World Cross Country: Unbelievable Comeback by Kenenisa Bekele
Just four weeks ago Kenenisa Bekele was only a shade of himself. Instead of attacking the two mile world record at the indoor meeting in Birmingham, he could only get second place behind his relatively unknown compatriot Markos Geneti. Both couldn’t get near the world record time. Kenenisa Bekele seemed clumsy instead of easy going. Normally an unconcerned young man he had become a mourning runner who carried a burden with him.
On January 4th, Kenenisa Bekele’s life changed. At this day his fiancée Alem Techale died. In May they were going to marry. The 17-year-old Alem Techale was one of the biggest track and field talents in Ethiopia. At the age of 15 she became the champion at the world junior championships at 1500 meters and had a personal best of 4:14,69 minutes. Her death could not have been more tragic. At a training run in a forest near Addis Abeba the young runner collapsed. Bekele brought her to hospital, but on the way she died of what was probably a heart attack. An autopsy was not done and the burial took place the day for religious reasons. The funeral took place in Asela, the city where running star Haile Gebrselassie was born. There was big sympathy from other Ethiopian world class runners. Kenenisa Bekele competed two times in the indoor season and twice he got the unusual second place. “In summer he will be the old again,” his Dutch manager Jos Hermens said right after the Birmigham meeting. In January he had travelled immediately to Ethiopia for the funeral. And Jos Hermens said something else four weeks ago: “I am looking forward to the World Cross Country Championships. When he doesn’t win there, it wouldn’t be a big surprise under these circumstances. But he has a chance because he has big potential.”
Now Kenenisa Bekele really showed an unbelievable comeback. At the World Cross Country Championships in St. Galmier (France) he won both distances—the short and the long course—for a record fourth time in a row. It was a unique achievement in athletics’ history.
In St. Galmier Kenenisa Bekele presented himself in a completely different way than during the indoor season. The 22-year-old 10,000m Olympic Champion and world record holder was running smoothly again and had lost some weight. “I was surprised of the performance as well,” said Jos Hermens after Kenenisa Bekele won the first race with a five second lead in front of the Kenyan Abraham Chebii. Chebii got stuck in the mud in the decisive phase at the end of the race. He couldn’t start his dreaded long final kick. He once beat Kenenisa Bekele with it. Abraham Chebii trains in a new group of runners for a couple of months. They are all coached by Dieter Hogen in the new KIMbia Team. “My tactic didn’t work out, but this can happen at a cross race,” Abraham Chebii said. He congratulated Kenenisa Bekele on his comeback: “His performance under these circumstances is just amazing.”
After a 40-day period of mourning due to his religion Kenenisa Bekele was allowed to train properly again. And he also was allowed to shave his beard. Without the unfamiliar beard he now ran to a double triumph in France. “For me this victory is superior to even my Olympic gold from last year. I thank god and everybody who helped me during this hard time—especially Jos Hermens and his team. I ran with two feelings in my heart: joy and grief.” For his future, Bekele said, this victory was a milestone.