Brussels, BelgiumKenenisa Bekele today strolled in unparalleled fashion to what, barring accident or injury, will be the first half of a certain golden double at this weekend’s 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Brussels, Belgium.
A stroll on the park
If it is hard to find words to describe what was another effortless assault by the 21 year-old Ethiopian on the world’s understanding of what great distance running is about.
Just imagine then what Bekele's adversaries must have been thinking as they were left as also-rans with only six minutes gone in this afternoon's men's 4km Short Course race.
It was at that early moment in the race when the World 10,000m champion first took the lead, and with his move the race for gold was ended, and Bekele’s effortless sight seeing tour of the Parc Van Laeken course had begun.
Brussels' Royal Park welcomed the King of Distance running, and nothing the weather could throw at him in terms of rain or blustery wind conditions could deter his amble through its undulating scenery.
Redefined the sport
If Bekele’s previous double wins in Dublin (2002) and Lausanne (2003) were extraordinary physical feats, unique in the history of the Championships, then today’s performance redefined the entire sport of cross country running.
It is never easy to compare different eras in any sport but Bekele is without doubt the greatest cross country runner of modern times. Today he matched John Ngugi and Paul Tergat who each took five wins in their careers but he did so in a style that neither of those Kenyan masters could ever have conceived of matching in their day.
A decisive single move
The race was a very simple affair. Belgium’s Ridouane Es-Saadi (eventually finished 24th) had given some brief hope to home supporters with a run at the head of the field in the opening stages of this two lap race (2km each).
As the first lap progressed Eliud Kibet Kirui was also in-check with the lead (at end of first lap - 5:45), and it was easy to imagine that some elaborate Kenyan team plan had made it’s first play.
But we and the Kenyans were deluding ourselves, as just a few metres back was Bekele, shadowing these two leaders.
When Bekele's move into the lead came, as he had slipped moments before around one of the course’s many muddy bends, it was initially assumed he merely wanted to clear himself of danger incase someone fell.
Yet within a few moments it was clear that the change of pace was going to be sustained. Within two minutes of his lead being established Bekele had a 15 metres margin over his compatriot Gebre Gebremariam, who had quickly cut through the chasing field. Last year's Long course bronze medallist was in turn another 40 metres ahead of two Qataris, Abdullah Ahmad Hassan and World Steeplechase champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen.
The race in one move had begun and ended. As Bekele took the finishing tape in 11:31 he was five seconds clear of Gebremariam, with a late finishing Maregu Zewdie (11:42) completing an Ethiopian individual medal sweep.
Team victory too
Dejene Birhanu who finished in eleventh (11:56) completed the Ethiopian score of 17 points, which took them to their first men’s senior team gold (long race) since 1985.
Next came Hassan (4th 11:44) and Shaheen (5th, also 11:44), and packing well Sultan Khamis Zaman finished in 8th (11:44) as the third Qatari home. Abdul Abdel Al-Ameeri (22nd, 12:03) completed their scoring squad, and with it the desert kingdom picked up the team silver (39pts), it’s first ever World Cross Country medal of any sort.
Kenya who had held an unbroken stranglehold on this team title since the event became part of the programme in 1998, something which had given comfort to their beleaguered cross country reputation during these last few years of Bekele brilliance, fell back to third place (52 points).
After early leader Eliud Kibet Kirui (6th 11:45), came Isaac Kiprono in seventh on the same time. The Kenyan scoring quartet was completed by Abraham Chebii (19th 11:59) and in 20th position Kiplimo Muneria (12:00).
Kenyans were weaker than expected
Bekele who today had unveiled a new blue print for distance running’s future, summed up the situation perfectly –
“The Kenyans were not as strong as we (Ethiopians) had expected. We thought they would come up with new tactics…with different systems.” They didn’t!
“The course was less muddy but the weather was colder than when I ran here two years before (in the annual Brussels xc international). I am so pleased that we were also able to win all three medals.”
Tomorrow, I‘m going to run and just do my best, I feel fine, my body feels fine.”
With those words it seems there is little hope for Kenya or the rest of the Athletics world for an upset result in the men’s long race tomorrow.
What can we do about it?
John Kibowen (32nd), the Kenyan who won this race in 1998 and 2000, summed up the despair –
“I couldn’t respond to the attack of the Ethiopians. They were in very good shape. There was no tactical plan in the Kenyan team. You just have to run as hard as you can , that’s all. We cannot be satisfied with the team results, but what can you do about it?