Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana brushed off doping suspicions about her astonishing world record-breaking Olympic 10,000m victory here Friday, attributing her performance to hard work and religious devotion.
The 24-year-old smashed one of the longest-held records in athletics as she romped to victory in an electrifying start to the Rio Olympics track and field competition.
Ayana’s winning time of 29 min. 17.45sec sliced nearly 14 seconds off the previous world best of 29:31.78 set by Wang Junxia in 1993 during the era of notorious Chinese coach Ma Junren.
The astounding display immediately raised eyebrows in the athletics world, with British women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe one of the first to remark upon the Ethiopian’s performance.
“I’m not sure I can understand that,” Radcliffe said. “When I saw the world record set in 1993 I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And Ayana has absolutely blitzed that time.”
Yet Ayana — who had only raced the 10,000m once before heading into the Olympics — smiled when asked to respond to suggestions that her performance might not be all that it seemed.
“I praise the Lord, the Lord gives me everything,” she said through an interpreter.
“My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus — otherwise I’m crystal clear.”
Ayana said she had not planned to set a world record heading into the race.
“It’s amazing — I saw the record after the race,” she said. “My only plan was to win the race.”