Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele brought the crowd in the National Indoor Arena to its feet with a successful attack on the World indoor 5000m record, finishing with a determined sprint in a time of 12:49.60 during a memorable night’s competition at the Norwich Union Grand Prix.
Bekele was as good as his promise this morning, “yes, if I try hard enough I can break the record tonight,” as finding himself nearly a second off the World record schedule with 400 metres to go the 21 year-old dug deep and engaged in a final change of gear to dip under Haile Gebrselassie’s old record of 12:50.38.
He had been intent to let his body speak the tactics tonight, which remarkably was only his second ever indoor competition, and shortly after passing 3000m in 7:47 he must have read the right physical signs as he was out on his own. With 4000m completed (10:18) he looked to be on course with a comfortable margin of between three and four seconds on the schedule Geb had set when establishing the previous mark at this meeting in 1999.
However, by the time the bell sounded (12:21) all of the time credit Bekele had so carefully banked had fallen back into the red, and he was fractionally behind the level of his compatriot’s old pace. Yet the crowd’s wild encouragement drew him home, and history had its third man under the 13 minutes barrier. What an indoor debut and his last lap was a swift 27.06!
Another Ethiopian, Berhanu Dejene was second (13:11.47) and Luke Kipkoskei of Kenya followed in third (13:19.30).
“I had to run over half the race on my own which was very hard,” said Bekele. “I don’t know where the strength came from on the last lap, but the crowd were fantastic.” The World 10,000m champion received a US $30,000 cheque for tonight’s record.
However, despite such a remarkable performance Bekele was adamant that even this World indoor record would not persuade him to run at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest (5-7 March), and instead the World Cross Country Championships in Brussels (20-21 March) will remain Bekele’s preoccupation as he attempts to defend the titles he has won for the last two years.
Gebrselassie not so inspired
Unfortunately, Bekele’s 30 year-old Ethiopian mentor the legendary Gebrselassie could not draw the same inspiration from an enthusiastic crowd in an attempt on his own World best (8:04.69) in the Two Miles. Despite leading as the race ended the first mile (4:02) and continuing ahead for most of the second half of the race, in the last 200 metres Gebrselassie’s legs noticeably started to slow. The end scenario could not have been worse, for the reigning double Olympic 10,000m champion, was out-sprinted by his 19 year-old compatriot Markos Geneti. The win was taken in 8:08.39, with Geb finishing second in 8:08.65.
Low key night for Jones
Well, it was billed to be Marion Jones’ night, as the American was competing in both the 60m and Long Jump but it didn’t begin well for the three-time Olympic champion, who took a surprise defeat in the former event following on the heels of European Indoor champion Kim Gevaert. The Belgium had one of the best starts of her life, immediately establishing a metre of light between herself and the seven other starters and was never headed, taking the win in a national record equalling 7.13 seconds.
Jones was not badly away but next to the Belgium’s lightning reaction to the gun the 28 year-old American seemed heavy legged and slow into her stride, finishing in 7.16, an improvement on her New York season's opener (7.21, 6 Feb). In third was another American, Angela Daigle, 7.27. World Indoor champion Zhanna Block of the Ukraine was back in fourth (7.31).
“I was much happier with my start but the turnover was not there today,” commented Jones. “This is a work in progress and by the time that Athens comes along I will be ready to run fast.”
A delighted and emotional Gevaert could not believe what she had accomplished. “I am really delighted with that victory. I am so excited to beat Marion because to me she is just such a big example. It just seems weird, it’s almost surreal that I was ahead but I kept calm.”
However, Jones did come away as a winner this evening, as her first Long Jump competition since leaving the Sydney Olympic landing pit as bronze medallist on 29 September 2000, ended in victory tonight with a best of 6.75m. Her series was 6.28; 6.53; 6.73; 6.75, in this four round competition.
“I am extremely pleased with the Long Jump, to come here and jump 6.75 after being away from the event for four years is superb,” Jones confirmed.
Disaster for Mutola, delight for Holmes
The 22 race winning streak of Mozambique’s World indoor and outdoor 800m champion Maria Mutola came to a dramatic conclusion on the final lap of the women’s 1000m, as she clipped the heels of her training partner Britain’s Kelly Holmes and fell to the track. Amazingly in all the upheaval neither Holmes or any of the pack of six runners who had been following the pair were seriously hindered, and the Briton powered home in a European indoor record of 2:32.96, the second fastest time ever.
Jennifer Toomey in second improved the American best with 2:34.19 for second, with a national record also following to Morocco’s Sultan Ait Hamou (fourth, 2:36.01). Third place was taken in personal best by Britain’s Jo Fenn (2:34.73), some compensation for the fact that it was her national mark that Holmes had improved.
Gardener is beaten too
Another big name to fall, though not physically, was Britain’s Jason Gardener who has dominated the indoor sprinting scene this winter with a European record equalling time of 6.46 leading the world. Tonight he had a dreadful start in his heat and didn’t even make it to the final, which was won by USA's Brian Lewis in 6.58. Britain’s Mark Lewis Francis who had showed form winning his heat in 6.53, finished a disappointing fifth in the final in 6.63.
It was not a good night for British sprinting as World 100m bronze medallist Darren Campbell went out of the final thanks to a false start.
Defar defies the rest
The women’s 3000m had been billed as another World record bid by Ethiopia’s World Indoor 3000m champion and outdoor 10,000m gold medallist Berhane Adere but all fell apart in the race for both her and Olympic 5000m champion Gabriela Szabo (ROM). The latter did not finish at all, and Adere who slashed eight seconds off the 5000m World mark earlier this winter also fell off the pace of the leading three, and eventually finished fourth in 8:51.40.
Well clear up-front were Ethiopia’s younger stars, Meseret Defar, who won the World Indoor bronze here last year, and Tirunesh Dibaba, the World 5000m outdoor champion. Joining them was Britain’s Joanne Pavey who while burnt away in the final sprint, finished in a national record of 8:34.55. Ahead of her, Defar just held off Dibaba for the victory with both athletes finishing in personal bests of 8:33.44 and 8:33.56 respectively.
Ukraine’s Ivan Hesko, the World outdoor bronze medallist, put together another 3:35 performance when winning the men’s 1500m. The 2001 World Indoor champion Rui Silva of Portugal took the bell at 3:06, heading Hesko and Britain’s Commonwealth champion Michael East but with a sharp turn of speed the Ukrainian nipped past Silva with 120 metres to go and maintained a 3 metres advantage over his pursuers, winning in 3:35.40. His time was just short of his current world lead and national record – 3:35.15. Silva was second in 3:35.83, with East third in 3:36.42 (PB). There was a Dutch record for Gert-Jan Liefers (3:37.49) who finished back in seventh.
There was a last ditch winning return from a heel injury which had kept Britain’s World Indoor Triple Jump champion Ashia Hansen out of action for nearly a year. On the last of her four jumps in this her first competition back, Hansen having had three previous fouls, leapt to a winning 14.47m. Italy’s Magdelin Martinez was the unlucky jumper in second place having a best of 14.30, a distance which she achieved twice in the competition with a second round 14.16m to back it up. Jamaica’s Trecia Smith was third (14.00m), the only other athlete over 14.00 metres.
There was also a victory for Britain in the men’s 200m which was won by Christian Malcolm in 20.74, and the 400m was taken by Chris Brown of the Bahamas in 46.48.
The first international event on the programme was the men’s Long Jump which was won by reigning World indoor and outdoor champion Dwight Phillips (USA) with 7.91m. Another jump not hitting the headlines was the men’s Pole Vault which was taken by World Indoor champion Tim Lobinger of Germany with 5.65m.