Athletics: The irrepressible Ethiopian

Haile Gebrselassie is running his rivals ragged in pursuit of world records from 3,000m to 10,000m.
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The Independent Online
THEY ARE making a feature film about the life of Haile Gebrselassie entitled Endurance. No doubt it will run and run. But the 24-year-old Ethiopian is making his life difficult to pin down at the moment. Although the theme remains the same - miraculous running - he continues to pile achievement upon achievement.

In Helsinki on Saturday night, Gebrselassie regained the 5,000 metres world record which had been taken from him by one of his Kenyan rivals last August. That evening in Brussels had a galvanic - if not traumatic - affect upon him, as he also lost his world 10,000m record, again to a Kenyan.

After that double blow, Gebrselassie vowed that he would regain both marks. "It doesn't matter how fast they run, I will run faster," he said with a chilling grin. Chilling, that is, for the Kenyans, who, despite weight of numbers, have been unable to subdue this tiny, determined figure in the last six years.

The model for so much that followed occurred at the World Junior Championships in 1992 when Gebrselassie ran shoulder to shoulder with the Kenyan favourite, Josephat Machuka, in the final laps of the 10,000m only to be balked and finally punched in the back before crossing the line first. The Kenyan was disqualified.

A year later there was controversy of a similar kind as he tracked Kenya's defending 10,000m world champion, Moses Tanui, in Stuttgart, catching Tanui's heel as they approached the bell and causing the Kenyan to lose his shoe. Although Tanui bolted like a startled rabbit down the back straight, Gebrselassie passed him 50 metres from the line to finish in an atmosphere that was polarised between mad applause and heavy booing.

Gebrselassie's new rivals from Kenya include the two men who made his evening in Brussels such a misery - Paul Tergat and the 22-year-old Daniel Komen. Gebrselassie's revenge began in Hengelo, the Netherlands, on 1 June, when he took more than five seconds of Tergat's world 10,000m mark with a time of 26min 22.75sec. After Saturday's run in Finland, when he took 0.38sec off Komen's 5,000m record, his words were fully borne out by deeds.

It was Gebrselassie's 14th world best, and the fourth time he had held the record at this distance. "I am not 100 per cent satisfied with this run," he said. "But it was okay." Perhaps we will learn later this summer what he considers to be a good run.

Gebrselassie has heroic status back home in Ethiopia, something which was heightened in February when he won the prestigious Jesse Owens International Trophy Award for the world's outstanding athlete in any sport. The film that is being made is sure to make the most of the humble beginnings of this pre-eminent sportsman. One of 10 children, he was brought up in a mud hut on his father's farm and recalls the time when he "borrowed" his father's prized radio to listen to the commentary of the 1980 Olympics. The seven-year-old was desperate to hear the exploits of the man who he describes as his own hero, Miruts Yifter. At those Olympics in Moscow, Yifter the Shifter, as he was known, startled the field with his burst of pace to win both the 5,000 and 10,000m.

That was an Olympic double which Gebrselassie had hoped to emulate in Atlanta two years ago, but in winning the 10,000m gold he sustained such severe blisters from the hard track that had been designed with sprinters in mind that he was forced to withdraw from the shorter distance.

Last year he won the world 10,000m title almost nonchalantly for a third successive time, but his main energies appear to be turned towards record breaking. One of his successes in that record felt like a failure - in May he lowered the two miles world best to 8min 01.08sec, but missed a prize of $1m on offer then to the first man under eight minutes.

This season, however, with no global championships on the agenda, and with Komen having apparently decided not to race him directly, he is free to concentrate on running with times - and money - in mind.

He confirmed on Saturday that his next target is the 3,000m world record which he hopes to break in Oslo next month. Gebrselassie's coach, Jos Hermens, underlined that his athlete would now concentrate on winning all seven 3000m races at IAAF grand prix events being held in Europe this season.

"Haile is so smart that after 3,000 metres he knows what to do so he doesn't even need a coach," Hermens said. This season, it looks as if the only thing Gebrselassie will have to do at that point is ensure the promoter has the correct bank details.

Earlier in the evening, Mark Richardson established himself as the leading Briton over 400m this season by beating his senior training partner Roger Black in a time of 44.53sec, a performance which makes him the obvious choice to represent his country at the European Cup in St Petersburg the weekend after next.

Black, who recently defeated two other leading Britons, Iwan Thomas and Jamie Baulch, recorded 45.20sec in what was his second race since recovering from last season's debilitating viral infection.

Colin Jackson recorded his best 110m hurdles time of the season, 13.12sec, in defeating his American rival Mark Crear. And Steve Backley maintained his promising start to the season in the javelin with a throw of 87.48m to take second place behind Finland's rising star, Aki Parviainen, who managed 87.91m.

HOW THE 5,000M MARK HAS EVOLVED

13min 35.00sec

Vladimir Kuts (USSR) 13.10.57

13:34.80 Ron Clarke (Aus) 16.1.65

13:33.60 Clarke 1.2.65

13:25.80 Clarke 4.6.65

13:24.20 Kip Keino (Kenya) 30.11.65

13:16.60 Clarke 5.7.66

13:16.40 Lasse Viren (Fin) 14.9.72

13:13.00 Emiel Puttemans (Bel)

20.9.72

13:12.86 Dick Quax (NZ) 5.7.77

13.08.40 Henry Rono (Ken) 8.4.78

13:06.20 Rono 13.9.81

13:00.41 David Moorcroft (GB) 7.7.82

13:00.40 Said Aouita (Mor) 27.7.85

12:58.39 Aouita 22.7.87

12:56.96 Haile Gebrselassie (Eth)

4.6.94

12:55.30 Moses Kiptanui (Kenya)

8.6.95

12:44.39 Gebrselassie 16.8.95

12:41.86 Gebrselassie 13.8.97

12:39.74 Daniel Komen (Kenya)

22.8.97

12:39.36 Gebrselassie 13.6.98

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