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Twenty-one-year-old Selemon Barega put the men's 10,000-meter Olympic gold medal back in the hands of an Ethiopian man for the first time since the 2008 Olympics. With a 53.92-second last lap, Barega held off world record holder Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda for the 27:43.22 victory.
The last two Olympic gold medals in this event were won by Great Britain's Mo Farah. At 38 years old, he attempted to qualify for this event but failed to hit the time standard to secure his place and missed the Games. Ethiopia's last two Olympic champions at 10,000 meters were Haile Gebrselassie in 1996 and 2000 and then Kenenisa Bekele in 2004 and 2008.
“It’s very well known that we have been winners for the 10,000 meter competition," Barega said after the race."Since Kenenisa won last time (at Beijing 2008), we have been unable to achieve a gold medal. I feel really proud to be part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”
Cheptegei settled for silver in 27:43.63 with his compatriot Jacob Kiplimo just a quarter of a second behind him for the bronze. It marked Uganda's first Olympic medals on the track since 1996.
"I have two feelings," Cheptegei said. "One is that I'm very happy to have won an Olympic silver medal today and I would say that this is really special for me as a world record holder and as a world champion. But the other side of me is really not satisfied with the result because I came here expecting to win a gold, but you never know how someone has prepared and you just have to be grateful and thankful to God that you had the best opportunity of being on the podium."
Uganda employed team tactics by deploying Stephen Kissa to pace the first few kilometers. At one point, he led the race by almost 50 meters but neither Cheptegei nor Kiplimo went with the defacto pacesetter in Tokyo's hot and humid conditions.
"We were planning for the gold but unfortunately we have a silver and bronze," Kissa said after the race. "But I'm happy. We have two medals."
Barega attempted to close the gap early in the race but settled back in with the chase pack before finally breaking away in the final kilometer. He closed the race in two minutes and 25 seconds for the fastest final 1,000 meters of an Olympic 10,000-meter final.
Grant Fisher, a former NCAA champion out of Stanford competing in his first Olympics, was the top American in fifth place, in 27:46.39. Fellow Americans Woody Kincaid and Joe Klecker finished 15th and 16th, in 28:11.01 and 28:14.18, respectively. Fisher and Kincaid will also compete in the first round of the men's 5,000 meters on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
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