Kenenisa Bekele in action at the Great Manchester Run (© Great Run / Dan Vernon)
Less than a month after surprising almost everyone with his third-place finish at the London Marathon off limited training, Kenenisa Bekele will be back in action over the more familiar distance of 10km at the Great Manchester Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (22).
Having not finished a race in a little over 18 months prior to his London Marathon debut, Bekele was not expected to be a factor, despite his formidable reputation. But the 33-year-old demonstrated he still has some good years ahead of him by finishing on the podium in 2:06:36.
“I’m still recovering,” said Bekele. “It’s a short time after London and I have some tiredness in the body but we will see on Sunday.”
The Ethiopian has held the world record at this distance on the track for more than a decade – and claimed six major titles over 10,000m between 2003 and 2009 – but this race looks set to represent a first step in his build-up towards another marathon rather than a return to the shorter distances.
Bekele was only named as a reserve for the Ethiopian Olympic marathon team and he has more or less ruled out trying to make the track team, even if he doesn’t receive a call-up to contest the marathon in a few months’ time.
“It’s not easy to change [events] in two or three months. I think the marathon is the race for me,” said Bekele, whose plan B might include a start in the Berlin Marathon in September.
Bekele won this race two years ago in 28:23 with a quick finish ahead of Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang. The former world marathon record-holder is likely to be the Ethiopian’s main rival again on Sunday.
But while Bekele expressed his desire to compete at the Olympics, Kipsang ruled himself out of selection contention, citing the anticipated hot and humid conditions in Rio de Janeiro not being to his liking.
Bekele finished third to Kipsang’s fifth in London but the Kenyan’s chances of claiming a third title were considerably diminished by a heavy fall at a drinks station around the 10km point.
Other contenders include New Zealand’s Zane Robertson and leading European distance runners Daniele Meucci from Italy and Arne Gabius from Germany, who are both aiming for the marathon at the 2016 Olympics.
Dibaba launches comeback on familiar ground
Tirunesh Dibaba has been absent for the past two years to start a family but the two-time Olympic 10,000m champion – who is aiming to make it a hat-trick in Rio de Janeiro – returns to action after a lengthy hiatus in a race which she has won twice in the past.
Dibaba won in 2013 in a course record of 30:49 before successfully defending her title the following year in 31:09. That race just over two years ago was Dibaba’s last competitive encounter before giving birth to her son Nathan last year.
Dibaba’s comeback race won’t be a formality as the Ethiopian faces a strong line-up including two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, who is still racing well at the age of 36.
It wasn’t enough to impress the Kenyan selectors but Kiplagat made another big city marathon podium with a 2:22:36 clocking at the Tokyo Marathon in February and was third last weekend on an undulating course at the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in New York in 31:58.
Another athlete who has been racing well on the roads this year is Diane Nukuri from Burundi. The US-based runner finished fifth last year in 32:27 but could challenge for a podium finish if she matches her season’s best performance of 32:11 on Sunday.
The European challenge includes two-time European cross-country champion Fionnuala McCormack from Ireland and European marathon champion Christelle Daunay from France, who recently broke the 70-minute barrier for the half marathon at the age of 41.
British representation will be thin in both races due to a calendar clash with the British 10,000m Championships in Highgate on Saturday evening but Gemma Steel – a two-time runner-up in this race – will challenge for yet another podium finish as she continues to return to racing after a chest infection ruled her out of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.
Steven Mills for the IAAF