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Kipyegon, fastest in the world this year, sat in the pack as the runners virtually jogged the opening stages before she and Dibaba took off and pulled clear after a 56.80 secs lap around the halfway mark that scattered the field.
Dibaba, who has struggled with injury this year, led with 200m to go but the 22-year-old Kipyegon forced her way past and drove for the line to win in 4:08.92 and reverse the order from last year’s world championship final. Dibaba held on for silver, with American former world champion Jenny Simpson taking bronze ahead of compatriot Shannon Rowbury.
Kipyegon was thrilled to become Kenya’s second gold medallist in the event, following in the footsteps of Nancy Jebet Langat, who won at Beijing 2008. “It was an amazing race,” Kipyegon said. “I needed to focus during the middle section because I knew Genzebe was so fast and I really had to kick on the last lap. I knew Dibaba was going to sprint ahead in the last 800m but I’d prepared well and was confident I would go with her."
“I was flexible and ready for any pace. I could tell the first lap was slow so I knew there was no challenge but I didn’t think I would win. I’m so happy and thankful to have won my first Olympic medal, and it’s gold.”
After enjoying a stellar 2015, Dibaba has struggled with injuries this season but seemed to be running into form as she qualified fastest for a showdown that contained eight of the women who contested the world championship final in Beijing last year.
That quality was not on show early on as they jogged through the first lap in 76 secs and went through 800m in a pedestrian 2:27.21. Dibaba then pressed the accelerator, however, and only Kipyegon and Briton Laura Muir could respond. The Ethiopian led at the bell but her diminutive rival sat perfectly poised on her shoulder before driving clear in a 58.79 secs last lap.
“I’ve had some injuries in the last month and was not able to train as hard as usual. I had a fierce competitor up against me and I’m happy with my result,” said Dibaba, who claimed Ethiopia’s first Olympic medal in this event.