Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Osaka: Extra - Saluting Sileshi Sihine

You gotta feel it for this guy, Sileshi Sihine, now being called "Mr. Silver." He is such a talented runner but he is unable to get out of the shadow of Kenenisa. Sileshi's talent is such that some are now referring to him as the most underrated runner of all time. But after having read Kenenisa's comment after the race, and watching the 10000 meters race several times over, I now think Sileshi should have won this race if it was not for a tactical error he made with two-and-half laps to go.

As it turns out, having run a fast paced 22 laps mostly led by Zeresenay Tadesse of Eritrea, the Kenyan Mathati jumps to the lead with three laps to go. Kenenisa gives chase with Sileshi right behind him but Zeresenay gets dropped right away. Then, with two-and-half laps to go, Kenenisa appears to lose his tight running form and at the same time turns his head back to Sileshi and gestures with his right hand.

As we now know, this is when Kenenisa tells Sileshi to go after the Kenyan because he himself is not able to do it. Short time later Sileshi senses a gap opening between Mathati and Kenenisa so he immediately passes Kenenisa and pulls right behind Matahti to make sure the Kenyan is not getting away. At this point, a gap starts to appear between Sileshi and Kenenisa and we get the first indication that Kenenisa may once again be in trouble.

I am fairly sure by this time Sileshi was thinking Kenenisa is done and he only has to contend with Mathati for the gold medal. With two laps to go Mathati backs off the pace a bit, which allows Kenenisa to catch up. With one-and-half lap to go Mathati is still leading with Sileshi following, but the two really start to pull away from Kenenisa. This is where Sileshi should have pressed and gotten away from both Kenenisa and Mathati. Instead Sileshi is content to stay behind Mathati until one lap to go but in doing so gives Kenenisa the chance to gather himself and recover (as Kenenisa himself admits).

As the bell rings for the final lap, Sileshi decides to go ahead and drops Mathati immediately (which he should have done a lap earlier) and Kenenisa also passes Mathati. As Sileshi gets into his full sprinting mode, he drops Kenenisa also but there is no way he can sustain this furious sprint to the finish. With 200 meters to go, Sileshi starts to tie up and Kenenisa catches up. Having timed his kick perfectly, Kenenisa changes gear with about 150 meter to go and passes Sileshi and pulls away to take the win.

I would bet that Sileshi was thinking that the footsteps behind him was of Mathati and not Kenenisa. Sileshi's sprint I believe was to get away from Mathati and not Kenenisa. In fact, when Kenenisa finally passes Sileshi, you can see Sileshi look to his right (expecting the Kenyan) and after seeing that it was Kenenisa, Sileshi turns again looking for Mathati. Having confirmed that Mathati is a good distance back, you can see Sileshi shutting down the engine and settling for the Silver.

As Sileshi crosses the finish line, he shakes hand with Kenenisa but never makes eye contact. He is probably thinking that Kenenisa did a number on him by telling him to go ahead after the Kenyan to only jump on him short time later after Sileshi expended his energy to preserve the gold for Ethiopia. Kenenisa appears to be unusually attentive to Sileshi after the race (giving Sileshi a flag, pulling him along for a victory lap) knowing what just transpired in the race between the two. Watch the last four laps of the race if you can, and you will clearly see all of this being played out!

Anyway, Sileshi probably learned two very important lessons from this race: first, Kenenisa is still vulnerable if the early pace is punishing; and second, Sileshi needs to run according to his own race plan. I believe Sileshi will beat Kenenisa soon. I am sure he knows that now, if he didn't before. If Sileshi runs a smart race, he might even take the gold in Beijing- a much deserved upgrade for a class act who has done so much for the Ethiopian team, but wants and deserves more than silver.


enset said...

Beautiful description of the race! Felt like I was getting a play-by-play. Now I feel I need to watch the race. Where do I go to watch it?

yekolotemari said...

Great entry. The problem, I think is with the team tactics in the Ethiopian team. They run together until the end and this lets the faster finishers to always win.

roocha said...

Enset- you can watch on-demand video (and the remaining championship races live) at There is a $4.95 subscription charge for the entire championship.

listero said...

awesome blog, keep up the great work . . .

enset: for a quick view of the analysis you can also check out

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your observation and remember thinking exactly the same thing. And during the world championship in 2007 he kicked too early and too hard eventually tiring out.

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