Athletics: Bekele displays strong credentials

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The Independent Online

The future of middle-distance running emerged in Dublin yesterday in the powerful form of Kenenisa Bekele, who now stands as heir apparent to his illustrious Ethiopian colleague Haile Gebrselassie.

A day after strolling to the short course title at the 30th IAAF World Cross-Country Championships, the 19-year-old took the long version with apparently similar ease, thus becoming the first man to complete the double since the event introduced two races in 1998.

The only other athlete to have managed that feat is Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, who yesterday finished seventh in the women's short-course race less than three months after giving birth to her second child, a performance that effectively enabled the Taoiseach, Bertie Aherne, to present the home team with bronze medals.

O'Sullivan's was a brave performance but that of Bekele was of a different order. His stock is unimpeachable – he is a farmer's son from the Arssi Province where both Gebrselassie and Ethiopia's finest female runner, Derartu Tulu, were raised.

Gebrselassie was not present at these championships because he is preparing to make his marathon debut in this year's Flora London event on 14 April. His victory in yesterday's Lisbon half marathon in 59 minutes 40 seconds did nothing to diminish his expectations of success on that day.

But in winning here, Bekele, who won the junior version of the long course race last year in Ostend, has done something the multiple world and Olympic 10,000 metres champion has never managed. Only one Ethiopian has won a gold at these championships since they took their current form in 1973 – and that was 19 years ago when Bekele Devele did it.

The men's long race had been billed as an attempt by Belgium's adopted Moroccan, Mohammed Mourhit, to win a third consecutive title, but he was soon out of contention in a race where Bekele established a decisive 30m gap over the eventual silver medallist, John Yuma of Tanzania, well before entering the final lap.

As he approached the line he looked so easy and unconcerned that he might have been out for a training run. It was a sight to make the rest of the middle distance world tremble.

Ireland's medal celebrations were all the more fervent for the fact that the results flashed up initially onto television screens showed them missing out by the narrowest of margins, finishing fourth behind Russia despite having the same points total. When the full results emerged, however, Russia were one point worse off in fourth place.