Sunday, July 15, 2007

Kenenisa Watch

Ever since the World Cross Country Championships in Kenya back in March, it has been hard to gauge how Kenenisa Bekele may fare through the rest of the 2007 season. We got a chance to see him win the Two Miles race at Thales FBK Games in Hengelo, Netherlands at the end of May. However, there was no serious competition in that race and the winning time was quite slow, so the race did not provide a good indication of Kenenisa’s fitness level.

The next chance to see Kenenisa was at the Pre Classic in Eugene, Oregon, USA. However, that never happened because
Kenenisa pulled out of the meet citing lack of fitness. His agent announced at the time that Kenenisa would compete next in Lausanne, Switzerland at Athletissima on July 10.

After anxiously waiting for several weeks, July 10th finally arrived but once again there was no Kenenisa at the meet. In fact, it looked like most of the Ethiopians scheduled to compete there had cancelled their appearance. Incidentally, Lausanne is the training base for Ethiopian born Bahraini Maryam Jamal (aka Zenebech Tola) and she had a nice victory in the 1500M in front of her home crowd. Anyway, there was no explanation as to why Kenenisa did not run the 5000M race as expected in Lausanne. Was he still feeling the lingering effect of the punishing race in Mombasa months ago?

Now Kenenisa is scheduled to run the 3000M TODAY at the
Norwich Union British Grand Prix in Sheffield, England. It is interesting that Kenenisa switched from a 5000M on July 10th to a 3000M on July 15th. It could be that he needed the extra few days of training or rest but I believe the switch was made for a different reason. The last lap of the race in Hengelo showed that Kenenisa still has a blistering finishing speed. But it is still questionable whether his overall strength is as good as it once was.

A loss for Kenenisa at 5000M (his specialty) would really bring his value down whereas a loss at 3000M (not his specialty) could easily be written off. In other words, the 3000M is a safe race for Kenenisa which may be an indication that his fitness is not quite there yet. The
3000M today has a strong field including Australian Craig Mottram and Kenyan Abraham Chebii. But Kenenisa himself has sounded very confident in his comments regarding the race:

“I relish the opportunity to run against a class field, like Craig Mottram and Mo Farah , it will help me with my World Championship preparation. My focus is now to have a great summer, starting with the Norwich Union British Grand Prix in Sheffield, where I know I will be competing with strong competitors. It will be my first race at the Don Valley stadium and I am really looking forward to it. I am feeling good and looking forward to the challenge.”

I stated earlier that the 3000M is a safe race for Kenenisa where he can gain more than he can lose. But based on the above comment, it could also be that he has complete confidence in his fitness and that he wants to avenge for his loss to Mottram at the World Cup last year, and Tariku’s (his younger brother) loss to Mottram at Pre Classic and at the Golden Spike in Ostrava.

Mottram himself is anticipating the face-off with Kenenisa also. He expects that Sileshi Sihine’s performance in the 5000M at the Rome Golden Gala would give him indication on Kenenisa’s fitness. Well, Sileshi won the 5000M in Rome on Friday in the fastest time of the year so far. Therefore, at least according to Mottram, it could be an indication that Kenenisa is fit.

I will be
eagerly watching this race (also the Women’s 3000M which Tirunesh Dibaba will be running) to see if Kenenisa comes out the victor over Mottram. Mottram is an undeniably talented athlete in his own right, however, his new found confidence in running has his mouth running as much as his feet. After beating Tariku Bekele two weeks ago in the 5000M race in Ostrava, this is what Mottram had to say after the race:

"And I felt (Tariku) Bekele come up with 650 to go I thought, ‘Ok, let's get it on.' I dropped his brother doing the same thing last year and figured he's not quite that good yet, I'll smash him too. I held him out. I didn't run great, and Bekele probably didn't run his best race either. But the world championship race might be like that. And you just have to make the most of the situation."
I doubt that Kenenisa’s fitness is back where it needs to be for the summer season, but I hope in the heat of competition he will find the strength somewhere to hand one back to the talking Aussie.
Update: Women's 3000M race has just got underway. Tirunesh Dibaba was NOT among the starters although she was expected to be. Perhaps she is continuing to have trouble in her training?
*Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya has won the race in 8:43.85. She led for almost the entire race and looked very smooth and confident throughout.
Update: Men's 3000M race has just started... Kenenisa in there. Appears nervous but trying to smile at the start. Click here for a complete update on the Men's 3000M.