Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia crosses the line to win his fourth successive world title in the men's 10,000m at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images) © Copyright
With his hometown Games coming just one year after his 5000m victory and runner-up finish over 10,000m at the World Championships in Daegu, the 29-year-old has commanded quite a bit of the spotlight in the lead-in to his double gold attempt in London. First on his agenda is the 10,000m, perhaps the 'easier’ of his two events where two questions loom particularly large.
The first: can Kenenisa Bekele still mustre the requisite foot speed over the final lap to become the first man to win three consecutive titles over the longest distance on the track? And the second: can Farah live up to the extraordinary expectations heaved upon his slight shoulders to emulate an Olympian feat only six men have managed?
First, we’ll tackle the case presented by Bekele, the man who changed entirely the face of long distance running on the track since his emergence on the scene in 2003.
Even at 30 and on the mend from a series of injuries, Bekele managed to earn his spot on the Ethiopian squad with a 27:02.59 run in Birmingham in late June, the third fastest time of the year. Even one year ago, after his high profile DNF at the World Championships, he came back with gusto in Brussels clocking a sensational 26:43.16.
His inability to make the grade in the 5000m this year, however, clearly suggests that his once unapproachable finishing speed can no longer be summoned. How he'll compensate for that is one of the most anticipated aspects of what will almost certainly be his final Olympic appearance.
Farah, who hasn’t even raced over 10,000m on the track this year, arrives with the momentum of four 5000m victories in as many starts this year. He’s the European record holder at 26:46.57 (2011), and the reigning World Championships silver medallist. Throw in a strong final lap kick backed by the support of 80,000 screaming hometown fans, and you’ve got a recipe that won’t be concocted any time soon.
Who else will try to play spoiler? One face that will be quite familiar to Farah is that of training partner Galen Rupp, the double winner at the U.S. trials who ran 26:48.00 a year ago.
Kenya comes armed with Wilson Kiprop, the world leader at 27:01.98 from his early June run in Eugene; Moses Masai, (26:49.20 PB, 2007), the 2009 World silver medallist; and relative newcomer Bedan Karoki, who’s run 27:05.50 this year but remains untested.
Bekele will be backed up with familiar faces as well. His younger brother Tariku will make his second Olympic appearance but in the 10,000m for the first time, courtesy of his victory in Hengelo (27:11.70) and runner-up finish to Kenenisa in Birmingham with a 27:03.24 PB. Gebregziabher Gebremariam (27:03.58 SB), a 2005 Olympian in the 5000m, rounds out the trio.
Don’t discount experienced Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, who’s run 27:04.48 and 13:00.68 this season.
And finally, a notable absence: after four successive Olympic appearances, two-time gold medallist Haile Gebrselassie will not be on the starting line.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF