In a remarkable triumph over adversity and the spirited endeavours of defending champion Zersenay Tadese, Kenenisa Bekele cleared a series of obstacles to win a record sixth Senior Men’s classic distance title - and US$30,000 - at the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, at Holyrood Park, today.
Bekele overcame, in turn, a missed flight, overnight stomach troubles, a dislodged shoe early in the 12km race, and Tadese’s determined mid-race surges, to regain the crown he had won in five successive years from 2002 to 2006. Today’s victory takes his record number of individual World Cross Country titles to 12 (6 Long Course, 5 five Short Course, 1 Junior).
After increasing his total number of World Cross Country gold medals to 16 (including 4 team golds) and his record total count to 27 (16 gold, 9 silver, 2 bronze), Bekele acknowledged that his six classic victories might be the statistic that stands above all the others. Until today, the 25-year-old Bekele had shared a record five classic distance triumphs with Kenyans John Ngugi and Paul Tergat.
Having failed to finish in Mombasa last year, suffering stomach problems in the heat and humidity, Bekele fought back from the troubles thrown at him here to pull clear in the eleventh kilometre. In the end, it proved a comfortable victory over runner-up Leonard Patrick Komon, from Kenya, and Tadese, whose valiant title defence was rewarded with the bronze medal.
“As far as the sixth Long Course win is concerned, I tried to accomplish it last year but, because of the weather, I was not able to do it,” Bekele said. “This has a very high honour in my life. I have won the double five times but I think this compares to that. However, I leave the judging to those of you in the media.”
It was in the third kilometre that Bekele’s shoe was caught from behind, and worked loose, as the field bunched taking a bend. From his place near the front, he dropped way down the field as he stopped to secure it. “My shoe did not fall completely off but I had to stop to undo it and put it back on, so it was as if it fell off because of the effort needed to put it back on,” he said It was the first time, he added, such a misfortune had befallen him.
Having secured his shoe, Bekele worked his way back up the field and, before long, was in the leading group. When Tadese picked up the pace in the seventh kilometre, Bekele was well placed to respond. Dictating from the front, Tadese threw in several bursts, by the end of which he and Bekele had opened a small gap on the last challenging Kenyans, Komon and Joseph Ebuya.
A brief relaxation of pace allowed Komon and Ebuya to close up but, with four kilometres to run, the front four were well clear. With Tadese at the head, and the Kenyan pair side-by-side behind him, Bekele sat at the back before seizing his moment. Of his recovery from his near shoe disaster, he said: “It was near the beginning and I knew it would make the competition difficult because it is not easy to catch up after losing your shoe.
“I knew it would make the rest of the race tough. After the shoe came off I began to think a great deal about what I had to overcome and I had to focus a great deal on my race. If I had tried immediately to catch up it may have affected the rest of my race but instead I controlled my pace.”
Bekele had arrived later than planned in Edinburgh the day before the race. He missed his flight connection at London Heathrow after a delay to his original Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa left him with only 30 minutes to connect in London. His delay was unrelated to the widely-publicised teething problems at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5.
Explaining how stomach trouble almost cost him dearly again, as it had last year, Bekele said: “The day before yesterday, as I was flying in from Ethiopia, there was a delay and I spent the night in London and arrived here yesterday about midday. I had eaten breakfast there before I left and, after it, I didn’t feel well. I then had lunch and dinner here and at night I didn’t feel well. I had to get up three or four times in the night to go to the bathroom and I wasn’t feeling good.”
Tadese said that he was happy with his run – “a bronze medal for my country is still important to me” – while Komon made a big impression in his first year out of the junior ranks. Aged 20, he led Kenya to a third successive team triumph (39 points) with Ethiopia second (105) and Qatar third (144).
David Powell for the IAAF