Want to qualify for the marathon in Tokyo Olympics: Kenenisa Bekele
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Want to qualify for the marathon in Tokyo Olympics: Kenenisa Bekele

Distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele targets breaking marathon world record and the Tokyo Olympics before quitting the sport

other sports Updated: Dec 15, 2017 22:32 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Kenenisa Bekele,Helah Kiprop,Valentine Kipketer
Kenenisa Bekele, flanked by international elite athletes Helah Kiprop (left) and Valentine Kipketer during a promotional event of the 4th edition of Kolkata 25K on Friday. (PTI)

Circumstances forced him into the marathon and it has led to Kenenisa Bekele recalibrating goals and setting sights on Tokyo.

The world record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000m and winner of three Olympic and five world championship gold medals is keen on doing the marathon in the 2020 Games.

“I really want to participate in the marathon in Tokyo. I have done many track races at Olympics and world championships and now I want to complete the circle, so to speak, by taking part in an Olympic marathon. That is my target,” said the Ethiopian long distance runner here on Friday.

At 35, Bekele, soft-spoken and said to be notoriously media-shy, knows the odds are high. “Staying fit to qualify and competing with a young generation won’t be easy but I am looking forward to that challenge.”

Bekele is here for the Tata Steel Kolkata 25k run on Sunday, his second in the shorter distance. “You stay more relaxed and it (the 25k run) is closer to the 5,000 and 10,000m,” he said.

World record target

A ruptured calf muscle followed by a dodgy knee forced him off the track and that is when Bekele decided to shift focus. “It (running marathons) sort of compensates for the years I lost. I missed racing for five-six years. Injuries made it difficult to do high speed running and speed workouts four times a week. So, I didn’t really have many options.”

But having shifted to the road, the man, once hailed as the “greatest distance runner we will ever see”, isn’t just going to make up the numbers. Bekele’s marathon career started with a win in Paris in 2014, a race where he also bettered debut times of Haile Gebrselassie, Paul Tergat and Samuel Wanjiru by clocking 2:05:04.

So if fit when Bekele said he planned to break the marathon world record of 2:02:57 set in 2014 by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in 2014 before retiring.

Despite a stop-start career hit by injuries --- this year, he was tripped and trod at the start in Dubai but finished second behind Wanjiru in London --- Bekele already has the second fastest mark of all time, 2:03:03 to win in Berlin last year.

“I am sure the record will be broken, not once maybe twice before Tokyo,” he said. Breaking the two-hour barrier would need ideal conditions and superb support systems but a timing of “2:01 and something” is possible, said Bekele.

About Mo and me

With Mo Farah switching to marathon, Bekele said he is looking forward to the kind of competition they couldn’t have on track. “I was injured when Mo came up. I am happy that he has taken to road racing. Hope, we will run each other regularly.”

Importance of role models

Bekele, who is also a businessman who runs athletes’ resorts back home with Indians on its rolls, is a self-confessed Gebrselassie fan and comes from the same town as the Dibaba sisters.

“In Ethiopia, we are taught about (double Olympic champion) Abebe Bikila. He gave us hope and there have been role models to inspire generations. There are many clubs that promote running and once you are identified as being good enough, sponsors come in. But from the thousands who run in Ethiopia, only two or three become top athletes,” said Bekele.

First Published: Dec 15, 2017 21:20 IST