Athletics: Great prospect sweeps the Great North

Kenyans can only watch the heels of 20-year-old Ethiopian

Exhibition Park was constructed, on the edge of Newcastle's Town Moor, to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The View From Great North Cross Country meeting held within its grounds yesterday was built around the appearance of the woman who became the queen of distance running in 2002. Sadly, Paula Radcliffe could not attend the first engagement of her post-coronation year. A bacterial infection kept the marathon world record holder away from the mud and snow of Tyneside. In her absence, it was the young man who would be king of the male distance running world who stole the new year show.

It took Radcliffe nine years to make the transition from junior to senior World Cross Country Champion, winning the long-course title in Ostend in 2001. Kenenisa Bekele – Kenny to his friends – made it in 12 months. He made it a double, too, taking the senior short-course and long-course titles in his smooth thoroughbred stride at Leopardstown Racecourse on the outskirts of Dublin last year, a year after having won the junior race in Ostend. Radcliffe was a senior world champion at 27, Bekele at 19. The Ethiopian is 20 now and, judging by his imperious form yesterday, his heralding as "the next Haile Gebrselassie" might not be inflated by premature hyperbole.

He turned the showpiece men's 8.8km race into an exhibition in the park, making light of the heavy conditions and the high-class opposition. It was a measure of his performance that his principal rivals – Kenyans Sammy Kipketer, the Commonwealth 5,000m champion, and Paul Kosgei, the world half marathon champion – managed to stay in his slipstream for just two of the seven strength-sapping circuits. Bekele crossed the line looking as comfortable as he did at the start, finishing 15 seconds clear of Kipketer in 29min 12sec. Kosgei was a further eight seconds behind in third place.

Back home, on the roads of Addis Ababa, Bekele is taking driving lessons. On the international running circuit, he has long dispensed with the L-plates. "The conditions were no problem to me," he said. "It is not the first time I have run in snow. I am happy that I have won by such a big margin. It felt easy. I could have continued at the finish."

It was Bekele's third impressive win in three attempts on the European cross country circuit this winter, following equally emphatic successes at Oeiras in Portugal in November and in Brussels last month. He has not been beaten in a cross country race for 13 months, since he finished runner-up to Gebrselassie in Lefrinckoucke, France. He does have an Achilles' heel, though. An injury in that physical department kept him out for four months of the track season last summer. This year, after defending his long-course title at the World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne in March, his major aim is to make his mark on the track.

"I want to run the 5,000m or the 10,000m at the world championships in Paris," he said. "I will run one or the other, not both." Gebrselassie, for one, will await Bekele's decision with interest. The 29-year-old is back in action, and in form after suffering a calf injury in the London Marathon last April. Indeed, he looked a million dollars when he ran in a 10km road race in Doha last month, pocketing that six figure sum for breaking Kipketer's world best road time for the distance, with a time of 27min 02sec. Gebrselassie's main target for 2003 is to challenge for a fifth successive 10,000m world title in Paris.

Bekele happens to share the same manager as Gebrselassie, Jos Hermens, the Dutchman who has held the world best track time for 10 miles since 1975. He also comes from Arsi, the same region of Ethiopia as Gebrselassie, and trains twice a week with the multi-world record holder in Addis Ababa, where they both have homes. In fact, he has no greater admirer than the man known in Ethiopia as 'the Emperor'. "He can beat my 5,000m and 10,000m world records," Gebrselassie has said of his fast-emerging countryman.

It has taken Rob Whalley rather longer to emerge as a winner in Britain's premier cross country meeting. Ten years ago he finished second in the 4.1km short-course race. Yesterday, at the age of 34, the City of Stoke athlete was a clear winner. "I'm having hypnotherapy to cure my asthma," he said. "It has been a problem for me in the past, particularly in the summer, but now I can control it, rather than let it control me." Whalley's controlled run from gun to tape yesterday provided the only home win of the day.

The women's 6.8km race was won by Edith Masai, the Kenyan prison warder who took the Commonwealth 5,000m silver medal in Manchester last summer – 22.34sec behind a majestic Paula Radcliffe.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager (Junior)

Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

Javascript Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Lead IOs Andriod Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Applic...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried