2008 World Indoor Champs: Inside the Men's 3K

Story by Eric

The 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships were exciting on several fronts, with athletes mentioned in previous stories on this site gaining more than their fair share of headlines both here and in other international press.

Today's meet reflection looks at the men's 3.000m, and one particular athlete's struggle to gain solid footing on his own. He's chased titles, shadows and respect for far too long. His victory in Valencia may have pushed him over the top, and provided him his own stature and name in a sport littered with stars, and in a family where one man has won world cross country titles, junior cross country titles, world championships, an Olympic gold medal, and has set world records indoors and outdoors.

That man, though only 19, is known as Tariku Bekele, and he may become the first one thinks of when the surname Bekele is said if he can carry his momentum forward and challenge the rest of the world outdoors like he did indoors this season, when, at the week-end, he knocked off the 2007 World Champion at the steeplechase (Paul Koech), and a 3.48 miler in Australian Craig Mottram among others in Spain.

Sit back, take down some notes, and learn as much as you can from this rich information digested from the men's 3.000m race.

Men's 3.000M

Tariku Bekele had long been in his brother's shadows since the start of his career on the youth and junior levels, and had also been overshadowed this season when Kenenisa broke countryman and mentor Haile Gebrselassie's world indoor record in the 2-mile, running 8.04,35 in Birmingham.

It didn't matter that the younger sibling had chased his elder brother out of the national junior ranks at the 3.000m outdoors, his brother's mark was one which set a world standard, whilst Tariku Bekele's was a national one.

Nor did it matter that he had played pace-maker to several world record attempts Kenenisa Bekele made at 5.000m, Tariku Bekele's name did not stand next to any world records as did his brother's.

Finally, as 3.000m races go, the best Kenenisa Bekele had accomplished at a major championship as a junior was winning the 1999 World Youth Games silver medallist. Tariku Bekele, running in his brother's long, extended shadow, also captured a silver medal, collecting his hardware four years later in Sherbrooke.

Tariku Bekele's victory in Valencia changed a bit of luck for the young star, however, and provided him with several distinctions to go along with the $40.000 he pocketed for his victory.

Key observations from the race:

  • Though Tariku Bekele was unable to claim the fastest mark in the family indoors at 3.000m - he trails his brother by 0,58 seconds, he was able to step into new territory this winter by running the fastest time in the world this season (7.31,09) in Stuttgart, and by running faster on paper than his brother, Kenenisa Bekele - a multiple world-indoor and outdoor record holder - though Kenenisa Bekeke's 3.000m time during his record 2-mile was "worth" more than his absolute best of 7.30,51.
  • And, equally important to Tariku Bekele was that he able to win a major championship - something which had eluded the "other Bekele" on previous occasion as he played second-fiddle to his older brother.
  • Tariku Bekele, by winning the World Indoor Championships at the ripe old age of 21 years, 48 days, became the youngest male indoor titlest of the previous 12 men who'd claimed the world crown at 3.000m, and brought to five the number of titles Ethiopian men have won at this distance indoors.
  • Gebrselassie won three titles (1997, 1999 and 2003), and Kenenisa Bekele's victory in 2006 brought back the bragging rights to Ethiopia following Bernard Lagat's 2004 victory. The Bekele brothers have made it two-straight for their country, and two-consecutive for their family.
  • Though Gebrselassie found previous success indoors during his career, winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1999, no athlete this century has defended their title in the five races contested through last week-end. This has been due to none of the previous defenders (Hicham El Guerrouj, Gebrselassie, Lagat and Kenenisa Bekele) showing up to contest the next championship.
  • Kenenisa Bekele had the previous distinction of being the youngest gold medallist when he, at the age of 23 years 272 days, placed first in the 3.000m two years ago in Moscow, running 7.39,32.
  • Tariku Bekele set a record of note in that same race by becoming the youngest finalist at 19 years 50 days, by placing sixth in 7.47,67. Tariku now has layed claim to being both the youngest finalist of the 147 men who have made it to the start line as well as the youngest gold medallist.
  • Together, Kenenisa Bekele (2006) and Tariku Bekele (2008) have now become the only brothers to win a championship, and the only family members to have won back-to-back men's 3.000m titles.
  • Tariku Bekele is the only athlete to have run the closest non-winning time relative to his victory, with a mere 0,56 seconds between his previous performance in Moscow and his winning time in Valencia.
  • Kenenisa Bekele, who has the current world indoor records at 2.000m (4.49,99), 2-mile (8.04,59) and 5.000m (12.49.60), has the fastest finishing 1.500m of the dynamic duo, closing out his masterfully-crafted race in Moscow with a 1.500m split of 3.36,5 to Tariku Bekele's 3.40 run at the week-end.
  • Tariku Bekele has family honours in the 3.000m outdoors, however, owning Ethiopia's national junior record at 7.29,11 set two years ago in Rieti. Kenenisa Bekele held the previous honour by running 7.30,67 five years earlier in Bruxelles.
  • Tariku Bekele's final 1.000m, covered in a hand-timed 2.22,5, however, is the fastest-ever recorded in a finishing kick, with brother Kenenisa's 2.23,33 the previous fastest in a much longer kick. El Guerrouj, who won the 2001 title (7.37,74) in Lisboa, closed out his race in 2.24,76.
  • Tariku Bekele, who ran 8.04,83 in the 2-mile outdoors last season, and has a 12.53,81 best at 5.000m, benefitted from a slow opening kilometre of 2.48,58 followed by a 5.25,71 at the 2.000m mark; his first-half split was appromiately 4.08.
  • Bekele's victory is closest in measurement to Saïd Aouita's 1989 title in Budapest, with the former 1.500m, mile, 2.000m, 3.000m and 5.000m world-record holder's race splitting 5.24,02 at the 2.000m mark (Frank O'Mara) and Aouita finishing with a 7.47,94 (4.02,5/3.46,4). Bekele finished with approximate splits of 4.07/3.40.
  • Seven of the 13 champions have been 1.500m/mile specialists (two of them world record-holders at both distances, and one has been an NCAA 1.500m champion (O'Mara). However, three of the past four champions have now been longer-distance specialists who have demonstrated better endurance and sustained longer kicks than their counterparts have been able to muster.
  • El Guerrouj (7.37,74) and O'Mara (7.41,14) are the only mile specialists who have a top-five winning time in the indoor championships.
  • Tariku Bekele may separate himself from his brother if he is able to defend his title in two years when the nation of Qatar hosts the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships. Then again, in an Olympic year as this one, his brother may add to his legendary status by taking his second-consecutive 10.000m title, leaving Tariku Bekele in further want of his own identity.

IAAF World Indoor Championships

1985: ..... 7.57,63 (João Campos)
1987: ..... 8.03,32 (Frank O'Mara)
1989: ..... 7.47,94 (Saïd Aouita)
1991: ..... 7.41,14 (Frank O'Mara)
1993: ..... 7.50,26 (Gennaro Di Napoli)
1995: ..... 7.50,89 (Gennaro Di Napoli)
1997: ..... 7.34,71 (Haile Gebrselassie)
1999: ..... 7.53,57 (Haile Gebrselassie)
2001: ..... 7.37,74 (Hicham El Guerrouj)
2003: ..... 7.40,97 (Haile Gebrselassie)
2004: ..... 7.56,34 (Bernard Lagat)
2006: ..... 7.39,32 (Kenenisa Bekele)
2008: ..... 7.47,28 (Tariku Bekele)

Photo Credit: BBC Athletics

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