Outrun on the last lap of a two-mile contest by his countryman Markos Geneti, it was a second defeat in two races for the little Ethiopian who had been nigh-on invincible in 2004. "For me, it is difficult right now," Bekele said, leaning on a barrier off-stage. "I lose my girlfriend... It is difficult to think about running..."
It was so difficult, Bekele was unable to continue. He brushed back the tears and politely departed, leaving his manager and mentor, the Dutchman Jos Hermens, to do the talking for him. "Kenenisa is just not ready now," Hermens said. "But in the summer we will see the old Bekele again. I am sure of that."
On a late summer night in Brussels on Friday, we did not see the old Bekele again. We saw something rather better.
In the dark days of January and February, after Bekele's 18-year-old fiancée, Alem Techale, had collapsed and died while accompanying him on a training run, the question was whether the young man who had captured world and Olympic 10,000-metre titles and who had run the fastest 5,000m and 10,000m races in history would ever be the same again.
In truth, the answer came as quickly as March, at the World Cross Country Championships at St Galmier in France. At the halfway point in the 4km short-course event, Saif Saaeed Shaheen stole a 30-metre lead on Bekele, who from somewhere deep inside proceeded to summon the energy to close the gap and win the race. It was, as suggested here at the time, the defining moment of his running career. The following day Bekele was back to his relentless, smooth-striding best, emerging a clear winner of the long-course race to complete a fourth successive world cross-country double.
In the packed Stade Roi Baudouin on Friday night, even the clock could not hold the untouchable Ethiopian. Paced to halfway by his 18-year-old brother, Tariku, Bekele turned the 10,000m in the Memorial Van Damme meeting into the finest demonstration of speed endurance ever seen on a track. Averaging laps of 63 seconds for 25 circuits, he crossed the line in 26min 17.53sec, breaking the world- record time he set in Ostrava in June last year by 2.78sec.
It was a staggering feat. At his absolute best, Haile Gebr-selassie, not so long ago the greatest distance runner of all time, would have been some 30m behind. And only the absolute best of British 5,000m runners, Dave Moorcroft, can boast a faster time for a single 5,000m than Bekele's split for the second half of the race: 13min 08.34sec. The fastest 5,000m time by a British runner this year, set by Mo Farrah, is 13:30.53.
"This year has not been good for me," Bekele later reflected. "I have lost my fiancée and I cannot be happy. There have been days when training has not been easy. Even the track season has not been good for me. I have not been in full confidence."
Nevertheless, despite his personal heartache, Bekele has added a second World Championship 10,000m crown and a second 10,000m world record to his collection of distance-running feats on the track. At 23, he is rapidly eclipsing the all-conquering deeds of Gebrselassie, the so-called Little Emperor of Ethiopian running.
The question is: how much quicker can the young King Kenny get? With plans to hone his 1500m speed in the indoor season, the answer is probably: a good few seconds yet.
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