Kenenisa Bekele in the vanguard of the men's Short Race in Fukuoka (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Fukuoka, Japan

Men's Short Race, Fukuoka - Nine down, one to go.

Kenenisa Bekele duly claimed the IAAF World Cross Country Short Race title for the fifth time here on a chilly afternoon at the windswept Seaside Park in Fukuoka, winning a 4km race run at a fearsome pace from the gun.

As his rivals shoved and tripped their way around the fast, undulating two circuits, Ethiopia's Bekele, winner of this title each year since 2002, always looked in control, and he drew clear of the rest with a withering piece of acceleration just before entering the long final straight to cross the finish line in 10:54 - the equivalent of a sub-13:30 5000m clocking. Yet it looked far quicker than that.

This is to be the last time that the 4km race is staged as part of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, but Bekele's rivals ensured that the event was as competitive as it could be, with just 18 seconds covering the first dozen finishers.

The silver medal was won by Isaac Songok, of Kenya, who finished one second, behind Bekele, with the bronze medal going to the fast-finishing Moroccan, Adil Kaouch (10:57).

Benjamin Limo, the 5000m World champion and winner of this title in 1999, placed fourth, good enough to help Kenya deny Ethiopia the team title, with Morocco in third.

The outcome of the team race may well have been determined within the first kilometre, when Sileshi Sihine stumbled and fell when disputing the lead with his Ethiopian team mate and the Kenyans.

Such was the break-neck pace of the race that Sihine, the World 5000 and 10,000m silver medallist in Helsinki last year and one of the biggest threats to Bekele's chances of a remarkable fifth double victory at these championships, lost possibly 20 positions, and was unable to ever get back into contention for the individual medals.

He eventually placed a very creditable 12th, and was the third Ethiopian to finish, though with Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam coming home in 30th, the second team title of the day was wrapped up by Kenya, who closed in their four scorers (Songok, Limo, Augustine Limo and Edwin Soi) in the first eight.

As the pack passed the lap counter for the bell, they were led by Australia's Craig Mottram in 5:26, with just two seconds covering the first 20 runners, who included four Qataris and four Moroccans, although Kaouch was no better than 16th at this stage.

Bekele looked to stumble for a moment as the runners passed the granstand, the defending champion only averting calamity by reaching out and balancing himself with a hand on Soi's back.

The bell was signal to the Kenyans Songok, Limo and Choge, the new Commonwealth 5000m champion, to come together at the front on the course's stiff climb. Bekele, balanced once more, positioned himself in behind them.

Into the last kilometre, and the Kenyan teamwork had still not managed to lose Bekele's limpet-like presence in their group. At which point, the Ethiopian sidestepped like a rugby player and as they approached the switchback hills towards the end of the lap, he motored away from the rest.

Only Songok managed to stay anywhere near to contact, while Kaouch, silver medallist at 1500m in Helsinki last August, showed his track speed to good effect in the closing stages as he chased home the front two.

But neither ever looked like catching Bekele, who looked in formidable shape ready for Sunday's 12km long race, and possibly his 10th World Cross title.

Afterwards, the champion admitted that this had, indeed, been his toughest 4km race. "We have never before finished so close together," he said. "None of the victories have ever been easy, but today's was the toughest.

"The course was very flat and fast, and it was very windy, so it was hard to drop off the other competitors," said Bekele, who now has won 17 World gold medals on the track, indoors and at cross-country.

"As I said before the race, I knew this would be the hardest race of the weekend, because there were a lot of competitors here wo were well prepared."

For his part, Songok was delighted with his silver medal, one better than his bronze from 12 months earlier. "I am really happy," he said. "I tried my best here, I was really going for gold, but I enjoyed racing with Bekele, and siver was a good result for me."

Bekele seemed to confirm this, admitting that he afforded hmself a couple of glances in the closing stages to check on the position of his rival. "I was worried that he might pass me," Bekele said. "I clouldn't afford to hold anything back for tomorrow."

But, just in case any of the competitors in Sunday's classic long race think that they may have an advantage over the champion as he seeks a "perfect 10", with his 10th senior World Cross Country title in five years, Bekele added, "I am confident that, with my team, we can get a good result tomorrow."

Steven Downes for the IAAF