The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One of women’s track and field’s most suspect marks goes down

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia poses with the scoreboard after breaking the 1500-meter world record with a time of 3:50.07 at the Diamond League meet in Monaco. (Olivier Anrigo/European PhotoPress Agency)

In 1993, the Chinese women won the 1,500 meters, 3,000 and 10,000 at the world championships and later that summer broke the world records — in stunning fashion — in all three events at a national meet in Beijing. None of the three had been touched since — until Friday.

Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba won the 1,500 at the Diamond League meet in Monaco in 3 minutes 50.07 seconds, topping the world mark set nearly 22 years ago by Qu Yunxia by .39.

“I’m the first from Ethiopia to get the 1,500-meter world record. That is amazing,” Dibaba told reporters after the race. “I knew from the beginning that I could break the record and am still able to improve, maybe under 3:50.”

How fast was the race? Shannon Rowbury broke Mary Decker Slaney’s 32-year-old American record (and set a North American record as well) and finished third, more than six seconds back in 3:56.29. In all, six women, including 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson of the United States, were under four minutes.

This was long thought one of the toughest — and most dubious — records in track and field. Qu broke the mark by more than two seconds in 1993, and no non-Chinese woman had ever gone under 3:52 before Friday. In fact, no woman had run under 3:55 since 1997 before Dibaba ran 3:54.11 earlier this year.

Qu and her teammates, all “peasant” women coached by Ma Junren, passed drug tests that year despite doping rumors. But six of Junren’s “army” were among those dropped from China’s Olympic team for testing positive for EPO, a substance not tested for previously. Those positive tests have long shaded the records set in 1993, when 42 seconds were shaved off the 10,000 mark and 16.5 seconds off the 3,000 mark.

Dibaba was helped Friday by a world class pace-setter: former indoor 800 world champion Chanelle Price. The American led the pack through 400 meters in 1:00.31 and 800 in 2:04.52 before giving way. A final lap under 60 seconds gave Dibaba the mark.

The men’s race Friday was quick as well. Asbel Kiprop of Kenya ran 3:26.69, .69 off Hicham El Guerrouj’s 1998 world record, leaving him the third-fastest man of all time. Matthew Centrowitz, the former All-Met from Broadneck High, ran 3:30.40 to make him the third-fastest American ever, and he finished 10th overall.