Bekele draws inspiration from previous
Phil Minshull for IAAF
25 March 2001 - Kenenisha Bekele drew inspiration from
the three last Ethiopians to win the world junior men's cross country title to take his
first gold medal on a global stage.
Assefa Mezegebu, Million Wolde and Hailu Mekonen, winners
of the junior titles in 1995, 1998 and 1999 respectively, are all training partners of
Bekele and provided him with invaluable advice on how to go one better than the silver
medals he won at the 1999 IAAF World Youth Championships over 3000m and at the 2000 IAAF
World Junior Championships over 5000m.
"They have all helped me a lot, so has Haile
Gebrselassie. We all train very hard when we are together in our European training base in
Holland," Bekele said, in a faltering mixture of English and Dutch.
There was nothing hesitant about the way he won his first
world title though, pulling away from his solitary challenger Kenya's Duncan Lebo barely
halfway into the race and then romping through the mud in a fashion that gave no
suggestion to the fact he had 24 hours earlier taken the silver medal in the senior men's
Bekele was to the fore from the gun, initially taking the
pace with Kenya's Nicholas Kemboi, as a familiar pack of four Kenyans and three Ethiopians
separated themselves from the rest of the 152-strong field. Kemboi and Lebo briefly turned
the screw in a bid to shake off their Ethiopian rivals and were successful apart from the
Bekele and Lebo broke away on the second of four laps to
put distant between themselves and Kemboi while behind them the American pair of Dathan
Ritzenheim and Matthew Tegenkamp had run a more measure first half of the race to steadily
move up to 4th and 5th.
However, once Bekele put his foot down on the accelerator
midway through the third lap neither the energy-sapping mud nor the near-freezing
conditions could stop him. Lebo settled for second a long time before the finishing line
"I always knew I could win," the
ultra-confident Bekele said. "Now I feel tired but very happy. This has been a very
hard weekend. Some people have already said I looked as though I won the race easily but I
can tell you it was not easy. After running yesterday, my legs are very tired," added
Bekele crossed the line after slogging his way around
7.7km in 25:04, with Lebo eventually coming home 33 seconds later. Despite the distance
between them, Lebo felt no sense of disappointment at finishing second for the second
consecutive year. "This winter has been very difficult. I had a lot of problems with
my left knee and for several months I was running with a lot of pain and getting poor
results in Kenyan races. Some days I even missed training. It was only when we were in
training camp and a doctor looked at it that it was treated properly," said the man
who counts Patrick Ivuti and
Charles Kamathi as his training partners.
However after three successive silver medals at world
championships, he also won the IAAF World Junior Championships 10,000 silver medal last
October in Santiago. He doesn't want to get a reputation as someone who always falls short
on the big occasion. "Now the pressure is on me to get a gold soon," he ruefully
Behind the leading pair, Dathan Ritzenheim got the United
States' first junior men's medal since Keith Brantley came third back in 1981. In the
final kilometre, Ritzenheim realised he had a chance of getting on the podium and surged
past Kemboi, who was to finish fourth.
"I came into this race joked about the fact that we
had little experience facing the Africans, and were just hoping to beat one of them,"
the Michigan schoolboy laughed. "I just didn't know what to expect coming into this
race so I thought I would just commit myself and go out hard".
Kenya took the team gold medals from Ethiopia but only by
the narrowest of margins, 24 points to 25, the highest winning tally in 21 years. Uganda
came through strongly in the second half of the race to win the bronze medals for the
second year in succession, confirming the breakthrough they achieved in 2000 when they won
their first ever world cross country medals.