defies pundits to take historic double gold in Dublin
Sean Wallace-Jones for the IAAF
24 March 2002 – Dublin, Ireland – 19-year-old Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia today ran into the history books as he became the first athlete to win both the men’s short and long cross races at the World Cross Country Championships.
At the previous year’s edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Bekele had given some insight into the depth of his talent by successively taking silver in the men’s short course race and then going on to win the junior men’s race, this year he went one better.
Despite the convincing margin of his win on Saturday in the short course race, few would have predicted the consummate ease with which he would become the first man to win both long and short course races.
After starting in the lead pack, Bekele turned this into a one horse race as he broke away from the pack together with Tanzania’s John Yuda, who made most of the running, the pair leaving in their wake the favoured Kenyan taskforce of Richard Limo, Charles Kamathi and Wilberforce Talel.
Yuda was the leader from the start, taking first the pack and then Bekele alone through all of the laps, though it was only in the second to last lap that the two really started to break away from the followers.
Earlier, another Kenyan Enock Mitei had attempted to force the pace, chopping and changing places with Yuda and putting on the occasional burst of speed before dropping back into the pack, but at each occasion it was Yuda who pulled him back and laid down his law in the front, despite looking overexerted for much of the second half of the race.
Meanwhile, Bekele, who had stormed away from the rest of the field in the men’s short course race on Saturday, looked as though he was out on a training run as he loped along at Yuda’s heels.
He said after the race that he had already encountered Yuda and knew what to expect: “I know that Yuda is very strong. It is not the first time that I met him and I knew that he would make the pace hard so I thought that I would run with him and then try to beat him at the finish.”
Which is exactly what Bekele did, almost repeating the strategy that he employed the day before in the short course race, he kicked as the pair approached the bell and took over the lead, gradually pulling ahead of Yuda and building up a lead of six seconds that he held to the line.
Way back behind the two leaders, the Kenyans turned on the power but were unable to catch up with Bekele and Yuda, with Wilberforce Talel finally breaking away from Limo and Kamathi and trailing over the line 22 seconds behind Yuda.
Bekele later said that tactical advice from Ethiopian running star Haile Gebrselassie had helped him: “I met Gebrselassie in Europe in 2000 and he helped me by talking a lot about race tactics. I live about 50 kilometres from him near Addis and see him quite often.”
As for his future plans, Bekele who said that he preferred the 4km race to the longer course event, said that he planned to run some 3000 metre and 5000 metre races this summer but had no specific plans.
He returns to Ethiopia some $65,000 dollars better off than when he arrives but is as yet undecided as to how he will spend his winnings: “I will wait until I have the money and then I will see,” he laughs, “but I might buy a car.”
The team competition was won by Kenya, with Ethiopia 2nd and Morocco 3rd.