Monday, May 21, 2007

Kenenisa fails to recover from Mombasa

Daily Nation Online

Story by ELIAS MAKORI in Addis Ababa
Publication Date: 5/20/2007

Has the world seen the last of Kenenisa Bekele’s powerful running in the middle and long distance races? Is this the end of an era?

A couple of months ago, these would hardly have been questions to ask. I for one could never have imagined that the stocky Kenenisa could blow his turbo so soon before the World Championships in Osaka this summer, or next year’s Olympics in Beijing.

But on Friday evening, the Olympic and world champion made a startling revelation: that he has never recovered from the disastrous 12-kilometre race at the 35th World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa in March, leading to the big question of whether or not we have seen the last of Ethiopia’s “pocket rocket.”

In an interview at one of his residences near the embassy of Gabon in Addis Ababa, Kenenisa almost broke into tears as he narrated how he has unsuccessfully tried to pull himself together since falling off in the last lap of the Mombasa race and losing his world title to Eritrean rival, Zersanay Tadesse.

Loss of form

Kenenisa is so off-form that he even doubts his chances of competing at the World Championships in Osaka in August. He has ruled out an assault on the 10,000m and 5,000m double in the Japan meet should he miraculously bounce back.

So low was his morale that as this interview dragged into his 4pm training time, he sat on, pensively, without any sense of urgency. Instead, it was his brother, Tariku, who begged to leave on time for the afternoon run on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, perhaps with an increasing awareness that sooner rather than later the weight of an expectant nation will shift from Kenenisa’s hitherto strong shoulders onto his young, inexperienced ones.

The Sunday Nation also spoke to Kenenisa’s father, 82-year-old Bekele Bayicha, brother Tariku, coach Woldemeskel Kostre and his distance running mentor, Haile Gebrselassie. And all of them were at a loss of words over Bekele’s sudden loss of form.

Bad dream

Not even frequent trips to the doctor have revealed the source of Kenenisa’s loss of the power that endeared him to many fans and made him the athlete to beat in distance running.

As he spoke on Friday evening, everyone around him, including his brother Tariku and his house helps, fought off tears. The story did not seem real. It was like a bad dream.

A combination of the Kenyan coast’s heat and humidity, a bad game plan on his part, knee injury and lack of a lap counter at the Mombasa Golf Course all contributed to the fall of one of the world’s greatest athletes ever.

Throughout the interview on Friday, six words he uttered stood out and summed up his feelings: “I have no power any more.”

Kenenisa’s training plans have never been able to get off the ground since the Mombasa championships, and the man from Bekoji in the Oromiya region, Ethiopia’s athletics breadbasket, is devastated.

“After Mombasa, my leg muscles felt like they were arm muscles,” Kenenisa told his sad tale.

“I felt dizzy, and two weeks later I had pain in my knee. I did not know that when I was running in Mombasa I hurt my knee. I have gone to see many doctors and they say it was a muscle tissue injury, which will get better through massage.

“I have seen many doctors but they all tell me that I’m not ill. But I feel I have no power any more.

“Previously, for example, I was able to lift this table (coffee table in his living room) but now I struggle to do this. I have no power any more?

“When I do hard training sometimes I have this pain in my head which I cannot resist? I don’t have power in my body any more?. sometimes I train well one day and the next day I cannot train well? I need time to recover.”

It was at this point of the interview that the room fell silent as Kenenisa almost broke down.

But he came around and pointed out that his physical condition was so bad that he would have to drastically scale down his international competitions.

“Normally, I run 16 competitions a year but this year I think I will run only five,” he said. “After the World Championships (in Osaka) I will probably run only three.”

He will be only 25 on June 13, but Kenenisa’s international resume reads as though he has been in top flight athletics for the last 20 years.

Sample this: 2001 world junior cross country champion; 2001 world short course cross country silver medallist; 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 double world short and long course cross country champion; 1999 world youth 3,000m silver medalist; 2000 world junior 5,000m bronze medalist; 2003,2005 world 10,000m champion; 2003 world championships 5,000m silver medalist and 2003 All Africa Games 5,000m champion.

The list goes on: 2004 Olympic 10,000m champion; 2004 Olympic 5,000m silver medalist; 2006 world indoor 3,000m champion and 2006 African 5,000m champion.

Before the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenenisa, who runs for the Muger Cement Club in Addis Ababa and is managed by Dutchman Jos Hermens, had not lost a cross country race since December 2001.

Could his sudden loss of form be a burnout, a result of running too fast too soon?

He doesn’t think so: “My schedule in the last four or five years has not changed. Moreover, this is only the beginning of the 2007 season. After a break from 2006, how can I lose power at this time?”

However, the soft-spoken king of distance running said he was happy with the Kenyan crowd at the Mombasa championships, but observed that the lack of a lap counter in the 12km race was partly to blame for his loss to Eritrea’s Zersanay Tadesse.

“There was no lap counter, it was too hot and the opposition was strong. With such weather and conditions, how did they (organisers) expect us to know the number of laps without a lap counter,” he wondered.

“After finishing four laps, I thought I was going for the final lap only to be told at the bell that there was one more lap! I could not control my body any more and I could not afford another kick to the finish and that’s why I dropped off with a few metres to go – I just could not control my body.

“But I was happy with the Kenyans. Wherever I went, in the hotel and everywhere else, they were happy to see me and said I had added value to the championships by coming.

“I love the Kenyan people but I was not happy with the radio announcements and some internet articles that said I was a bad loser in Mombasa. I always try my best to compete. Sport is not only about winning and I will always respect the Kenyan people,” he said.

Like his brother, Tariku also did not finish the 12km race in Mombasa due to the heat and humidity.

“We have never seen conditions like this before,” Tariku said. “It was too hot and I could not finish the race.”

“But although I dropped out in the early laps, I could not believe my eyes when Kenenisa dropped out? I have no words to say how I felt? the course was also very hard, it was like running on a motor racing track!”

Kenenisa and Tariku’s father, Bayicha Bekele, lives with his third wife, mother of the two stars, in Bekoji town, some 200 kilometres outside Addis Ababa in a house Kenenisa built for him.

When the Sunday Nation caught up with him midweek, he read malice in the decision to have the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa. A deliberate ploy to have his son dethroned.

“The weather was terrible! I could not believe my son dropped out of the race,” he said. “I think having the race under such conditions was deliberate. But its God’s will and God sees everything.”


Woldemeskel Kostre, Ethiopia’s award-winning coach of the middle and long distance races, was also unable to explain what happened in Mombasa.

But what has shocked him most is the fact that Bekele has never recovered. “He needs support to get his form back. But from the way I see it, it will take time.”
The sentiments are shared by Haile Gebrselassie, arguably the world’s best ever long distance runner.

“Kenenisa learnt a lot from me and I have also learnt a lot from him. What happened in Mombasa was unbelievable. But I’m sure he will be back,” Gebrselassie said in his eighth floor office of the eight storey Alem Building that he built from his track earnings and named after his wife.

He added: “Kenenisa has achieved a lot. But sometimes when you grow older you lose speed and when the youngsters come up, it is difficult to challenge them.”

The exact extent of Kenenisa’s loss of form and power will be clearer in 10 days’ time when he competes in the 3,000 metres, his first race of the track season, in Hengelo, The Netherlands, at a meeting organised by his manager Hermens.

Maybe only then will the world know whether this is really the beginning of the end of Kenenisa Bekele’s illustrious running career.

But as it stands, Kenenisa is not the same “pocket rocket” that the world knew. His turbo seems to have blown.

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