LausanneIn an athletics world of increasingly minute attention to training detail, diet, and precision preparation, it was heartening to learn that Kenenisa Bekele has got a life. He was sufficiently laid back and confident to take a boat trip on the eve of his memorable successful defence of the IAAF World short course cross-country title today.
The Ethiopian is a charming and polite young man, apparently incapable of giving offence. Yet his pre-race social calendar and the assertion that he was weakened by typhoid medication seems little short of an insult to those left broken in his wake.
While rivals retired early, the 20-year-old Bekele joined a near four-hour dinner cruise on Lake Geneva and it was after midnight on race day before he got to bed.
It was believed that he had been marooned on board by accident when the boat departed, and his team manager and business manager admitted to having been consumed with anxiety.
"It was my first time ever on a boat," Bekele explained. "I did not want to miss it, and I'm glad I went. Yes, I had dinner on board. Because the competition took place in the afternoon (2.20) I knew I had the chance to rest. I was a little concerned that it might affect me, but I went knowingly."
Having eaten, Bekele perused a new history of the sport. Savouring another entry of his own? "Well, no. I am already in the book," he said. "I was even more interested in reading the long history and achievements of Ethiopians at the World Championships."
His own chapter is becoming expansive and gilded.
Having finished ninth as a 17-year-old junior, in 1999, he has never subsequently been off the podium. He was runner-up in the senior short race and won the junior title in 2001, and then took both senior titles last year.
He added that the race had been hard, and that he was tired, because of the after effects of illness: "Since I was not feeling very well, it was little bit harder than last year. It was not just the illness. Even more it was the typhoid medication. It can also affect your strength."
He had followed advice in leaving it late to strike for victory, waiting until some 200m from the finish before delivering a sprint reminiscent of an 800m runner. The plan was to conserve energy for an attempt on the double.
Such revelations, following the Ethiopian's victory over the former double champion John Kibowen and his compatriot, Benjamin Limo, will do little to assuage Kenyan hurt at their surrender of the individual title for the second time.
Bekele became the first man to win this back to back, and few would bet against him winning again in Sunday's long race.
Certainly not Kibowen, who had won the short course title in 1998 and 2000. The World bronze medallist over 5000m on the track, and also runner-up at that distance in last year's Commonwealth Games, Kibowen said, "I thought I had won this time."
He had warned that Bekele should be "ready for the fight of his life," and predicted it would be impossible for him to repeat his Dublin double. Now he is less certain.
"Having raced today with such confidence, he may or may not win...it depends on his team."
He admited they had no tactics to cope with Bekele who is clearly capable of winning alone, without team support, just as he did last year, and again yesterday. He was menacingly flanked by both minor medallists close to home, but broke clear as he wished.
Spectators on the sunny course at the National Equestrian Centre were treated to a display of acrobatics by the Swiss Airforce. Wintip to wingtip they roared over the finish line. Eventually it was the turn of the Kenyans, as four of their men followed Bekele in formation to clinch their 18th consecutive title.
It will be cold comfort. Bekele looks capable of sailing off with whatever he wants, whenever he pleases. Furthermore, he makes it look fun.
Doug Gillon (The Herald) for IAAF