Kenenisa Bekele leads eventual bronze medallist Gebremariam (ETH) (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 30 March 2003 – Lausanne

What price another double?

LausanneDouble double, toil and trouble….The mantra of the witches from ‘Macbeth’ may be about to cast a spell over Kenyan endurance running.

When Kenenisa Bekele made his successful defence of both the long and short course titles at the 31st IAAF World Coss Country Championships, in Switzerland, it certainly heralded toil and trouble for the sport's previously dominant nation.

The double achieved on the racecourse at Dublin's Leopardstown in 2002 was breathtaking. It stopped Kenya's monopoly of the 4000m title since its inception. But the shock was nothing compared to that which greeted Bekele's long-course victory the following day. This completed a double which was unique, and had eluded the greatest athletes before him.

He had shown his prodigious talent by placing second in the senior 4k, and winning the junior race in 2001, but taking both senior titles at one sitting in Dublin was "quite ridiculous" according to Bekele's team manager, Dr Woldemeskel Kostre.

So when Bekele arrived in Lausanne to mount his defence at the Swiss Equestrian Centre, the Kenyans were well prepared to mount their challenge. Or so they thought. Yet no matter how they toiled to break Bekele, he had little trouble doing it all over again.

Journalists covering the event had exhausted their repertoire of superlatives.

Simply the best.

For a nation which has come to regard the long course title as almost a divine right, the dynasty of John Ngugi, William Sigei, and Paul Tergat has been derailed.

The greatest nation in the history of the sport, with 16 of the possible 22 titles available to them since 1986, Kenya were now impotent in the face of Bekele's talent, even if they did manage to stretch their team title monopoly to 18 years in both races.

For the statistically minded, it was exactly 24:04:45sec after having defended the first title that Bekele completed the double again. Yes, that's a record. It marks him as the greatest exponent in the 100-year international history of the sport. Just one more title, and he will have more than Tergat. Bekele is not yet 21.

Benjamin Limo had planned to cover John Kibowen when his team mate made his charge for home in the short race, and make it difficult for Bekele to get to him.

But Limo ran out of gas well into the final kilometre. He knew he could not match Kibowen's finish, and yelled to him to go on alone. Alerted by Limo's shout, Bekele broke into a sprint, charged past Kibowen, and victory No.1 was in the bag.

The next day, as Limo confided that his legs were so sore that he could barely walk after his efforts, Bekele was lining up to race a fresh pack of Kenyans.

Abraham Cherono sacrificed himself to the cause, setting a fierce pace, 2:41 for the opening kilometre. After two of the six laps (3830m in 10:52), only six contenders remained in the lead group, four of them Kenyan.

Gebre-egzibher Gebremariam means Servant of God, Servant of Mary. Here, he was also Bekele's servant, taking the pace and protecting him from the predatory Kenyan cohort.

"We decided to run together and push the rhythm," said Bekele.

In doing so they broke all but Ivuti who managed to pick off Gebremariam in the end.

Bekele, who won the junior title in 2001, could point to no specific reason for his success: "It's a gift from God. Everyone trains hard, but in the end it's God who decides."

If there was one final crushing put-down for the Kenyans, it was Bekele's apparently cavalier preparation. While rivals prepared with meticulous precision, Bekele was on board a Lake Geneva cruise boat for nearly four hours, and did not get to bed until well after midnight. "I went knowingly," he said. "It was my first time ever on a boat. I did not want to miss it. I wanted to see what it was like. I'm glad I went."

Then there was the small matter of the typhoid contracted less than a month ago: "The medication can also affect your strength," he said. "It made me tired."

Not too tired to do the double. Kenya will toil to find a man to trouble him.

The second of six children of a farmer with 20 cattle and 40 sheep, who grows wheat, barley, and the Ethiopian grain staple, tef, can now look forward to becoming a millionaire.

He admits he has a long way to go to match his mentor, Haile Gebrselassie. Yet despite his World and Olympic titles, and World records, Haile could never win either of these ones.

Bekele has yet to have a proper track season, because of injury, but aims to put that right this year. He will experiment before deciding whether to run the 5000 or 10,000m at the World Championships.

"He is on course to meet Gebrselassie at Europe's traditional home of the longer distance in Hengelo at the beginning of June," confirmed Jos Hermens who manages both of them.

So what price another Bekele double attempt in Paris?

Doug Gillon (The Herald) for the IAAF

The IAAF internet news team in Lausanne were -
Doug Gillon, Jason Henderson and Chris Turner.