By Bob Ramsak
BERLIN (13-Jun) -– Double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele will kick off his quest for a share of the $1 million ÅF Golden League Jackpot at the DBK-ISTAF Meet here tomorrow, the first stop on the six-meet ÅF Golden League series.
While Bekele, who celebrated his 27th birthday today, has collected virtually every accolade available in distance running, a perfect six-for-six scorecard in Golden League competition has eluded him. In 2006, he lost the Golden League opener in Oslo where he was outkicked by Isaac Songok. He later went on to win the remaining five races in the series to collect an $83,333 share under a scheme used only that year.
This year, victories in all six races are required for a slice of the $1 million pie. If no athlete wins at each stop, then those who emerge victorious from five competitions will split a $500,000 pot.
Bekele hasn’t lost a 5000m contest since July 2006, and brings an 11-race win streak to the German capital. But questions about his fitness surfaced after his 2009 debut 12 days ago in Hengelo, when he dropped out of the 1500m after two laps. His manager, Jos Hermens, of Global Sports Communications, said today that his withdrawal was merely precautionary after he felt a slight pain in his left thigh. But Hermens added that Bekele is about two weeks behind in his training and that his first race of the season is usually his toughest.
"After that, he builds his racing rhythm and then everything's okay," said Hermens.
Bekele's stiffest challenge should come from a trio Kenyan 2008 Olympians, led by Micah Kogo, the Beijing bronze medalist in the 10,000m who’s already produced a notable post-Beijing season. In March, the 23-year-old broke the world record in the 10 km on the roads with his sterling 27:01 performance in the Dutch city of Brunssum. He’s run well on the track already, winning the 5000m at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York two weeks ago in 13:02.90, where he kicked away from double world champion Bernard Lagat.
Edwin Soi, the Olympic bronze medalist in the 5000m, and Moses Masai, who was fourth in last year’s Olympic 10,000m, could also be factors. Soi was third in the fast Doha 3000m last month while Masai returns to defend his ISTAF title. A year ago he clocked his career best 12:50.55 on the Olympic Stadium track.
The men’s 3000/5000 is the only middle or long distance race among the ten GL events this year. The others are the men’s and women's 100 and 400, the men’s 110m hurdles, the women’s 100m hurdles, the men’s javelin, and the women’s high jump and pole vault.
The strong favorites to go all the way are pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, U.S. 400m record holder Sanya Richards, and Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic. In 2007, Isinbayeva and Richards shared the $1 million prize.
The Berlin program also includes a men’s 1500m. The favorites are Kenyans Haron Keitany, the 2008 World Athletics Final champion, and Augustine Choge, the current world leader. In a close race, Choge edged Keitany by just 0.02 seconds in 3:30.88 in Doha last month. In their most recent outings, Keitany finished second to Asbel Kiprop in the Prefontaine Classic mile, clocking 3:48.78 while Choge finished second in the Hengelo 5000m 12 days ago in 13:00.79, the season’s second fastest performance.
There is also a primarily national men’s 800m, which also includes Spaniard Antonio Manuel Reina and Kenyan Rueben Bett.
This year will mark the 12th and final season of the ÅF Golden League which will be replaced next year by the IAAF Diamond League, a series which will include up to 15 one-day meets on three continents.