Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba are two of the world’s greatest athletes. The Ethiopian pair are among the finest sportsmen of their generation. Having dominated for most of the noughties there is every sign they will do so throughout the “teens” and even into the 2020s. Their Ethiopian predecessors Haile Gebrselassie (now 36) and Derartu Tulu (37) are still winning big races and setting records. Bekele and Dibaba will not reach those ages until 2018 & 2022 respectively and Dibaba has already talked of competing at the 2024 Olympics. Why are they so good? They run fast, they win big races and they make it look easy.
Bekele has held the world records at 5000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:20.31) since 2004. He alone has operated at that level since then. Could he be the first man to run 5000m in less than 12:30, which would represent sub-60 400m for twelve and a half laps? Dibaba has been known as more of a racer than a pacer, but a woman who can finish a quick 5000m race looking like she still has plenty more energy left in the tank. Dibaba has set world records at 5000m, indoors and out, and then at the end of a low-key year in 2009, ran a phenomenal 46:28 for 15km in Nijmegen to break the official world record at that distance by 27 seconds.
So whereas Bekele is now looking for success at shorter distances, Dibaba has given us a glimpse of what might be possible for her at half marathon (21.1km) and beyond. Unless the Olympics are awarded to Ethiopia in the near future, Bekele and Dibaba can never win a bigger race for them than they have done so already on multiple occasions. Bekele has held at least one Olympic or world title since 2001, Dibaba since 2003. Both won the 5000m & 10,000m double in Beijing and have taken world titles at both distances. At the IAAF World Cross Country Championships they are the most successful performers of all-time, including the additional medals which they have gained as part of winning Ethiopian teams. Collectively they have run and won 18 races at 10,000m. So far no-one has beaten them at these distances and these have not been staged events against weak opposition. They have taken on and defeated the best in the world.