Bekele breaking the tape at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Modest Bekele is fit to mount double defence in Lausanne

MonteCarloWith just over a month to go until the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships take place in Lausanne, Switzerland, the double men’s champion from 2002, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele says that he is ready to defend his crowns.

The 20-year old has been in sublime form since he returned to action in November after being sidelined over the summer with Achilles and knee injuries.

Currently in Addis Ababa, where he is training for the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships which will be held this coming weekend, Bekele confirmed that he is healthier than ever and is ready to mount a serious challenge in the Swiss city.

“I was injured for the lion’s share of 2002 and so I was not able to compete on the track or on the road. Now, however, I do not feel any pain and my preparations are going rather well. I will do the best I can to repeat last year’s success in Lausanne.”

Bekele’s hint that he will mount a defence of both his World Cross Country titles, is tempered by the comment that he will only make his final decision after the Ethiopian trials are over.

Asked whether he had altered his training prior to his comeback last autumn, Bekele confirmed that, “I did not do any special training. But with each race, my confidence and strength have both grown and I am happy with the way things are at the moment.”

Bekele, who also won the 2001 World Junior title and took the silver medal in the senior men’s short course event in that year, returned from his long injury lay-off on 3 November 2002 when finishing third in the Great Ethiopian Run, and ever since has been unbeatable.

In Oeiras, Portugal on 17 November, Bekele took the first of five consecutive wins on the cross country circuit in Europe - Oeiras, Brussels, Newcastle, Elgoibar and Seville - and produced a 5km stage best in the Chiba Ekiden in Japan which led the Ethiopian team to victory.

However, though these impressive runs have restored much of his aura of invincibility, Bekele admits that he expects a stiff challenge at both the national championships and World Cross from the same athletes who inflicted defeat on him in the Great Ethiopian Run.

“I expect Sileshi Sihin and Gebregziabher Gebremariam, the reigning World Junior Cross-Country Champion, to provide a difficult challenge. But you can never be sure about these things because there are many world-class athletes who will be taking part.”

Bekele surpassed all expectations by becoming the first runner in the 29-year history of the IAAF event - short course race was instituted in 1998 - to win both the men’s short and long course races at the World Cross Country Championships, when they were held in Dublin last year. These overwhelming victories earned him comparisons with his idol, the four-time World and double Olympic 10,000m champion Haile Gebrselassie, however, Bekele remains modest about such praise.

“I have a long way to go before achieving half of what he [Haile] has managed to accomplish, but he, along with Derartu Tulu (twice Olympic women’s 10,000m champion) and Fatuma Roba (1996 Olympic women’s Marathon champion), remain my role models and inspire me onto greater things.”

After missing the summer season in 2002, Bekele is also keen to improve his personal best times on the track, which currently stand quite modestly at 3000m 7:30.67 (current World Junior record) and 5000m 13:13.33.

“I will turn my attentions to the track after Lausanne. Qualification for Paris (World Championships) is by itself a challenge and I want to make sure that I have the minimum (standard) which will enable me to participate in the event.” 

Interview with Kenenisa Bekele by Elshadai Negash for the IAAF