Bekele emerges from Gebrselassie’s shadow
Ahead of the men’s 10,000m everyone was asking the same question: could the great Haile Gebrselassie really do it again? Having won the Olympic title twice, the Ethiopian had been crowned world champion four times and spent more than a decade at the top of world athletics. Could he stay there in Athens?
It seemed far from certain. For one thing, Gebrselassie was carrying the effects of an injury that had hampered his preparations for these Games. For another, he had been beaten in the world championships the previous year, by his less feted compatriot Kenenisa Bekele. Having spent so many years being the best in the world, it now seemed that Gebrselassie might not even be the best distance runner in Ethiopia any more.
There was a third Ethiopian in the final in the shape of Sileshi Sihine and the three compatriots started with confidence and typically acute tactical acumen. After running the first quarter of the race at a comfortable tempo, they increased the pace and began to split the field. With less than half the race run, half of the field had already dropped out of realistic contention for a medal.
As more contenders fell by the wayside, it was also becoming evident that Gebrselassie was struggling to match the pace of his two compatriots. Sihine and Bekele actually slowed slightly to allow him to run with them, but with three laps left, they broke away from him and it was clear that the Gebrselassie era had come to an end, along with his chances of winning a medal.
Instead, Bekele and Sihine battled for the podium positions with the Eritrean Zersenay Tadesse and Uganda's Boniface Kiprop. It proved a brief contest, with the two Ethiopians establishing a clear lead before Bekele sealed victory with a quite stunning closing lap of 53 seconds. Tadesse took bronze to earn Eritrea's first Olympic medal since the country had gained independence 20 years earlier.
Out of respect for their illustrious compatriot, Bekele and Sihine delayed their celebrations until Gebrselassie had crossed the line in fifth position. The three men then ran their victory lap together.