BERLIN, August 11 – Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele arrives at the World Athletics Championships here a strong favourite to further cement his status as one of the greatest ever distance runners.
Bekele’s medal haul from the Olympic Games, worlds and world cross-country championships is quite phenomenal, and the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder over both the 5000m and 10,000m comes to the German capital in good form.
Despite pulling up in an unaccustomed 1500m early on in the season at Hengelo with a slight thigh pain, Bekele rebounded to remain in the hunt for the one-million-dollar Golden League jackpot.
Bekele, who has also overcome the death of his fiancee, 18-year-old Alem Techale, while on a training run with him in 2005, won the 5000m in Berlin, clocking 13min 00.76sec, Oslo in 13:04.87 and Rome in 12:56.23, while most recently taking the 3000m in Paris in 7:28.64.
His history speaks for itself, with 14 world titles and three Olympic golds, and he has been the fastest in the world over 5000m every year since 2004.
The distance double in Beijing made him the first male athlete to do so since another Ethiopian, Miruts Yifter, achieved the same feat in the boycotted 1980 Games in Moscow.
If he successfully defends his 10,000m title, he will tie Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie for the most world championship titles won and will continue his 100 percent record over the 25-lap event.
While his appearance in the longer race is assured, Bekele has publicly cast doubts whether he will appear in the shorter event a few days later.
But national team coach Woldemeskel Kostre was in no doubt Bekele and his three female team-mates would be capable of competing in both events.
"Will the double hurt him or the three females in the team?" Kostre asked. "My answer is no. All three athletes are ready for the two events and I am sure they will achieve good results."
The five foot four (1.60 metres) protege from Gebrselassie’s Oromia region progressed quickly to the global stage and in 2002 claimed an unprecedented 4km and 12km world cross-country double — a feat he repeated for the next four seasons.
He has added a further long course cross-country medal to make him the most accomplished IAAF cross runner in history.
In 2003, Bekele won his first world track gold, putting on a turbo-charged finish to beat Gebrselassie as Ethiopians swept the 10,000m in the Paris worlds.
In 2004 he claimed his mentor’s records at 10,000m and 5000m (twice) before confirming the generation change at the Athens Olympics, where he ended the two-time champion’s 10,000m reign with another astonishing sprint finish.
The records, the title and 5000m Olympic silver, behind Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, made Bekele an uncontroversial choice for 2004 World Athlete of the Year.
"Kenenisa isn’t Jesus because he can’t walk on water, but on almost any other surface he is unbeatable," his manager Jos Hermens commented at the time.
The Beijing double erased any possible doubts about his awesome ability and any of his team-mates or rivals from the Kenyan camp will have to be at the top of their game to threaten the diminutive maestro.