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After worst season in career, Bekele is shooting for another long-distance Olympic double

07/31/2012 12:21 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - By now, everybody knows Kenenisa Bekele is fallible. He proved as much at last year's world championships. Driven by intense pride though, the Ethiopian 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 where he has a shot next Saturday to become the first runner to win three straight 10,000 metre Olympic titles.

One more Olympic gold, or two if he adds the 5,000, would probably sweep him past compatriot Haile Gebrselassie as the greatest distance runner ever.

A lot is counting against him though. Several years of injury have hurt his performances and his results this summer have been remarkably un-Bekele like, finishing as an also-ran in four Diamond League 5,000 races this summer.

But never count Bekele out. After he walked off halfway though the 10,000 race 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 said. "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.

For a man used to only winning, fired on by a devastating finishing kick, seeing people flee past him to the finishing line would always hurt.

"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 for some time. He disliked training on the hard Mondo track in Addis Ababa, arguing it was made for sprinters instead of Ethiopia's top class distance runners, and that it was tough on injuries on top.

So he built his own, soft, track close to his home, although construction delays only allowed him to start training on it mid-May.

He has the ability to improve fast on short notice. In 2009, when he struggled with injury, he came back quickly to clinch a long-distance double at the world championships in Berlin.

It is his drive to be the best ever, to outshine even Gebrselassie, that keeps pushing him forward.

With so much attention going to sprinter Usain Bolt with his three world records to win three sprint golds in Beijing, he felt his double never got enough credit. He even considered challenging Bolt to a race, over 600 metres, to see who was truly the best.

They will both run again on Saturday, when Bolt starts the defence of his 100 metre title.

For Bekele, gold, and a historic feat, is on the line when he goes for his triple.

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