The past two seasons have been banner years for young distance runner Kenenisa Bekele, as he has deftly separated himself from the rest of his competition with multiple world crowns in the spheres of outdoor athletics and cross-country (including a pair of unprecedented double wins over the short and long courses).
Next Saturday, at the 18th Sparkassen Cup meeting in Stuttgart, the 21-year-old Ethiopian hopes to expand his dominance even more as he makes his indoor debut in a 3000 metres race, pointing to a possible run at another global title five weeks later at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest.
Were he to succeed in the Magyar capital, he would be the first athlete ever to score an athletics’ “hat trick” of individual world titles in all three divisions--indoor, outdoor, and cross-country.
But young Bekele modestly warns that this kind of projection is a bit premature.
“Stuttgart will be my first indoor race ever,” he reports from his training base in the Netherlands. “In fact, I’ll be training on an indoor track for the first time in my life only two days before the competition.
“At this moment, I cannot predict if I’ll run the World Indoors. This is because I have no idea if my running style is suitable for these relatively small 200-metre tracks.”
After the Stuttgart competition and a later race in Birmingham, the Ethiopian will confer with manager Jos Hermens to determine the prudence of adding Budapest to what is an already extremely packed winter schedule in this Olympic year.
Defence of his two cross-country titles is undoubtedly high on Bekele’s to-do list. And just to be named to the Ethiopian squad for the World Cross Country Championships requires a successful outing at their national trials, “something harder to win than the World Cross Country Championships themselves,” Bekele admits.
But all of this speculation is getting ahead of the story. Bekele’s initial taste of the boards this weekend conjures up memories of the first indoor race of his countryman, Haile Gebrselassie, eight years ago in nearby Sindelfingen.
At that time, Geb was already a well-established figure in world running circles with a global gold medal in the 10,000m almost four years earlier, plus World records at three distances. The vehicle of his outing was the 5000 metres, an event then rarely contested indoors and with an aging, and soft, world standard by Tanzania’s Suleiman Nyambui fifteen years earlier.
That Gebrselassie smashed the mark by almost ten seconds came as no real surprise. But that’s where the similarity with Bekele’s debut ends.
The Paris 10,000m champion will go to the line in the Schleyer-Halle staring at indoor track’s “Mt. Everest” record, the superb 7:24.90 run six years ago by Kenya’s Daniel Komen. Only twice has this 3000m performance been bettered on an outdoor, 400-metre oval with half as many curves as Bekele will see on Saturday.
“I’ve been doing a few specific training sessions with Haile to prepare for this,” said Bekele, adding that he would be happy to run under 7:30. “Of course, I dream about running the World record but I also know it is a very difficult record to break.”
Despite the challenging time goal and his star’s complete inexperience at indoor running, meeting organizer Fredy Schäfer stands prepared with an undivulged record bonus should Bekele beat the odds. “We can’t plan on it definitely happening, of course,” he said, “but Kenenisa’s ready to attack this fantastic time.”
Adere’s own record mission
Mirroring the situation on the women’s side will be another Ethiopian, Berhane Adere, whose own under-the-roof debut two years ago in Stuttgart resulted in a World record in the 3000 Metres.
A Paris 10,000m World champion like Bekele, Adere will be running the 5000 on Saturday evening, and the memory of her near-miss at this record last year in Dortmund must still be fresh in her mind.
For the first time in its eighteen incarnations, the Stuttgart meeting will depart from the traditional Sunday afternoon presentation in favour of a Saturday evening time slot, one dictated by television scheduling.
Although the distance races will have the greater marquee appeal because of the record attempts, the jumping events on the infield should hold spectator interest all of the evening.
Russian vault assault
Paris champion Svetlana Feofanova will join three other Russians in a packed women’s Pole Vault competition. World bronze medallist Yelena Isinbayeva, plus Tatyana Polnova and Yelena Belyakova, will attempt to push each other up towards Feofanova’s own 4.80 World record, as will former European record holder Annika Becker of Germany, the World outdoor silver medallist.
The men’s event will bring surprise world champion Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy against world indoor bronze medallist Rens Blom of Holland, current World and European indoor champion Tim Lobinger of Germany and his countryman Lars Börgeling, the reigning European outdoor silver medallist, who surprisingly no heighted in Cottbus last night (28 Jan).
Also in the field will be Germany’s Danny Ecker, who vaulted 6.00 indoors three years ago before severely injuring a shoulder muscle one year later. His return to action earlier this week with a 5.40 result after an eighteen-month hiatus was an eagerly anticipated event.
The women’s High Jump offers a quartet of 2.00 jumpers, including reigning European indoor champion Marina Kuptsova of Russia, Viktoriya Styopina of Ukraine and her countrywoman, former European Cup champion Iryna Mykhalchenko, plus Daniela Rath of Germany.
800m bristling with talent
Paris 800 metres bronze medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa will hook up with two other World Championships finalists - countryman Hezekiel Sepeng and Kenyan Justus Koech - in the four-lap event. Others in the field include the formidable Kenyan trio of Wilfred Bungei, Joseph Mutua and William Yiampoy.
Jason Gardener of Great Britain will attempt to build on his splendid early-season 6.54 in the 60 Metres last weekend in Glasgow, and will again be pushed by Tim Harden (second in Glasgow with 6.65), with Sydney 200 finalist Coby Miller (6.49 last season) also ready to challenge.