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Ten to watch: Kenenisa Bekele

Bekele montage

By Andrew McKenzie

Kenenisa Bekele has few challengers to the title of the greatest cross-country runner of all-time.

On the track the Ethiopian is not bad either and he is so far ahead of his rivals he is considered a near-certainty to defend his 10,000m Olympic title in Beijing.

The big question is: will the 26-year-old attempt to go one better than he did in 2004 and add the 5,000m crown as well?

The double has not been done since Ethiopian long-distance legend Miruts Yifter in 1980, but Bekele - the world record holder in both events - has been provisionally entered in the two distances.


2008 form: Won the world cross title in Scotland despite his shoe coming off during the race. He carried that form on to the track by breaking the two-mile world indoor record by over half a minute in Birmingham. He ran the fourth-fastest 10,000m - 26:25.97 - in an almost solo effort at the Prefontaine Classic in the United States in June.

A lioness
Bekele once survived an encounter with a lioness on a training run
Rivals: In the 10,000m his fellow Ethiopians Sileshi Sihine and the legendary Haile Gebrselassie are likely to be his closest competitors. Sihine finished behind Bekele in Athens and the last two World Championships, while asthma sufferer Gebrselassie has opted to return to the 10,000m as he is wary about running the marathon through the polluted streets of Beijing. They have recorded the next best times in 2008 but are still 25 seconds down on Bekele's effort.

Should he opt to run the 5,000m, Kenyan-turned-American Bernard Lagat, who is attempting to repeat the 1500m/5000m double of last year's World Championships, will likely stand in his way. Bekele's attempt could be helped by the presence of his brother Tariku in the shorter event.

How he could win: In the 10,000m he can usually be seen overpowering his opponents on the last lap, with a 53-second final 400m not unheard of. In Athens, as well as the last two World Championships, his victories have come with devastating closing bursts.

The 5,000m could be a different matter as it showed in 2004 when the tables were turned by Hicham El Guerrouj in the final 50m. He is likely to leave it until after the 10,000m final to decide whether to double up.

What he says: "It's very tough to run a double at the Olympics. I ran many kilometres in a few days in Athens, and I lost a lot of power."

Sporting high: In 2004 Bekele broke the world records for the 5,000m, 10,000m and the indoor 5,000m. The icing on the cake came in Athens when he also set a new Olympic record on the way to taking gold.

Sporting low: The following year was a tragic one for Bekele as his 18-year-old fiancee Alem Techale collapsed while the pair were on a training run in the hills around Addis Ababa and died. She was a promising runner herself and they were due to be married that May. He has since found happiness with his wife Danawit Gebregziabher, an Ethiopian film actress, and a baby girl.

In action: The men's 10,000m final takes place on Sunday 17 August. The 5,000m heats are on 20 August and the 5,000m final on 23 August.


Life before sport: He grew up helping the family raise the staple crops teff, wheat and barley on their farm. He was never supposed to be a runner as his parents did not approve.

"They wanted me to be a good student and then hoped I would become a professional - maybe a teacher or a doctor. They are happy now, because they've seen my picture on the television and read about me in the newspaper."

Hero worship: His mentor and motivator Haile Gebrselassie was his inspiration to take up running.

"When I saw Haile running, I thought that perhaps one day I could be like him," he said.

At the Athens Olympics Bekele slowed down the pace in the 10,000m final to allow Gebrselassie to keep up in the hope of an Ethiopian clean sweep of the medals. Gebrselassie could not quite manage it.

Most likely to: be found reading the biographies of fellow sports stars, including that of England footballing star David Beckham. "It's my favourite," he was quoted as saying.

Least likely to: be found partying the night away in the Olympic Village. With the prospect of running three times in six days he will need all the rest he can get.

Did you know? Bekele once survived an encounter with a lioness when on a training run with brother Tariku.

"I was a bit scared at the time," he said.

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see also
Bekele's star rises
24 Mar 02 |  BBC Pundits
Bekele sets two-mile world record
16 Feb 08 |  Athletics
Bekele claims record sixth title
30 Mar 08 |  Athletics
Bekele aims to lower world record
09 Aug 06 |  Athletics
Bekele back to world-beating best
19 Mar 05 |  Athletics
Bekele breaks 5,000m record
31 May 04 |  Athletics
Bekele leads Ethiopian romp
24 Aug 03 |  World Athletics 2003
Bekele stuns Gebrselassie
02 Jun 03 |  Athletics
Bekele makes history
30 Mar 03 |  Athletics

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