A year ago Bekele broke the 5,000 m world indoor record, which was held by his well-known compatriot Haile Gebrselassie. After that he won two gold medals at the World Cross Country Championships, got the world record at 5,000 m and 10,000 m and became Olympic Champion. Now Bekele came back to Birmingham, but the mourning Bekele is but a shadow of his former self.
The 22 year-old looks almost clumsy in contrast to the past. His explosive final sprint seems to be almost disappeared. In the two mile race his compatriot Markos Geneti ran away at the end and won in 8:14,28 minutes. He was clearly ahead of Bekele. Only two months before it had looked quite different. Kenenisa Bekele won a Cross Country in Spain in superior style. It was the first race after his 10,000 m Olympic triumph. It seemed as if he was on his way to a new world record in Birmingham and to defend his title at the World Cross Country Championships.
On January 4th his life was going to change. On this day his fiancée Alem Techale died. In May they were going to marry. 17 year-old Alem Techale was one of the biggest track and field talents in Ethiopia. At the age of 15 she became the champion at the World Junior Championships at 1,500 m and had a personal best at this time of 4:14,69 minutes. Her death could not have been more tragic. During a training run in a forest near Addis Abeba the young woman collapsed. Kenenisa Bekele carried her to the car, but on the way to a hospital she succumbed to what was probably a heart attack. An autopsy was not done and the funeral had to take place the day after for religious reasons.
Bekele cancelled the start at a cross country race in Edinburgh but 25 days after the death of his fiancée he ran in Boston in a 3,000 m race. There he miscounted the laps and increased the pace one lap to early. When he thought the race was finished Ireland’s Alistair Cragg overtook him and won ahead of Bekele. Bekele had continued running after Cragg got past him. During an interview with British journalists Kenenisa Bekele began to cry.
In Birmingham he was now second again but his thoughts were somewhere else anyway. “During a race I am thinking of Alema the whole time“, Kenenisa Bekele said. “In comparison to Boston he is better now”, his Dutch agent Jos Hermens explained. He did not cry as he made himself available for a very short interview. Once, when Jos Hermens talked to him, you could even see a small smile on his face. But Bekele is marked by sorrow because of his personal tragedy. “His orthodox religion dictates a 40 day period of mourning. It is very hard for him because normally he’s not even allowed to run. But Bekele mourns while he is running“, Jos Hermens explains. As a sign of mourning he did not shave since the death of his fiancée.
„After all what happened, it is good for me to compete again”, Kenenisa Bekele said. “He was the one who wanted to go to Boston and Birmingham. I didn’t persuade him to do so”, Jos Hermens added. The indoor season is now finished for him. In Ethiopia he will start training again for the World Cross Country Championships in a month. “When he is not able to defend his title it would not be a surprise under these circumstances. But he has big potential and therefore it’s not impossible”, Jos Hermens said and announced optimistically: “In summer we will see the real Kenenisa Bekele again.”