With the awful memories of his Mombasa debacle no doubt lingering somewhere in the back of his mind Kenenisa Bekele withstood the repeated surges of the man who supplanted him as World Cross Country Champion five months ago to win his third consecutive World 10,000m title.
By no means was this an easy victory however. Many athletes wilted under the oppressive heat and humidity and Zerseney Tadesse of Eritrea, the 2007 World Cross Country and Road Running champion, himself was shut out of the medals after gamely piling on the pressure from the start. Bekele was both relieved and satisfied with his performance spending more time in the mixed zone talking to media in both English and Amharic, than the 27:05.90 it took him to cover the 25 laps of the Nagai stadium.
“It was very tough, very hard, especially with 3 laps left when I was very tired,” Bekele revealed, his shoulders wrapped in the Ethiopian flag someone had tossed onto the track at the finish. “I told Sileshi to follow the Kenyan athlete because I am very tired I am tired to change the pace with this guy. After one lap left I picked it up again. It’s not easy to run in this weather, it’s very tough.”
“But, three times, absolutely, I am world champion I am very happy.”
Among the well wishers waiting to see him was his agent Jos Hermens of Global Sports Communications who heaped praise on the athlete.
“Today he was winning with his head, this is totally different from other wins,” Hermens said. “It shows also how strong mentally after Mombasa he is. The time of 27:05 is maybe World record pace in normal weather. It’s fantastic. Sileshi did everything right, Incredible.”
After crossing the finish line Bekele carried not only an Ethiopian flag around the track but also a sign announcing the approaching Ethiopian millennium. A celebration is planned Monday at the Ethiopian embassy in Osaka for both the millennium which begins on 12 September and for Bekele’s gold medal performance. In fact the Ethiopian ambassador to Japan squeezed into the mixed zone to congratulate Bekele on his victory.
World record attempt in Brussels
Hermens has confirmed that Bekele will race in the Brussels Golden League meeting on 14 September. Though he was reluctant to call it a World record attempt he did acknowledge that it was a ‘waste of time’ for Bekele to go to Brussels just to run 26:30. Later in the evening after finishing doping control the 25-year-old admitted he would attempt to beat his World 10,000m record of 26:17.53 on the same track he set it two years ago.
While most athletes arrived in Osaka with plenty of time to acclimatize to the weather conditions Bekele and Sihine flew in from Addis Ababa just two days before the 10,000m final.
“They come late because they think that if they are too long from altitude they lose too many (oxygen carrying) red blood cells,” Hermens explains. “It’s an important thing for them so there is no use to fight it.”
Hermens also revealed that Bekele has got over the grief he experienced at the loss of his fiance Alem Tachele two years ago. He has been socialising more. And he has big plans to build a sports centre just outside Addis.
Recently he acquired a piece of land on which he hopes to build a track and other facilities including a swimming pool. A meeting is scheduled in Brussels, the day after the Golden League meeting there, with construction experts to discuss the project.
Double in Beijing?
At the post event press conference Bekele was asked about a possible 5000m-10,000m double at the Beijing Olympics. He smiled a little.
“After Osaka my big goal is the Beijing Olympics,” Bekele reveals. “Now maybe I can try some World record. I wanted to win in Osaka, I am happy and I will celebrate. I am not sure about (the 5000m- 10,000m double in Beijing) I am not sure.”
“Three years ago I missed being double champion. If I can I would love to try to do that again at the next Olympics but I don’t think it’s necessary for me to decide at this point.”
After spending an hour in doping control Bekele left Nagai Stadium with an Ethiopian team official. Chatting with a reporter as he waited for a bus to take him to the team hotel he was clearly reveling in his success. And so he should. This was a hard fought victory which proved just how tough Kenenisa Bekele really is.
Paul Gains for the IAAF