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Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Ethiopian duo raise the bar

Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba
Bekele and Dibaba are the undisputed current stars of distance running

Mark Butler
By Mark Butler
BBC Sport's athletics statistician takes a look at the numbers behind the big races

I'm not sure we know how lucky we are that Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba have chosen to make so many appearances in the United Kingdom.

The world's two greatest distance runners - with a collective total of 45 Olympic and world golds - are due to be in action again at the Great North Cross Country in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Between them they have won this corresponding race on seven occasions and in Bekele's case, his 2001 victory as a teenager was the first of a six-year 27-race win streak at cross country.

The Ethiopian pair are not just great distance runners, they are among the finest sportsmen of their generation.

Having dominated for most of the noughties there is every sign they will do so throughout the "teens" and even into the 2020s.

Their Ethiopian predecessors Haile Gebrselassie (now 36) and Derartu Tulu (37) are still winning big races and setting records. Bekele and Dibaba will not reach those ages until 2018 & 2022 respectively and Dibaba has already talked of competing at the 2024 Olympics.

Why are they so good ? They run fast, they win big races and make it look easy.

Born: 13 June, 1982
World records set: 5000m: 12:37.35 (2004) 10,000m: 26:20.31 (2004) & 26:17.53 (2005) Also world indoor bests at 2000m & 2 Miles
Olympic golds (3) 5000m (2008) 10,000m (2004 & 2008) Also 5000m silver (2004)
World Championship golds (22) 16 at cross country (individual & team) 4 at 10,000m 1 at 5000m 1 at indoor 3000m
Win streak at 10,000m: 12/12 in 2003-2009

Bekele has held the world records at 5000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:20.31) since 2004. He alone has operated at that level since then. Could he be the first man to run 5000m in less than 12:30, which would represent sub-60 400m for twelve and a half laps.

Put another way, this would be 4:01 miling for more than three miles.

He and his agent have talked of 2010 as being the "year for world records," with Kenenisa saying he wants to add the very tough 3000m world record to his portfolio.

We should savour such moments because records of that calibre will not come along as frequently as the men?s 100m or women?s pole vault have done in recent years.

Dibaba has been known as more of a racer than a pacer, but a woman who can finish a quick 5000m race with a lap of 57 seconds clearly has much left in the tank.

One feels she could even approach the Ethiopian record at 400m (54.42) - though she could not have been more disinterested when I once made that suggestion.

Dibaba has set world records at 5000m, indoors and out, and then at the end of a low-key year in 2009, ran a phenomenal 46:28 for 15km in Nijmegen to break the official world record at that distance by 27 seconds.

Born: 1 June, 1985
World records set: Indoor 5000m: 14:32.93 (2005) & 14:27.42 (2007) Outdoor 5000m: 14:11.15 (2008) 15Km: 46:28 (2009)
Olympic golds (2) 5000m & 10,000m (2008) Also 5000m bronze(2004)
World Championship golds (18) 14 at cross country (individual & team) 2 at 10,000m 2 at 5000m
Win streak at 10,000m: 6/6 in 2005-2008

And yet the statistics show that was not near her limit on that occasion. Incredibly, she was 30 seconds behind world record schedule at 10km but her final 5km of 15:05 was 57 seconds quicker than the old record holder!

So whereas Bekele is now looking for success at shorter distances, Dibaba has given us a glimpse of what might be possible for her at half marathon (21.1km) and beyond.

Unless the Olympics are awarded to Ethiopia in the near future, Bekele and Dibaba can never win a bigger race for them than they have done so already on multiple occasions.

Bekele has held at least one Olympic or world title ever since 2001, Dibaba since 2003. Both won the 5000m & 10,000m double in Beijing and have taken world titles at both distances.

At the IAAF World Cross Country Championships they are the most successful performers of all-time, including the additional medals which they have gained as part of winning Ethiopian teams.

Collectively they have run and won 18 races at 10,000m. So far no-one has beaten them at these distances and these have not been staged events against weak opposition. They have taken on and defeated the best in the world.

