HENGELO, The Netherlands – Those fortunate enough to secure a ticket to
this afternoon’s 26th edition of the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games in
Hengelo witnessed a pair of stellar performances that will not be
quickly forgotten: a legend of the sport who stubbornly and thankfully
refuses to step aside, and the possible birth of another.
14 years after setting his first world record on the Hengelo track,
Haile Gebrselassie returned to the venue carrying the role of
sentimental favorite in the 10,000m, but in reality was an underdog in
his quest to achieve a qualifying performance for a fourth consecutive
Olympic team berth.
With two spots open for the mighty Ethiopian 10,000 squad for Beijing,
Gebrselassie, now 35 and with his attentions firmly focused on the
marathon, needed to finish at least second among the formidable group
of Ethiopians in the field. And "Mr. Hengelo" fulfilled his goal in
quite impressive fashion, giving Ethiopian selectors plenty to think
about over the next few weeks.
Running near the front throughout, Gebrselassie tucked in behind
Olympic silver medallist and compatriot Sileshi Sihine for much of the
proceedings, and in the latter stages, when only the pair, along with
Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Leonard Patrick Komon remained in
contention, he even took his turn with the lead.
The younger Sileshi’s kick didn’t disappoint as he cruised to a
26:50.53 victory, but Gebrselassie wasn’t far behind, gliding to a
runner-up finish in 26:51.20. They were the two quickest performances
of the year and for Gebrselassie, a major step towards Beijing.
"Running under 27 minutes was my goal," said Gebrselassie, who won
back-to-back Olympic titles in the event in 1996 and 2000 before
finishing fifth in 2004. "It was a good time, it might be enough to
send me to Beijing. Now we have to wait and see the results from a few
other 10,000m races over the next few weeks. And then the federation
will decide." Visibly pleased, Gebrselassie knows that his spot is not
yet secure. "We ran just 26:50 today, so you never know."
Kipchoge (26:54.32) and Komon (26:57.08) both also dipped under 27
minutes while Gebre Gebremariam, the recently-minted African champion,
struggled in the waning stages and finished a distant seventh in
While Gebreselassie received most of the afternoon’s attention, the
athletics world may have witnessed the birth of a new star in the frame
of Kenyan Pamela Jelimo.
After making waves with her 1:58.70 800m victory at the African
Championships in the high altitude of Addis Ababa last month, the
19-year-old burst onto the international scene here with a jaw-dropping
1:55.76 victory, by far the day’s most impressive display of running.
Powering to the front as she entered the back stretch, Jelimo stretched
her lead through the bend and extended it down the homestretch, slowing
little through the finish to become the 20th fastest in history in this
her first race on the international circuit.
Her reward was a world junior record, smashing the 1:57.18 set by
China’s Yuan Wang in Beijing in 1993. And Jelimo’s initial reaction?
"I’m very happy," said Jelimo, who won by nearly three seconds over
Maryam Jamal (1:58.66), the reigning world 1500m champion. "Next time I
think I can go much faster." A former sprinter, Jelimo only took up the
event three months ago. After crossing the line, she said, she had
plenty in reserve.
The waning stages of her run were reminiscent to Janeth Jepkosgei’s
gun-to-tape Kenyan record of 1:56.04 at last summer’s World
championships. Except Jelimo was considerably faster. Both are expected
to race at the AF Golden League opener in Berlin on June 1.
Lucia Klocova of Slovakia was third (1:59.76) with Dutchwoman Yvonne Hak fourth with a personal best 2:00.10.
Kenenisa Bekele won the 5000m handily, but fell well short of his World
record of 12:37.35 set on this track four years ago. The Ethiopian was
already alone seven minutes into the race, reaching the 3000m split in
7:44.17, seven seconds behind his intended target. With no opposition,
he went on to cruise towards the finish, crossing the line in 12:58.94,
another world leader on the afternoon. Kenyan Edwin Soi was a distant
second in 13:13.88.
Recently-minted African 1500m champion Gelete Burka made her first
5000m appearance of the season a notable success. Taking the lead at
the bell, the 22-year-old Ethiopian broke from a strung out pack of ten
to cruise to a solid 14:45.84 victory.
"The race was very good," she said, adding that a win over compatriot
Meselech Melkamu was an added bonus. "Yes, I’m very happy with that."
Melkamu was second (14:46.25), with Belaynesh Fikadu (14:46.84)
completing an Ethiopian top-3 sweep. Linet Masai was rewarded with her
mid-race front-running with a 14:47.14 PB, finishing fourth ahead of
Priscah Jepleting (14:50.98). Despite the afternoon’s strong winds,
eight of the first 11 ran to career bests.
Elsewhere, unheralded Dutchman Robert Lathouwers pulled of an
impressive upset with his 1:45.80 victory, taking down some major
players including reigning World champion Afred Kirwa Yego (third in
1:46.06) and Moroccan Amine Laalou (1:46.02). It was a personal best
for the 24-year-old from Rotterdam, and his first dip into sub-1:46
Richard Mateelong turned in an impressive win in the 3000m
Steeplechase, a solid performance not necessarily indicative of his
8:13.00 clocking. Fellow Kenyan Benjamin Kiplagat was second (8:14.29),
a personal best.