Athletics: Bekele ready to shred the record books

Two world records in two weeks - and the scary thing is how much more is to come


Kenenisa Bekele is planning to take it easy today. "I will just be doing one training run," he said. "It will not be a long run, just for one hour in the morning." It does happen to be Bekele's birthday today, and the Ethiopian runner has broken two world records in the past two weeks.

Two world records in two weeks - and the scary thing is how much more is to come

Kenenisa Bekele is planning to take it easy today. "I will just be doing one training run," he said. "It will not be a long run, just for one hour in the morning." It does happen to be Bekele's birthday today, and the Ethiopian runner has broken two world records in the past two weeks.

In Ostrava in the Czech Republic last Tuesday night, he ran 10,000m in 26min 20.31sec, breaking Haile Gebrselassie's six-year-old time by 2.44sec. He covered the second half of the race in 13min 05.89sec, which was faster than the world record for 5,000m at the time he was born, 13 June 1982.

Times and the tides stop for no man in the running game. Just ask Gebrselassie, who will be a guest at Bekele's 22nd birthday party in Addis Ababa this afternoon. The man known in Ethiopia as "the Little Emperor", the greatest distance runner of all time, is being rapidly consigned to history by his young successor.

In the past 10 months Bekele has broken Gebrselassie's two most treasured world records (he clocked 12min 37.35sec to eclipse the 5,000m mark by 2.01sec in the Dutch town of Hengelo on 31 May), has outsprinted him to win the World Championship 10,000m title, and has shattered his world indoor 5,000m record. He has also completed a third successive long- and short-course double at the World Cross Country Championships. In Athens two months hence the 31-year-old Gebrselassie and his Olympic 10,000m crown will be at the smooth-striding mercy of King Kenny.

The lengthening shadow of the Balco drugs case might be stealing the headlines right now, but Bekele's burgeoning progress is track-and-field history in the making. It is possibly only the start, too.

"We haven't reached the boundaries yet," Jos Hermens said. And he ought to know. As a manager and mentor, the former Dutch distance runner, who still holds the world's best time for 10 miles on the track, helped to orchestrate the 17 world records Gebrselassie has set in indoor and outdoor track competition and on the roads. And in tandem with Dr Wolde-Mesekel Kostre, Ethiopia's national distance-running coach, he has been grooming Bekele as heir to the Little Emperor for some five years now.

"The training has got a lot better," Hermens continued, "but things like nutrition and recovery could still improve. Records will always be broken. I don't expect the big jumps any more, though. The speed that Kenenisa and these guys are running at now is incredible. In the 5,000m, you're asking them to run 60-second laps. To do that for 12-and-a-half laps... that's just phenomenal.

"It's all about hard work. Kenenisa was in a training camp with the Ethiopian distance squad in Addis Ababa for six weeks before he ran in Hengelo, and he will repeat that before going to Athens. Some of the sessions they do make the mind boggle. For instance, five days before Hengelo, they ran 5,000m in 13min 22sec and continued at the same pace for another 3,000m. At altitude, 2,600m above sea level, that's just incredible.

"Dr Wolde is a very good coach, but there is so much talent in the squad that every day in the training camp it is like a competition. It's survival of the fittest.

"They work incredibly hard, although Kenenisa does have the physiological ingredients, too. We do some tests to check the health of the runners, and his hematocrit count [the percentage of oxygen-carrying red cells in the blood] is 49. Haile's is 42. And if you look at ferritin [a measure of iron in the blood] Kenenisa has 250. You and I probably have 50. Haile has 150."

The comparisons with Gebrselassie are inevitable, but Bekele has grown weary of them. "I don't feel comfortable with it," he said. "I would really just like to be myself. People are calling me the successor to Haile, and maybe in time I will do better than him. But at this moment Haile is the greatest distance runner of all time."

It is a fair assessment. Bekele may have become the fastest-ever man at 5,000m and 10,000m, and also the world champion at 10,000m, but he has yet to make the same impact as Gebrselassie, who took the 5,000m record from 12min 58.39sec to 12:39.36 and the 10,000m from 26:52.23 to 26:22.75. He has also yet to display the same range as Gebrselassie, who has run 3min 31.76sec for 1500m and 2hr 6min 35sec for the marathon.

It is his good fortune that he happens to have Hermens guiding him with the same shrewdness that kept Gebreslassie at the top for the best part of a decade. The Dutch guru is planning to test him over 1500m in the 2005 indoor season, with a view to maximising his basic speed. And Hermens has also instructed his charge to race the opposition rather than the world record in the two competitive events left on his schedule before the Olympics: a 3,000m in the Norwich Union British Grand Prix at Gateshead on 27 June and a 5,000m in Lausanne on 6 July.

After that, it will be off to the Ethiopian training camp for Athens, in the company of the Little Emperor. Gebrselassie, you can be sure, will be the first to wish King Kenny a happy birthday today - and another happy world record for last Tuesday, of course.

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