Farah, Gebrselassie, and Bekele to Clash at Great North Run
The three men have ruled their distance-running eras.
Every man who, since 1993, has had an undisputed claim to being called the world’s greatest distance runner will face in the Great North Run, the English-half marathon, on September 15. Yes, Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and Mo Farah of Great Britain will be in the same road race.
Superlatives from race officials make us squeamish, but Great North Run founder Brendan Foster’s claim, “No one could ask for a better ‘dream team’ to participate in their event” is on point in terms of distance running history. “We’ve had many fantastic races down the Newcastle to South Shields course in past years, but this will be a competition everyone in the athletics world will want to watch,” submits Foster in an article atTheSportReview.com.
Gebrselassie’s reign atop the distance world began in 1993 with the first of four straight world championships 10,000-meter gold medals, mixed in with Olympic gold in the 10,000 in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. He set his first of many track world records in 1994, eventually bringing his bests down to 12:39.36 and 26.22.75 in 1998.
Later switching to the roads, Gebrselassie set his first marathon world record of 2:04:26 in Berlin in 2007 and lowered that mark to 2:03:59 a year later, again in Berlin. He won the Great North Run three years ago in 59:33. In 2013, just four days short of his 40th birthday, Gebrselassie won the Vienna City Half Marathon in 1:01:14. Subsequently, in Bern, Switzerland in May, he set a world masters 10-mile record of 46:59.
Kenenisa Bekele had some losses to his charismatic countryman early in his career, but in 2003, at age 21, he earned the first of his four world championships 10,000-meter golds. He was the Olympic 10,000-meter gold medalist in Athens in 2004, and in 2008 in Beijing he won the 10,000 and the 5000, a feat he repeated at the 2009 world championships.
He’s the current world record holder for 5000 (12:37.35) and 10,000 (26:17.53) meters. Bekele was much more active, and successful, in cross country, than Gebrselassie, winning the 12-K at the world cross country championships six times and the now defunct 4-K race five times.
Struggling to return from injury, Bekele was fourth in the 10,000 at the 2012 London Olympics. He is an Ethiopian alternate for the 10,000 at the upcoming world championships in Moscow. The Great North Run will be his first half-marathon.
Mo Farah hasn’t yet turned in the spectacular times of his two Ethiopian predecessors, but he’s been remarkably adept, in the last couple of years, at winning the important races: the 10,000 and 5000 at last year’s London Games, the 5000 (and a 10,000 silver) at the 2011 world championships, and a pile of Diamond League victories. In one of his earliest significant road ventures, Farah won the 2011 NYC Half Marathon in 1:00:23. In February of this year, he triumphed at the Rock 'n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon in 1:00:59.
Farah will run the 5000 and 10,000 at the world championships in Moscow, but won’t do Diamond League track races in cities like Brussels, Berlin, and Zurich after that. He’s made clear he’ll focus on preparing for the Great North Run, quite probably as a precursor to doing the 2014 London Marathon.
Farah’s rise in the sport comes at a later age than did Gebrselassie’s or Bekele’s. It might be tempting to refer to them as three “generations” of distance runners, but Bekele is only about nine months older than Farah, who’s 30.
Gebrselassie, the elder, insists, “I can still compete at the highest level and I look forward to giving both of them a run for their money.” Bekele, meanwhile, observes, “It’s not going to be easy for me as the others have more experience over the distance and yes, I am the newcomer just starting to pursue a serious road running career. But I’ll be coming to the race fully prepared and determined to give it my best shot against two great athletes.”