Kenenisa Bekele crossed the finish line, took a few deep breaths and then waited for his mentor. A pained Haile Gebrselassie arrived 22 seconds later
and the two Ethiopians hugged -- the old champion giving way to the new.
Sprinting the final lap, Bekele ended Gebrselassie's eight-year reign as Olympic 10,000-meter champion on Friday night, smashing his training
partner's Olympic record by more than two seconds.
The two then clasped hands and joined yet another countryman, silver medalist Sileshi Sihine, in a victory lap beneath their green, yellow and red
Bekele finished in 27 minutes, 5.10 seconds. Sihine, about 30 meters behind Bekele, clocked 27:09.39, followed by Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea in
27:22.57. Gebrselassie, pained by a left Achilles injury in the final track appearance of his magnificent career, finished fifth in 27:27.70.
The 31-year-old Gebrselassie, who plans to move up to the marathon, began showing the strain with seven laps remaining in the 25-lap race. His face
contorted, he fell behind the leaders and looked as if he was going to stop. But after struggling through the last few laps, his face broke into a
giant smile as he crossed the finish line.
"It was very hard. I'm very close just to stop the competition," Gebrselassie said, limping away from the track. "I wanted to keep up with them. It
didn't happen. I am so happy for the Ethiopians except for myself. I tried to push."
Bekele and Sihine slowed midway through the race so Gebrselassie could join them
"We believed he could catch up to us," Bekele said. "When we realized he couldn't make it, we had to go."
In the 10,000, which is 6.2 miles, Bekele raced through the final 400 meters in 53.02 -- less than 10 seconds off the 400 world record.
Now Bekele will try to become the first man in 24 years to complete the rare distance double by winning the 5,000. The only other men to win both the
5,000 and 10,000 at an Olympics are Emil Zatopek (1948), Vladimir Kuts (1956), Lasse Viren (1972 and 1976) and Miruts Yifter (1980).
Yifter, an Ethiopian, was an inspiration for Gebrselassie -- who in turn became Bekele's teacher.
The soft-spoken Bekele, who broke Gebrselassie's world records with new marks in the 5,000 (12:37.35) and 10,000 (26:20.31) within a nine-day span
this spring, said his final lap was nothing exceptional.
"I'm very happy, of course. I'm Olympic champion," Bekele said. "I have good speed on the last lap. No problem. It's not difficult for me.
"The last lap just came to me. I did not make any special effort. I just wanted to win the race."
Will he have any energy left for the 5,000?
Bekele smiled and said, "I think so."