Kenenisa Bekele has an appointment with destiny in Edinburgh tomorrow as he seeks to earn a record sixth long course title at the World Cross Country Championships. But before he embraces the opportunity of bettering the total of five wins that he shares with two legendary Kenyans, John Ngugi and Paul Tergat, the 25-year-old Ethiopian has an earlier appointment with a 12-metre high poster just off Princes Street.
The image displayed close to the Holyrood Park course is not that of Bekele, for all his world and Olympic titles, not to mention his world records at five events. No, the triumphant figure standing tall in the Scottish capital is that of Eritrea's Zersenay Tadesse, who ran Ethiopia's successor to the great Haile Gebrselassie to a halt at last year's world cross in the crushing heat of Mombasa.
"We plan to take Kenenisa to show him the poster," said a spokesman in the office of Bekele's agent, Jos Hermens. "Things like that can make a big impact."
You have to think that Bekele will hardly lack for motivation, given the traumatic events of last March, when his own demise mirrored that of his under-prepared team-mates who suffered drastically in temperatures in the mid 30s Celsius (mid-90s Fahrenheit) and, more significantly, in more than 90 per cent humidity. Such conditions prevent even the cooling effect of sweat evaporating, and the Ethiopian contingent were used to training in the high altitude of Addis Ababa under normally temperate and dry conditions.
"Before the race, I felt very thirsty but I didn't want to take a drink because I felt I would throw up," said Bekele after a race where he pulled out with 800m remaining, apparently confused about how many laps remained. "I have never in my whole life participated in a race like this. It was overwhelming. I did my best, but I didn't want to faint and ruin the future as well."
Thus Tadesse who, Eritrean compatriots in the Scottish capital maintain, is as big in his home country as David Beckham is in England, ran on unchallenged to end Bekele's run at the previous five World Cross Country Championships, where he had taken the long and short course titles.
Bekele was left worrying whether his exertions might have exacted a long-term toll, but after a cautious start to last year's outdoor season he recovered e to win a third world 10,000m title in Osaka. He has carried the same form through to this year, defeating Tadesse on a 9km cross country course in Edinburgh in January and setting a two-mile world indoor best in Birmingham last month before skipping the World Indoor Championships in order to concentrate on preparing for tomorrow's challenge.
"Kenenisa's record is unbelievable," Hermens said, "but he is still determined to show he is the greatest cross country runner. I have told him that if he can win more world cross titles it will be something even more than world or Olympic titles, or even world records. He can be different from any other runner."
Two months before Bekele won his fourth world cross title in St Galmier in 2005 he had witnessed the sudden death of his fiancee Alem Techale, a member of the Ethiopian women's team. This time around his domestic circumstances are far happier, given that he married the Ethiopian film actress Danawit Gebregziabher four months ago and they now have a baby girl.
All of which offers yet another motivation for Bekele, according to the Hermens spokesman. "What man likes to lose in front of his wife?" he asked.Reuse content