Kenenisa Bekele at the 2001 IAAF World Cross Country Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

Bekele follows in Gebrselassie’s footsteps in Newcastle

The Ethiopian production line of outstanding long distance runners was handed further credence in Britain on Saturday when Kenenisa Bekele won the Great North Cross Country in Newcastle.

Kenenisa, 19, the world junior cross country champion, has long been spoken about as the most serious successor to Haile Gebrselassie and here was another demonstration of his credentials against a field including the senior world champion, Mohammed Mourhit of Belgium.

The great Haile, who won this same race eight years ago, trains him and he played a part in ensuring his protégé would be in this race by helping arrange it with the organisers.

Yet even Gebrselassie could never have predicted such a commanding performance from the youngster who took world gold in Ostende in March.

He won this 9km race by nine seconds in 27mins, 12secs, with a run showing experience belying his years.

Timing his performance to perfection, he steadied himself throughout the first stages, running steadily for the opening half of the race before moving into top gear and taking control as the athletes started out on the last 1500 metres lap.

Ben Limo, the 1999 World 5000 metres silver medallist from Kenya, was no match, neither was Sergey Lebed of the Ukraine, who less than a month ago won the European Cross Country title in Thun, Switzerland.

When Gebrselassie won this title in 1993, it was further proof of his ability on different surfaces and Bekele is going the right way to becoming one of the stars of the future.

“I was surprised Limo was the only one who really came with me,” said Bekele. "Everything went to plan. I wanted to sit in for the first three laps then step up the pace.”

With Limo second in 27:21 and Lebed third in 27:47, Mourhit’s disappointing winter form carried on as he was fifth in 27:59.

As the cross country season moves into full flow in the countdown to the World Championships in Dublin in March, Bekele is performing superbly while Mourhit will be hoping for a change in fortunes.

Kenyan women took the honours in the 6.2km race as Susan Chepkemei beat Esther Kiplagat.

In a field including France's Yamna Belkacem, the European Cross Country Champion, and Britain’s in-form Liz Yelling, Chepkemei had just enough to secure victory by the narrowest of margins, winning in 20:44 from Kiplagat who was second in 20:45 with Yelling, who led the field for three-quarters of the race over the four-lap course, third in 20:54.

A correspondent for the IAAF