Ethiopia: Kenenisa Bekele, Gebreselassie’s surprising heir

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Kenenisa Bekele’s dream was to follow in the footsteps of Haile Gebreselassie, a man he has always regarded as the grandmaster. By becoming a quadruple 10 000 metre long distance world champion in Berlin, at the World Athletics Championships, Bekele now holds the same number of titles as the legendary Gebreselassie.

The “little prince of cross” is now the king of 10 000 metres. By treading the finish line first, Monday in Berlin at the World Championships, Kenenisa Bekele has now joined his idol, Haile Gebreselassie, in the firmament of athletics stars. After earlier wins in 2003, 2005 and 2007, the 27 year-old Ethiopian’s smooth sailing Berlin victory has won him another title and a new world record of 26’46 “31. He now shares a common track record with Haile Gebreselassie, his mentor since the beginning of his career. “”When I saw Haile running, I thought that perhaps one day I could be like him,” Kenenisa Bekele told the BBC a few years ago. He was then a young cross-country champion waiting to prove himself on the international athletics scene. In 2002, he was awarded a first ever double medal in the a new cross-country test: he got gold medals for both the short (4 to 6 km) and long (10 to 12 km) distance races. The same scenario was repeated in 2003 and 2004. Bekele has dominated the long distance scene for nearly a decade now.

An example above all else

The two champions’ paths often crossed when Bekele finally made his move from cross-country to track and field. At the 2003 world championships in Paris, he beat Gebreselassie, his absolute champion, in the 10 000 metre race. Following his historic win over his mentor, the young athlete then started steadily began erasing both Haile Gebreselassie’s 5 000 and 10 000 metre records. At the Athens Olympics, tensions were high when the two men met to compete against each other in the newly created 10 000 metre race. That day, however, Kenenisa Bekele, Sileshi Sihine and Haile Gebreselassie opted for a team, rather than an individual, victory. During the race, the first two slowed down to allow Gebreselassie catch up with them, when it became obvious that he had lost his steam. Gebreselassie finished fifth after pushing his countrymen to victory whilst Bekele went on to win his first Olympic medal. Four years later, Bekele and Gebreselassie were rivals for the last time at the Beijing Olympic. Haile Gebreselassie, who had had a comfortable international reign in long distance races had nothing to prove, finished in sixth position. In fact, after the Athens Olympics, Gebreselassie decided to solely concentrate on marathon races. Bekele, on the other hand, got himself a second Olympic victory.

Although he has achieved an incredible feat, in what concerns long distance race, Kenenisa Bekele has a long way to go yet. Other challenges that lie ahead include, extending his performance at the Beijing Olympics, where he won both the 5 000 and 10 000 metre races.

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