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Posted: July 9, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: Bekele’s Jackpot Request Resumes In Rome Tomorrow

From David Monti

© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

By Bob Ramsak

ROME (09-Jul) -- As Kenenisa Bekele resumes his quest for the $1 million ÅF Golden League jackpot here in tomorrow’s Golden Gala, he said that only one thing is certain about his 5000m race: he won’t be chasing a fast time.

“To run fast times now is very difficult for me right now,” Bekele told reporters today. “I’m not like I was before. I’m very tired during a race. I’m not feeling very good (during a race).”

Still on the rebound from injury which sidelined him from the cross country and indoor seasons, Bekele is playing catch-up in order to be ready to defend his 10,000m title at the IAAF World Championships next month. He is making progress, he said, but it’s coming along slowly.

“I am trying to train as before, but my body cannot accept it. But slowly I’m getting better and better.”

So, it’s logical to conclude that Bekele’s game plan will be largely similar to the one he utilized at Oslo’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games a week ago, when he did just enough to collect his second Golden League victory. In a largely tactical race, which started fast by slowed markedly in the middle, he proved unstoppable when he launched his last lap kick, clocking 13:04.87.

Trying to play spoiler this week will be his compatriots Ali Abdosh, the Hengelo 5000m winner last month in 12:59.56, and Bekana Daba, the 20-year-old who improved to 13:02.32 in Berlin, and Kenyan Abraham Chebii who was second in Berlin in 13:01.08.

Stepping down in distance, both 1500m races feature the finest head-to-head competition. The men’s race will provide a good preview of the Kenyan championships to be held later this month, with world leader Augustine Choge, who clocked 3:29.47 in Berlin last month, butting heads with Olympic silver medalist Asbel Kiprop, who won the Prefontaine Invitational Mile this year. Chasing these big guns will be teenager William Biwott, who last week became the first junior to crack 3:50 in the mile with his 3:49.29 run in Oslo.

With five wins in as many starts and two of the year’s three sub-four minute clockings, Gelete Burka has been the hottest metric miler this season. The Ethiopian will again face reigning world champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain, who she outsprinted in Lausanne two nights ago. While she hasn’t been quite as fast, Iryna Lishchynska of Ukraine, the reigning World and Olympic silver medalist, is always a threat. American Christian Wurth-Thomas has made a huge improvement into sub-4:02 territory this season, and is hoping to be a factor.

In the women’s steeplechase, one name looms particularly large. She’s only raced once in her specialty event this season, but Olympic champion and world record holder Gulnara Samitova is already nearly three seconds faster than anyone else in the world this season, and nearly five seconds faster than anyone in the field. The Russian, who became the first woman to crack the nine-minute barrier with her stunning triumph in Beijing last summer, hasn’t had a bad outing in distances beyond 1500m this season; an assault on her own world leading mark of 9:13.70 is as sure a bet as any on Friday night.

Hoping to cling on as long as possible to the Russian’s late race strength will be Kenyan Ruth Bisibori, the winner in Oslo last Friday, and Ethiopian Sofia Assefa, whose pursuit of Bisibori last Friday was rewarded with a 9:19.91 career best. Russian Yekaterina Volkova, the silver medalist at the 2005 World championships, the winner in 2007 and the Olympic bronze medalist last year, will be making her 2009 debut.

There are also a pair of 800m’s on the program. The men’s race includes world champion Alfred Kirwa Yego of Kenya, who’ll face his Olympic teammate Boaz Lalang and perennial speedster Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa, the runner-up in Lausanne.

In the women’s race, the focus of considerable attention will be Italy’s Elisa Cusma who’ll be looking to bring the momentum from her middle distance double victory at the Mediterranean Games last week to the Stadio Olimpico. In a wide open field, she’ll face world champion Janeth Jepkosgei, who is still on the mend from injury, Russian Yekaterina Kostetskaya, who clocked 1:59.43 at the European Team Championships, and American champion Hazel Clark.

Also generating interest were a number of unnamed Kenyan athletes who won’t be appearing on the track after the Kenyan federation refused to grant them permission to compete. Seven athletes, two entered in the 800m and three each in the 1500m and 5000m, were forced to withdraw, leaving Golden Gala meet director Luigio D’Onfrio with several unanticipated late-hour holes in his start list.

“While we respect the Kenyan federation’s right to keep athletes from competing, particularly with the world championships coming up soon,” D’Onofrio said, “we are disappointed in the way their decision was made.”

D’Onfrio said that several contracts were signed and agreements made, and that the sudden withdrawal doesn’t serve any parties particularly well.

“We need to receive this information ahead of time so we can make up for athletes who cancel. We need to find substitutes and that takes advance notice.”

Kenenisa Bekele at today's press conference for the 2009 Golden Gala in Rome (photo by Bob Ramsak)

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