Almaz Ayana blitzed to the third fastest time in history for the women’s 5,000m at the Shanghai Diamond League. Astonishingly, the Ethiopian only seriously switched to the distance two years ago. Here is how the former steeplechaser did it.
Almaz Ayana was a gifted young steeplechaser. In 2010, she finished fifth at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, before later that year hinting at her future potential by slicing exactly two seconds from the world junior record mark with 9:22.51 in Brussels. She ran solidly in 2011, earning a Diamond League podium place in Birmingham, but in 2012 she lost her form over the barriers finishing down in 13th at the Shanghai Diamond League.
Later that year her husband, Soresa Fida, a 3:34 timed 1,500m runner who also competed in Moncton, asked her if she would like to try the 5,000m.
“At first, I refused to run; after we discussed the change, I gave it a try. Steeplechase was my first love, but I sometimes feared the steeples. I injured myself at the barriers and I sometimes feared to jump and did not feel so comfortable.” She ran a useful personal best of 14:57.97 in Brussels to place eighth. “The good performance in the 5,000m gave me the confidence in my new event.”
As a steeplechaser, Ayana had been training with the Ethiopian team under the national coach. Moving to the 5,000m left her free to work with her husband as coach, which has brought many benefits. “We made our own training plan and put much more intensity into our programe,”s she says. “We can also now better adapt to my daily condition. My husband guides me every day in training and in my private life. He takes on important overview of my sporting life. He helps me eat healthily, relax and he motivates me.”
In 2013, Ayana was still competing in the steeplechase, as well as the 3,000m and 5,000m. It was at the 2013 Paris Diamond League event that she made a huge breakthrough in the 12-and-a-half lap event. In that race, she hacked more than 25 seconds off her lifetime best to finish second, just behind world record holder and fellow country woman Tirunesh Dibaba. Ayana’s time of 14:25.84 elevated her to sixth on the all-time list.
“That is the race when I realised if I can stay close to Tirunesh, I can run with the best athletes [in the 5,000m],” Ayana says. Two days later, she ran and won a steeplechase in a low-key meet in France. She has not run a steeplechase since. Later that year, Ayana backed up her performance in Paris by winning the 5,000m bronze at the world championships in Moscow.
In 2014 and now 100 per cent committed to the 5,000m, she solidified her status as one of the world’s top 5,000m athletes. She finished second at the Rome and Monaco Diamond League and made gains in championship competition, taking the Ethiopian, African and Continental Cup titles in what was a memorable year. “Yes, I feel that I have arrived at the right event for myself,” she says. “I love the 5,000m and I know I can fulfill my potential.”