StGalmier, FranceKenenisa Bekele completed his fourth consecutive World Cross Country golden double to become the most medalled athlete in the history of these championships, when winning the Men’s Long Race at the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier.
Bekele picked up a payment of 30,000US$ for today’s win and in the process also gave the 28,000 spectators who filled Hippodrome de Saint-Galmier full value entertainment.
Yesterday the 22-year-old won his fourth short race title which with the team gold brought his career haul to 19 World Cross medals. Another double today rose that haul to 21, of which 9 are gold! Nearest to this total are fellow Ethiopians Werknesh Kidane and Gete Wami whose own career medal totals increased respectively to 20 and 19 this weekend.
From the moment that the bell sounded (29:26) for the beginning of the sixth and final lap of this 12km long race, Bekele was simply untouchable. Until that point we had been treated to a ‘head to head’ duel between the Ethiopian and his Kenyan rival Eliud Kipchoge, their national champion.
Coming off the bend into the finishing straight for the penultimate time, Bekele and Kipchoge had briefly knocked shoulders as they vied for position ahead of the final lap but that was to be the last competitive hurrah for the Kenyan who within seconds was dropped by the devastating turn of speed of his adversary.
Five minutes and forty seconds later the defending champion returned in front of the grandstand to cross the finish line having gouged out a huge lead in the final lap of 1,956 metres. Bekele’s winning time was 35:06, with Kipchoge fading to 5th (35:37). It would have been fourth place had his depressed frame not fallen exhausted into a walk just before the line, allowing him to be passed by another Ethiopian Abebe Dinkesa Negera (also given 35:37).
Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea was second (35:20) with Qatar’s Abdullah Ahmad Hassan taking the bronze (35:34).
The first five laps had been largely straightforward. Kipchoge led a group of approximately 25 runners at the end of the first lap (6:20), and also dictated the pace through the following three laps (12:11; 17:57; 23:47) and 99% of the fifth before Bekele edged ahead just before the bell sounded (29:26).
The whole affair was dominated by the Africans and the team from Qatar which also largely originated from that continent. The nearest the rest of the world got to the pace was firstly when Australian Craig Mottram led a small chasing group some 60 metres back from the leading runners during the second lap, and secondly after he faded and Sergiy Lebid of Ukraine took up the gauntlet finishing 14th (36:33). Mottram, the next ‘outsider’ eventually crossed in 22nd (37:11).
Lap by lap the lead pack was whittled down in size but up in the front for most of the time with Kipchoge and Bekele were the track talents of Uganda’s World Junior 10,000m record holder Boniface Kiprop (7th 35:45), yesterday’s short course fourth placer Saif Saaeed Shaheen (8th 35:53), fellow Qatari Abdullah Hassan (26:38.76 10,000m PB), and Zersenay Tadesse, as well as a supporting cast of other Kenyans, Ethiopians and Qataris.
If we ever had any doubts that Bekele would have the strength to double they were dispelled during the fourth lap (with 21:30 on the clock) when he sternly flicked his left arm a couple of times to indicate a faster pace was required when his compatriot Dinkesa - who had briefly taken the lead - had looked back to question the speed.
Bekele was flowing with confidence this afternoon but so was Tadesse. With Bekele’s break already in full flow in the last lap, the Eritrean who had stumbled in some muddy ground at about 5km into the race, began his own surge which carried him past the fading Kipchoge. Tadesse’s charge was never any danger to Bekele who was so well clear by the end of the race that he spent the whole 284m length of the finishing straight waving and blowing kisses to crowd. Remarkably, given that display of joy Bekele still had a winning margin of 14 seconds on the Eritrean.
With Abebe Dinkesa Negera (4th), Dejene Birhanu (6th) and Eshetu Mamo completing the Ethiopian team score of 24 points, for a second year Kenya had to settle for team silver (35), with Qatar in third (42).
To add further insult to Kenyan injury this was only the second time in 21 years (the first was in 2004) that Kenya had not won an individual medal in the men’s Long Race.
Chris Turner for the IAAF