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Defar Chasing Fifth World Indoor Gold

She says she's fit and confident.

She says she’s fit and confident.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission

Meseret Defar of Ethiopia is going for an unprecedented fifth straight 3000m title at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March, after taking gold at every edition of the biennial championships since 2004.

“With my third title, I equaled Gabriela Szabo’s record,” said Defar in an interview in Boston last Saturday where she competed in the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, clocking a world-leading 8:33.57 in the 3000m.  “With the fourth title, I became the first woman to do it.  This would be my fifth, and I will pray that God will help me.”

The Romanian Szabo won the 3000m titles in 1995, 1997 and 1999.

“I’m in great health and I trained very well before coming here,” Defar continued.  “Starting the season this way has given me confidence.”

Defar’s husband Tewodros Hailu said at the time that she might contest the same distance in Karlsruhe next Sunday, and the websites of the meet and the German athletics association have since reported that she is scheduled to run there on February 12, and challenge the 2010 meet record of 8:41.24 set by Sylvia Kibet of Kenya.

The 5000m world silver medalist Kibet, and the 2009 world 10,000m medalist Meselech Melkamu of Ethiopia join Defar on the start list of the IHM Karlsruhe women’s 3000.  The 2011 indoor world leaders Yenew Alamirew of Ethiopia and Augustine Choge and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya are scheduled to contest the men’s 3000m there.

“I wanted to run below 8:30 here, and my fitness level should have permitted me to do that,” said the 2004 Olympic 5000m champion Defar in Boston after finishing more than 12 seconds ahead of runners-up Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia and Siham Hilali of Morocco there.  “But it’s my first race (this season) and the pace was somewhat uneven, and it wasn’t possible. But I’m pleased with the race.

“I want to run just one other race before the World Indoor Championships,” said Defar, who will likely wrap up her pre-championships season in Karlsruhe, and lamented the absence on the 2012 calendar of some of the indoor meets or races of which she has fond memories.  “The competitions at some of my favorite locations have been cancelled. Stuttgart is a favorite venue of mine, and that competition is not taking place this year. Stockholm is another place I love; (the women’s long distance race at) the meet isn’t taking place there this year.”

Defar set still-standing world indoor records at both venues, running 8:23.72 for 3000m in Stuttgart in 2007 and 14:24.37 for 5000m in Stockholm in 2009.

She came within less than a second of the 3000m mark in 2010 when she clocked 8:24.46 in Stuttgart, and she ran the second fastest 3000m time of 2011, 8:36.91, in Stockholm, a time eclipsed by only her training partner and fellow world indoor medalist Sentayehu Ejigu, who ran 8:30.26 in Birmingham.

The 2010 Doha bronze medalist Ejigu will be aiming to make the World Indoors team again, Defar said. “She’s training, but I don’t know what upcoming races she has scheduled,” Defar explained.

Outdoors in 2012, Defar will concentrate on trying to regain the Olympic 5000m title she lost in Beijing to compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba, but she hasn’t ruled out attempting the 10,000 as well. “At the moment, I am thinking of the 5000m,” she said.

Defar pursued the distance double at the 2009 and 2011 IAAF World Championships, but took 5000m bronze both times behind Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. After a stellar 2011 season that earned her the prestigious Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Award, Cheruiyot can be counted on to pose a major obstacle at the London Olympics for Defar, as will a fit Dibaba, who returned from an injury absence to win a 10K on the road on New Year’s Eve before taking a 9:21.60 two-mile victory in Boston on Saturday.

However, neither one of those women is expected in Istanbul.  Dibaba has never contested the World Indoors and said in an interview on Saturday that she will not be doing so this year, either. The 2011 double world outdoor champion Cheruiyot, who took silver behind Defar in the Doha indoor 3000, has not yet confirmed her intentions to run in Istanbul.