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Birhanu Balew of Bahrain won the men’s 5000m at Lausanne’s Athletissima IAAF Diamond League fixture on Thursday in a personal best and 2018 world-leading time of 13:01.09 – but his victory was almost a footnote after an extraordinary incident on the final bend between the two young Ethiopians who had been contesting the lead, 20-year-old Yomif Kejelcha and his 18-year-old compatriot Solomon Barega.
The older runner, who had burst into the lead at the bell, began stumbling as they approached the final straight, but as he fell he grabbed hold of Solomon Barega’s shorts and dragged him out into lane three. It was almost as if he was saying to his younger colleague – “If I can’t beat you, at least I can stop you winning.”
After Berhanu, who had followed Solomon home in the last Diamond League 5000m, had cruised past, Solomon recovered himself to finish second in, astonishingly, a season’s best of 13:02.67 – but he was anything but a happy athlete at the end, raging and gesturing at his fellow Ethiopian when he finally picked himself up and arrived at the finish area.
For a moment it was as if we were watching something out of one of the more acrimonious FIFA World Cup matches. It seemed clear that this action had prevented Solomona from earning a victory that would have taken him on to next week’s IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 in good heart.