By Sabrina Yohannes BEIJING (Reuters) - Haile Gebrselassie seeks his third Olympic 10,000 meters gold and fellow Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele bids for his second in a row in what should be a titanic Bird’s Nest battle to finish off Sunday’s action.
“I returned to the 10,000 because I can’t run the marathon here, but I didn’t want to miss Beijing,” the 1996 and 2000 champion Gebrselassie, who joins Bekele and Athens silver medalist Sileshi Sihine on the Ethiopian team, told Reuters.
Marathon world record-holder Gebrselassie opted out of the longer event due to the expected heat, humidity and pollution of Beijing and his asthma problems.
He acknowledged competing over 10,000 after having switched years ago to the marathon would be a challenge.
“It is, but it’s possible to handle it,” he said. “I believe I will be a strong competitor.”
He qualified for the Olympics with a time of 26:51.20 in May behind Sihine. The Ethiopian trio have the three fastest times of the year, with world record holder Bekele having run 26:25.97 in June.
Bekele and Sihine dramatically slowed down mid-race at the Athens Olympics to allow an off-form Gebrselassie to catch up, but he placed fifth.
“As for these young ones, either I will end up staying on their heels or they’ll be the ones doing that,” said Gebrselassie with a smile.
The world 10,000 and 5,000-meter world record-holder Bekele is overwhelmingly favored to take gold, although he was fiercely challenged by Sihine at the 2007 world championships.
Bekele, who took 10,000 gold in 2004 and silver in the 5,000, is also likely to attempt the double again in Beijing.
“My preparation has gone very well,” he said. “But I can only decide after the 10,000. The weather may also be a factor.”
His double attempt is eagerly anticipated by his younger brother Tariku, the 2006 world junior champion, who is running the 5,000 along with reigning world junior champion Abraham Cherkos, with reserve Ali Abdosh completing the team in the event Kenenisa doesn’t double.
“If he runs, I would be very happy,” said Tariku. “I believe we could achieve great results.”
Great results are expected from Bekele and his team mates Sunday, two days after their compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba took 10,000 gold in convincing fashion before continuing on her own quest for Olympic 10,000-5000 gold.
Ecstatic Ethiopian fans in the stadium cheered during her race and danced afterwards Friday night, chanting “Alle gena! Alle gena!” loosely translated from the Amharic language as “There’s more to come!”.
Editing by Ed Osmond