Molly Huddle took advantage of Almaz Ayana’s world record pace to set an American 10,000m record, but it was a bittersweet moment as she finished sixth.
Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana destroyed a 23-year-old world record, crossing the finish line in 29:17.45 for a a gold medal in the women’s 10,000 meters.
Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot won the silver medal in 29:32.53, and defending Olympic champion Tiruesh Dibaba finished in 29:42.56 to claim the bronze medal.
The world record of 29:31.78 was previous held by Wang Junxia of China, who admitted to being a part of a state-sponsored Chinese doping regime. The Chinese record was not just broken but shattered to a million little pieces thanks to 14:46 and 14:31 splits at 5,000 meters. (To put the blistering pace into perspective, the American record for 5,000 meters by Molly Huddle is 14:42.64 and only 3 American women have ever run faster than 14:46.)
After running 30:13.17 for 6th place, Molly Huddle walked through the media room at the Olympic Stadium without a shiny medal of any hue around her neck, despite the fact that the time would have earned her medal at every previous Olympics and gold at 6 of 7 of them. Instead, she held the consolation prize of the American record. That’s the case for now at least.
“These places might be a bit mobile—who knows,” Huddle says. “That’s a very, very fast time.”
The previous American record of 30:22.22 was set by Shalane Flanagan at the 2008 Olympic in Beijing, where she took a conservative approach and picked off runners who faded.
“I wish there was something I could say that would make [Molly] feel better, but as an athlete I know exactly how she feels,” Flanagan says. “She is frustrated and mourning the loss of a dream—a medal. The American record is just a consolation prize in a way. She ran so tough and all of America is proud of her. I wish she could feel the elation I felt in Beijing.” Flanagan’s medal in Beijing may be upgraded to silver due to the recent re-testing of anti-doping samples and a reported positive test from Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse, who finished one place ahead of her.
In American distance running, Huddle has been one of those glimmers of hope. She’s won 6 national titles and closed the gap in competition against East Africans. Last summer, Huddle prematurely celebrated and was outleaned by compatriot Emily Infeld just inched before the finish line of the 10,000 final at the world championships in Beijing. It cost her the bronze medal by .09 seconds. Heartbreak comes in a different form in Brazil.
“I’ll just keep telling myself to keep fighting in the race and don’t feel bad about anything because you don’t know what your place really is,” Huddle says.