By Balazs Koranyi
BEIJING (Reuters) – [More pictures] World record holder Kenenisa Bekele reasserted Ethiopia’s dominance over the 10,000 meters when he retained his Olympic title on Sunday in what he hopes will be the first leg of a long-distance double.
After tracking the lead for most of the race, Bekele let rip over the last 400 meters to finish well clear of team mate Sileshi Sihine, who also got silver behind him in Athens. Micah Kogo snatched bronze for Kenya.
“This is very special, it’s a big gift,” a radiant Bekele said. “It’s my second time to win Olympic gold (that is why) it is special.”
When asked if he thought any of the Kenyan challengers stood a chance, he said: “no chance at all.”
Bekele’s time of 27 minutes 1.17 seconds was an Olympic record, bettering the time he set in 2004.
With either Kenyans or Ethiopians dictating a brisk but not blistering pace, the lead pack slowly shed runners throughout the race. Only seven, including all three Kenyans and Ethiopians started the final two laps together.
The rapid closing burst was too much for Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, whose bid for a third gold after triumphs in 1996 and 2000 failed when he fell back to sixth in the final 200 meters.
“The only problem I have is that last 200 meters, I don’t do enough training, I need more speed work,” the Ethiopian said.
Gebrselassie, the marathon world record holder, has focused on the longer event in recent years but opted for the 10,000 in Beijing due to fears over air pollution.
“Of course today was nice weather, but what about tomorrow, and next week?” he said.
Gebrselassie said that Beijing would not be his last Olympics and he plans to compete in 2012 in London, in either the 10,000 or the marathon. In the near future, the 35-year-old will be focusing on the marathon.
Bekele will be back in action on Wednesday, in the first round of the 5,000 meters and will seek his second gold in next Saturday’s final.
East African runners took the top seven places in Sunday’s race and only Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, who finished fifth, managed to disrupt the Ethiopian-Kenyan duel.
“It was very difficult for me. I pushed the race very hard but
(Bekele) broke away and I didn’t respond,” bronze medalist Kogo told reporters.
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Gene Cherry, Martin Petty and Lee Chen)
(Editing by Ed Osmond/Keith Weir)