Monday, 16 September 2013

Mo beaten by Bekele in classic Great North Run

If you didn't get the chance to watch yesterday's Great North Run then its well worth a watch on iPlayer for Bekele's masterclass in racing to your strengths and your opponents weaknesses. It should be compulsory viewing for the Kenyan 10,000m team before they next take on Mo !

Frequently a line up including 'former greats' quickly descends into an embarrassment as the legends sub-standard performance reveals the passing of time and this was my fear yesterday with Bekele injured and out of form for a few years now and Haile even older than me. And how they rolled back the years to put on a show. With Haile taking the role of pacemaker to keep things honest Bekele ducked and dived, fainted and weaved, like Sugar Ray Leonard on one of his mid career comebacks before landing a knockout punch.

I would love to know whether the Ethiopians talked tactics and my guess would be that they had indeed hatched a plan to test Mo to the limit. By 5 miles they certainly had me fooled as Haile was working hard and Bekele dropped off the pace while Mo looked like he was jogging. I bet I wasn't the only one who would have paid out on a Mo victory at that point.

As the race wore on Bekele worked his way back up to the two leaders looking very smooth and powerful - some of the side on shots were poetry in motion though I wonder how his leg extension and recovery (heel flicking his buttocks) is going to transfer to the marathon. He is one of those athletes with a dead poker face whereas with Mo and Haile they have subtle cues of fatigue and sure enough by 11 miles Mo was looked a little strained in the face and was starting to look around - sure fire signs of stress and something the opposition can exploit - and (note to Alberto) will exploit to the full in a marathon where its easier to read those signs than in a frenetic 5000m track race.

And then to Bekele's moment of racing genius. The downhill onto the sea front with a couple of kilometers to go. Its steep, and wet. And Bekele launched himself down the hill like the 7 time World Cross Country champion he is with a technique refined on the slopes of Entoto. It was calculated and fearless and you could sense the pressure on Mo as he held back and tip toes down the slope. By the time they reached the bottom Bekele had a gap and used his momentum to put the hammer down in a do or die bid for victory.

As the gap opened you could feel Mo's dejection and Bekele's growing confidence with every step and yet, with the gap at only 5 or 6 secs the race wasn't completely over. And then the grandstand finish as Mo remembered his track speed and kicked with 400m to go. With every stride the gap closed and as the finish approached the course got narrower. Just like the track runner holding the inside line to make the others run further Bekele picked his line to perfection meaning that Mo would have to make changes of direction to get past. And with a final burst they both went for the line with Bekele holding on.

As for Haile, well not surprisingly he couldn't match that finishing pace but a 60:41 clocking is pretty tasty for a 40 year old who is probably 43 or 44 in all reality. While the leg speed might have gone the endurance from 25 years of training is still there - the principle of reversibility in action.

What price all three lining up in London next spring ? I'm not sure Haile can do the training anymore to be competitive in a paced marathon but without pacemakers and in a good old fashioned race like today, well that could be another classic. So Hugh Brasher (and Dave Bedford if you are reading), ditch the pacemakers for VLM 2014 and put on a real race with some great personalities. Lets make road racing box office again.

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