As the IAAF Golden League gets underway tomorrow night in Oslo at the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games (27 June), the Ethiopian teams for the Paris World Championships (23-31 August) continue to take shape, with the competition for the men’s 5000 metres slots starting in earnest in Oslo.
While other factors may be considered in the selection process, recent times carry the most weight. The 2003 world leading 10,000m times run in Hengelo, where ‘double-double‘ World Cross Country champion Kenenisa Bekele ran 26:53.70 to beat the quadruple World 10,000m gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie, more or less decided that team for Paris, with Sileshi Sihine, a relative newcomer to the international scene, taking third in 26:58.76.
“Anybody else hoping to make the team would have to run a faster time,” said national head track coach Wolde Meskel Kostre.
World Cross Country bronze medallist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, who was fourth in Hengelo, and others for whom making the 10,000 metres team had been a goal for the season, have since largely abandoned it, focusing instead on
the 5000m selections.
“The next few 5000 metres races are going to be very important,” said Jos Hermens, who manages many of the Ethiopians running in Oslo, including Bekele, national champion Sihine, Abiyot Abate, and the Olympic champion Million Wolde. The World junior 10,000m champion Gebremariam, who ran 13:12.14 for 5000m last year, and World junior silver medallist Markos Geneti, who was third in the May national championships, complete the Ethiopian contingent in the deep Bislett 5000m start list.
“It’s a big test for Kenenisa,” said Hermens of his star athlete, who does not have extensive track experience after missing the 2002 season due to injury (13:13.33 PB – 2001). “All the Kenyans are here.” The tough field includes Kenyans Paul Bitok, Abraham Chebii, John Kibowen, Sammy Kipketer, and James Kwalia.
The World record holder Gebrselassie will run his first 5000m of the year at the second 2003 IAAF Golden League meeting in Paris (4 July), after which he and several of the Ethiopians running in Oslo, as well as former World Indoor Two Mile record-holder Hailu Mekonnen, will all race in the Rome Golden League on 11 July. A fast pace will be likely as this is the next scheduled head to head between Bekele - Gebrselassie.
“Hailu was injured after the world cross,” said Hermens. “So we don’t know yet about Hailu, and I think Million has been struggling a little. After Rome, we will know which are the best three 5000 metres runners in Ethiopia.”
National 10,000m third-place finisher Dejene Berhanu, whose best 5000m time is a 2002 13:26.74, may also join the hunt. However, so far, only a few athletes have run 5,000-metre races at all this year. “At this point, Abiyote has the fastest time this year,” said Kostre. “Markos ran 13:13.27, but Abiyot has run 13:05.13.”
Only after season best times have been given the highest priority in the team’s selection will other factors be taken into consideration if necessary. “We will then ensure that they are able to carry the training load, and that they are currently in good shape,” said Kostre.
Slots may open up on one team if leading athletes give up their positions in favour of another event. Gebrselassie is seeking a fifth title, and he and Bekele have considered doubling, Hermens has confirmed, so Bekele is also unlikely to relinquish his 10,000m berth.
“Especially because he’s very good at running back-to-back in a few days like at the World Cross Country, so he’s even more likely to do the double than Haile. The 10,000 is first, so if he runs well in the 10, he has nothing to lose.”
“Since it will be hot, it will be a little hard to run two distances at this time,” said Kostre. “Depending on the field, there could be two 5000m elimination rounds, so to run 15 kilometres and then also 10 in 10 days will be difficult.”
The 10,000m World Junior silver medallist Sihine, who has a 13:21.81 5000m best from 2002, is also primarily focused on the longer event. Gebrselassie’s and Bekele’s presence in Paris was anticipated long before the season began, except for some questions about Bekele’s track experience. But Sihine is a newcomer to this level of senior world competition.
“This is my first time even trying to make it,” Sihine said. “I’m extremely fortunate.”
Sihine comes from a family of farm-owners in the town of Sheno about 75 kilometres north of Addis Ababa. He began running in school and earned his school top honours over 800 and 1500m races in a district schools competition. His top ten finish over 10,000m at the 2001 national championships got him into the national team.
His 2003 World championships chances only became clear when he swept to a distance double at the May national championships, setting new championship records of respectively 28:24.80 and 13:35.30 at the high altitude venue.
“I expended a lot of energy aiming to break the records, so I was a little worried it would be hard for me,” he said about Hengelo. “I also don’t have a lot of experience, so for me, it’s great. I’m very happy to be third.”
“Oh, it was definitely expected,” said Kostre, while Hermens described Sihine as an aggressive runner, who can lead.
“We have been preparing for the World championships,” said Sihine, who added a note of caution. “The main thing is participating, since you never know, you can get injured or run into some problem.”
“He had a some pain in his leg,” said Kostre. “He was a little disturbed about it, but he had it massaged and it’s been treated and he’s OK. I don’t think it’s threatening. We expect he’ll improve his time.”
The Oslo 5000m will provide similar opportunities for some of the Ethiopian women as well. World leading Worknesh Kidane, and Berhane Adere have already staked 10,000m berths with their races this season. “It will help them with their speed,” said Kostre.
Others in Oslo who are aiming for Paris berths include Meseret Defar, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Sentayehu Ejigu, who have already run fast times in Oregon in May, and Eyerusalem Kuma in the 5000 metres; and Kutre Dulecha in the 1500 metres.