After another win, Bekele could be the best ever

 BERLIN - Some still insist that Paavo Nurmi, "the Flying Finn," was the greatest distance runner of all time.


  Others say "no way" to that notion and tell you that nobody was ever better than Czechoslovakia's Emil Zatopek.


  You'd have to be an old-old-timer to remember Nurmi, who ran in the 1920-24-28 Olympics.  Or just an old-timer to recall Zatopek, who ran in the 1948-52-56 Games.


  Others of more modern vintage counter that Nurmi and Zatopk could never, ever have held a candle to Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia, who absolutely rewrote the record books, won international titles at distances from 1500 meters to the marathon, and is still going strong as one of the leading 26-milers on the planet.


  Tell you what, though. Kenenisa Bekele is making one incredible run at the title of "the greatest."


  Just 27 now, the enthralling Ethiopian uncorked a sizzling 13:05 second 5,000 meters to run away from the best of the rest to win the 10,000-meter final at the 12th World Championships of Track and Field in  the meet-record time of 26:46.31.  And he made it look easy, simply leaving such worthy challengers as Zersenay Tadese of Ethiopia (second in 26:50.12) and Moses Ndeima Masai of Kenya (third in 26:57.39) in his slipstream.


  Thirty-one runners started the race. Twenty-five finished, the slowest of them Yuki Iwai of Japan in 29:24.12..


  You know what?  Iwai still would have routed Nurmi, who won the 1920 Olympics in 31:45.8 and the 1928 Games in 30:18.8.


  And he'd have beaten Zatopek, once away. The great Czech won the 1948 Olympics in 29:59.6.


   Of course, of course, these are unfair comparisons, apples with oranges.  But they still give you a measure of Bekele's staggering ability.


   Now the Bekele dossier reads like this:


  (1) Never beaten in 12 10,000-meter races. (2) Four-time World Championships winner at 10,000. (3)  World record-holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters.) (4) Winner of 16 gold medals at the World Cross Country Championships.


  Can anybody ever top that? Paavo? Emil? Haile?


  Highly unlikely.


  None of this has gone to Bekele's head.


  He was all-modesty at a post-race interview.


  "I am so happy," he said.  "There were other strong runners in the field.  Any of them could have challenged me.  They all have trained hard just to be here."


  But when they rang the bell to signal the start of the 25th and final circuit of the Olympiastadion 400-meter track, Bekele was off on his own, on a sprint for the record books.


  With over 30,000 fans cheering him on, Bekele simply found another gear while the others struggled.


 "The race was tough because for many, many laps I was in front," said runner-up Tadese. 


 "The problem was at the finish."


  Quite obviously.


  "I am happy because this is my first time to be second at the World Championships," he philosophized. 


  "I am really satisfied," added Masai. "What I did was fine."


  It's his kid sister, Linet, who won the women's World 10,000-meter title here Saturday


  Really, truly, there was glory in it for all in this longest of World Championships races on the track. What all 25 finishers did was just fine. They spilled their guts in the name of national honor.  They "hung tough" as long as their bodies held up.


    But they couldn't possibly stay up there with Kenenisa Bekele.


    On this night of nights, nothing could have been finer than to be in this man's shoes.