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Kenenisa Bekele




Bekele eyes 'amazing' win as elite men chase Olympic places

With 21 global titles and countless records to his name, distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele could be forgiven for kicking back his heels and taking it easy. 

But at 41 and with a quarter of a century at the top of the sport, the Ethiopian still has at least one major marathon goal in mind as he lines up for the elite men’s race on Sunday – to win the elusive TCS London Marathon title. 

Despite five attempts and two podium finishes, the former world record holder has never claimed the champion’s crown at the world’s greatest race and regards it as a missing honour among his glittering array of achievements, a gap in his long and detailed sporting CV he would dearly love to fill. 

“If there’s a chance for me to win in London, that would be really amazing,” he said. “I’m very happy to be back here again.  

“It’s a been a long career for me. I’ve been running since 1999, almost 25 years, so it’s not a short time in any sport. 

“But I’m happy to be running still and I enjoy it a lot. The secret is hard work and trying to be on the top every time.” 

Being on top is what Bekele has been used to. He has clinched three Olympic and five World Championship golds on the track, plus 11 World Cross Country titles, before moving up to the marathon where he swiftly enjoyed victories in Paris and Berlin, his second in the German capital coming in 2:01:41, making him the third fastest ever at 26.2 miles. 

Although further wins have eluded him over the last five injury-plagued years, Bekele’s ambition remains as strong as ever as he continues to notch up notable achievements – most recently last year when he broke the world masters’ record for over-40s in Valencia. 

His time there of 2:04:19 would certainly put him in touching distance of the London podium again, if not the title itself – and with that possibly his other “big goal” of selection for the Paris Olympic Games this summer. 

“I will do my best to qualify, of course, but all the athletes here are good, so it’s going to be a big challenge,” he said. “It doesn’t matter too much. I’ve been to many Olympics. If I win here I will qualify but if I just perform well I’ll be happy.” 

A big challenge indeed, for Bekele is only one of eight talented Ethiopian men chasing Olympic places in a field that features five sub-2:04 runners and 10 who have broken 2:05:30. 

Two of those are Bekele’s compatriots and fellow London podium finishers Tamirat Tola, the reigning New York City Marathon champion who was third here last year, and Leul Gebresilase, the world bronze medallist who was second here in 2022 and fourth 12 months ago. 

Tola, in particular, is in confident mood as he seeks to add the London crown to his New York title. 

“[Winning in] London is not easy but I worked hard to win New York and my training has all been OK since then, so I’m ready,” he said. “I did what the coach wanted me to do and I’m ready to win. We’ll see. 

“I’ve trained hard [to qualify for Paris], but it depends on the federation,” Tola added. “Maybe if I’m on the podium again I will get it.” 

Gebresilase said: “One hundred per cent the marathon on Sunday is what’s important for selection. But first I must think about the competition here. That’s the focus.” 

For all three it’s a focus sharpened by the knowledge that a first London victory for them would follow last year’s stunning win by Kelvin Kiptum, the young Kenyan world record-breaker whose tragic death in a car crash in February has denied the marathon world a uniquely gifted talent. 

As one who has graced the pinnacles of distance running, Bekele knows better than most what a loss it was. 

“I was very sorry about what happened to him,” he said. “He is greatly missed. Even in his short time in the sport he set such an amazing history. And of course he has the course record here. 

“We all remember him. He’s in our hearts.”