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Bekele Wins Sixth World XC Long Course Title Depite Losing Shoe
**Dibaba Sisters Also Earn Gold**
By David Monti
(c) 2008 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EDINBURGH (30-Mar) -- Seated at the post-race press conference with a pair of medals around his neck, Kenenisa Bekele looked more like a king who had restored order to his kingdom than a man who had just won a muddy and bone chilling cross country race.  But the five-time double IAAF World Cross Country Champion had indeed put down a rebellion to clinch his sixth individual 12-K title, foiling a conspiracy which began last Friday at London's Heathrow Airport.

First, his Ethiopian Airways flight from Addis Ababa arrived far enough behind schedule that he missed his connecting flight to Edinburgh.  Tired, he decided to spend the night at the airport, missing yesterday's pre-race press conference.  His Saturday breakfast didn't agree with him, and his stomach problems only grew as the day wore on.

"The day before yesterday there was a delay and I spent the night in London," Bekele recounted.  He continued: "I had to get up three or four times (last night) to go to the bathroom."

Still not feeling 100% this morning, Bekele now had defending champion Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea and a team of nine strong Kenyans to worry about, and it didn't take long for trouble to strike.  Just six minutes into the race, another athlete stepped on the back of Bekele's left shoe, knocking it partially off and forcing him to stop on a tight turn surrounded by dozens of his rivals to fix it.

"After the shoe came off I had to think a lot about what I would have to do to win the race," he said.

While his wife looked on (he was only told after the race that she almost fainted when she saw his shoe come undone) Bekele removed the shoe the rest of the way in order to slip it back on properly.  He fell well back in the field, perhaps losing 15 seconds.  Keeping a cool head, Bekele slowly began to catch up again to the leaders, including Tadese who was on the front and pushing the pace.

"At first I didn't realize that he lost his shoe," Tadese said later.  "I looked around and he wasn't there."

But the Kenyans were, and they tried to take full advantage of the situation.  Joseph Ebuya, Augustine Choge, Leonard Patrick Komon and nearly the entire Kenyan team were amongst the leaders at that point.  In the middle of the 4th kilometer, Bekele was back in 12th place, two kilometers later he was running eighth, and by the 8th kilometer he was in fourth, covering Tadese's repeated surges.

"I didn't worry about being fourth," Bekele explained.  "You have plenty of time to catch up."

Tadese, Ebuya, Komon and Bekele had built up a small gap on the field, thanks to Tadese's leadership.  It quickly became clear that the individual medals would come from this group, and all looked to be in contention for the win.

Fully recovered from the shoe incident, Bekele decided it was time to settle who would win gold.  Early in the 11th kilometer he pushed, and his two-step lead quickly became ten meters.  Tadese knew it was over.

"When I started the competition, I started to win," said Tadese.  "When there was one lap to go I knew I wasn't going to win it."

Bekele descended the steep hill just before the finish with a decisive lead.  He slowed slightly in the homestretch to enjoy his history-making victory in 34:38, a remarkable time considering the sticky mud throughout the course and the howling winds.  Komon got away from Tadese to take the silver medal in 34:41, while the Eritrean beat back Ebuya's challenge to snag the bronze.  Komon and Ebuya led the Kenyan squad to their third consecutive team title, putting five men in the top-10 and scoring 39 points to Ethiopia's 105.  Qatar, their team loaded with former Kenyan nationals, finished third.  The USA's Jorge Torres was the top finisher not born in Africa, finishing 19th.

"I wanted top ten today," said Torres.  "These guys are really fit.  I'm a little disappointed."

Bekele demurred when asked if his victory here was historic.  "I leave the judging to you in the media," he said.


In convincing style, both 17 year-old Genzebe Dibaba and 23 year-old Tirunesh Dibaba won their respective junior and senior women's titles, becoming the first sisters ever to win IAAF World Cross Country titles in the same meeting.  Moreover, they also led their teams to gold medal performances over their Kenyan rivals.

Genzebe was the first sister to claim victory today.  Staying tucked in the pack while Australia's Tamara Carvolth led for most of the first two kilometers, the younger Dibaba bided her time.  Carvolth soon faded (she would finish 34th), and Dibaba was in a lead pack of ten women through 4-K.  Bib sister Tirunesh was watching.

"I was more nervous for her than myself," Tirunesh said later.

Genzebe didn't get away from her closest rival, Kenya's Irine Chepet Cheptai, until cresting the course's one steep hill the second time, descending like a downhill skier, and rocketing through the finish line in 19:59.  Chepet got silver five seconds back, while Ethiopian's Emebt Etea got third two seconds later.

"I am happier for her gold than myself," said the older Dibaba.

As for Tirunesh, who gave up her World Cross Country title last year to the Netherlands's Lornah Kiplagat, she seemed in danger of finishing outside of the medals when she found herself in fourth place at 6-K (she had been running as far back as 15th earlier in the race).  Up ahead, teammates Gelete Burka and Mestawet Tufa were battling with Kenya's Linet Masai for the victory.

Dibaba, who often suffers from abdominal pain when she races, said that it didn't bother her that much today, lifting her confidence that she could still win.

"I did expect that I could move up and join them," she said of her teammates.  "I was not worried."

Burka opened up a big lead, but soon came back and the four women were together for the final time up the hill.  Dibaba pushed past Burka, and none of her three opponents could respond.  She had a clear lead as she began her descent, rolling to the finish line in 25:10, five seconds ahead of Tufa.  Masai got the bronze in 25:18, while Burka --rubbing a side stitch as she finished-- slowed badly in the final meters and faded to sixth.

Australia's Benita Johnson, the 2004 champion, was the top finisher who was not born in Africa, crossing in 11th place.  Although disappointed with her performance, she led her team (managed by Sonia O'Sullivan) to a bronze medal by a narrow three-point margin over the Americans, 84 to 87.  Surprisingly, America's top finisher was Emily Brown of Team USA Minnesota in 18th place, a graduate student in nutrition.

"Everyone has a different race strategy," said the plain-spoken Brown who was only in 39th place after the first lap and slowly worked her way up.  "It was tough."


The annual slugfest between Kenya and Ethiopia in the junior men's race continued for yet another year, with athletes from those two countries taking ten of the top-15 positions in the race.  Getting the individual victory with a superb final sprint, was Ethiopia's Ibrahim Jeilan in 22:38.  His teammate Ayele Abshero was second in 22:40, while Kenya's Lucas Kimeli Rotich was third, two seconds back.  Kenya won the team title with 21 points, placing four men in the top-7: 3-5-6-7.  Ethiopia got second (28 points) and Uganda third (37).

 #  #  #  #  #  #

African dominance at these championships was nearly absolute.  They won all twelve individual medals, and nine of the twelve team medals, including all four golds.

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