Barega took the lead with 400 meters to go and cleared in the finals, finishing in 27: 43.22 ahead of Ugandan duo Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo.
Held in the virtually empty vicinity of the 68,000-seat Tokyo Olympic Stadium, most of the noise in the arena came from the announcers and music blaring from the speakers, providing a somewhat surreal soundtrack to the proceedings.
The race was also a strange affair, with Ugandan Stephen Kissa taking a huge lead early on before retiring with nine laps to go.
“It was a sacrifice for the team. We had a plan for me to go ahead and make it a fast race,” Kissa later told reporters.
“I thought they (Cheptegei and Kiplimo) were going to follow me but when I looked around they weren’t there… We had planned the gold but unfortunately we have a silver and a bronze. I’m happy. We have two medals for that. Maybe next time someone else will sacrifice themselves for me. “
With temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius and high humidity levels in the stadium, all chances of a quick time evaporated throughout the race, despite Kissa’s best efforts.
Barega, 21, whose winning time was more than a minute and a half slower than Cheptegei’s world record, now joins a prestigious list of Ethiopian runners to win Olympic gold in the 10,000m, including Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie.
Between those three, Ethiopia has won six of the last eight 10,000m Olympic titles, the other two going to Britain’s Mo Farah.
“It is well known that we were the winners of the 10,000m competition,” Barega told reporters.
“Since Kenenisa last won (at the Beijing Olympics in 2008) we haven’t been able to win a gold medal. I’m really proud to be a part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”
Barega’s previous best result of his career was a silver medal in the 5,000m at the 2019 World Athletics Championships.
The race calmed down after Kissa pulled out, and with four laps to go there was a very tight group of 15 riders still in contention.
That decreased to around eight at the bell, at which point Barega leapt forward and saw challenges from Cheptegei and Kiplimo.
Further into the peloton there were dramatic scenes as Australia’s Patrick Tiernan, who had kept pace with the race leaders until the last lap, swerved and collapsed from exhaustion in the straight line.
Surprisingly, he managed to get up and crossed the line in 28: 35.06.
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