Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia has now possibly placed his name at the top of the list of the world's greatest distance runners of all-time. By winning the 5,000 meter at the World Championships in Berlin, to add with his 10,000 meter victory earlier in the week at the same Championships, Bekele has now won 5 World Track Championships, 3 Olympic Gold medals, 12 World Cross Country Championships and is the current world record holder in the 5,000 meter, 5,000 meter indoor, 10,000 meter, 2,000 meter indoor, and 2-mile indoor. Bekele has topped the accomplishments of countryman, Haile Gebrselassie, who was until now, perhaps the greatest distance runner of all-time.
* View a slideshow of Kenenisa Bekele's 5000m victory at the IAAF in Berlin
Bekele set the pace for much of the 5,000 meter race, unlike the 10,000 meter where he was satisfied to allow others to lead. His strongest rival was defending 5,000 meter World Champion, Bernard Lagat of the US. Lagat positioned himself on the inside lane, just behind Bekele for the entire race, ready to follow if Bekele should ever surge to break away from the pack. Instead, Bekele kept the pack intact by leading at only a moderate pace. Coming into the final lap there were still 13 competitors in contention.
Bekele's final lap is generally deadly against his distance race opponents. He has miscalculated at least one famous time in the past, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, when he faced Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in the finals of the 5,000 meter. Bekele had won the 10,000 meter and El Guerrouj had won the 1500 meter. With the meeting of the two in the 5,000 meter the popular thought was that Bekele would win easily if he set a fast pace and took the fast finishing sprint out of El Guerrouj. Instead, Bekele and the other Ethiopian front runners seemed to play perfectly into the scenario that favored El Guerrouj, and in the end the speed of the 1500 meter specialist was too much for even the fast last lap of Bekele.
The match up with Lagat looked to be something similar to the Athens 5,000 meter against El Guerrouj. Lagat had won both the 1500 and 5,000 meter races at the last World Championships, and had already taken third in the 1500 meter at this World Championships. With Lagat sticking to the back of Bekele during the 5,000 meter final, and Bekele declining to use his ability to set a blistering pace to take the sprint out of Lagat, observers wondered if Lagat would outkick Bekele down the final stretch. Coming around the final turn Lagat pulled alongside the sprinting Bekele. With 50 meters to go, Lagat briefly inched ahead of Bekele, but in the final 30-40 meters, Bekele pulled back ahead and Lagat broke his stride, coasting across the finish line beaten. Bekele had completed the double, the first time anyone had won both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races at the same World Championships.
As the only person other than Usain Bolt to take two individual gold medals from this World Championships, Bekele was asked if he feels relegated to secondary importance in comparison. Bekele responded by saying his performance is in no way comparable to that of Bolt's, who in addition to two individual golds, also set two world records. Bekele said that is is only right that Bolt should receive so much more attention, and that what Bolt has done is good for the development of the sport. However, he has earlier said that he would be ready for an 800 meter contest between the 100-200 world champion and the 5,000-10,000 meter world champion, and that he (Bekele) would definitely beat him (Bolt) at that distance.
It would be amazing if this contest could be arranged...