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Rio Olympics 2016: Ethiopian breaks 10,000m world record

Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana poses next to a scoreboard showing her new world record in the women's 10,000-metre final. Photo / AP
Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana poses next to a scoreboard showing her new world record in the women's 10,000-metre final. Photo / AP

They say records are made to be broken. The world mark in the women's 10km deserved to be obliterated.

Set by China's Wang Junxia during an era where Chinese doping was infamous, the mark had sat as a sore point in athletics for 23 years.

While her record stood, Wang's coach was suspended by Chinese authorities in 2000 after six of his athletes failed drug tests. Wang and compatriot Qu Yunxia earned the nickname the "chemical sisters".

But today the athletics world celebrated (with caution) as Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana provided a remarkable opening to track competition at the Olympics.

Better known for her performances over 5km, the 24-year-old carved a scarcely-believable 14 seconds off Wang's record, finishing in 29:17.45. The run was described as "insane" by Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden.

In just her second 10km on the track, Ayana joined the list of legendary distance runners from her homeland like men's 10km record holder Kenenisa Bekele and two-time 10km gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie as an Ethiopian great.

She was 15 seconds in front of 2015 world champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who took silver, and 25 seconds ahead of countrywoman Tirunesh Dibaba, who claimed bronze. The only woman within camera shot of her at the finish was a runner with a lap to go.

But to take 14 seconds of Wang's record was the most amazing part. Since 2002, the men's mark has been lowered 25 times. The biggest drop was when Bekele bested Gebrselassie's record in 2005 by five seconds. A 14-second gap is phenomenal.

At an Olympics which has seen its fair share of doping controversy - and battles between 'clean' and 'cheating' athletes, Ayana's race will be treated with skepticism.

Ayana wasn't the only one in career form in the race - 12 of the 13 quickest finishers broken national records or personal bests - but doubt was immediately cast over her performance.

"I do not really believe that she is 100 per cent (clean). It is too easy for her," said 12th-placed finisher Sarah Lahti, who broke Sweden's national record.

"We see no facial expression ... while the rest of us are struggling for life at the back. How much difference can there be? I cannot say that she is not clean, but there is little doubt."

A Swedish journalist reportedly asked Ayana "what do you say about people who don't think you can run this fast clean?" after the race. After she answered, the translator speaking for her told the press the runner had given a "very sharp answer" in her native tongue.

"Three basic things," Ayana said. "I did my training, specifically (for the ) 5km and 10km. Number two, I praise the Lord. God has given me everything, every blessing. My doping is my training. My doping is Jesus. Otherwise. Nothing. I am crystal clear."

Ayana will now seek to complete a rare double by lowering the world record in the 5km. Ayana missed the mark held by Dibaba by just 1.5 seconds at a meet in June and with the form she showed today must surely be favoured to break that. She would have if they counted the second half of her race today.

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