ATHENS, Greece -- Kenenisa Bekele crossed the finish line,
took a few deep breaths and then waited for his mentor. A pained
Haile Gebrselassie arrived 22 seconds later and the two Ethiopians
hugged -- the old champion giving way to the new.
Sprinting the final lap, Bekele ended Gebrselassie's eight-year
reign as Olympic 10,000-meter champion on Friday night, smashing
his training partner's Olympic record by more than two seconds.
The two then clasped hands and joined yet another countryman,
silver medalist Sileshi Sihine, in a victory lap beneath their
green, yellow and red flag.
Bekele finished in 27 minutes, 5.10 seconds. Sihine, about 30
meters behind Bekele, clocked 27:09.39, followed by Zersenay
Tadesse of Eritrea in 27:22.57. Gebrselassie, pained by a left
Achilles injury in the final track appearance of his magnificent
career, finished fifth in 27:27.70.
The 31-year-old Gebrselassie, who plans to move up to the
marathon, began showing the strain with seven laps remaining in the
25-lap race. His face contorted, he fell behind the leaders and
looked as if he was going to stop. But after struggling through the
last few laps, his face broke into a giant smile as he crossed the
"It was very hard. I'm very close just to stop the
competition," Gebrselassie said, limping away from the track. "I
wanted to keep up with them. It didn't happen. I am so happy for
the Ethiopians except for myself. I tried to push."
Bekele and Sihine slowed midway through the race so Gebrselassie
could join them.
"We believed he could catch up to us," Bekele said. "When we
realized he couldn't make it, we had to go."
In the 10,000, which is 6.2 miles, Bekele raced through the
final 400 meters in 53.02 -- less than 10 seconds off the 400 world
Now Bekele will try to become the first man in 24 years to
complete the rare distance double by winning the 5,000. The only
other men to win both the 5,000 and 10,000 at an Olympics are Emil
Zatopek (1948), Vladimir Kuts (1956), Lasse Viren (1972 and 1976)
and Miruts Yifter (1980).
Yifter, an Ethiopian, was an inspiration for Gebrselassie -- who
in turn became Bekele's teacher.
The soft-spoken Bekele, who broke Gebrselassie's world records
with new marks in the 5,000 (12:37.35) and 10,000 (26:20.31) within
a nine-day span this spring, said his final lap was nothing
"I'm very happy, of course. I'm Olympic champion," Bekele
said. "I have good speed on the last lap. No problem. It's not
difficult for me."
"The last lap just came to me. I did not make any special
effort. I just wanted to win the race."
Will he have any energy left for the 5,000?
Bekele smiled and said, "I think so."