An exchange of Olympic proportions

Aug. 23, 2004, midnight | By Kedamai Fisseha | 19 years, 9 months ago

Ethiopian distance runners start a new era of competition

The end of one reign has made way for the beginning of another. The Ethiopians crowned and coronated a new king on the Olympic track after a stunning 10,000-meter competition that the East Africans dominated last Friday, August 20.

Haile Gebre-Selassie, who has been the man in Ethiopian athletics for the past decade, ushered his highly anticipated successor Kenenisa Bekele past the finish line in a race that marked the changing of eras. Gebre-Selassie's fifth place finish ensured the end of his dominance in the sport while Bekele's first place finish marked his official entrance. Running alongside Bekele for most of the race was Sileshi Sihine, who despite a respectable second place finish, was outshone by the brilliance of the exchange between Gebre-Selassie and Bekele.

Most striking about Bekele's performance, which was fast enough to get him an Olympic record, was his kick in the last stretch of the race. After waiting for Gebre-Selassie for most of the race, Bekel's final spurt to the finish line with more than a lap to go separated him from his competitors by a large gap. Zersenay Tadesse, who took the bronze, was not able to come even close to the speeding Bekele.

Many Ethiopians in Blair and throughout the D.C. area watched the event closely on television and celebrated the results. Scores of enthusiasts packed the numerous Ethiopian restaurants and night clubs in Adams Morgan to participate in festivities late into the night on Friday, August 20.

Running has increasingly become a national interest for Ethiopians all over the world, and success in the Olympics has only added to that attraction. In Athens, a still fresh Bekele jumped, rock-star style, onto the the shoulders of screaming fans after the race. Gebre-Selassie also appeared jubilant for his young successor, telling news reporters that Bekele's win was more important than his own loss.

So far, Bekele's record is highly regarded. According to the official website for this year's games, Bekele has ranked in the top three in every one of the 22 non-Olympic races that he has run in his career. In 14 of those 22 races, he took first place.

Bekele will attempt to further solidify his claim to the distance running throne when he competes in the men's 5,000 meter on Saturday, August 28 if he qualifies on Wednesday. If he does come out on top in the 5,000, Bekele will have bested Gebre-Selassie, who was never able to clinch Olympic gold in both the 5,000 and the 10,000 and will make himself more than worthy to take over for the old king.

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Kedamai Fisseha. Kedamai Fisseha sorely misses the computer lab where Silver Chips was born and is daily reborn. He is currently living and writing from London, England where he is glad for the chance to continue his participation in the organization. More »

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