The son of a farmer, Kenenisa Bekele was inspired to begin running by the athletic feats of fellow Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie.
After setting a world junior record for the 3,000m in 2001, Bekele achieved his first senior success at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, where he became the first man to win the long and short races at the same championships. Bekele retained both titles in 2003 and again in 2004. At the 2003 World Championships of Athletics, Bekele won the 10,000m and finished third in the 5,000m. In the run-up to the Olympic Games in Athens, during a 10-day period, Bekele broke Gebrselassie's world records in both the 10,000m and the 5,000m.
Triumph over his idol
At the Games in Athens, he entered the 10,000m along with his idol, Gebrselassie, and a third Ethiopian, Sileshi Sihine. The Ethiopians took charge halfway through the race. When Gebrselassie began to fade, Bekele slowed down to allow him to catch up. Eventually Bekele and Sihine pulled away from the other runners, while Bekele finally drove to victory by running the last lap in 53 seconds, setting an Olympic record in the process. Eight days later, he faced 1,500m champion Hicham El Guerrouj in the final of the 5,000m. Bekele took the lead from Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya on the final lap, but with 60m to go, El Guerrouj caught him and won by two-tenths of a second, while Bekele won the silver medal.
Long- and short-distance double between 2002 and 2006
After the Athens Games, the Ethiopian prodigy continued to extend his reign over the international long-distance scene, winning the cross-country world championships every year except 2007. He even achieved the long- and short-distance double between 2002 and 2006. In 2005, Kenenisa suffered the pain of losing his fiancée, a long-distance runner like himself, during a training session. The champion managed to overcome his suffering, winning the cross-country and 10,000m world titles a few months later. It was the second of his three world titles over this distance.
Defending his title and setting a new Olympic record
When the Beijing Olympic Games opened, Kenenisa was the clear favourite in the long-distance events. On 17 August 2008, the Olympic stadium was ready to follow the 10,000m runners. The race turned out to be a tactical one, and Bekele had to control his numerous Kenyan and Ethiopian rivals. At the start of the last lap, he accelerated and continued his effort in the penultimate straight. Thanks to his acceleration, he created a good lead, and nobody could catch him. He beat the Olympic record, and kept the title he had earned four years previously. This was a feat that only the great names of athletics, such as Nurmi, Zatopek, Viren and Gebrselassie, have achieved before him. In Beijing, his compatriot and mentor, Haile Gebrselassie, finished sixth.
Leading the 5,000m right from the start
On 23 August, Kenenisa Bekela was on the starting line of the Olympic 5,000m event. He led the race from the very first kilometre. The other runners only caught him up after the finish line was crossed. Before celebrating his second Olympic title and a new Olympic record, he did not forget to congratulate his opponents. Kenenisa Bekele is not only a prodigy of middle-distance running, but also a great champion.