Edinburgh, ScotlandKenenisa Bekele was not home on Christmas Day, which is celebrated on 7 January in Ethiopia. Instead the 29-year-old World record holder competed at the high-class Great Edinburgh Cross Country on Saturday (7), an IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting.
But disaster struck and just taking into account the placing, Bekele showed one of most disappointing performances of his entire career. While his wife and his two small children celebrated Christmas at home the double Olympic champion fought his way through the muddy and hilly Holyrood Park in Scotland and ended up behind ten other runners. In the three kilometre race he was 22 seconds slower than the winner, Kenya’s Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop.
Athletes like British youngsters Jonny Hay, Ricky Stevenson and Ross Millington finished well in front of the world’s best long distance runner Kenenisa Bekele and can claim a significant result, which could be big motivation for their future career.
Something like this has hardly ever has happened to Bekele. It was only the fourth time ever that the most successful Cross Country runner, who has a collection of 20 gold medals from the World Cross Country Championships, has not won a Cross Country race. Additionally it was the first time in almost ten years that he did not finish inside the top ten in an international race – not counting three races, where he didn’t finish.
‘In the summer we will see the real Kenenisa Bekele again’
So what went wrong in Scotland on Saturday for Bekele? It was generally viewed as a relief that there was no new injury scare and that the Ethiopian was smiling when he entered the press room a while after the race.
“I knew before the start that my form was not that good. It was 50:50 if I would run well or not so well,” Bekele said. “Of course I am not satisfied with this result – eleventh place is really not my sort of ranking. But what can I do? I tried and I could not do any better today.”
Bekele also said that he has no plans yet for his next race. “It is unlikely that I will compete indoors. I need much more training now.”
“But generally I am happy that I am healthy and have no injuries at the start of the Olympic year. Regarding the Games in London I remain optimistic – I think in the summer we will see the real Kenenisa Bekele again.”
The defending Olympic champion at 5,000 and 10,000m said that he cannot yet say if he will run both distances or which one he would prefer. “I have to wait how the season goes and how my results will be. Generally I like both distances – both are important for me.”
Asked about Mo Farah, and if the Briton could be his strongest rival at the Olympics Kenenisa Bekele answered: “Mo Farah was very strong in 2011. But you never know. As we have seen in the 10,000m final in Daegu there can always be a surprise. Everyone can win. You can imagine quite a lot before, but you will never know – this is sport.”
One of reasons why he was relaxed after the defeat in Edinburgh was his situation just a year ago. After a series of injuries Bekele was at an extreme low. Today he knows: it can get much worse than in Holyrood Park.
“A year ago I was very close to ending my career. I had tried again and again, but I always got injured. People prayed for me to come back. Without the help of my family and friends I would not have made it.”
After more than one and a half years he ran his first race at the World Championships in Daegu, but he dropped out in the 10,000m final. However he did come back strongly at the Samsung Diamond League Meeting in Brussels in September, clocking a world lead at 10,000m (26:43.16).
Compared to Brussels his performance in Edinburgh was a step backwards. But Bekele said: “I don’t want to be in top form too early, because it would be very difficult to keep this for a long period until the Olympics. I intend to build up my form gradually towards the Olympics.”
Meanwhile Bekele revealed that he is on the verge of opening two hotels he has built – similar to his former idol Haile Gebrselassie, who has opened a resort recently. “But in this case I did not look at Haile as an example. It is more about myself and what I will do once I stop competing. The hotel in Addis Ababa will be ready in three months while the other one is at a sports camp 10 kilometres outside the city. It will open in four weeks.”
But his activity as a businessman does not mean that he’s contemplating retirement in the near future.
“After the Olympics I will keep the focus on the track. When and if I will turn to road racing and the Marathon I don’t know yet. I have plenty of time.”
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF