Kenenisa Bekele: Why I have great respect for Kipchoge

Ethiopian long distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele trains in Addis Ababa ahead of the London Marathon set for October 4, 2020.

Photo credit: Pool | Global Sports Communication

What you need to know:

  • Many tip Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion and world 10,000 metres record holder to shake Kipchoge.
  • Bekele said that the NN Running Team around him, Kipchoge and teammates has been huge motivation.

The coronavirus lockdown has been a bitter-sweet experience to Kenenisa Bekele, the world’s most decorated distance runner of all time.

The 38-year-old superstar from Bekoji in the Ethiopian Rift Valley has experienced the ebb and flow of an elite career, a regular customer on and off the injury list, worst of which was a calf rupture in 2010.

That’s why he brushes aside the fact that the pandemic subjected athletes to training in isolation.

Ethiopian long distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele trains in Addis Ababa ahead of the London Marathon set for October 4, 2020.

Photo credit: Pool | Global Sports Communication

This is a situation that he’s accustomed to, having endured various injuries in his stellar career that forced him to retreat, knock himself into shape before rejoining the fray.

NN Running Team

“This (training alone during the coronavirus lockdown) was not new to me. I had some bad injuries in my career and during those times I had to train alone to come back to good performance,” he told Nation Sport in an exclusive interview.

Bekele, who owns a resort and private, synthetic track in Sululta on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, along with various other real estate investments, is in the same management as his Kenyan rival Eliud Kipchoge.

Both run in the NN Running Team colours under the Global Sports Management camp, the branchild of former Dutch distance running record holder, Jos Hermens.

Managed out of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, the NN Running Team is also home of Kenya’s half marathon world record holder Geoffrey Kamworor and a galaxy of other wold beaters.

On October 4, Hermens will be in an awkward position when Bekele and Kipchoge clash at the London Marathon, at a time both are enjoying a stellar career on the roads, and are separated by just two seconds, in terms of personal best times over the 42-kilometre distance.

World record

In 2018, Eliud Kipchoge shattered the world marathon record in winning the Berlin Marathon in Two hours, one minute and 39 seconds.

Just 12 months later, Bekele responded by completing the distance in 2:01:41, on the same Berlin streets, despite struggling with discomfort in the first half of the race.

Bekele’s brilliant second half (negative splits) convinced many that he could, perhaps, upstage Kipchoge.

Their eagerly-awaited duel was plotted for April 26, but the London Marathon was shelved as Covid-19 struck, prompting organisers to postpone the duel to October 4.

A great ambassador

Now with the new big day just 14 days away, Bekele has nothing but respect for Kipchoge, appreciating the Kenyan’s contribution to athletics.

“I have great respect for Eliud,” he said during the interview from Addis Ababa.

“We have been competitors for a long time. He is a great ambassador for our sport and I respect him a lot.”

The October 4 London Marathon will be an elites-only race with no mass runners or spectators due to precautions over the coronavirus.

The 40th anniversary race will also see the elite races take part on a closed-loop circuit around St James’s Park, with the athletes staying in a hotel outside of London which has been chosen for its 40 acres of grounds where athletes will be able to train during race week.

The hotel and grounds will be used exclusively by athletes and support staff, plus a team from the Virgin Money London Marathon.

Bekele says racing against Kipchoge and other top elites on October 4 gives him added motivation.

“It gives me great motivation, to run in one of the greatest marathons in the world against the greatest athletes. I give myself pressure, I want to run my best race.”

Kipketer in the mix

Other Kenyans in the race include 2016 Mumbai Marathon champion Gideon Kipketer, Rotterdam Marathon champion Marius Kipserem and Amsterdam Marathon champion Vincent Kipchumba.

Besides Bekele, the Ethiopian legion has Mosinet Geremew, Mule Wasihun, Tamirat Tola, Sisay Lemma and Shura Kitata.

Bekele says it is not easy to predict the times in London, but after seeing Kipchoge’s race at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna last year, “anything is possible.”

Sub-two performances

“Running world records is not easy and difficult to predict what is possible. But seeing Kipchoge’s sub-two performances, we know anything is possible,” he said.

Generally, Bekele’s run-up to London has been fluid, unlike previous build-ups that have occasionally been affected by the odd injury.

Ethiopian long distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele stretches after training in Addis Ababa ahead of the London Marathon set for October 4, 2020.

Photo credit: Pool | Global Sports Communication

“Preparations have been good so far but not super, because of the lockdown here in Ethiopia. I had to be creative, but I am healthy and training now is going well. During the lockdown, it was not easy to do my normal training."

“I had to adapt my training programme with some more alternative training, like on the bike and gym training to remain fit with my team supporting me as usual,” said Bekele who loves spending time with his family when free.

The shifting of the big race from April to October is the least of his worries.

“I was well prepared for the London Marathon in April but as an athlete you need to be ready and flexible, so I focused on October and went on with my training.

The circuit loop too doesn’t really bother him.

In the new format, the runners will cover 19 clockwise laps of a 2.15-kilometre route around St James's Park, with a traditional finish on The Mall.

“Unfortunately, for the fans it is not possible to be on the course and I will miss that a lot.

“For an athlete, it is really important to see and hear the people cheering you, it gives one morale but I know you will be there to cheer us on television,” said Bekele.

“The course is totally different and you can never predict the weather and circumstances but I really like running laps like track races which I have done before. So I don’t know if faster times will be registered but we are hoping for the best.

“I have faith in the London Marathon organisers and what they prepared so I am confident going into the race and I will give my best because I trust my training,” said Bekele, who was training in Sululta and Entonto, mainly.

Bekele said that the NN Running Team around him, Kipchoge and teammates has been huge motivation.

“The NN Running Team around us and the connection and respect that we have with each other. It gives great knowledge and high motivation.”

He also urges athletes across the world to keep focused, keep a good day structure and concentrate on gym training without forgetting the hygiene and distancing rules as one way of keeping the virus at bay.

“Keep focused, keep a good day structure. Don’t forget your gym training. And don’t forget the hygiene and distancing rules,” implores Bekele, who is coached by fellow Ethiopian Mersha Asrat.

Many tip Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion and world 10,000 metres record holder to shake Kipchoge. Especially with his world 5,000m record having been taken by Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei just last month. The Ethiopian is seething with rage!

brotich@ke.nationmedia.com