On the final day of the World Championships, 14 August, there only seems to be only one favourite for the men’s 5000m - Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele. However, to believe this would be to seriously underestimate the potential of the new Kenyan champion, Isaac Songok.
After Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, who last summer in Athens won the 1500m and 5000m double, announced that he would not be competing in Helsinki, the Ethiopian World record holder for 5000m and 10,000m became the automatic gold medal tip.
In Athens 2004 and in Paris 2003, El Guerrouj managed to defeat Bekele in the final sprint, but without the Olympic champion, Morocco's hopes rest with Hicham Bellani who even though under 13 minutes in Heusden on 23 July (12:59.67) is likely to be someway off Bekele’s quality.
Bekele, the World and Olympic 10,000m gold medallist, is of course recovering from the sudden loss of his fiancee in January but as shown at the World Cross Country in March he has focussed his grief on his pursuit of more athletics honours. The World record holder at 5000m has run the distance twice this season. On 1 July in Paris, he clocked the world season's best of 12:40.18 and he also won in London with 12:55.55.
The other two Ethiopians, Dejene Berhanu (12:59.03) and Kenenisa’s brother Tariku (12:50.03) have also run under 13 minutes this season, and will naturally want their part in the medal chase.
In the London 5000m, Australian Craig Mottram (12:56.13), the World Cup 3000m winner, followed Bekele closely all the way and may well be fighting for the medals in Helsinki as he has a good sprint finish.
But it is of course the Kenyan challenge which is the strongest. It will be led by 21-year-old Isaac Songok, who won the trials for the World Championships in Nairobi and was number one at 5000m in Rome with 12:52.29, on both occasions defeating the reigning World champion Eliud Kipchoge (12:52.59), who of course also finished with the silver in Athens. Songok’s change this season from being a specialist 1500m runner into a combination 1500/3000/5000m runner, has been stunning, and the potency of his sprint marks him out as a very serious challenger to Ethiopian hopes.
With Kipchoge given his place automatically as defending World champion, the Kenyan squad is four strong with former World Cross Country short course champions, John Kibowen, Kenyan Trials second placer, and Benjamin Limo, who ran 12:58.66 for 7th in Rome, completing the line-up.
Boniface Kiprop of Uganda, the World Junior 10,000m champion, also had a good run in Rome with a 12:58.43 record for 6th, while Moukheld Al-Outaibi of Saudi Arabia was the winner in Heusden-Zolder with 12:58.58.
Helsinki 2005 media team