Kenenisa Bekele, widely considered the greatest distance runner of all time, spoke to JOE about racing in Ireland, the Irishman who beat him and why Ethiopians are so good at running.
By Mark O’Toole
Currently the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre Olympic champion, as well as the world record holder in both distances, Bekele was unbeaten for a period of eight years between 2003 and 2011 in the longer of the two distances.
He sat down for a one-on-one interview with JOE ahead of the Spar Great Ireland Run on 15th April.
JOE: How did you start running?
KB: When I was very young, ten or eleven years ago and saw other athletes winning – other Ethiopian athletes, my feelings then forced me to run.
I started training back then around eleven years ago and I was not so fast and I was not winning.
After two or three years I started winning, so maybe I am only good at running for nine or eight years!
JOE: And your mentor then was fellow Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie. Why are Ethiopians so good at long-distance running?
KB: We have good weather and a good training area, you know – the landscape?
Also it’s our culture. We are working all the time, when we are moving around we use running. So it’s all that I think…
JOE: One of the very few people to ever beat you was an Irishman, Alistair Cragg in 2005. He has already qualified for this year’s Olympic 5000metres, what do you think of him?
KB: I think he was a very strong athlete. I saw him many times in different races in Europe and he was a great athlete. I think his future is very bright, so he’s a good guy.
JOE: 100metre Olympic champion Usain Bolt has said that you are as good and as dominant as him, but you don’t get enough credit for it. Why do you think that is?
KB: Ah it is just the type of sport, you know? I can’t do anything about it. The 100 metre is just covered more, but I am okay about it.
JOE: Usain Bolt has said that after he wins a race his favourite food to eat is chicken nuggets. Do you have a favourite food that you like to treat yourself to when you win?
KB: (Laughs) After winning - anything, you know! After that time I am very hungry so any food. There is nothing special just anything!
JOE: In the last Olympics you won the 5,000 and the 10,000 metres. Can you do the same again this summer?
KB: First of all I have to qualify and train and maybe after qualification I will decide what I am going to do. At this time it is a little bit early so I don’t want to say anything!
JOE: Your brother Tariku is also a world champion distance runner. Is there any friendly rivalary between you two as brothers to see who is better?
KB: I think it is different to this.
We don’t say ‘I am better than you’ like this. He knows me and I know him. We are helping each other like brothers.
It is friendly - we are brothers.
JOE: Finally you are here to race in the Spar Great Ireland Run - is that to help with your preparation for the Olympics?
KB: Yes, it is very good to run here in Ireland.
I am very happy when I am coming back because I did great history here in the World Cross Country Championship.
JOE: Which you won here in 2002…
So it is the nice people too. I am very happy to run here because it is very similar to London too.
It suits me.
JOE: Thank you for your time Kenenisa, best of luck.
KB: You are very welcome.