SPORTS

Dibaba in 10,000, Majewski in shot put, opening night at Olympic track is for repeat champions

08/03/2012 10:32 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - On a night of defending champions making unlikely comebacks for gold, Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba added another 10,000-meter Olympic title and further established herself as the greatest female long-distance runner in history.

After missing a year due to injury, Dibaba produced a devastating kick with 600 metres to go, leaving the daunting Kenyan rivals in her wake and giving Ethiopia an early edge in the great African distance running rivalry.

"I have never been happier like today," Dibaba said. That takes some beating for a woman who had already won a half dozen world or Olympic gold medals.

And with such a kick and such poise, Dibaba showed she is more than capable of repeating as double Olympic long-distance champion with the 5,000 metres coming up next Friday.

"I have worked very hard for this. No one has ever done what I did today," Dibaba said of her back-to-back titles in the 10,000.

And as of next year, the work load will likely even increase as she plans to move up to the marathon, just like her compatriot Haile Gebrselassie had done after he had won everything on offer for him on the track.

"That's my future. That's my plan," she said.

Friday's opening night had the identical winners of the first day of competition in Beijing four years ago.

In the men's shot put, it was Poland's Tomasz Majewski who became the first repeat Olympic champion in 56 years, beating world champion David Storl. He was an unlikely champion in Beijing four years ago and wasn't a favourite this year, either, as most analysts expected a battle between the Americans and Storl of Germany.

Shin splints forced Dibaba to rest last year, and the Kenyans took advantage.

So the 10,000 worked out as a huge faceoff between Ethiopia and Kenya, the two traditional African powers.

With 4 kilometres to go, the top five racers already were from the two nations with Ethiopian Werknesh Kidane doing the pacing work to thin the pack to just four when Kenya's Sally Kipyego picked up the pace with 3 laps to go.

Dibaba, even though she is only 26, has years of experience and can pick a decisive moment by instinct.

And 600 metres from the finish line, Dibaba sensed her chance and seemed to break too early for home, especially with double long-distance world champion Vivian Cheruiyot still giving chase.

But instead of Dibaba, the Kenyans folded, and with a stride as easygoing and elegant as any champion will ever have, she seemed to float effortlessly away from her struggling rivals to capture another gold.

She won in a season-leading time of 30 minutes, 20.75 seconds. Kenyans won silver and bronze, with Sally Kipyego finishing second in 30:26.37 and world champion Vivian Cheruiyot placing third in 30:30.44.

And since the Kenyans have been getting an edge in the rivalry with their neighbours, all of Ethiopia was counting on another title from her.

"They gave me a lot of responsibility and I was worried about that because I was not in my best form," Dibaba said. It didn't show.

Dibaba is used to the company of greats by now. He cousin is Derartu Tulu, who won two Olympic 10,000 titles, and she is married to Silleshi Sihine, who won two Olympic 10,000 silvers in the wake of Gebrselassie.

For Dibaba, it is simple. Next week comes the 5,000 and next year the marathon.

The future for Jessica Ennis is Saturday.

She kicked off the London Olympic athletics meet early Friday morning with the fastest 100-meter hurdles ever run in the heptathlon and added a great 200 under darkened skies to take a big step toward gold for the host nation in the seven-event competition.

All day with Ennis, the fervent home crowd in the packed 80,000 stadium backed her with incessant cheers and the waving of the Union flag as she even exceeded expectations ahead of Saturday's final three events.

Ennis has been cherished in the host nation for years as perhaps the best chance for gold in athletics at the Olympics, and the crowd let it be know the wait was finally over. She lived up to those expectations immediately as she shot out the blocks of her first event and stayed strong through the day.

"It was such an amazing feeling. It kind of gives you goosebumps," Ennis said of the crowd.

After four events, she had already left world champion Tatyana Chernova and defending champion Natallia Dobrynska well behind and with her best 200 ever, her nervous morning grimace had turned into a beaming smile as cameras flashed all round the Olympic stadium.

Ennis totalled 4,158 points, her highest ever score after the opening day, and held a lead of 184 over Austra Skujyte of Lithuania, who briefly held top spot after the biggest shot put in the history of the heptathlon.

Saturday still has the Long jump, javelin and the 800.

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