24 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

After distance double, Bekele's legend grows

Kenenisa Bekele sprints away to take 5000m gold (Getty Images)Kenenisa Bekele sprints away to take 5000m gold (Getty Images) © Copyright

After distance double, Bekele's legend grows

24 August 24 2008 - Beijing – Similar height, similar weight, same country. And now, 28 years later, Kenenisa Bekele celebrates the 5000/10,000m double that crowned the glorious career of Miruts Yifter. No Ethiopian – not even Haile Gebrselassie – managed it in between.

But there the similarities end. Bekele is much younger than Yifter was, still has all his hair, and has run times which, on paper at least, would have lapped his predecessor at 10,000m. Yifter retired soon after registering his double. Bekele wants to go on for years, to London 2012 and beyond.

To the Olympic 10,000m record of 27:01.17 he had set on Sunday, Bekele last night added the 5000m Olympic record, clocking 12:57.82. “This is very special for me and my country,” he said. “The 5000m is a very difficult race after the 10,000m.”

Now back to the comparisons. Yifter was 1.62m and 53kg when he triumphed in Moscow. Bekele is 1.60m and 54kg. But, while Bekele is 26, nobody knew Yifter’s age - not even the athlete himself. The best estimates were pitched at 35 to 37. 
 
Bekele is living in age of such professionalism in athletics that you cannot imagine him missing the start of an Olympic final because he was late coming out of the toilet. It happened to Yifter in 1972 after he had taken bronze in the 10,000m.

The balding double champion of 1980 had six children to Bekele’s one. He also had one of the greatest nicknames in sport -  Yifter the Shifter. It may not resonate in the way Yifter the Shifter does but Ethiopia has done a good job in going for Kenenisa Anbessa (pronounced nessa-bessa). Translated, it means Kenenisa the Lion.

Yifter had wanted to run the Olympic marathon in an attempt to win three distance gold medals at one Olympics – as Czechoslovakia’s Emil Zatopek had in 1952 – but the road event was held on the same day as the 5000m.

In Helsinki, Zatopek won the 10,000m on 20 July, the 5000m on 24 July and the Marathon on 27 July and Finland’s Lasse Viren tried to emulate the feat . At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Viren repeated his double from Munich four years earlier then lined up in the Marathon the day after his 10,000m triumph. He finished fifth. Nice try, no cigar.

Bekele was not appearing in the Marathon here this morning but he did not close the door on notion of whether he might try it at London 2012, schedule permitting. “This question is very strong,” he said. “It’s too early to think about it because I have so much time to think about it. It’s difficult to answer this. I’m sorry.”

There are few pieces missing now in the Bekele jigsaw of success and, after last night, there is one fewer. He had never won a global 5000m title. On Sunday, he picked up a second successive Olympic 10,000m title to go with his World records at both distances, his three successive 25-lap wins at the World Championships, and record 12 individual World Cross Country gold medals.

After completing the first leg of his double, Bekele had said:  “For the future, I want to have many, many Olympic golds, many World Championship golds. I want to continue to make history for myself and for my country.”
 
Bekele’s first global gold at 5000m comes after he had to settle for the silver medal behind Hicham El Guerrouj, at the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the 2003 World Championships, in Paris, Bekele was third behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the runner-up last night, and El Guerrouj.

Asked why it had taken him so long, comparatively speaking, to win his first big 5000m title, Bekele said: “Maybe I made some mistakes. Now I am very strong and think more about the race.”

Bekele admitted that the three Ethiopian finalists – his brother, Tariku Bekele, and Abreham Cherkos were the other two – had discussed team tactics before the final but their plans were put to the sword because of the early pace. “We said that, probably after five laps, we would make the race fast but we started after one lap,” Bekele said.

The lion roared and moved in for the kill.

David Powell for the IAAF