Triple Olympic gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele, one of the headline names at this weekend’s Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry, will make his marathon debut in Paris on 6 April – ending the prospect of a clash with Mo Farah in London.
The Ethiopian’s participation in Paris follows his first half marathon at the Great North Run in September, which he won by a second ahead of Briton Farah, the Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres champion.
Farah is due to debut in the distance a week later at the London Marathon on 13 April.
The 31-year-old Bekele won gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the world championships in Berlin the following year. Farah, 30, matched that feat by claiming the long-distance double at the 2012 London Games and at last year’s worlds in Moscow. They are the only two men to have held the Olympic and world titles in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the same time.
Bekele is still the world record holder in both the 5,000m and 10,000m but has struggled with injuries over the past few years and hasn’t won a major title since the Berlin worlds in 2009. He finished fourth and some way behind Farah in the 10,000 final at the London Olympics.
Despite his world class stature, Bekele faces another daunting task when he returns for his sixth appearance tomorrow in Holyrood Park. At the height of his illustrious career, Bekele scored three successive long course 8km victories. However he was fourth in 2010 and, two years later, produced a disappointing performance in the short-course race.
Bekele, who was clearly not at full fitness and recovering from serious calf and knee injuries, suffered the indignity of being outside the top ten for the first time in any competition since running as a junior over 5,000m at the Oslo Grand Prix in 2001.
Bekele has now moved to extend his career as a road runner and training for the longer distance seems to be going well but one major drawback is that the multi-mile sessions will have affected his speedwork. This suggests he may find the pace of former Olympic and reigning World 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop difficult to match. Kiprop triumphed at the event two years ago and the Kenyan is itching for another success over terrain which suits his style almost perfectly.
The former World Junior Cross Country Champion, who hails from the Rift Valley, will travel to the meeting fully fit despite being involved in a car crash at the end of November.
Although there were Kenyan media reports that he suffered near-fatal neck injuries, they were immediately quashed by his manager Federico Rosa and he was almost immediately released from hospital.
Now the 24-year-old will open his 2014 campaign determined to demonstrate he is in good shape as he prepares for a summer which could see him make his first ever Commonwealth Games appearance in Glasgow.
Bekele’s younger brother Tariku, the Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist, will also aim to impress, along with teenage compatriot Meresa Kahsay.
Garret Heath, who defeated Kiprop in last summer’s Bupa Great North Mile, leads the USA challenge, while Chris Thompson is the top Briton taking part.
The annual team match between Great Britain & Northern Ireland, the United States and the Rest of Europe will also see Bobby Mack and Fionnuala Britton bidding to retain their individual titles over 8k and 6k.
USA’s Mack, who was runner-up two years ago, produced a blistering finish to snatch a thrilling victory 12 months ago, while Ireland’s Britton was head and shoulders above her rivals that day and will be motivated to achieve a third successive win.
Despite Mack’s pedigree, the pre-race favourite will be Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh, winner of the European title in December, while Andy Vernon, the bronze medallist in Belgrade, looks the best bet for a home win. Britton hasn’t been quite as dominant this winter and surrendered her European crown in Serbia. She will have to show plenty of spark if she is to conquer Sophie Duarte, the Frenchwoman who easily won the gold medal in December. England’s Gemma Steel will be aiming high after finishing second at the Euros.
Other GB athletes, including Emelia Gorecka – who last month notched a hat-trick of European junior titles, Charlotte Purdue, the under-23 bronze medallist and rejuvenated Scottish No 1, Steph Twell should all be contenders.
The programme also features junior men and women’s races over 6k and 4k and Scottish Inter-District races.
The day includes a popular mass participation 5k with 2,500 runners taking on their first event of the year, the Bupa Great Winter Run, in the picturesque surroundings of Holyrood Park.