A sane person wouldn't normally run a fast-paced 10K in a hot, humid evening (30C, 65%). Well, but then again, a sane person wouldn't normally face the same situation as Eritrean Zersenay Tadesse did in Osaka last night. You see, he didn't have much options facing the prospect of having to battle out two-time world champion, Olympic champion, and world record holder Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia. Bekele is known for his deadly final kick and for any runner intending on defeating him there's only one option: punish him from the start and pray he's dead at the end (and most importantly that you are still alive).
It's a gamble to see who the best runner really is, not just the guy with the best finish. If everything goes well, every runner will drop off the pace and there'll be only one left at the finish line. Misjudge your hand though and you'll end up dead on the track, defeated. And unlike the comfy seat of a poker game there's only one word to describe this gamble: pain.
That's what Tadesse bravely (some would've said insanely) set out to do on a hot evening in Osaka yesterday. He took the lead and set a torrid pace for the race. In a slow-paced race, contenders run in a packed group, some going wide on lanes 2 and 3. Not here. The contenders quickly spread out in a long line with runners struggling to keep in touch with the leaders.
Tadesse (in light blue shirt) kept pushing and one by one runners started to drop off the pace. Some would just slow down feeling the race was too fast for them. Others simply walked off the track unable to keep going while others still lied on the track in pain. They passed the 5K mark in 13:42 (27:24s pace) with only 10 runners in the leading group (from the initial 24). Tadesse's gamble was paying off.
Bekele, in the meantime, looked comfortable running always in third place. A group of Ethiopians, Kenyans and other African runners followed. Tadesse kept punishing the field lap after lap. Slower runners were overlapped (supreme humiliation for a distance runner).
After a little more than 8km only four runners remained in contention: Tadesse, still in the lead, Bekele, countryman Silesh Sihine, and Kenyan Martin Irungu Mathathi.
But then Mathathi made his move. Everybody went along but Tadesse. Having set the pace for most of the race he paid the price for his gamble and would struggle to the end. Suddenly there were only three runners fighting for the victory and the chase was on. They were sprinting down the backstretch with about 600 m to go and for a moment Bekele seemed to be losing touch as the other two left a 2m gap.
But he soon got in contact again and with 300m to go he was right behind his countryman Sihine as Mathathi fell to third. The race would be decided between the two Ethiopians. They were going on an all-out sprint, incredibly fast for athletes who had already run more than 9K.
Then with 150m to go Bekele hit another gear and, amazingly, unleashed what seemed an impossible last kick. Sprinting furiously, he went around Sihine as they came from the last curve into the homestretch and it was arrivederci! Take a look at the sequence below.
Does it look like the face of a man who just ran 10K?
In the end there was only one runner left: Bekele. World champion for the third time. His time of 27:05:90 is incredibly fast for the conditions. Sihine got the silver and Kenyan Mathathi got bronze. Tadesse bravely hung on to finish fourth, 15s behind Bekele.
What a race! I can't put into words how amazing it is for a human being to be able to run that fast under such hot and humid conditions. Let alone unleash that kind of kick in the last lap (under 56s). It's amazing. Man, do I love this.