Bekele the legend does not fear Farah – or anyone else
Saturday 07 January 2012
Kenenisa Bekele, the little Ethiopian with the big claim to being the greatest distance runner of all time, has been venturing to these shores for 10 years now, ever since he emerged victorious from the mud of Newcastle's Exhibition Park in the Great North Cross-country race in December 2001.
The possessor of a record 22 World Championship gold medals, "King Kenny" never imagined that one day he would find himself on British soil being asked about a home runner threatening to steal his two Olympic crowns.
Not that the great man was quaking in his shoes about the prospect of Mo Farah challenging for his 5,000m and 10,000m titles in the London Olympic arena six and a half months from now.
"I don't feel threatened by anybody," Bekele insisted, sitting in a hotel room looking out on Arthur's Seat ahead of his appearance in the first international event of 2012, the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross-country at Holyrood Park today. "I'm not frightened."
No disrespect towards Farah was intended. Indeed, Bekele acknowledged the progress made in 2011 by the British runner who succeeded him as world 5,000m champion and also collected a 10,000m silver medal (behind the Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan) at the World Championships in Daegu last August.
"Yes, Mo Farah improved very well last year," Bekele said, when pressed for a comment on the big hope for home gold in the Olympic track and field arena in 2012. "It was a good time for him. I will follow his results. Maybe we will compete together before the Olympics."
The pair competed together in the 10,000m in Daegu, but not on even terms. Having been out of action for 18 months because of an ankle problem, Bekele was short of fitness and dropped out in mid-race, suffering his first ever defeat in a 10,000m track race. Any suspicion that the 29-year-old might be a spent force, though, was dismissed within a fortnight.
Running in Brussels, the 5ft 4in East African was back to something approaching his smooth-striding, hitherto invincible self, clocking the fastest 10,000m time by any athlete for five years, 26min 43.10sec. The bad news for Farah – currently training in Kenya ahead of the indoor season – is that Bekele claims to be in better shape now, and is considering defending both his 5,000m and 10,000m titles in London.
"I'm fitter than I was in 2011," Bekele said. "In 2012 I think I will have a good season. I will see how my results go in the summer and then decide if I will run the 5,000m as well as the 10,000m in London."
The questions about Farah kept coming but it was clear that Bekele was looking beyond the recently emerged Briton to the grander scheme of things in the distance-running game – to Lasse Viren, the Flying Finn whose achievement of back-to-back Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m titles stands unchallenged, and even beyond.
Having also won the 10,000m in Athens in 2004, Bekele already stands alongside Viren, the Czech Emil Zatopek and his Ethiopian compatriot Haile Gebrselassie as one of four men to have retained that crown. "Nobody has ever won it three times," he pointed out. "If I do that, it will be special."
Not that Bekele, the world record- holder at 5,000m and 10,000m as well as the reigning Olympic champion at both distances, already happens to be anything other than an exceptional individual. "He is a legend," Eliud Kipchoge, the quietly spoken Kenyan who took Olympic 5,000m silver behind Bekele in Beijing, ventured. Asbel Kiprop, the Olympic 1500m champion, and Brimin Kipruto, the Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion, both nodded in agreement. All three Kenyans line up against the legend in the 3km short-course race in Edinburgh today.
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