Who and What to Watch in the Men’s Olympic 5000m Final

A likely tactical race will leave the men's Olympic 5000m open to a strong kicker from anywhere.

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Very few 5000m championship finals are run at a fast pace from the gun, with most seeing a series of alternating surges during the first 8–10 of the 12.5 laps, making the field yo-yo into an elongated line before clustering together again. Ethiopia and Kenya typically field such strong Olympic teams that many of their athletes work together to ensure the race is run to suit.

When the pace is slow, up to a dozen athletes can still be in contention at the bell, where the tempo explodes as each runner tries to move away from the group — and the rhythm keeps accelerating through the final turn and onto the homestretch. In those scenarios it will usually take a 52-second final 400m for a man or a sub-60 second last lap for a woman to take gold.

Those who don’t have this kind of closing gear have to hope to tire the speedsters’ legs by making the pace quicker throughout, and often will start to accelerate with up to 800 meters to go. In quick races, there’s usually only a handful of athletes in contention at the bell, and from there it’s about which man can hold on and kick in a 53–54- second final lap, and which woman can finish it off close to 60 seconds.

he pack in the Men's 5000m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The pack in the Men’s 5000m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Men’s Olympic 5000m Preview

The men’s 5000m final in Tokyo looks wide open – unlike the women’s race, where Sifan Hassan powered to gold in her opening leg of her attempted Olympic triple. In the men’s final on Friday night any one of eight or ten athletes could walk away with gold.

A few we thought would contend have been weeded out. The Ethiopian trio of Getnet Wale, Nibrek Melak and Milkesha Mengesha failed to live up to expectations in the heats on Tuesday, with only Mengesha advancing to the final, and he was outside the automatic qualifying positions, getting in on time.

Nicholas Kimeli leads the Kenyan charge, and he was a cut above his compatriots during the heats, edging Mohammed Ahmed of Canada to victory.

World record-holder Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei and compatriot Jacob Kiplimo will both be right up there, the duo doubling back after the 10,000m, where they won silver and bronze respectively behind Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega.

Cheptegei revealed afterward that he had been struggling with an injury to a tendon in his heel for the past four months. “This year was really a very difficult year for me in terms of racing,” he said. “It’s the year that I have lost all the focus, all the belief, a lot of pressure and I was losing out, you know, in every moment.”

US trio Paul Chelimo, Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid will all be dangerous, particularly in a slower race, with all three advancing through the heats on Tuesday, Chelimo and Kincaid finishing top-3 in their heats. Look out too for Spain’s Mohamed Katir, who made an astonishing leap forward this year and clocked a blazing 3:28.76 for 1500m in Monaco shortly before the Games, along with Ahmed, who looked at ease when finishing second in his heat. And don’t rule out Ahmed’s compatriot Justyn Knight, who has PR’d in the 1500m (3:33) and 5,000 (12:51) this year.

“There’s no standout right now in the 5K,” says Alistair Cragg, a three-time Olympian over 5000m for Ireland, who currently coaches a professional running group sponsored by Puma in North Carolina. “The 5K has become quite scrappy and there’s more opportunity to medal if you’re not a 12:40 guy. I don’t fancy Cheptegei’s chances in the 5K because I don’t see him being able to break these guys. If he takes he pace, all the 12:40 guys with big kicks will go with him and it’ll play in their favor.”

No matter how it plays out, it’s highly likely there will be at least half a dozen athletes in contention as they head out on the final lap, and from there it’ll be the strongest, the fastest, who reigns supreme.


Men’s Olympic 5,000m

Date: August 6 — Final
Time: 7:50 p.m. local time / 6:50 a.m. EDT