Kenenisa Bekele

Kenenisa Bekele (born 13 June 1982, Ethiopia) is an Ethiopian distance runner who holds the world records in the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres. He is the reigning two-time Olympic champion over 10,000 metres and the most accomplished runner in IAAF World Cross Country Championships history, with six long (12K) course and five short (4K) course titles.

He is the older brother of Tariku Bekele, also an accomplished distance runner.


Bekele was born in 1982 at Bekoji, in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, the same town as the Dibaba sisters; Ejegayehu, Tirunesh and Genzebe, and their cousin Derartu Tulu.

For five years in a row, from 2002 through 2006, he took both short (4K) and long (12K) races at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, a feat no other runner has accomplished even once. In 2004, he broke the world records for the indoor 5,000 m, outdoor 5,000 m and outdoor 10,000 m.

Bekele is renowned for his ability to accelerate very quickly at the end of a long distance race; in Oslo in June 2003, Bekele chased after Kenyan Abraham Chebii and ran a 54.64 final 400 to win the race in 12:52.26. Again in Lausanne on 1 July 2003, Bekele recorded a 200 m segment during the last lap in 24 seconds and a 100 m section in 11.xx seconds to run a 52.63 final lap.

Bekele has faced his mentor Haile Gebrselassie once in road competition, once in cross country, and six times on the track. Gebrselassie defeated Bekele on the track in the 2000 Nurnberg 5,000 metres, the 2001 Great Ethiopian Run 10 km, and the Cross de l'Acier in December 2001, but lost to Bekele in Hengelo 2003 over 10,000 m (26:53 to 26:54), Rome 2003 over 5000 m (12:57 to 13:00), Paris 2003 World Championships over 10,000 m (26:49 to 26:50), Athens 2004 Olympic Games (27:05 to 27:27), and in the 10,000 m in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (27:01 to 27:06).

2004 Athens Olympics

He won the gold medal in the 10,000 m and the silver in the 5,000 m at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

On 20 August 2004, in the 10,000 m final, three Ethiopians attempted to duplicate their 2003 World Championships sweep. Since Haile Gebrselassie had been suffering from inflammation on his Achilles tendon for five weeks before he came to Athens, Bekele and Sileshi Sihine slowed the race down to give him a chance of a medal, putting their own victory in jeopardy. However Gebrselassie was dropped as Bekele and Sihine upped the pace to shake off other leading competitors, Zersenay Tadese and Boniface Kiprop Toroitich. Bekele let Sihine lead him out and then hit the front with 500 m to go, sprinting away with the last lap in 53.02 seconds and won the race with a new Olympics record 27:05.10. Sileshi Sihine finished 2nd (27:09.39), Eritrean Zersenay Tadese 3rd (27:22.57), Boniface Kiprop Toroitich from Uganda 4th (27:25.48), the defending champion Haile Gebrselassie 5th (27:27.70).

Eight days later, on 28 August 2004, in the 5000 m final, Bekele confronted Hicham El Guerrouj, the 1500 m Olympics winner, and Eliud Kipchoge, the 5000 m World champion. At the 5000 m of 2003 World Championships of the previous year, Kipchoge, El Guerrouj and Bekele were the gold, silver and bronze medalists respectively. Even though Bekele was the holder of the 5000 m world record, at the Olympics he finished 2nd, being outkicked by El Guerrouj with 50 m to go and narrowly failed to win the Olympics 5000 m/10000 m double. El Guerrouj won a double over 1500 m and 5000 m.

Afterwards an Ethiopian singer song writer Teddy Afro released a famous music video, Tarik Teserra ("History was Made"), in honor of world record holder and 2004 Olympic gold medalist, Kenenisa Bekele. Bekele ended the year ranked as 2004 Man of the year by Track & Field News magazine: he had broken the indoor world record for 5,000 metres (12:49.60), the outdoor world record for 5,000 metres (12:37.35), won both the short course (4k) and long course (12K) races for the third year in a row at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, broken the world record for 10,000 metres (26:20.31), and broken the Olympic record in winning the gold medal in the men's 10,000 metres (27:05.10), while also winning two 3,000 metre races and the Ethiopian Championship for 5,000 metres for good measure. (Interestingly, every world and Olympic record Bekele broke that year had been set by Haile Gebrselassie.)

