a decade of dominance by Mo Farah.
Barega broke clear on the last lap and won in 27 minutes, 43.22 seconds, upsetting world champion and world-record holder Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, who took the silver medal in 27:43.63. Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda was third for bronze. Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc finished fifth.
Barega’s last-lap burst was good enough as he moved out in front with about 300 meters to go and held off the late charge by the two Ugandans, who were expected to go 1-2 in the first track final of the Tokyo Games.
For one moment it looked like Cheptegei might run Barega down on the home straight, but the Ethiopian dipped his head and dug in as Cheptegei’s challenge faded.
Cheptegei broke the world record in his last major 10,000-meter race in October but took a gamble by not running in any international races over the distance since then.
Barega had no major titles in the 10,000 before Friday, although he does have a world championship silver medal in the 5,000. His first 10,000 gold was the big one.
It was also a change of fortune for the 21-year-old Barega, who had previously said he’s likely going to give up track events after the Olympics in favor of road running because of the removal of the 5,000 and 10,000 races from the Diamond League circuit.
Farah, who won gold at the last two Olympics, isn’t running in Tokyo after failing to make the British team.
The last Ethiopian to win the 10,000 at the Olympics was Kenenisa Bekele, who won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2008. Before him, yet another Ethiopian great, Haile Gebrselassie, won in 1996 and 2000, giving Ethiopia four straight titles before Farah intruded.
The Olympic 10,000 has held a special place for the East African nation since Miruts Yifter first won it for Ethiopia in 1980.
Barega won at a largely empty Olympic Stadium, although other Ethiopian athletes and team officials clapped and screamed loudly from the seats by the finish line as he came home first.
The men’s 10,000 was the only medal event on the first day of track competition.