In the heat of the midday sun, the two greatest female 10,000m runners in history will square off once again. In one corner: Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, the world record holder. In the other: the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan, the reigning world and Olympic champion. It should be a race for the ages.
But as they fight it out for gold at 12.20pm local (8.20pm UK time) on Saturday, British eyes will turn to the chasing pack – where the familiar lolloping stride of Eilish McColgan might just be in contention for a shock bronze medal.
Almost all the signs are positive. So far this year the 31-year-old has broken the UK records at 5km, 10km and half-marathon on the roads. While on the track, her 10,000m personal best of 30:19:02 set in Hengelo this year, makes her the third fastest in the field.
In fact, it is not impossible that she could join her mum, Liz, who took 10,000m gold in Tokyo in 1991 on a world championship podium – if she handles the heat and recovers from a recent bout of illness.
“I think I’m on the upward trend and I think I can get close to 30 minutes again which is a big aim for me,” she says. “I’m not going in with any focus on medals or positions because I can’t control what the other women can do. Because there are some women who are, on a good day, probably capable of running 28-something for a 10km.
“When they are at their best they are the best in history, never mind the best right now. So for me if I can get myself in 30-minute shape then I’m giving myself the best chance to place as highly as I can,” she says. “But we’re racing a 10,000m in Eugene at midday too – I’m not sure who thought that was a good idea by the way.”
McColgan was speaking last week, before news that last year’s Olympic silver medallist Kalkidan Gezahegne and fifth-place finisher Francine Niyonsaba will not run. It gives the popular Scot, who was ninth in the Tokyo Olympics, further reason to tentatively dream after a season initially blighted by Covid.
“I managed to pick up Covid in the States after pretty much avoiding any kind of cold or illness for two years,” she says. “It wiped me out. I had a good five days in bed and then got back jogging but after a one mile run my heart rate was going through the roof. I began building it up slowly but I had to pull out of lots of American races and I thought the whole summer was going to be a write-off.
“Then I began to feel OK walking around but running was still really hard,” she added. “But about seven weeks into an altitude camp in Colorado my heart rate began to get back to normal.
“It hasn’t gone the way I’d planned. I’d love to be going into the Worlds with a lot more track races under my belt. But sometimes those are the cards you’re dealt. Similarly picking up another bug three weeks before the champs is not ideal. But I’ve had to adapt.”
Yet she remains positive, adding: “I don’t think my competitors are out of my reach as much any more. In previous years I wouldn’t be competitive in any way, shape or form but now I feel I should be in the mix.”
Meanwhile Darryl Neita is also full of confidence ahead of the women’s 100m heats which begin in the early hours of Sunday morning – even though she goes up against the Olympic champion, Elaine Thompson-Herah, and the world champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who have run 10.54 and 10.6 seconds respectively.
“I believe if you make the final it’s anyone’s game,” she said. “Yes there are some real stand-out ladies at the minute, with 10.5s and 10.6s on the clock. These are magical times. But if you are in the right race anything can happen. I’m in good shape and I can compete against the best. I really believe I can do well at the world championships.”
Neita, who believes she can substantially improve on her PB of 10.93 sec, added: “This year I’ve brought in a lot of confidence from running in the Olympic final. To run against those ladies, I felt I really do belong here.
“Although I came last in that final, it gave me the motivation I needed to know that this winter, I get to work and I believe I can place even better in the next world final. It’s been a journey but I’d say my confidence is high. I’ve worked really hard. I feel like this is where I’m meant to be.”
July 16, 2022 at 03:23AM Sean Ingle in Eugene, Oregon