DAEGU, South Korea, August 25- Kenenisa Bekele, twice Olympics and Worlds distance titleholder, checked in Daegu to chase an unprecedented sixth top medal at the biennial gathering of the best track and field has to offer.
Capital Sport met Kenenisa, who has not run since he won the 5000m title in Berlin two years ago at Seoul’s Incheon Airport as he waited for his connection to Daegu where he expressed his readiness to chase and make history.
“I’m ready for the challenge and looking forward to it,” he offered as his presence at the Daegu Worlds after months of speculation was finally confirmed.
Dressed in a designer brown jacket and jeans, the usually reclusive Kenenisa would not be drawn to speculate on his chances, only waiting for the men 10000m final where he is seeking a fifth straight crown.
He was flanked by his perennial bridesmaid, Sileshi ‘Silver’ Sihine who returned to action after a long lay-off by dropping out of the men 10000m race at last year’s Africa Athletics Championships in Nairobi.
When put across to Team Kenya head coach, Peter Mathu, that the revered Ethiopians were in town and the potentially damaging prospects it has on his charges’ chances of claiming the men 10000m, the tactician exuded confidence his men would be up to the task.
“We came here prepared to face everyone, not be worried by Kenenisa or his Ethiopian team mates. It’s unfortunate Wilson (Kiprop) had to withdraw in the last minute but we have trained well for the race,” Mathu said at the Athletes Village on Thursday.
Osaka 2007 bronze winner, Martin Mathathi knows too well the threat posed by the Ethiopian pair who led him to the podium in Japan four years ago while Peter Kirui, who stunned everyone by winning the Kenyan Trial will be out for a first taste against the distance running medal machines.
Paul Tanui, who led Kenya’s charge at the World Cross Country Championships in March as Ethiopia’s Imane Merga sprinted away for gold, was once again called to the rescue in the 11th hour after African champion, Kiprop withdrew from Daegu injured.
Tanui had been initially penned to compete at the All Africa Games in Maputo after finishing fifth at the Trials but just like the Punta Umbria World Cross, where he replaced Leonard Komon, the Japan based Kyudenko Team runner found himself elevated from continental to world competition late in the day after being selected to compete at the Africa Cross Country Championships in South Africa.
“This is only God’s work and I will not turn my country down. I hope it works out just it did in Spain but above all, I love representing my country at whatever level when called upon. Competing at my first World Championships is a dream and only God knows why I got this chance,” Tanui said before the team’s departure to Daegu as President Mwai Kibaki handed the team the national flag in State House last week.
Charles Kamathi, who shocked the Ethiopians, then led by another feared champion in the shape of world marathon record holder, Haile Gebrsellasie, in the 2001 edition in Edmonton, remains the last Kenyan to bag the men 25-lap race title at the Worlds.
“We have come here to right a few things and I believe we can achieve our objectives,” Mathu noted when Kamathi’s ghost was evoked.
Also checking in for the Worlds is retired American sprint legend, Michael Johnson who until the rise of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in Beijing remained the world record holder over the distance.
Still wearing the stern and determined look that made him a force to reckon with, Johnson has been enlisted as a commentator in sprints.
– Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting for Capital Sport from Daegu, South Korea