LONDON (AP) — So much has gone wrong lately for Kenenisa Bekele. Yet there is this tantalizing possibility at the London Games:
With one more gold medal, or two if he enters the 5,000 meters, he would probably sweep past Ethiopian compatriot Haile Gebrselassie as the greatest distance runner in history.
Bekele, driven by intense pride, is coming back to defend his two long-distance Olympic titles. He was winding down high-altitude training close to Addis Ababa on Tuesday, preparing to fly to London. On Saturday, he has a shot to become the first runner to win three straight 10,000-meter Olympic titles.
But a lot is working against him. Several years of injuries have hurt his performances and his results this summer have been remarkably out of character — an also-ran in four Diamond League races at 5,000 meters.
But never count Bekele out. After he walked off halfway though the 10,000 at last year’s world championships seemingly spent for the year, he came back two weeks later to set the fastest time of the season over the distance.
“He has confidence again,” his agent, Jos Hermens, told The Associated Press.
“He has no physical problems now,” Hermens added. “He was overraced and overtrained but now he is fully back to fitness.”
Hermens said the overracing could be blamed on conflicting information from his federation on what he needed to do to qualify for the games.
When he set the season’s best time last September, that should have been enough, Bekele thought. But signals changed, and he adapted his schedule at the last moment, adding races and training furiously.
He is a man used to winning, fired by a devastating finishing kick. Now he sees runners fleeing past him to the finishing line.
“There was too much training in too little time,” Hermens said. A ninth- place finish in Paris on July 6 especially hurt.
He has been regrouping at home since.
There, too, things haven’t gone the way he wanted. He disliked training on the hard Mondo track in Addis Ababa. He says it was made for sprinters instead of Ethiopia’s top-class distance runners, and that made it tough on injuries.
So he built his own soft track close to his home, although construction delays meant he couldn’t start training on it until May.
He has the ability to improve on short notice. In 2009, when he struggled with injury, he came back quickly to win a long-distance double at the world championships in Berlin.
It is his drive to be the best, to outshine even Gebrselassie, that pushes him forward. With so much attention on sprinter Usain Bolt — with his three gold medals to match three world records in Beijing — Bekele felt his double never got enough credit. He even considered challenging Bolt to a race, over 600 meters, to see who was truly the best.
They will both run again Saturday. Bolt starts his defense of his 100-meter title. For Bekele, it’s the 10,000, with so much on the line.