Australian Eloise Wellings says she can’t be sure whether Almaz Ayana is clean after another jaw-dropping performance from the Ethiopian long-distance sensation.
Four days after she obliterated a 23-year-old world record to claim gold in the women’s 10,000m, Ayana again took to the track at the Estadio Olimpico on Tuesday morning, breaking away from the field mid-race to win her 5000m heat by 13 seconds in a time of 15:04.35 and become the fastest qualifier for the final on Friday night.
The heats were highly successful for Australia with all three of the nation’s runners – Wellings, Madi Hills and Genevieve LaCaze – advancing to their second final each of these Games, with Wellings having finished 10th in the 10,000m, and Hills (7th) and LaCaze (9th) both impressing in the 3000m steeplechase.
But it was Ayana who again wowed the world, days after the legitimacy of her performance in the 10,000m had been questioned by Swedish runner Sarah Lahti.
Veteran Wellings said she didn’t know what to make of the Ethiopian, who Wellings said was “hardly breathing” during their heat.
“It’s really hard at the moment. There’s a lot of talk about doping,” Wellings said.
“You know, the Ethiopian coach [Jama Aden] being caught with all this EPO in his hotel room and Ethiopian athletes in the same hotel.
“I can’t say for sure, so I’m not going to say anything.
“I look at her and think, ‘what a beautiful runner.'”
Aden was not Ayana’s coach, and the Ethiopian athletics federation tried to distance itself from Aden.
In any case LaCaze and Wellings were beaming after their runs. Wellings progressed in a time of 15:19.02, while LaCaze posted 15:20.45 and Hills 15:21.33. LaCaze and Wellings are sharing a room in Rio, and both spoke of a pact they made on Monday night to ensure that their competition at the Games would not end after the heats.
“The last thing we said before we went to sleep last night was that we don’t want it to be our last race,” Wellings said.
“Now it’s just a reward for our hard work.”
LaCaze said Wellings’ advice had helped her in the latter stages of the heat. “With about a kilometre to go, I’m just excited to be up there and she just leans over to me and says, ‘we’ve really got to get moving,'” LaCaze said.
LaCaze said she had been “an emotional wreck” after Monday’s steeplechase final. “I probably cried my bodyweight of water out of me.”
She praised coach Philo Saunders who had helped drive her recovery following the race.
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