Athletics is not like figure skating were points are awarded for presentation, but if it were then Bekele and Dibaba's scores would be near to 10.0.

Biomechanical experts have already remarked on Bekele's smooth and efficient running action. I don't think I have ever seen Dibaba lose form at any stage of a race.

Images of either of these super runners in full flow could be used in a textbook of distance running.

Their only weakness, if it is a weakness, is that each are relatively media-shy in comparison with sporting stars of similar prominence.

For the moment they appear unwilling to share as much of their personality as the wider sporting media demand.

For the rest of us it is enough to let their feet do the talking so let us look forward to seeing the latest demonstration in Holyrood Park on 8 January.




Dec 89: Tim Hutchings

Dec 90: Eammon Martin

Dec 91: James Kariuki (Ken)

Jan 93: Fita Bayissa (Eth)

Jan 94: Haile Gebrselassie (Eth)

Dec 94: Ismael Kirui (Ken)

Dec 95: Assefa Mezegebu (Eth)

Dec 96: Jon Brown

Jan 98: Jon Brown

Jan 99: Million Wolde (Eth)

Jan 00: Sergiy Lebid (Ukr)

Dec 00: Paul Kosgei (Ken)

Dec 01: Kenenisa Bekele (Eth)

Jan 03: Kenenisa Bekele (Eth)

Jan 04: Sileshi Sihine (Eth)

Jan 05: Eluid Kipchoge (Ken)

Jan 06: Kenenisa Bekele (Eth)

Jan 07: Kenenisa Bekele (Eth)

Jan 08: Kenenisa Bekele (Eth)

Jan 09: Abebe Dinkesa (Eth)


Dec 89: Peter Elliott

Dec 90: Peter Elliott

Dec 91: Darren Spawforth

Jan 93: Darren Spawforth

Jan 94: John Mayock

Dec 94: Phil Mowbray

Dec 95: Neil Caddy

Dec 96: John Mayock

Jan 98: Gareth Turnbull (Irl)

Jan 99: Spencer Barden

Jan 00: Gareth Turnbull (Irl)

Dec 00: Gareth Turnbull (Irl)

Dec 01: Gareth Turnbull (Irl)

Jan 03: Rob Whalley

Jan 04: Ben Whitby

Jan 05: Nick McCormick

Jan 06: Nick McCormick

Jan 07: Sergiy Lebid (Ukr)

Jan 08: Andy Baddeley

Jan 09: Andy Baddeley


Dec 89: Jill Hunter

Dec 90: Susan Sirma (Ken)

Dec 91: Liz McColgan

Jan 93: Derartu Tulu (Eth)

Jan 94: Paula Radcliffe

Dec 94: Rose Cheruiyot (Ken)

Dec 95: Paula Radcliffe

Dec 96: Gete Wami (Eth)

Jan 98: Catherina McKiernan (Irl)

Jan 99: Gete Wami (Eth)

Jan 00: Gete Wami (Eth)

Dec 00: Paula Radcliffe

Dec 01: Susan Chepkemei (Ken)

Jan 03: Edith Masai (Ken)

Jan 04: Tirunesh Dibaba (Eth)

Jan 05: Tirunesh Dibaba (Eth)

Jan 06: Gelete Burka (Eth)

Jan 07: Gelete Burka (Eth)

Jan 08: Gelete Burka (Eth)

Jan 09: Linet Masai (Ken)

see also
Ebuya claims shock Edinburgh win
09 Jan 10 |  Athletics
Bekele answers your questions
08 Jan 10 |  Athletics
Bekele completes distance double
23 Aug 09 |  Athletics
Bekele storms to Olympic double
23 Aug 08 |  Athletics
Dibaba storms to Olympic double
22 Aug 08 |  Athletics
When Boxer set the standard
04 Aug 09 |  Athletics
Richards set for 400m landmark
09 Jul 09 |  Athletics
Medals, money or both?
12 Jun 09 |  Athletics
GB women show Berlin credentials
03 Jun 09 |  Athletics
When is a record not a record?
19 Feb 09 |  Athletics

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