can Ali Saidi-Sief win the 5000m?
K. Ken Nakamura for the
2001- It is generally
believed that if the fastest 1500m runner is with the leaders during the final
part of the 5000m race, he is most likely to win the race. However, as
witnessed in the Sydney Olympic Games and again in the World Championships in
Edmonton, that is not necessarily true. Each time the fastest 1500m runner in
the field, Ali Saidi-Sief, was outkicked by slower 1500m runners. The fastest
1500m runner does not necessarily possess the best finishing kick in the last
In Edmonton, men’s and women’s 10000m and
women’s 5000m were awaited with anticipation because of the highly regarded
showdown, Haile Gebrselassie against Kenyans in the men’s 10000m, Paula
Radcliffe against Ethiopians in the women’s 10000m, and Gabriela Szabo against
Olga Yegorova in the women’s 5000m. Ironically the best distance race in
Edmonton was the men’s 5000m, the least anticipated of all distance races.
The race, which was expected to be a
confrontation between Kenyans and Ethiopians, suddenly changed its complexion
with the entry of Ali Saidi-Sief, the silver medallist at the 2000 Olympic Games
in the 5000m. Because Saidi-Sief did not run a single 5000m race this season,
most assumed that he would be running the 1500m. Explains Saidi-Sief when asked
why he chosen the 5000m over the 1500m: “I entered in the 5000m because I
wanted to become a World Champion. I will have a chance to run 1500m in 2003,
2005 or even 2007.” Saidi-Sief is known for his long sustained sprint at the
end of the race; the question is whether or not anybody can keep up with him,
and outkick him in the last 200m as Million Wolde did in Sydney. Unlike the
Grand Prix setting where the initial pace is usually steady and fast, the pace
was slow in Sydney, and that may be the reason why the long sustained drive by
Saidi-Sief was not as effective in the Olympic Games.
In the first round heat of the men’s 5000m, the
Kenyan team was almost struck with disaster. In the first heat, Sammy Kipketer
who had turned in the second fastest time of the year in Athens failed to make
the auto-qualifying spot. In the second heat, John Kibowen who failed to
advance out of the heat of the 1500m in the 1997 World Championships also failed
to finish in the auto-qualifying spot. Kibowen told John Manners that he
miscounted his place - he thought he was in fifth, the last auto-qualifying
spot. Fortunately, both runners made it to the final as the fastest losers.
With Mike Kosgei, a coach who masterminded the
Ismael Kirui’s victory in the 1993 World Championships, back in the Kenyan team
it is expected that Kenyans will have team tactics in mind. It is true that in
the era of agents, it is not possible to sacrifice a runner for the good of the
team as it was done in the early days, but surely some sort of team tactics is
in the plan. In the 1993 World Championships, Mike Chesire took the race out
from the start covering the first 1000m in 2:31.76. After four laps in 4:08.4,
Chesire was reeled back. But then Ismael Kirui took the lead and covered the
next 2 laps in 62 and 60 seconds; the gap widened with the next lap of 62.5 and
he was running alone at world record pace. Eventually, a young Gebrselassie gave
a good chase, but Kirui was able to hold off the fast-finishing Ethiopian to win
a gold medal.
Unlike men’s 10000m, the 5000m final in
Edmonton started quite fast; the first lap led by Richard Limo was a
scintillating 59.07. When Sammy Kipketer took over the lead from Limo after one
and half laps and started to push the pace, keen observers might have thought
that tactics similar to the 1993 Worlds would be in store. One might imagine
that Kipketer who passed the 1000m in 2:32.51 (12:42.55 5000m pace) perhaps was
doing what Mike Chesire has done in the 1993 Worlds. Because Richard Limo won
the Kenyan Trials, the general consensus among experts was that Limo would be
the beneficiary of Kenyan race strategy and he will not do any of the dirty work
of leading the race until the real racing started. The 2000m was covered in
5:09.48 (12:53.7 5000m pace). Are the Kenyan tactics for neutralising
Ethiopians or Saidi-Sief? The fast pace, which was detrimental to the
Ethiopians may perhaps, be beneficial to Saidi-Sief. However, because
Saidi-Sief may have not been training for the 5000m, his strength is unknown,
and that may have been in Kenyan thoughts.
Eventually, after 3000m (7:51.18, a 13:05.3
5000m pace), Kipketer let himself be absorbed by the chase pack. If the plan
was to follow a plot similar to that of Stuttgart, someone, perhaps Richard
Limo, would surge ahead. However, he did not take the lead, and 200m later
with 1800m to go it was Ali Saidi-Sief who moved into the front. The keen
observers might have expected Saidi-Sief to start to wind up the pace slowly.
However, the pace stayed sluggish. It was quite a mystery why he even took the
lead, for it was quite early for him to do so. He explains, “I did not want to
change my rhythm. Also I did not want to repeat my mistake in Sydney where I
waited too long. This time I decided to attack earlier.” But attack he did
not. The fourth 1000m was covered in a slow 2:43.47 (13:37.35 5000m pace).
Saidi-Sief who had led since 3200m may have
been thought to be at a disadvantage. The pace gradually picked up and with
600m remaining Saidi-Sief, Richard Limo and Million Wolde broke away. Down the
backstraight for the final time, Saidi-Sief really pushed hard, but he could not
shake off Limo. Around the final bend, Limo started his own sprint and overtook
Saidi-Sief. “I am not too disappointed with my silver medal, because I really
did my very best. I did everything I could,” said Saidi-Sief.
In Sydney, Saidi-Sief was in the lead for the
last three and half laps, but the real racing did not start until last 450m.
The last 1000m in Sydney was covered in 2:25.65. In Edmonton, Saidi-Sief was in
the lead with four and a half laps to go, but real racing did not start until
600m to go. The final 1000m off the much faster pace (10:34.65 at 4000m as
opposed to 11:09.84 in Sydney) was covered in 2:26.12. On both occasions,
Saidi-Sief, who is known for a long finishing drive in the Grand Prix races, was
outkicked at the end. “I think next time I will choose different tactics,”
concluded Saidi-Sief. Will he run the 5000m again in two years time, or in the
absence of El Guerrouj will he try to win the 1500m instead?