2005 - 2008

On 4 January 2005, Bekele's fiancee, 18-year-old Alem Techale, died of an apparent heart attack while on a training run with him. Although it was initially stated that no autopsy was performed, Techale and Bekele's manager, Jos Hermens, later said that an autopsy had revealed nothing conclusive about the young woman's death. She was the 2003 World Youth Champion in the 1500 m and in excellent physical condition. The mystery surrounding her death has raised suspicion about the possible use of EPO or other performance-enhancing drugs by Techale and perhaps other athletes in Hermens' care. However, Kenenisa has never been implicated and there is no evidence other than his otherworldly times and association with Hermens himself to suggest that he uses undetectable performance-enhancing drugs.

Over the next several weeks following Alem's death, Kenenisa grieved. He resumed racing on 29 January, and lost indoors over 3,000 m to South-African Irishman Alistair Cragg after sprinting towards the line with one and a half laps to go while thinking that there was only half a lap left. Such confusion was presumed to have been caused by his grief. A few weeks later he lost to fellow Ethiopian Markos Geneti over 2 miles. In March, Kenenisa faced his toughest challenge yet. Despite his grief and recent losses on the track, he lined up to defend his long and short course titles at the 2005 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. In dramatic fashion, Kenenisa bested the field in the short course despite a fast pace set by Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen. He followed that win with a long course victory the next day over Eritrean Zersenay Tadese and Kenyan rival Eliud Kipchoge. And while this victory was just one step toward healing his broken spirit, it is among the greatest emotional and physical triumphs in Athletics history.

On 8 August 2005, Kenenisa Bekele won the gold medal in the 10,000 m at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki with a stunning last 200 m spurt.

On 26 August 2005, Bekele set the current 10,000 m world record 26:17.53 at the 29th Memorial Van Damme meeting – TDK Golden League – in Brussels, Belgium, slicing nearly 3 seconds off his previous world record 26:20.31, and running with 5,000 m halves of 13:09 and 13:08. At the end of 2005 Bekele was voted the Track & Field News magazine athlete of the year for the second year in a row.

When Bekele won the 3,000 meters at the World Indoor Track & Field Championships in Moscow on 12 March 2006, he became the first athlete in history to be Olympic champion, world outdoor track champion, world indoor track champion, and world cross country champion.

In 2006 he won five out of six ÅF Golden League events (5,000 m) in the same season, which earned him a total of $83,333.

On 17 February 2007, he broke the indoor world record over 2000 m in Birmingham, UK, with a time of 4:49.99. His spectacular final 300 m aided this time which would be considered excellent even outdoors.

On 24 March 2007, however, his remarkable racing streak of 27 consecutive victories in cross country races (dating back to his last previous loss in December 2001) came to an end when after leading the race on the next to last lap of the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa he succumbed to the very hot, humid conditions (which caused more than 1/6th of all competitors to drop out) and was passed by eventual winner Zersenay Tadese on the last lap before Bekele dropped out. This was greeted with cheers by the Kenyan crowds, an occurrence which has been frowned upon by the wider athletics community.

He recovered from that rare failure to take the 10,000 metre title at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka, once again besting his compatriot Sileshi Sihine. During that race, he looked like he was going to be dropped several times over the last 800 metres but recovered to scream by Sihine with 150 metres to go and take his third straight world title.

On 18 November 2007, Bekele married Ethiopian film actress Danawit Gebregziabher at the Sheraton Addis, in Addis Ababa.

In Edinburgh on 30 March 2008, Bekele won his 6th World Cross Country title (long course - 12k), breaking the three way tie of 5 wins he had previously shared with Paul Tergat and John Ngugi. With this win, Bekele laid sole claim to most decorated athlete in IAAF World Cross Country Championships history. He has won 6 long course (12k) individual gold medals, 5 short course (4k) gold medals, 1 junior championship (8k), and 4 team gold medals for a sum total of 16 gold medals. His overall medal count (both individual and team results) stands at 27 medals: 16 gold, 9 silver and 2 bronze.

