(Reuters) - Almaz Ayana has been left astonished by her own success as she looks poised to become the latest Ethiopian distance runner to challenge the record books.
Yet despite seeming almost bewildered by coming so close to breaking the world 5,000m record in the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai on Sunday, her performance has convinced the shy Ayana that the landmark could fall to her at the world championships in August.
In the month when the country's greatest runner Haile Gebrselassie retired, Ayana’s brilliant solo effort signaled that Ethiopia has yet another rare talent ready to beat the world.
The 23-year-old had previously shown her ability with a bronze medal at the 2013 Moscow world championships but it had not prepared athletics for her remarkable breakthrough run of 14 minutes 14.32 seconds, the third fastest ever, on a windy evening in the Shanghai Stadium.
If it was a performance which left athletics surprised, it felt like nothing compared to Ayana’s own response to coming so close to breaking her compatriot and heroine Tirunesh Dibaba’s seven-year-old mark of 14min 11.15sec.
"I didn't know I was so close to the world record,” Ayana said, admitting that she did not actually know what the record was.
“I was looking at running about 14:20 but during the race, I went faster and faster. I was surprised my body could do that and I was surprised when I heard it was close (to the record).”
Given that she went it alone with five laps to go, breaking the spirit of all her rivals and eventually finishing 26 seconds clear of her nearest pursuer, Kenyan Viola Jelagat Kibiwot, it seemed as if she is capable of much faster.
“Now I want to try to break the world record at the world championships in Beijing,” said Ayana, who seemed a little overwhelmed by the attention that greeted a run which knocked 11 seconds off her previous best time.
Coached by her husband, international 1500m runner Soresa Fida, Ayana trains near Addis Ababa at high altitude and says that her idols have been Ethiopia’s great women's distance double act of Dibaba and Meseret Defar.
They are now the only two women who have run faster over the 12 and a half lap distance than their young successor.
(Writing by Ian Chadband; Editing by Julian Linden)