2008 Beijing Olympics

On 17 August 2008 Bekele won gold in the 10,000m finals with a time of 27:01.17, setting a new Olympic Record in the process. In a race in which 20 men broke the 28 minute barrier and four finished under Bekele's 2004 Olympic record of 27:05.10, he needed his renowned finishing kick to pull out the victory, running a 53.42 second final 400 meters (similar to the 53 second final 400 meter sprint he used to win the gold medal in Athens in 2004 over the same distance).

On 23 August 2008 Bekele bested his competitors and won the 5,000m finals, shattering Said Aouita's Olympic Record by almost eight seconds with a time of 12:57.82. The race was remarkable for Bekele's manner of doing most of the pacing himself before accelerating to a scintillating finish: his last 3,000 meters only took 7:35.53, his final 2,000 meters 4:56.97, last 1,600 meters 3:57.01 (=3:58.6 final mile) and his final lap a punishing 53.87 seconds.

By winning his second Olympic 10,000 meter title, Bekele joined an elite group of athletes to accomplish this feat: Paavo Nurmi (1920, 1928) Emil Zátopek (1948, 1952), Lasse Virén (1972, 1976), and Haile Gebrselassie (1996, 2000).

By winning the 10,000/5,000 meter double in the Beijing Olympics, Bekele joined another elite group of athletes: Hannes Kolehmainen (1912), Emil Zátopek (1952), Vladimir Kuts (1956), Lasse Virén (twice, in 1972 and 1976), and Miruts Yifter (1980).

Current world records (as of April 2008)

  • 5,000 m indoor world record 12:49.60 (Birmingham, on 20 February 2004)
  • 5,000 m world record 12:37.35 (Hengelo, on 31 May 2004)
  • 10,000 m world record 26:17.53 (Brussels, on 26 August 2005, breaking his previous record of 26:20.31 from 8 June 2004)
  • 2,000 m indoor world record 4:49.99 (Birmingham, on 17 February 2007)
  • 2 mile indoor world best 8:04.35 (Birmingham, on 16 February 2008)

Personal bests

Distance Mark Date Location
1,500 m 3:32.35 28 September 2007 Shanghai
3,000 m 7:25.79 7 August 2007 Stockholm
5,000 m 12:37.35 (WR) 31 May 2004 Hengelo
10,000 m 26:17.53 (WR) 26 August 2005 Brussels

Major victories

  • 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Athletics 5,000 m, Beijing
  • 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Athletics 10,000 m, Beijing
  • 2008 African Championships in Athletics 5,000 m, Addis Ababa
  • 2008 World Cross Country Championships (12K), Edinburgh
  • 2007 World Track Champion 10,000 m, Osaka
  • 2006 African Championships in Athletics 5,000 m, Bambous
  • 2006 World Cross Country Champion in short race (4K), Fukuoka
  • 2006 World Cross Country Champion in long race (12K), Fukuoka
  • 2006 World Indoor Track Champion 3,000 m, Moscow
  • 2005 World Cross Country Champion in short race (4K), Saint-Étienne
  • 2005 World Cross Country Champion in long race (12K), Saint-Étienne
  • 2005 World Track Champion 10,000 m, Helsinki
  • 2004 World Cross Country Champion in short race (4K), Brussels
  • 2004 World Cross Country Champion in long race (12K), Brussels
  • 2004 Olympic Champion 10,000 m, Athens
  • 2003 World Cross Country Champion in short race (4K), Avenches
  • 2003 World Cross Country Champion in long race (12K), Avenches
  • 2003 World Track Champion 10,000 m, Paris
  • 2002 World Cross Country Champion in short race (4K), Dublin
  • 2002 World Cross Country Champion in long race (12K), Dublin
  • 2001 World Junior Cross Country Champion 8000 m

References and notes

External links

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